Dan DiDio: 20 Answers, 1 Question

Boy, we really stuck our foot in it this time, huh?

Two weeks ago, we kicked off a bi-weekly series of 20 questions with DC Executive Editor Dan DiDio. You may have been here – it went over well.

What went over better was when we opened the floodgates to you for questions for this week’s installment of 20 questions with Dan.

37 pages and hundreds of questions later we were able to pull together 20 questions for DiDio. We didn’t necessarily pull out specific questions, but rather, asked him following along the general themes of issues that were raised many times – continuity, scheduling, the Bat-verse books, etc.

We asked – and we got answers.

Oh, and Dan changed it up on us – at the end, he has a question for you.

1: Let’s start with the big news from last week, that is, the cancellation of Nightwing, Robin and Birds of Prey. Looking at the sales estimates on those three, they’re not the lowest selling titles DC has going, and they serve a purpose in the DC Universe and Batman’s world, so what’s the deal? There are rumors and thoughts that they are going to be replaced, so is there any hope to be offered?

Nightwing #150 cover
Nightwing #150 cover
Nightwing #150

Dan DiDio: What we see on those particular books given where Batman is heading and the stories in the Batman universe are going, the stories that were taking place in Robin, Nightwing and Birds of Prey have all run their natural course, and have definite conclusions as part of the “Last Rites” stories following Batman R.I.P. That’s one of the reasons why those books came to an end.

Needless to say, and to put everybody’s minds at ease, that does not mean we will no longer be telling stories with Barbra Gordon, Dick Grayson or Tim Drake. As a matter of fact, we’re about to increase the level of prominence they have and their importance within the Bat-universe, if people can believe that they can get even more important, which they will. And more importantly, they’re going to be featured prominently in a number o f miniseries that will be following their cancellations. Tim and Dick are front and center in all that happens in Battle for the Cowl, and Barbra Gordon will be moving into an Oracle miniseries immediately following the cancellation of Birds f Prey.

What follows those miniseries though, will have to be left for another discussion.

We’re still locking down the writer on the Oracle miniseries, but Battle for the Cowl will be written and drawn by Tony Daniel, which we’re very excited about. This is the first time Tony’s written in a while, and he’s just champing at the bit to be able to do this, and we’re excited that he’s on the series.

Battle for the Cowl promo art

2: Speaking of cancellations, readers are always trying to second guess what’s behind the ending of their favorite books, from sales to critical response to…any other number of factors. What does go into it – how do you look at books that are succeeding and failing, and what criteria do you hold them to?

DD: Sales is front and center, as it always is. How it sells not only as a periodical, but how it sells as a collected edition are things that that get weighed very heavily in the equation. Realistically, one of the other things we watch is trending – to see how the books works or doesn’t work. Does it hold its number, or does it steadily decline? In some of our series, we watch books tick down to a point, and do everything we can to change that pattern, but it’s the natural progression for all series.

On the lower selling ones, they’re much harder to turn around, and even if you do, the amount of change isn’t that appreciable, unfortunately. When we came back with Manhunter, we really hoped that there would be some groundswell, even to spike it slightly higher than where we left off, but truth be told, we didn’t see that. Therefore, we realized that resting it or kick-starting it again, we realized that we couldn’t make enough of a change in the sales to make it a profitable venture.

Talking Blue Beetle with Matt Sturges
Talking Blue Beetle with Matt Sturges
Blue Beetle, we hardly knew ye...

One of the books that I’m most disappointed about in that regard is a book like Blue Beetle, which we are cancelling. That’s a book that we started with very high expectations, but it lost its audience along the way. Recently, we felt that it was standing on firmer ground, and was getting a more positive response. The problem is that the firmer ground and positive response is not enough to keep the book afloat. So unfortunately, we had to cancel that series.

But with the case of both Manhunter and Blue Beetle, those characters did not go away – they will be essential to the DC Universe, and we hope at some point, we can look at them again and present them in stories where they can stand on their own. When it comes down to it, most of it is business – in the case of both Manhunter and Blue Beetle, it is solely about the sales, because these are books that are both near and dear to my heart, and we tried everything we could to keep them alive. When it comes to books like Robin, Nightwing and Birds of Prey, it’s a little different - it’s about positioning the characters for future stories.

