Dan DiDio: 20 Questions, 20 Answers

Dan DiDio: 20 Questions, 20 Answers

Why, it seems as if convention season was only yesterday, and there was a “DC Nation” panel every other weekend, with DCU Executive Editor Dan DiDio standing in front of an audience, answering questions, teasing and occasionally taking criticism from fans.

What, oh what shall we do without a major convention for four months?

We shall turn to Newsarama.

DiDio has agreed to be grilled bi-weekly here at Newsarama, with answers to 20 questions posted every other Wednesday. We’re kicking things off this week with 20 questions that cover everything from the art on Final Crisis #7 to the Red Circle and Milestone characters, what’s going on with Batman, why there wasn’t a celebration for Superman’s 70th, and more.

We’ll put out the call for questions on Monday, November 3rd, but until then, let’s rock and roll.

1) Let’s start with possibly the most obvious, Dan – the January solicitations are out, and J.G. Jones is off of Final Crisis’ final issue. What happened there?

Dan DiDio: Honestly, this is something that we probably should’ve gotten out in front of, before the solicitations hit, and that was a mistake on my part. Also, when J.G. went out there and took the blame for lack of a better term for not being part of the book, that wasn’t really his call. It was my call, and my place to take the blame.

The choice was very simple – we saw how the book was running, and we saw what the schedule was ahead of us. The fact that at a point we were waiting for parts of the script from issues #6 and #7, the reality came to be that we were never going to be able to hit our dates. We know hw quickly JG works, and we knew that going in. I feel bad that JG went out there and took the blame like that, because he shouldn’t have. We all went in with our eyes open and knew how the schedule works. Quite honestly, the decision was made quite a while ago that I wanted to hold the schedule and have the book come out in January, but in doing so, I knew that JG would not be the artist.

The good side of it is that much of the story that takes place in issues #6 and #7 spins out from what’s in Superman Beyond, and Doug Mahnke, being the artist on Superman Beyond, seemed like the natural choice to take the elements that he had from Beyond and to bring them into the final issue of Crisis, and bring a level of consistency there as well.

I know there’s a lot of concern about this, but my answer is – to all of this – when you’re working with artists like JG Jones, Carlos Pacheco and Doug Mahnke, it’s really a no-lose proposition. If you like the purity of how the book works, then I understand the concern. But the reality is that It was more important for us to keep our schedule on this, and that was my decision. I wanted to keep the schedule, have the last issue come out in January, so that all of the changes that come out from the end of Final Crisis can be reflected in the books starting in March.

2) Let’s talk about the post Final Crisis DC Universe then…what’s it like?

DD: Here’s the way it works right now, and the reason why things will pick up from Final Crisis in March: where we stand right now in January, we’re addressing a common tonality in the DCU. That’s one of the reasons we created “Faces of Evil,” because we wanted to give a sense that the universe was coming back together again at the start of the New Year. Those stories are all stand alone, but tonally, address what it’s like to live in the DCU as a villain in regards to what’s happening in those issues.

In February, again, we’re bringing the line back closer together and working to bring the continuity back in synch. In that month, we’ll have a series of books – I think we’re up to about 19 in all now – that will have six page stories as backups, and each book will be branded “Origins and Omens.” What you’re going to see in those stories is a little of the origin of each character, what’s essential to know about each character to date, and more importantly, a little foreshadowing of what’s to come with the character. Each one of the “Origins and Omens” installments will have a common narrator, and that narrator has direct ties to Blackest Night later in the year.

So that’s why I said that the DCU will reflect ,b>Final Crisis starting in March – not only because we wanted to reach a point where we could give the lay of the land of the DCU and the various titles, and allow for the books to all have great jumping on points. Readers can get caught up with the six page stories, and then follow through in March and the rest of the year.

3) Continuing with some broader looks with plans that DC had announced, where are you with J. Michael Straczynski and the Archie Heroes?

