You asked, we asked, and Dan DiDio answered.
Once again, we culled through your questions for Dan DiDio, Executive Editor of the DC Universe, and came up with a mix of queries that we felt were bound to get Dan talking on some educational and controversial topics, as well as get him to offer up some quick news bits.
Included in our conversation – a map to “Batman R.I.P.,” how books are launched, what control DiDio has over prices, some new Batman projects, and more.
1. Let’s start with a question directly from the readers’ questions – it was at last year’s New York Comic Con that the new Power Girl series by Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray and Amanda Conner was announced. When’s that coming, and how is that decided? When we spoke with Greg Rucka about Action Comics he said that there is a lot of consideration that goes into scheduling and “season” and when books ultimately start their runs…
Dan DiDio: This is a multi-answer question. One of the more interesting situations we’re faced with on a consistent basis here is that when we’re assembling a book or starting to put a book together, there’s an incredible level of excitement that comes from both ourselves and the creators that are involved. But the reality is, given their schedule, and how long it takes for the books to be put together, we see these incredible gaps between when we talk about a project and when the project actually hits the stands. So much occurs between the two that naturally, when people think or project it to be coming out, actually changes. In the case of Power Girl, what happened was that we were all set to go with Jimmy, Justin and Amanda, and they were all very excited about it, as were we when it was announced. What we were waiting for was so that the new series could follow the story that’s taking place in JSA and the JSA Annual with Power Girl.
But as schedules move, we’re being much more cautious about where we launch books because we don’t launch and then have it disappear off the stands for a period of time. So in that case, we’re trying to get a couple of issues in the can. We’re stockpiling some stories. The problem then is, as other stories progress, things change in regards to continuity beats. So occasionally, the stories that we start early sometimes need to be re-adjusted or reconfigured in order to make that it works in the current continuity as it is developing. It’s a push/pull that goes on – we want to give people lead time to get the story correct and get enough material in the can, but sometimes things change on the road as we’re getting there, as they would in any creative situation. As much as we live to say and think that things are etched in stone, this is evolving fiction that we’re creating, and we always want to follow the best path for our characters, and tell the best story, and hoping that everything comes together.
Also with Power Girl, we wanted Amanda to finish the Terra material, because we wanted Terra to come out first. She’s finished Terra, and I can say that you’ll be seeing Power Girl in the second quarter of next year.
2. Has there ever been, under your watch, a point where a project that is going ahead and in production has the ground move underneath it, so to speak, to such an extent that the project can’t be saved?
DD: Absolutely. This speaks to information that seems to leak out online where people read about a project dying before it was even announced. You can’t really consider a project locked in or a direction set until we’re ready to solicit, and at that particular moment, we’re ready to go. But until then, I consider it all a work in progress, and we always want to keep every option open to us in regards to storyline, character and talent, because we always want to make sure we’re putting the best material out on the table and the best material in the stores. The only way I can do that is to make sure we’re examining all our options as we’re building product. I don’t consider any book ready and set to go until we’re ready to solicit. And even then sometimes, we can end up making a change or two along the way.
NRAMA: Name a project that has died on the vine like you mentioned…even before or after being announced…
DD: Let me officially dodge that question. I can’t really say, because at some points, things that we thought were completely dead came roaring back to life – I can think of things that were set in stone that all of a sudden just fell off the shelf. We have a couple of series that we’re approved that were developed and re-developed over a period of time, and we haven’t done anything with them.
The best case scenario for this: All Star Batgirl. That’s something we were set to roll with when we were really trying to firmly establish the All Star line of books. Originally, we had Geoff Johns and JG Jones, and then Geoff took on a number of other projects, as did JG with Final Crisis. Ultimately, that book just sort of faded. But before it went away, we put a second creative team together in an attempt to re-launch the book. But by that point, we were re-thinking the All Star books, and the Batgirl was losing momentum in its own right, and the concept was getting lost in the shuffle. The new creative team that we were putting in place didn’t have the same level of interest in it as the original team, and therefore we decided that, rather than put out a book that didn’t have everyone’s full support and belief, just pull it off the production schedule and put it on hold.
To say that I’m never going to do an All Star Batgirl book – I can’t say that for sure, but at this point, there are no plans to do an All Star Batgirl book.