Those are two different scenarios, and you can apply that type of logic to every series that is out there. We’re constantly looking for ways to reinvigorate the line and present the characters in the best light possible for the best chance of success. Some succeed, some ultimately fail, but we never stop trying.

3: With that news in mind, and to bring in some of the themes of questions that were posted, with the cancellation of Manhunter, Birds of Prey and Blue Beetle, you’re moving back towards virtually all male characters in title roles (Supergirl and Wonder Woman notwithstanding) and they’re all rather WASP-y.

Diversifying the line has been something that you have championed in the past, so is this a situation where you’re buckling down for now, or a rejection of the ideas of a more diverse DCU by the market?

DD: In this particular case, since I know what’s on my schedule, I feel very confident that we are not walking away from any of those issues. Like I said, Birds of Prey goes away, but there’s an Oracle miniseries coming which places a prominent female character front and center. We have Supergirl running and reaching a new level of prominence and success. We have Vixen still running as a miniseries right now. We have Secret Six running, with strong female characters in the lead, we have Power Girl about to premiere, we have Wonder Woman who is the preeminent female character in all of comics.

Power Girl #1

In terms of diversity, one of the things we did in regards to bringing in the Milestone characters is that we brought in the true ethnic mix that made that line so unique. I have to believe that what the future holds for those characters is that not only will they be appearing in both touchstones books like Justice League and Teen Titans, but also in their own books somewhere in the foreseeable future.

So, realistically, it may seem like we’re shrinking things, but what we’re actually looking to do is to give every opportunity for success, and if these books cannot achieve the level of success and not achieve the goals we set for them, we’ll rest them for the moment, and come up with new ideas and new concepts which will diversify the DC Universe and hopefully attract a larger audience in the process.

4: Going on to a question that came up many times in the suggestion box – how should continuity be viewed in DC Comics? One writer said that while they’re not advocating that all books should be tied to a specific timeline, there should at least be some feel of a timeline…somewhere…

DD: Going back to the model that we used just prior to Infinite Crisis - I found that to be successful and we unfortunately got away from it – we tried to be a little more aggressive and work within a much tighter continuity, which sort of worked against us. But what we did before Infinite Crisis was that we set up milestones – key spots, key beats that were defining moments in the DC Universe, things that several books worked toward and grew out of. Books and characters grew toward a moment, shared the moment, and then went back to their own stories again.

What you’re going to see in the DC Universe, in February, is that we’re doing the “Origins and Omens” in the back that I talked about last time. They’ll be running in somewhere around 19 titles that month. In those, there’s a single narrator – a rogue Guardian called Scar. Scar will be very prominent in Blackest Night for all the events in that story and will bring together the sensibility of the “Origins and Omens” are together, and will also be leaving clues that will be played out in the Blackest Night miniseries in the latter half of the year.

So again – it’s something that will pull the books together in a sense, but after every book has “Origins and Omens,” everybody goes back into their own story again – Superman will be dealing with New Krypton ramifications, “Last Rites” will be playing out in the Batman titles, the Jericho storyline will be going on in Teen Titans, Titans and Vigilante. So everything has things occurring on their own, but we’ll be bringing them together now and then. When we reach Blackest Night, you’ll feel a little bit tighter continuity, but not overwhelming continuity. Each story will progress while Blackest Night is going on, but it will feel like a more cohesive universe.

"Origins and Omens" Trade Dress

That being said, we still do series and stories like Superman/Batman, like Brave and the Bold that feature characters that have the sensibilities of the continuing continuity but are not as beholden to what’s going on in everything else.

We tried and failed when we tried to do a month-by-month continuity tied to Countdown - that is not a mistake I want to repeat. What it did – and I’ve said this several times, was that it did a disservice to so many stories, because they were trying to line up so perfectly, no story found its natural pace. The Green Lantern story was moving at one speed, Countdown at another, and when you tried to synch them up, we did a disservice to them both. We are not doing that again, but you do want to feel as though there is a greater whole, and a greater connectivity, and that will be there. The DC Universe is a shared universe, so there will be moments where you feel that sense of sharing, and moments when you feel that things stand alone. That way, you get the best of both worlds.