DD: We’re calling them “Red Circle” now, by the way – they’re the “Red Circle” characters, primarily because Archie is still publishing. Right now it looks like Joe will be starting on Brave and the Bold in February, if I’m not mistaken. We’ll be starting with Batman teaming up with The Shield, and it will feature the new origin of the Shield, written by JMS. Following that, we’ll have Batman and The Fly team up. The good part about those stories is that JMS will be establishing the worlds and origins of both of these characters, and then we will be seeing these characters playing very prominent roles following that.

4) In writing the “new” origins of the characters, are these told within the tapestry of the larger DCU since the Red Circle characters are now a part of the larger DC Universe?

DD: Before I get into that, I’m already anticipating the first red flag people will throw in the air here, is that, “Wait a minute – that’s the Bruce Wayne Batman in those issues of Brave and the Bold”…but what we’re really more interested in is addressing and presenting these characters as they fit into the DCU. So we’ll be working with the Bruce Wayne Batman in those stories.

As for their origins – these are the original incarnations of the characters, showing how they came to receive their powers and take their roles. They have their own stories that take place in their cities with their own supporting characters. The stories we’ll read will show Batman entering into their world more so than they are entering into Batman’s. So Batman becomes our entry point into the world of the Red Circle characters, and we’re introducing them all for the first time so we’ll know exactly who they are, what their motivations are, what their powers are, and more importantly, what their purpose in the DCU is. Jesus Saiz will be the artist on the series with JMS.

5) While we’re talking about new characters coming in, let’s talk about the Milestone characters. The solicitations for November show that the Shadow Cabinet is showing up in Justice League in December…

DD: Right – The Shadow Cabinet and Icon will be appearing in Justice League of America. Static will appear in Terror Titans to start, and then will make his way over to Teen Titans. As a matter of fact, we’re going to have a Teen Titans Annual coming out early next year, and that really gives us a chance to showcase Static, and how he fits into our pantheon of young heroes in the DCU.

6) And like the Red Circle characters, this is told from the conceit of “They’ve always existed, we’ve just never met…”

DD: Right. It’s different from when we came out of Crisis on Infinite Earths after the original Crisis, the concept was that we had this new amalgam world, and all these characters are brought here and they just magically appeared, and have been operating there for a while because that’s what the new world’s rules were. In this case, both with the Milestone and Red Circle characters, we’re saying that this is the first time that we’re meeting them. The only reason we haven’t met them before is that we haven’t come across them before.

Dakota will be a part of the DC Universe for the Milestone characters – we just haven’t had a reason, until now for the characters to meet. Also, it’s not to say that these “new” heroes have been operating for multiple years – they could have been operating for months. In that regard, I’m trying to stay away from an actual timeline that will say, “Five years ago, this happened, ten years ago, this happened, 20 years ago…” I would much rather look at the generational aspects of the DCU, and right now, we’re entering into the fifth generation of the DCU, and part of the fifth generation is that these heroes are starting to spring up and take their place among the other heroes.

7) We’ll get back to the generational heroes in a moment, but first, earlier, when you were talking about Brave and the Bold - Batman in those stories will be Bruce Wayne, which somewhat flies in the face of what’s been teased, or what readers have been led to believe is coming at the end of “Batman R.I.P.” Let’s talk about post “R.I.P.” – you’ve dropped the hint about “The Battle for the Cowl…” That seems to indicate that Bruce Wayne is not around, or the role of Batman is up for grabs…

DD: Let’s put it this way: the cowl is there, and people are battling for it. [laughs] I never said that Bruce isn’t fighting for it. The “battle” aspect of it seems to suggest that there are other people who are interested in the mantle of Batman…and at this particular point, we’re addressing what the cowl stands for, and what the name stands for. Is it just the person? Is it an ideal? Is it an icon? Is it something that needs to continue, or is it something that goes away with the man who is with it?