3. We’ve recently spoken with Filip Sablik at Top Cow who said that they were going to hold their prices at $2.99 through 2009 - as best as anyone can make a financial guarantee in this economy. We’ve talked about this before – that you have something to do with the cover price of your comics, but yours isn’t the final word. That said, what is under your control in these times when readers are seeing an upward cover price creep?
DD: That’s a really tough question, because realistically, in editorial, the primary tool we have is to make the books the best that they can be, to make them worth the investment that people put in them. The days of the 20, 30, 35 cent comic book, the days of picking a comic book up, reading it, and throwing it away, because it was only 35 cents – those days are long gone. When you have people investing three, four or five dollars in a book, you are asking for a larger commitment on their end, and I understand and appreciate that. My goal is to make sure, no matter what the price is, that we have an equal amount of value inside the books to match the price. That’s all I can do. So if our price does start to creep up, I want to make sure that the value is there in the books so that if there is a price increase, nobody feels cheated because of it. That’s the best I can say.
These are crazy times for us all right now, and we’re looking at it from both sides of the fence. We look at our fan base having to re-evaluate where they have to spend their money, and whether or not their jobs are secure, and we look at it in the same way from our side with what we do. Therefore, what we try to do is make sure that we give you true value in the books that we create – that we just don’t pad the material, that we don’t fill it with empty pages, or stories that don’t feel like they matter. Our goal is to make sure that everything feels like it matters. We probably fail more than we succeed, but that doesn’t ever stop us from trying to put out the best books possible.
4. Do thresholds change in terms of the performance of a book? Do they change in tighter times? After all, we’ve seen a number of DC books cancelled recently…
DD: Some of the books were cancelled for story reasons; some were cancelled because of sales reasons. We don’t have a consistent answer for how these books are being handled – especially when you saw some of these things being done. But that said, people are going to realize very quickly that the cancellations of Robin, Nightwing, Birds of Prey and Legion of Super-Heroes are occurring for a very specific reason. For Blue Beetle and Manhunter, those were due to sales reasons. Those are very frustrating for me, because both books have very supportive, very vocal fanbases, and one of my primary goals for characters like Blue Beetle and Manhunter is to make sure that they have a place, they have a home, so that the fans that were attracted to those characters will be able to find them and get consistent and good stories with them. We’ve developed a base of fans that want to see those characters, and I don’t want to leave them hanging.
5. Let’s talk about some of DC’s larger editorial moves. We’ve spoken in the last couple of weeks about how the “big three” characters, Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, will be stepping off stage for a while, allowing the legacy nature of the characters to take center stage. At the same time though, you’ve recently brought back Hal Jordan as Green Lantern, Barry Allen as Flash, the original Green Arrow has come back under your watch – all of which resulted in the lessening of the “legacy” aspects of those heroes. It seems a little schizophrenic – stressing legacy with some characters, stressing iconic and downplaying legacy with others. How do you explain that divergent editorial philosophy within the line?
DD: Very simply…well, not simply, but the best I can [laughs]. The DC Universe is built upon legacy and generational heroes. This is one thing we’ve always known – we’ve watched Flashes, Green Lanterns, Hawkmans, Atoms, and even in some senses, Aquaman – we’ve watched the generational aspects, and watched these heroes change, grow and evolve over the course of time. You can identify the passage of time in how these characters have evolved. There’s a very clear period of time that was established with the first generation of heroes – Alan Scott and Jay Garrick. Then you have the second generation – Barry Allen and Hal Jordan, and then you have the third generation, Wally West and Kyle Rayner. They’re very clear interpretations with very clear periods of time. But once consistency that has always remained through their periods of time have been Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. Superman has always been Clark Kent, Batman has always been Bruce Wayne, and regardless of how the world ages around them, they continue to not age. We reboot them rather than show the generational progression of their story.
In this particular case, we want to show the generational progression of their story. This is our opportunity to apply the logic of the growing and changing DC Universe to our three primary characters. So as other things seem to be solidifying with the most clear, iconic interpretations, our three most iconic characters are going through their generational turn, and at some point, this will all synch up and show us the clear and true DC Universe.