The Joker

5: But what about when you end up with seemingly different versions of the same character? The Joker for instance – he’s different between how Grant Morrison treats him in Batman to his other DC U appearances to how Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo treated him in their graphic novel. Hawkman has gone two different ways…

DD: Hawkman has not gone two different ways. Joker, I agree with, Hawkman I disagree with. But you’re right – there is something unique that Grant is looking to do with his story, and agreed that it made sense to let that story stand on its own, even though we were doing something with Joker in the meantime. The goal, as always, is to unify those ideas and move ahead, and we’ll figure out where each one falls into place afterwards. But the goal is that post Final Crisis, we are going to be very clear about the single interpretation of our characters and that way, they’re presented correctly across the line.

As with Hawkman, we were trying to create a sensibility that there might be more to the story of Hawkman – that was a story concept. If we go back to that particular story by Jim Starlin, nothing really changed – it just brought questions up to the front, and those questions will be played out later in the year.

Oh, and let me finish that statement – they will be played out to the satisfaction to everybody who enjoyed and embraced the origin that Geoff Johns put forth when the character was reintroduced. Everything works together.

6: Going almost hand in hand with continuity – it seems that one would demand the other, a fair number of questions from readers concerned scheduling. It seems that it’s cyclical – it gets on track, falls off track, you give a broad statement about how you’re fixing it, and this time it will stick, it gets on track and then falls off again, and you give another, “This time we really mean it” statement. What’s the deal?

DD: You’re absolutely right. We do everything in our power to keep these books on track. We’re coming off a very big election year, and if I was running for office, I would tell you that every book for 2009 is on schedule, and each book has the creative team that will make it possible. The reality is, we are constantly juggling the schedule based upon the needs of the creative team, and the needs of the schedule, and we are weighting the value of each, and we wait and make choices based upon who’s involved in the process, and how important it is to maintain the schedule and maintain the consistency of the product.

Case in point - Final Crisis. As I mentioned in the last interview, it’s essential for us to have the last issue of Final Crisis come out in the month of January. Therefore, we are moving heaven and earth to make the book come out in the month of January, because so much follows.

Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds has an impact on our line because of the bits that take place at the conclusion of the series, but that impact does not occur until later in the year. So we are less aggressive to holding that particular book’s schedule than we were the lead book in Final Crisis. So therefore, you’re going to see Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds with months skipping in order to complete the story, but Final Crisis will be pushed to make sure it hits as close to its schedule as possible.

Those are just choices that we make. People seem to identify this problem as being unique to DC, but I would argue that it happens across the entire industry. I would argue that no matter what your expectations are every week, those expectations are unfortunately broken. I would argue that this problem is unique to the business. It’s unique to who we are, and due to eh fact that we put so much weight on the creative teams and so much emphasis on the collected product at the end, to the point that the creators are concerned that the collected product would be compromised if we break their runs, yet the reality is, just on the basis of the schedules, it’s very hard to meet the schedule’s demands.

Cover to Final Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds #3
Cover to Final Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds #3
Legion of 3 Worlds #2

I’ll go one step further, because I happened to look at the questions in the list – the idea of stockpiling material so that you’ll be able to reach a monthly schedule without a problem is a very noble concept – it is the right idea, but it is something that, for several reasons does not work to the best of our abilities. Frankly speaking, on occasions when you do that, the creative teams involved take so much time and want to see some of their product come out that they lose enthusiasm and interest if it’s not scheduled and sometimes we start to lose the sense of purpose of what we’re creating in the first place.

There’s a lot of excitement and enthusiasm and true enjoyment when you first create a book, but if it sits waiting for a year or two years, sometimes that enthusiasm wanes. So, we try and capitalize on everyone’s true energies and go out with the best intentions. At no time do we go out and put something on the schedule with the knowledge that we will never put it out. Quite the opposite – we wait until the last minute to put things on the schedule, to the point where we feel that, without a doubt, we will get the product out, but sometimes, events take place that throw things out of whack. But that won’t keep us from trying continually to hit the schedule.

