Dan DiDio: 20 Answers and 1 Question - 06.17.09

Dan DiDio: 20 Answers and 1 Question

Superman #692

First off, apologies for missing the date a couple of times now. Scheduling, as it gets closer to convention season becomes more and more of a bear, but we should be in good shape to hit our every-other-week schedule from here on out.

As always, thanks to the Newsarama readers for the questions, and keep sending them in (we’ll be asking again next Wednesday) – without your questions, Dan and I would talk about the weather and what we saw on television. Oh, and just one last note before we get rolling – this interview was conducted with Dan prior to the news Monday of the Superman strip from Wednesday Comics appearing in USA Today. We’ll hit him up on that topic shortly.

On to the Q&A…

1. Dan, let’s get rolling with a pretty direct reader question - Kevin J. Anderson has been writing DC characters in novel form recently, both with his Superman and Batman novel and his earlier Krypton novel. Have you thought about bring him back into the comics-writing fold, specifically the DC universe, since he seems to be enjoying handling the characters?

Dan DiDio: He’s done some comic work for us in the past – he did a Justice Society of America miniseries for us a few years back, and he’s done some work over on the Wildstorm side. But we’re always looking and are always interested in writers. I like his work, and if I’m not mistaken, we did try to contact him on one or two of the things going on currently.

Newsarama: What do you see him as a good fit for?

DD: Realistically, when I do these things, I like to sit down with writers first and have a conversation, hear what their interests are, hear what books excite them, what characters excite them, and what stories they like to tell, and then we try to figure out what the proper fit is from there. I really don’t want to start with a project in mind necessarily, especially only to find out that the writer doesn’t think it’s a good match or has no interest in it.

2. Speaking about upcoming and writers coming in – designer Chip Kidd is working on a Batman story. Anything you can say about that?

DD: God bless Twitter? (laughs) It’s funny – Chip was actually doing a panel discussion with Neil Gaiman several months back. He’s been so involved in designing the looks of our high-end projects over the last few years and as we were sitting there talking, just through casual conversation, I brought up the idea that it would be fun if he had a chance to write something with us, particularly with Batman. He said he’s love to do it, but I never really thought he’d have the time because he’s in such high demand, but he was excited about it and got right into it, so it’s a lot of fun for us. I can’t wait to see what he comes up with.

NRAMA: Any ballpark on when it might come out?

DD: I would say more towards next year. Mark Chiarello will be editing it, and he’s been buried alive under Wednesday Comics right now, so I’m sure once he starts to come out of that, we’ll be able to see how Chip’s project is moving.

Batman and Robin #3

3. A question about Batman and Robin, now that they have made their debut – a question came up of when they will be making their way around ht rest of the DC Universe? Will it be soon, or do you feel that they need time to establish themselves in terms of Gotham City and the surroundings?

DD: I think they need time to establish themselves, and their story, and their own relationship. We have a lot of new characters and new villains entering those stories as well. There are a lot of things going on right now that require Batman and Robin’s attention in their own series, but that being said, we did announce the World’s Finest book where you’ll see the new direction of the Batman Family meeting the new direction of the Superman Family. So I’m sure Batman and Robin will get in the mix there and meet some of the folks from Metropolis.

Past that, based upon what’s happening in the DC Universe next year, there’s a good chance we’ll be seeing Batman interacting with some very familiar faces.

4. While we’re still talking about Batman and his world – the first issue of Detective Comics is coming up next week. Is there a…well, concern or effort to mute the fact that Batwoman is a lesbian this time out? After all, with her introduction, that became the element that defined her to the mainstream media and to many fans…

DD: We’re not trying to mute anything. We’re trying to establish all aspects of who Batwoman is in terms of her character and in her story – that is a part of her personality and a part of her drive.

NRAMA: Sure, but still, at the time she was outed – literally and figuratively, Greg Rucka expressed his frustration that her being a lesbian overtook all other elements of the character – that was the hook and seemingly, that was what was important about her.

DD: That’s one of the reasons why we went to great lengths to use her as a strong supporting character in 52 and other projects, because we wanted to establish her as a hero first – to establish who she was and her place within the DC Universe as a costumed character. Now, what we’ll see in her first solo adventure, we’ll delve into more of her personal side and her past.

So, from my standpoint, there’s no hesitation with anything of the character – it’s just a simple roll out of a character that we hope makes people want to keep coming back and learn more about them because they’re excited about who they are and learn more about what her story is. You don’t want to go and put every aspect of the character on the table right from the start – we are in the business of telling periodical stories. So you want to roll things out slowly, and build adventure from that, and that’s what we think we did with Batwoman in that we built her up slowly, and now, it’s time to get into her past and her personal story.

The bottom line is that there is no hesitation to portray the character, nor are we looking to mute any aspects of Batwoman. My only hesitation was to make sure that Greg and J.H. Williams were ready to go so that we could put out a consistent body of work on a monthly basis, because once that first issue hits, we know how excited people are going to be, and we want to make sure that book is there month-in and month-out. I wanted ot make sure that we were there, and we are.

5. It was revealed that Red Tornado would be getting his own limited series starting in September. That’s the latest new #1 to come from DC in a period where it feels like we’re seeing a lot of new #1s and new projects come from both DC and Marvel. Is there an overall push at DC to increase the volume of titles it’s publishing each month, particularly in the DC Universe?