6. Touching on the times that we’re in right now – comics, throughout their history, have reflected the world outside, whether it’s something as big as a war, or technological and cultural changes. So are we going to see comics that reflect where we are now, and if so, how do you balance that with the idea of comics being escapist entertainment, as well as the trade and the “perpetual story” being on bookshelves?
DD: You’re talking about the same thing, but two different things. Will comics be reflective of a prevalent time, attitude and feeling in the country and the world? Yes. You’re talking about time stamping something to a larger extent. I don’t want to timestamp something, say, having an issue of Superman where we show the Phillies wining the World Series. That’s a timestamp – and that’s something that we, as a medium should never do, because our characters are timeless.
But what we can do is show our characters evolve with the times around them. You can read a Green Lantern comic from the ‘60s and know it’s form the ‘60s., not just because of how the characters are drawn and what they’re wearing, but because the prevalent feeling of the characters in what they’re reflecting, and how they interact with other people – the generational change aspect…the sense of revolution in that time. The push of the generation gap. Look at our comics coming out of 9-11 – we don’t reference 9-11, but there was a sense of a feeling of dread or anger that permeated that material. That wasn’t just because we were looking to reflect a period of time, but more because the people who create these comics were feeling that. So much of what you’re looking for in terms of comics having the feel of a certain time comes from our creators. They are living and working in this environment, and picking up ideas and stories from seeing what’s going on in the world around them. That’s why it seeps in. I don’t want to timestamp something, say, to show the stock market crash, or show a particular incident in our books. That basically says, “This is the book from 20_ _.” It’s more interesting to me, and to the readers, I think, if the world around the creators affects them so that the stories are reflective of our world. But the stories themselves should be timeless, because it’s true to who the characters are and the events around them.
So it’s two different things, but the same thing. You can’t timestamp things. When you start to do that, you get into all sorts of trouble. Case in point – when I first came in to work at DC, one of the first things you would see on the wall was the timeline that was put together following Zero Hour - “Ten Years Ago…this happened,” “Twenty Years Ago…this happened.” The problem is that it starts at World War II or World War I, but it’s very clear what periods of time it’s talking about. It’s been on the wall for a few years, and is outdated. The same thing happens when you start time stamping stories – everyone grows and changes, and we have to be able to be flexible with the periods of time in our storytelling, because again, our characters still have to remain, for the most part, timeless.
That doesn’t mean that we can’t show aging – it just means that we can’t age at the same rate of the actual time that is passing by. But we can’t tie ourselves to specific moments in our world.
7. Speaking of the larger editorial plan the bulk of the DC Universe books have been moving in for the last year, or year plus – it’s December, the holidays are a stone’s throw away…and there are no Christmas or Holiday special issues of the ongoing series scheduled. We’ve talked before about our mutual admiration of Dan Jurgens’ ‘Metropolis Mailbag” Christmas stories that he did in Superman during his run and other holiday issues, but this year – among the making superhero titles, every book is locked into a larger storyline and there’s not even a chance for a breakaway holiday story. Though I do get nostalgic for holiday stories at this time of year, I could’ve said the same thing about single issue stories at just about any point during the calendar year. Is that good, bad, just a sign of “how comics are now?”
DD: Yes and no. The yes part is that we love the continuing fiction, and have found out that it carries with it a sense of urgency, a sense of importance and a sense of a continuing story that brings people into the stores week-in and week-out on Wednesdays. That’s what people want to see, that’s what people want to read. A lot of the holiday stories have been relegated to one-offs and specials, and we’re doing one ourselves – the DC Holiday Special, which I’ve done an Aquaman story in myself.
I would love to be able to get to a point where we could have those incorporated into the ongoing series – I think that’s fun, and something fun for readers to look forward to. Hell, I was a huge fan of TV shows doing holiday specials. I like them, but we’re faced, as I said, with longform, continuing fiction, and as much as we’re fighting against it, we have to acknowledge that we have problems with delivery on occasion, and the last thing I ever want to do is put out Halloween in November, and Christmas in February. I’d love the holidays to continue for that long, but it doesn’t serve anyone if we ended up doing that.
So that’s why we want to build these specials outside of the regular books – to ensure that they come out on time, but that does not mean that at some point we will not revisit and re-examine the idea of doing more holiday material, or things that are more reflective of the period of time in the ongoing series. It’s something we’d like to do; it’s just that we’re not doing it at the moment.