I can come to you and say that 85% of my product is on time, which it is – it’s the 15% that people want the most, and more importantly, it’s the 15% that people want the most with the talent that they expect on it. Those are the challenges that you’re faced with, and you have to make those choices on virtually every book, every day.

7: Moving on to another hot topic with readers – Marvel has made some broad moves with their online content both in terms of original material and their library. DC has Zuda, of course, but no real push, aside from an occasional issue, to place comics online. Are there discussions and plans for this to happen?

DD: There are always discussions and there are always plans. Here’s where I stand – similar to my opinion on certain events that take place on a corporate level, my primary concern are the publications. My job, as defined in my role is to take care of the periodicals – that’s my responsibility. That’s why I take the previous question about scheduling so seriously. That’s all my responsibility – to make sure we meet our schedule, and we put out a number of books that are profitable, which goes back to the earlier question about cancellations. See? We’ve got continuity among the questions and answers [laughs].

But I am on the publishing side, and I have definite opinions, and I offer those opinions in the various meetings that take place, but there are several digital initiatives within DC that are being explored. They are not under my purview, so therefore I do not feel proper in commenting on them.

8: This might be another question in that vein, that is, you may be able to give an opinion even if it’s not in your place to affect direct change on it…the economy is in horrible shape, and comic book cover prices are pretty high, relatively speaking. How high can a monthly comic go before we reach a very serious breaking point for the industry?

DD: Honestly – this is a very tough question for me to answer right now, because that concern is front and center with everything that we do. We do budgeting for our year, and I looked at my budget for 2009, and I understood what the challenges are going to be. I have definite opinions on this that we can have discussions on at a later time, but at this particular moment, I can say that we are not looking at this in a haphazard way or just letting events occur around us. We will try to be as proactive as possible to make sure that we operate with the best intentions of our retailers and fans in mind.

9: Back towards the subject material of the comics themselves – you mentioned Legion of 3 Worlds, but as we’ve reported, Legion of Super-Heroes ends with issue #50. Can you give any word as to where things are headed for the Legion in 2009? Obviously, in the Legion of 3 Worlds, there is a progression of events that’s suggesting a definite status quo change for the Legion…

DD: Legion of Super-Heroes has been a key franchise to the DC Universe since the ‘60s. It’s appeared in Adventure Comics, Superboy its own series, guest starred in a number of books, they’re going ot be appearing in Smallville very shortly, and have had their own animated television series. To think that after the cancellation of the series with #50 and after the conclusion of Legion of 3 Worlds that we have no plans in place would probably be a mistake.

Wonder Woman #26, page 13

We’re playing it kind of quiet now because we want Legion of 3 Worlds to play out so people will be excited about the conclusion, and from that conclusion, follow that story to others where those characters may or may not appear.

The bottom line is that Legion of Super-Heroes is a key franchise of the DC Universe, and it will never sit still or quiet for long.

10: One book that we didn’t get into too much last time when we were going through the franchise was Wonder Woman…what’s the larger picture there?

DD: First up is Wonder Woman’s battle with the character Genocide, which is the start of the “Rise of the Olympian” story, and in that particular story, Wonder Woman truly meets her match. We look at the Genocide character to Wonder Woman in the same light as we look at Doomsday with Superman. So we introduce Genocide, and because of the events that take place in that story, it leads to what we affectionately call “the Manazons” and more importantly “The Rise of the Olympian,” which is going to be a key character in the DC Universe in 2009 and hopefully beyond.

11: Will we see any spin offs with the character in the coming year?

DD: My feeling, in that she is one of our longest-running characters and most enduring characters, is that she should have more than one series going on. She should not just be relegated to one book. She has a level of prominence that we feel we should embrace, and more importantly, grow from. We look at things like Superman, Batman and Green Lantern – all of these characters have been able to support more than one series. There’s no reason why Wonder Woman shouldn’t do the same.

NRAMA: So is there an announcement hidden in there?

DD: I can’t answer that! [laughs] If I did, what would we talk about in two weeks?

12: Another question that came up from the readers – what’s going on with Greg Rucka? He has Final Crisis: Revelations going on…and there’ve been comments that he has stuff in the works. But that’s been said for a while…

DD: We’re going to see Greg Rucka’s return to the Batman family post Battle for the Cowl.