We’ve examined a lot of the importance of who Bruce Wayne is in “R.I.P.” We’ve examined what motives him, and what motivated him to be Batman. In Final Crisis #6, which follows directly after the “R.I.P” storyline – again, that’s one of the reasons why we had to make the artistic changes we did – there is a definite conclusion to Batman’s story.

8) Seen in that light, there is an argument to be made given Bruce’s condition in the latest “R.I.P.” that members of his family wouldn’t think he was fit to wear the cowl…not to mention, it’s often been said that Bruce will one day end up in Arkham himself…

DD: It’s either that or…there’s so much about generations and legacy in the DCU and the passing of the mantle. The question becomes, “Is it the person that matters, or is it he cowl that matters?” There are a lot of stories you hear about someone having to take over the family business, and always what adds the drama to those stories is the questioning – does the person who has to step up want to go their own way, or are they trapped in a destiny that they didn’t create? That’s one of the issues we’re addressing, and of course, we’re also addressing the makeup of the DCU and the importance of certain characters and what their roles are – not just what they do by themselves, but how they affect others.

9) Let’s go down that road for a minute – the generations and the “passing of the cowl.” At one time Dan, you were a big proponent of arresting the development of the sidekicks in order not to have them age while their mentors have to remain a certain age. In fact, your example of this gone amuck, and where DC was headed was that sooner or later, Nightwing, the original Robin, would be older than Bruce Wayne. Aren’t you going back toward by what you once argued against by having things move towards a passing on of the mantle?

DD: Not at all. What I did say was that I was against consistent reboots of the character – where you erased everything and started all over again. My two biggest conceits are, for a number of our characters: who is the most recognizable character in that costume? What is the one most people gravitate towards and the most people address as the definitive version of the character. The other is that I hate how we keep on erasing things and starting over. What I like to do is if there is a natural path to the story, to follow that story.

With Batman in particular, and in some cases with Superman, both of them are bigger than who they are. They’ve affected not just themselves and their respective cities, but so many other characters have been inspired by them, taken on their mantle, taken on their emblem. They operate on the assumption, for instance, that they are achieving what they believe that Batman thinks is right. That’s what we’re really exploring here. We have so many characters that are built off of who Batman is – not just his sidekicks, but so many other characters that inhabit his world, that I think there is a potential here to tell an interesting and compelling story, not just about Batman, but what Batman means to everyone that he’s touched throughout his life. That’s why we’re doing this.

10) So you’re seeing what you’re doing more as a lateral expansion rather than a forward chronological expansion?

DD: More importantly, we’re not going to be coming in with a brand new character, and he’s becoming a brand new thing. This – what we see in “R.I.P.” and afterwards for Batman is a natural expansion of who he is and the people that inhabit his world. That’s what we’re going to be focusing on.

11) Basically, what you said about Batman seems to also apply to Superman with what is going on in “New Krypton” with Supergirl, Krypto and 100,000 Kryptonians showing up. But let’s look at one of the larger criticisms of “New Krypton” – there was a point a while back when everything was stripped down. Superman was “the last son of Krypton.” He was alien and alone, which allowed for some wonderful stories, despite being married. Now, we’ve got 100,000 plus maybe another half dozen Kryptonians running around, along with many of the adapted tropes of the Silver Age…

DD: Let me interrupt for a second – that’s the old, “Why do we need a Green Lantern Corps?” argument. Why do we need a Green Lantern Corps if we have one Green Lantern?

We have a tagline for “New Krypton” that we use here – “100,000 supermen, one Superman.” Just because you have super powers doesn’t make you a Superman. Just because you’re able to do all the things that Superman can do doesn’t make you Superman.

Again, especially with characters like Batman and Superman, who’ve had stories told with them for over 70 years…we start to tell a story and we hear, “Oh, you’re going back to that story again?” Well, hopefully, we’re finding ways to reinterpret it in a new light. In this particular case, we’re really examining what makes Clark Kent unique? What makes him the hero – not just the powers, but what makes him the hero more than any other? That’s what a lot of this is going to be about.