8. Within the storyline of Final Crisis, we’ve been seeing…the best way to put it is probably the “birth pains” of the Fifth World. Is there a plan for the New Gods after Final Crisis as they find their place in the Fifth World?
DD: Grant has a series in mind that picks up on most of what he is setting up in the multiverse, and that’s a book that’s his to do when his schedule allows. What I’m looking at is that as the New Gods are entering the Fifth World, the DCU is entering its fifth generation of heroes, so there is a parallel between how the New Gods have changed, as well as how the overall DC Universe has changed as well.
NRAMA: And the “fifth generation” goes back to what you were talking about earlier…
DD: Exactly. And people can try and figure out how the generations break down, but it’s very clear in my mind – but very accordion-like in its nature. Some periods are reflective of much longer gaps of storytelling than others.
9. Speaking of Final Crisis and what Grant is doing there, something that caused fans of Jack Kirby to catch their breath is that the story is a definitive end of Kirby’s Fourth World. That’s been played with and tentatively (relative to what we’re seeing now) explored previously by John Byrne, Walt Simonson and others, but never definitively ended and pushed into the Fifth World. For the longest time, it seemed like Kirby’s unfinished story was as “untouchable” as Barry…well…Pa Kent…uh….just one of those really, really untouchable things, born out of both respect for Kirby and fear of screwing it up…
DD: Exactly. That world, the Fourth World is over. The battle between the forces of Darkseid and those of Highfather is over, and a new direction is in place for the characters in what will be deemed the Fifth World.
NRAMA: Right. So taking that into consideration with the things we’ve seen during your tenure that were similarly considered “untouchable:” Jason Todd comes back to life. Barry Allen returns. Earth-2 Superman returns. Hal Jordan comes back as Green Lantern. Oliver Queen returns as Green Arrow. To varying degrees, these things were at one time all seen as inviolate. In your view, is there anything that can’t be touched or reversed or changed if there is a good story there to support it?
DD: There are certain things that are definitely off limits in my opinion, but I also like to see where the good story comes from, and more importantly, I look at the richness of the DC Universe as something to be completely mined. We’ve tapped into the greatest stories that have ever been told in the DC Universe, and we’ve tapped into the silliest stories that have ever been told in the DC Universe. We’ve played with the most iconic characters, and we’ve played with the most obscure characters. When I first started here, it was put to me that we had this incredible toy box that we could play with, and the goal was to have as much fun as possible, but to put them back when we were done. And that’s what we’re doing. We have a lot of fun in doing it, and hopefully, we’re telling a lot of good stories along the way.
As for the other half of your question, there are immutables in the DC Universe. What I mean by that – certain things, certain lore that can never change. We will never change these things, but that doesn’t mean that we won’t play with it on the edges to make the illusion of change, but at the end of the day, those things will always stay solid, secure and true.
And I will not tell you what those are.
NRAMA: I think that, given common sense, people can figure out what they are, but yet, there are probably some that no regular fan would think of as being unchangeable, unless you did a huge track through time which showed that a certain element never changed, incarnation after incarnation…
DD: Yep. There are things that are very clear that are immutable throughout the DCU, and those are the foundations – the ‘A’ level of continuity.
10. Let’s talk about Batman. Something that came up in a lot of the commentary and criticism of “Batman R.I.P.” is that the storyline was built and built and built – Grant himself made pronouncements about it at the New York Comic Con as being one of the most definition stories for Batman. And then at the end of R.I.P., we get a “death” scene that we have seen before – no body, and a question mark as to what even happened. To me, this seems like it was a case where the hype, or people’s expectations overtook the story’s ability to deliver…
DD: Here’s the conundrum on this one. And this is reflective of the world that we live in now – the world of collected editions. The R.I.P. story was always meant to play through to the end of Final Crisis - always. The thing is, we had to come up with a very complete story in “Batman R.I.P.” as it existed in its title. The reality is that the “Batman R.I.P.” story does not conclude until Final Crisis #6. There are also issues #682 and #683 of Batman that feed directly into Final Crisis #6, and we’ll have a big finale to the Batman storyline. That’s how it plays out.