13: The male side of the Batman family or the female side of the Batman family?

DD: Well, you don’t have to be the world’s greatest detective to figure that one out.

Maybe? Maybe?

14: Something that did come up a few times in the readers’ question – it was asked specifically in relation to Batman Beyond, but in a larger sense - 52 reintroduced the concept of the multiverse, showed that it was populated by various iterations of super-hero worlds, and it got a bubble view again…yet there’s been no real exploration of it. No real crossovers, aside from Superman Beyond and the recent Justice Society stories…but you brought these worlds, and then haven’t used them for well over a year…

DD: The real answer – I just don’t want to approach it in a haphazard manner. Being incredibly candid, I want Grant Morrison to have first crack at it. So realistically, the multiverse is Grant’s toy to play with and use as he likes. I want Grant, when he becomes available, to do the first and best exploration of the mutliverse. He has the best grasp of the concept, and the interpretations that I feel matter.

Geoff did a wonderful job for the Earth-2 story he did in JSA recently, but Grant has so many fabulous ideas for the multiverse that we’re going to wait for him. Once he has his schedule free, I’d hope that he starts to do that. But in the meantime, I don’t want to go out there and put out 22 multiverse books. That got us in trouble earlier on, and I don’t want to make that same mistake twice. I want to do the proper exploration slowly and make it feel that they all matter and have merit.

I can’t think of a better person than Grant Morrison to lead that charge.

15: We touched upon Flash: Rebirth last time, but looking at why the Flash franchise is needing a “rebirth” was something that came up in the thread – why in your view, did the Bart Allen as Flash and the return of Wally West not catch on with fans, and things got to the point where it looks as if bringing Barry back is the only way to reinvigorate the characters?

DD: Unfortunately that’s not really how things worked out, in terms of cause and effect. Bart was always going to go away, and I think the mistake was that we probably pulled Bart a little too soon, but quite honestly again, that was the problem of lining stories up with Countdown. The Bart story was due to be extended a little bit longer, but due to how things were lining up, he had to leave sooner.

That story’s not complete yet. We’re going to see more of what that story was about shortly – it was always the plan for Bart. He was going to be the Flash of the moment as we made our way back to Barry.

I think Mark Waid did an admirable job of stepping in and trying to find a different slant to Wally and the family, which we found out, was a more difficult story to tell than when we planned it. I think Mark did as best a job as possible – he put so much thought and effort into fleshing out that family, and I think we have a couple of rich characters in the children because of that.

But at the end of the day, there’s a certain expectation of what a Flash story is, and what you want to see in a Flash comic book. While we expanded the Flash family, people really wanted to see the Flash. But the goal for me, always, was to get back to Barry in the same way the goal was to get back to Hal in Green Lantern.

16: How long are we going to see the interlocking numbers on the Superman titles? Is this just “New Krypton” specific, or will it last longer?

Superman: New Krypton Special
Superman: New Krypton Special
Superman: New Krypton Special

DD: When you ask if it’s a “New Krypton” kind of thing…the funny thing about that is that the story of New Krypton and all of its developments plays all the way through to the end of 2010. So…yes it is a “New Krypton” thing, and yes, it’s a long-term plan.

17: Moving to something that may be something of a sore point, the last Market Share numbers from Diamond for September’s titles showed Marvel carrying a larger than 50% market share. How is that interpreted in your office?

DD: Let’s talk math for a second: market share is percentages, so what we’re not seeing is what goes in to making those percentages – the amount of product being created, the amount of product coming out. Granted, we have seen slippage across our lines – I am not denying that, and we are taking every step we can to address that, things like Battle for the Cowl and New Krypton are designed to reinvigorate and bring people back into our key franchises. Flash: Rebirth, Blackest Night Prelude - these are all our key franchises. The Milestone introduction in ,b>JLA brings interest to JLA.

What I’m trying to say is that I can hear percentages being thrown, but what I look at is actual physical sales, and if I see my actual sales slipping, then that is a cause for concern, and we react, either trying to enhance a book, change a creative team, change a direction, and cancel a book so that it’s not taking up an inordinate amount of energy for a title that’s not attracting an audience. That’s what we do. I look at actual sales.