I think for the people who read the first issue of New Krypton, you’ve got to be a little nervous there. These are people with new powers, but they are just common people. They haven’t been raised like Clark was, they haven’t been taught what’s important in regards to how those powers are used, and they still have their own priorities that they are putting first.

NRAMA: And largely speaking, we don’t know what Krypton culture is about – we’ve only seen snapshots, and Jor-el was probably playing favorites…

DD: Exactly – and there are so many fabulous twists and turns along the way, Geoff has done a great job of laying out basically, a blueprint for the Superman books that takes us through to the end of 2010, and it’s built around New Krypton, and quite honestly, the status quo changes every few months. That’s what keeps it exciting and interesting. Immediately, for example, in the month of March, there will be changes to Action Comics in regards to who the star of Action is, and you’ll see also when we bring back the title of one of the most beloved older DC series and present it in a new light as well.

12) Going back to something you touched upon in that last answer – you mentioned that some of these characters have been around for 70 years. With Superman, you’re on the nose – 2008 was the character’s 70th Anniversary. Time Magazine featured him on a cover when he turned 50, and there were other milestones mentioned. In a lot of fans eyes – the longest continuously published American superhero comic…an icon of American culture, arguably an icon of world culture…where was the party? Where were the specials? Why did DC Comics celebrate 2008 as Superman’s 70th Anniversary?

DD: It’s a good question, but it’s not my question. To be very frank, my priority is periodicals, whether or not there’s a larger event tied to it. For me personally, I’m worried about what we’re doing now and the stories we’re telling now, not looking back and dating things. I think it’s an amazing accomplishment and think that it’s something that could have been addressed on a company level, but at this point, I wasn’t part of that process, so it’s hard for me to answer. It’s a tough one for me – I have to agree in principle, but it’s not my call to make.

13) Moving away from the books for a second and into staffing – recently you added one of my old editors – Brian Cunningham late of Wizard joined the DC staff. What brought him in, and what’s he working on?

DD: Brian was one of my first contacts over at Wizard when I first got into DC. He and I struck up a friendship over the years and a good working relationship as well. He’s incredibly knowledgeable about the characters, and because of the changes that took place over at Wizard and circumstances that were opening up over here, I was able to bring him in as an editor in the DC Universe.

What’s great about it is that he hits the ground running and has the respect of the talent pool and peers on the floor. More importantly, he has an incredible knowledge of the DC Universe and the desire to do well with our characters. He’s taking over a couple of books that I was working on – the Power Girl book, he’ll be wrapping up El Diablo (which Keith Giffen says was being passed around editors like a bong), and will be working with Liz Gerhlin on Teen Titans and Titans and then ultimately taking those one. He reports directly to Eddie Berganza, so he’ll be involved with a bucket load of Blackest Night material this coming year as well.

14) Let’s start looking at some of the franchises in a broad view. Since you mentioned it, let’s start with the Teen Titans books. Sometimes I get the feeling that you enjoy pushing the love/hate relationship that readers have with the Teen Titans as far as you can, but right now, you’ve got a fairly loud chorus of “What th-?” with the treatment of Wendy and Marvin – to put it politely. What is the larger plan here between the Teen Titans and Titans?

DD: Let’s go through some broad strokes – as it happens, I know the editor during that period of time on the book very well, and can tell you what they were attempting to do with the series. First things first, we wanted to energize the series. I’m going to use a weird Marvel reference for the Teen Titans…there was a time when the Avengers were first introduced, they had all the heavy hitters. Ultimately what happened was that it wasn’t until they shifted the team to Hawkeye, Quicksilver Scarlet Witch with Captain America that it really seemed to gel and take on a life of its own.