But as I said, because we live in the world of collected editions, we needed a conclusion in the Batman series, so that we could collect it properly within Batman, without having to bring in segments of Final Crisis to complete the story.
NRAMA: So – fundamentally, “Batman R.I.P” did not end in Batman #681?
DD: Correct. We have the two parts that we’re in the middle of now, and they lead us into Final Crisis #6 which gives us a definite conclusion to the Batman story. That’s how Grant designed the story from the start, and that’s how the story plays out. So, the people who are looking for the big finale, the stuff that Grant was talking about – he knows how big an ending he has, because he wrote it in Final Crisis #6. That story has been so planned out that it reflects events from the pages of Final Crisis #1 in order to pull it all together.
So the Batman story has been hinted at in Final Crisis #1 - we couldn’t allude to it, because we didn’t want to play our hand too early with that. The fascinating thing about what Grant has done is that he’s telling a major story in the life of Batman while he’s telling a major event across the DC Universe with Final Crisis. And the two are linked.
NRAMA: So Final Crisis #6 is like when you’re driving on, say, I-40 and it merges with another for a while, and you get the road signs telling you that you’re on two highways at the same time…and you follow another highway out other than the one you went in on.
DD: Exactly. And Batman #682 and #683 are reflective of things that took place earlier in Final Crisis as well.
11: That said, it took you a few minutes there to explain where the story “really” went and ended, and yet, there’s the clear perception, at least until this word gets out, that R.I.P ended with Batman #681. What can you do, or can you do anything when you see fans reading along, and coming to a point where collectively, they say, “What the hell?” In the meantime, you know where the story goes from where they think it ended, and you know that the story has a more satisfying conclusion than the one they are looking for, but it’s somewhere else. Do just bite the bullet and wait for the tide to turn in regards to fan sentiment?
DD: Honestly, I enjoyed the ending of R.I.P. in Batman, so I felt satisfied at the conclusion. I look at everyone following along, and have the same reaction that anyone in my position has when the readers get a controversial issue – that they don’t say, “Oh, yeah - #681. Didn’t like it, so I’m going to drop Batman and never read another issue.” I’m hoping that’s not the case because, as those who stuck around realized, issue #682 really gets you back into what the story is really about, and that comes across even stronger in #683. Again, we’re trying to create long-term fiction with Batman. In doing so, we want to make sure these things are as compelling as they can be from stage to stage, point to point, and that people ride along all the way with us.
One other thing – one of the things we did, going in to Final Crisis is that we wanted to feel that if people just wanted to read ,b>Final Crisis, they were fine just reading that one storyline, and wouldn’t feel that they were being “forced” to purchase other storylines and material. That should be the same case with “Batman R.I.P.” We wanted to give what felt like two distinct conclusions, even though they are very much intertwined. Again, we’re trying to work the story to fulfill the needs and expectations of everyone. The reason it took so long to explain, as you pointed out, is because I’d give away the ending to the entire storyline. Trust me – the full story, once people will see it and know it, and aren’t worried about spoilers, it a lot easier to follow than my explanation [laughs].
12. It seems that fan reaction to “R.I.P.” is a classic example – it’s always fickle, but it also seems that it can be very powerful in a negative way. If you get a large enough group of people saying they didn’t get the ending, and it is therefore bad…you’ve got a counter marketing force that can be stronger than anything you can put out there…
DD: The thing for me – most of the reactions to R.I.P. that I’ve gotten to date have been positive. I might not travel in the same circles as Newsarama readers…
NRAMA: I think that’s putting it lightly…
DD: But what I’ve seen and what I’ve gotten in retailer response and sales response has been extremely positive for us. We felt that we were on the right track for this story. That said, I don’t think there’s a single person out there who thinks that Batman is dead. We went out there with that message – we wanted it known that we’re not cancelling Batman and Detective at the end of R.I.P., and closing up shop in Gotham. R.I.P. has always been part of a bigger story – the first part of the next “stage” of Batman. It’s weird – we’re getting a lot of comparisons to Knightfall and the Knightquest days, with some people pointing at how those were somehow discrete stories that happened and were over, but in reality, elements from Knightfall fed into Contagion and later Cataclysm and the story just kept rolling. That’s kind of what we’ve got here now – we’re going from story to story, beat to beat, leading to a story that will constantly evolve and change the world of Batman and the people who live in it.