“Market Share” is a percentage, and unless you know what all the variables are that go into that percentage, then it’s hard to determine the value of that. The reality is to look at the number of books we put out month by month. We had a weak September primarily because our key books did not come out in the month of September – we did not have a Final Crisis issue or a Batman: R.I.P. issue. Therefore we suffered for it. That’s our mistake because of how the schedule works. But my thing is that all we can do is put out the best product that we can, week-in and week-out, and hopefully people recognize the amount of effort that we are putting into it. Our job is to make the books that we’re doing sell better, and that’s the effort that we’re putting in.

I just don’t want to fill buckets. I want to make books that people want to read.

18: Something that touches upon expanding the universe with bringing in the Milestone characters and the Red Circle characters – it’s a question that comes up at every panel you do – DC has the Vertigo characters…

DD: Who does? I don’t have the Vertigo characters. The DCU does not have the Vertigo characters. Those are under the auspices of Vertigo under Karen Berger, and they have a set plan for those characters that works independently from what we do here – and that’s that. I’ve answered this question so many times…the reality is, as aggressively as we may tell stories with our characters, we will never be Vertigo Comics. We can never use the language that they use in Vertigo, or address the subject matter that they address, therefore, we try to make a very clear delineation between what is DCU and what is Vertigo. Once characters are up front and prominent there, they cannot be anywhere near the DCU.

NRAMA: Animal Man?

DD: Animal Man came back to the DC Universe because Grant Morrison wanted to write him. Once Grant stopped writing him, we wrapped our arms around him and wouldn’t let him go back. The same with Doom Patrol. That’s just the way the system works. Characters like Swamp Thing are essential to the identity of Vertigo right now – that’s one of the things that Vertigo was built on. I know how important they are for Karen and the Vertigo line, and therefore these trains shall never meet.

NRAMA: I hear what you’re saying, but looking at it from more of a fan perspective, there always seem to parts to that explanation that ring hollow – Swamp Thing isn’t appearing anywhere in Vertigo, and the best selling title has nothing to do with Swamp Thing, Constantine or any of the magic that Neil Gaiman wrote about…not to mention Alan Moore had no problem mixing Swamp Thing with Superman, or sending him into Gotham to get Abbey back – those are classic stories in the DC library. It just seems weird that DC has cut themselves off from using those characters and seems okay with letting some of them languish, but on the other hand, you’re importing whole new universes of characters into the Universe.

DD: Swamp Thing and Superman and Gotham were stories prior to creation of Vertigo. There was no Vertigo when those stories were written, so therefore, they fell under what the DC Universe was at the time, but once Vertigo became its own imprint, its own brand, it became separate from the DC Universe, and therefore we handle it as a separate entity, and we deal with characters individually.

I don’t know how else to say it. Asking me about those characters is like saying, “DC did Amalgam with Marvel – why don’t you use those characters again?” That’s about the same way that I can view the Vertigo characters. If we use something, there is a discussion that has to happen before it. There’s not a free-flowing line that we can move back and forth over.

19: Now that Kurt Busiek is off of Superman, is any chance that his Krypto story will ever see print?

DD: The Rick Leonardi one? There’s always a chance that everything will see print someday. Let me tell you of a behind-the-scenes story - Birds of Prey #125 I think that’s the issue – it has a beautiful Frank Quitely cover that’s probably been in inventory for about four years. We were going through the inventory, and saw it, and through it was so beautiful that we sent to to Tony Bedard, and asked if he could build a story around it. So yeah – inventory stuff, even stories do have a chance to come out, it just has to be the right time.

20: Finally for now - what’s going on with the Hanna-Barbera characters like Space Ghost and Jonny Quest?

DD: The rights expired, and we just have to get them back and we’ll be good to go. Simple as that. I know it’s the same company, but we do have procedures that have to work within that makes it as if we’re working with separate entities.

And now, because we’re still tweaking out the format a little – one question for readers from Dan DiDio that he’s love for you to answer below:

“What was the last story or series that you enjoyed and got you so excited you could barely wait for the next issue?"

We’ll be back looking for questions for the next installment soon.

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