So the primary goal for us with Teen Titans was to establish our secondary characters and then build them up interestingly, and then reintroduce higher level stars to the book to bring it prominence. I felt that if we got the core very strong, and readers knew exactly who Blue Beetle was, along with Red Devil and Wonder Girl and even Miss Martian, I felt it would help the overall series, because if we were successful with that core group, as we added in more characters, the success would continue. So we’re adding Static, and there will be a couple of big surprises along the way over the course of ht efirst half of 2009 that will excite and reenergize so many of the Teen Titans fans.

On the Titans side, there’s always the question of what’s the reasoning behind the team? On the Titans team, we wanted to bring the classic team together, and it’s interesting to say that, but the Wolfman-Perez team is now truly the “classic” team. We wanted to bring them back in the best light possible. The problem with that was that we had the Flash with the Justice League, Arsenal was with the Outsiders, Nightwing was sometimes with the Outsiders, so why would they come together?

Of any book that we have in the DC Universe right now, this book is the most about family and friends. These guys are truly a family unit. They’ve supported each other over the years, they’ve been there, they make it apriority to help each other. So we wanted to present that story as much as possible. That’s the reason why our introductory story for the series was the Trigon story. The Trigon story challenged Raven’s families – her actual family versus her adopted family.

You’ll start to see us explore that – what it means to be a Titan, and more importantly, the sacrifices that you make and the stands that you have to make in order to support your friends and your extended family. That is, in fact, what the Jericho story is about – there will be a twist at the end of Decisions #4 that explain the motivations of Jericho and the problems with Jericho. That storyline spins back into Titans, and becomes an important storyline for Titans, Teen Titans and Vigilante in the first half of next year.

So that’s where we’re going there. Let me go back for a minute to Wendy, since you mentioned her earlier. Wendy actually plays a key role in the DC Universe, believe it or not, following her story in Teen Titans. Her injury, her coma sets off a chain of events throughout the DCU that brings about one of the most startling changes in the DC Universe by the middle of next year. Once you find out who her father is, we start connecting the dots from there.

15) So she’s connected with Blackest Night?

DD: Absolutely not. Our connect the dots will take us from Wendy to Gotham City, which will send everyone reading this off on a completely wrong path, by the way.

16) Let’s take a look at the JLA/JSA corner of the DCU. Dwayne is bringing in the Milestone characters and focusing on introducing them to the larger DCU, but looking at Justice League in particular – are we going to see an extended period where you just leave Dwayne alone to tell his own stories, rather than have the series pulled into various crossovers and storylines?

DD: Absolutely. If Dwayne ties into anything, it’s his choice. My big thing for Dwayne, the most important thing for Dwayne is to address the Justice League team as he’s created it. The one thing he will have to address, either fortunately or unfortunately, and I think it’s fortunately, are some of the changes that occur from what happens in the Batman and Superman groups, but also, I want him to bring these Milestone characters in and give them the best introduction possible, so they have the best chance to succeed as possible. But – this is not just an introduction to these characters. It also has to do with story, and there are a lot of issues that we will be able to address when these characters are brought together.

17) Let’s take a broad look at the Justice Society side of things, and the whole “legacy” heroes aspect of the DCU. The Kingdom Come storyline is headed for a major wrap up…but given that it’s Geoff’s book, how will it play with the larger storylines that he’ll have going in 2009?

DD: It won’t be really. The storyline that’s coming up after Kingdom Come will follow Black Adam and the Rock of Eternity. It will also bring back somebody that people have been looking for for a while, and more importantly, it addresses a tonal shift in the DC Universe, something that as I said, we’ll start seeing in January – a shift that deals with the choices the heroes are making in how they want to address the challenges of evil in the future.

18) Speaking of Black Adam and the Marvel Family as a whole – we did have a question that came in to Newsarama asking us to ask you if we had a chance, about the Marvel Family and how the treatments they’ve had over the last few years seems to have left them fractured and unfamiliar to long-time fans…are they going to be pulled back toward at least a little…better known ground?