13. Moving on to the future of the Batman titles – Denny O’Neil’s exploring the idea of life without Batman in his storyline this month, and the other Batman titles are clearly post R.I.P…
DD: Right – they’re all starting to realize that Batman has been removed, and this is much, much more than one of his missions where he’s gone for days, weeks at a time. But carrying things through, Paul Dini has “Faces of Evil” in January with both Batman and Detective, and that will wrap up his Detective storyline which will see the final confrontation between Hush and Catwoman.
14. And then Neil and Andy’s story, “Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?” – when we fished talked about it right after the panel at San Diego, I asked if that, by naming it after Alan Moore’s Superman story, if you were giving readers a hint at what the story will cover. Going back to what you said, the similarity here is that this is the end of a period in the life of “Batman?”
DD: Yes. It closes the chapter on this part of the life of Batman, that is, through Bruce Wayne’s eyes.
And to continue through the plan, Batman and Detective will go on hiatus for three months beginning in March, and in March, April and May, we have Battle for the Cowl, which is a three-parter, and we also have a second three-parter, Oracle, following the adventures of Barbara Gordon which follows events of Birds of Prey and picks up some storylines from Final Crisis, and we also have a three part Azrael miniseries that will roll out during that period of time as well, which will be integral to the events taking place in the Batman books.
We’ll also have a series of five one shots with Battle for the Cowl, and two books called Gotham City Gazette, which are the bookends for everything going on explaining the changes going on in Batman’s world, the effects on Gotham City, and how everybody are dealing with the repercussions of what has happened.
15: But calling Gotham Gazette bookends, that would seem to suggest that after the second one, there will be a new status quo established?
DD: All the Batman related books, with the exception of Batman and the Outsiders have been either cancelled or put on hiatus. During the months of March, April and May, everything that we have mentioned are one-shots or three issues. So my inclination is to believe that the month of June would be very essential to everything that happens to Batman, and will be the month that everyone should be paying attention to in regards to how the Batman books will be continuing through 2009 and beyond.
NRAMA: The five one-shots – does the cover of Battle for the Cowl inform who those one shots are about?
DD: Not actually, no. [laughs] The five one shots are going to be focused on the key characters to events in Batman’s story for the remainder of the year, and into 2010. And we have teams all in place, but we’ll hold off until we’re closer to solicitation to name names.
16: One last Batman question – the very first page of the very first part of Batman R.I.P. in issue #676 – the shot of Batman and Robin on the rooftop, with Batman saying, “You’re WRONG! Batman and Robin will NEVER DIE!” – the sky is red…when is that?
DD: It hasn’t happened yet. It happens somewhere between March and June though.
NRAMA: So you need to get that page of art back from Tony Daniel?
DD: It could be that we need that piece of art from Tony, or we could need it from another artist.
17: Let’s wind up on some lighter stuff – characters to watch. You’ve got a big plate ahead of you with 2009 – Batman, Flash, Darkest Night…who should people watch for that they might not be expecting?
DD: Oracle. Green Arrow. And Starro.
DD: Yeah, I’m going to stick with Starro.
18: Any more information available on Adventure Comics? Can you confirm or deny that it will be the vehicle for the Legion of Super-Heroes?
DD: I can confirm and deny – that’s even better. I will tell you only one thing about it - Adventure Comics #0, even though it is reprinting the first appearance of Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes, it will also have a six page “Omens and Origins” that will get everybody talking and address multiple questions that are out there right now.
Oh, and it’s $1.00.
19: in the last few years, you’ve explored the various realms of the DC Universe, with the Rann Thanagar War, Reign in Hell and the like. REBELS is coming out, but overall, will the explorations into space and magic continue, or will those projects be pulled in?
DD: Well, I was serious about Starro, so you figure it out.
20: Finally, where will Superman be seen once he’s out of Superman and Action?
DD: At home, with the wife. [laughs] He will be only appearing in the New Krypton series. It’s everything you think it is, and not exactly at the same time.
And now for my question this time - the impulse buy. What was the latest book that you picked up without knowing anything going in — just randomly to try out. And what made you want to try it?
See you next time.