DD: Here’s the thing – the Marvel Family interpretation in regards to what most people want to see – the CC Beck version of Captain Marvel and the world of Fawcett City does not interact well with the rest of the DC Universe. Tonality-wise, it just doesn’t work. It’s a much lighter, much more open style than what’s going on in the DCU. We’ve been working –if you noticed – we’ve moved Billy out of the equation, he’s on the Rock of Eternity, and the characters that we’ve been working with the most have been Freddie and Mary, because we felt there was more character there to address. Freddie’s origin was a lot darker…Mary’s origin was something off to the side. A lot of people also point to the Jerry Ordway stuff, which is really wonderful material, but again, tonality wise, we were looking for a way to bring the Marvel Family into the DCU as it was operating.

That being said, one of the reasons we created Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam was because we wanted to capture the special magic, wonder and heart of those characters. We thought we achieved that quite well with the Mike Kunkel stuff. I wish it was coming out little bit faster to be frank, but I think that captures a lot of the tone that people remember from Captain Marvel.

But where it stands right now is that we’re finding Captain Marvel’s place in the DCU – Geoff has done a wonderful job in bringing all the aspects of Marvel’s family – especially the Black Adam side – back. The thing about the Captain Marvel Universe is that we’ve mined it for so much richness – from Sivana to Black Adam to Mary Marvel to Freddie to Shazam himself. Billy hasn’t been part of that equation, and that’s something we’re working on right now – to make him part of that equation again. And some of that will be addressed in Geoff’s Black Adam story coming up in Justice Society.

19) Two questions left – broad strokes, DC Universe in 2009. To start off, we’re coming off of years events from both you and Marvel. That in mind, what will we be seeing in that light – more? Less? Modifications of how “events” are seen?

DD: Let’s talk about events for a second – everyone talks about “event fatigue.” The reality of “event fatigue” is very simple – if the event is interesting, exciting and compelling – everybody wants it. If it’s not exciting or interesting, people don’t want it. I believe that. Event fatigue also comes from when the story goes on for too long, and it gets padded. Event fatigue comes from massive delays that make you forget the story or have the story lose momentum that the event might have created, or create story beats that force other story beats to be irrelevant by the time they come out. Those are the things that we’re fighting desperately to get past right now. My goal for 2009 is to be better at what we do. That is my greatest fight, and I’m willing to take every major criticism at this moment in time in order to get the books out and get ourselves back on track. Once we’re back on track in 2009, our goal is very simple: a tight, smart, DCU, with a core of books that push the entire continuity and universe forward. It will be built around “Battle for the Cowl” in the first half of the year, and then around “Blackest Night” in the second half of the year. That’s not to say that every book is tied in to everything, but you feel like it is a share universe once again. But those two large storyline are not the only thing we’ll offer – we’ll offer other books and stories that I hope really fill what I hope are people’s needs and interests in what DC does. That’s why we’re expanding the universe with things like the Red Circle characters and the Milestone characters. We’ll also have other ideas that we’ll be pushing forward over the course of the year that will catch people by surprise that aren’t tied to the DCU proper, but capture the spirit, style and tone of the superhero books that we’re known for.

That’s my goal. We have a very aggressive schedule, but the aggressive schedule is built on the product that people want, the characters that [people want to see, and the stories that I hope people want to read.

20) Last question – something that wasn’t mentioned as one of the pieces of 2009, but yet, fans know it’s coming – what’s the timetable for Flash: Rebirth by Geoff and Ethan Vansciver?

DD: Flash comes back in April. The reason, and I’ll be very frank here – we’ve got so much going on with “Battle for the Cowl” that I didn’t want Flash to get lost in the shuffle, so to speak. So April will see Flash: Rebirth #1, and by that point, we’ll also be talking about the big plan for the Flash universe, and the other Flash characters.

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