DD: Not really. If you look at the aggregate of the amount of product we’re putting out, we’re putting out no more product now than we did at this time last year or the year before. What you’re seeing with the Red Tornado #1 is that we’re going to be expanding the world of the Red Tornado. It’s not so much a re-imagining or retelling his origin as it is exploring other aspects of the character and showing that he has a much richer past history than even he knew. We teased the character called Red Volcano, and that’s just one of three new characters that we’ll be introducing to the DC Universe.

So much of what we’re trying to accomplish right now with the #1s and with the ongoing series is injecting a lot of new life into the DCU. You’re going to be seeing that through a number of books like Batman & Robin and several other series new characters being introduced on a regular basis. We’re looking to expand what people’s interpretation of DC is, and creating brand new characters is part of that.

Blackest Night is a story that reflects on our past in some ways, because it brings back many characters that have died over the past couple fo years or even longer. Now what we’re doing is that we’re stabilizing what people have called our “revolving door of death,” but at the same time, we’re creating a bunch of new characters in the process. The Red Tornado miniseries is exciting for me because it has those new characters, just like the Final Crisis Aftermath series, and Doom Patrol, and Batman & Robin. Because of this, we feel that the new #1s are justified, because they’re #1s with a purpose of introducing new characters and concepts to our comic line.

6. You touched on this, of course, but recently, when we spoke with Keith Giffen, he did comment that he felt the well was a little dry in terms of old characters, and he is all about creating new characters from now on, and Magog is his chance to do something that was new, and use a new character to look at the DC universe with fresh eyes…

Magog #1

DD: that’s exactly what we’re doing in Magog #1 and exactly what we’re doing in Power Girl – these are character that have been around for a while – Power Girl longer than Magog, of course – but neither one of them had an ongoing series. I think there’s incredible potential for both of them. We just talked about Batwoman in the sense that we were slowly revealing her past and the story potential she represents. The same is true for Power Girl and the same is true for Magog. These are characters that we’ve seen either in miniseries or in strong supporting roles, and this gives them a chance to shine in their own right – not just for six issues, but hopefully a lot longer than that.

7. In your opinion, what drives a period like this, one of “recharge” in an essence, or as Keith put it, a period of trying to get new characters and concept out in front of readers? Was the original stuff getting stale, or reached a point where it had done all that it could do for now?

DD: Not stale at all, but when you tell the big stories in the event books, you use so much of the existing material at such an accelerated rate because you want the sense of change and adventure to be high concept in order to meet the needs and expectations of the event that it’s fueling. Because of that. We need to re-fill the pot so to speak. We need to come back with new ideas in order to expand what we’ve done, because we’ve had a reader base that’s been around for a long time. When people say to me, “Oh you did the story when Dick Grayson was Batman before,” it’s true that we did that story over fifteen years ago. When you have that loyal of readership and people who remain that loyal to continuity, we want to make sure that we don’t keep on repeating it. Introducing new characters and concepts is one way to tell new stories with familiar faces, and hopefully continue to build the excitement of the DCU.

For me, what’s greatest about Blackest Night and what’s going on in Green Lantern – it’s not just the event itself, but the idea of the multi-colored Corps that Geoff has introduced. Nearly every one of those characters are new characters, and those who existed before this are being seen in a new light – if you’ll pardon the pun. They all expand what people’s ideas of the DC Universe are – it all adds richness to the Green Lantern Corps. It’s more than a Hal Jordan story – it’s something that expands the whole concept of the “universe” of the DC Universe and expands the world of the Green Lanterns much wider than a lot of people thought possible.

8. A question came up about the differences between the Superman and Batman families, with the readers pointing out that R.I.P. and the subsequent new series have really given the Batman titles a shot in the arm while the Superman books are continuing, but there’s not really the same buzz about them…

World of New Krypton #7

DD: This year, the spotlight is on Green Lantern, Green Lantern’s world in Blackest Night, Batman and the changes that are taking place within the Batman Universe. You can’t put the spotlight on every single character all the time. As much product as we put out, we want to diversify as much as possible, and everything shouldn’t be running hot at the same time. Right now, I look at Superman’s world as a simmering pot. We’re adding a lot of things in to make this incredible dish that we’re going to serve next year. So much of what’s taking place in Superman is building for the future of the character so that when thee other storylines slowly wind down in their own natural progression, we’ll have something really exciting in place, and make sure that Superman receives the proper attention in 2010.

9. A pretty simple question from a reader: Will we see Ambush Bug #6 before Blackest Night #1?

DD: (laughs) It’s good that we hit this question every time. I know exactly where Ambush Bug #6 is – it’s still in the same place it is the last time I was asked this question. I might have put my money on “yes” for a while given those choices, but now, I’m going with 50/50.

NRAMA: What’s the holdup?

DD: We’re just working out some of the last changes on it, and right now, everybody’s plate is full, to be honest. We’re ready to roll with it as soon as Keith is ready to go – Keith’s been working vey hard on Doom Patrol and Magog, and really doing great stuff. Once he has that stuff in hand at reaches a point where he can catch his breath, we’ll get it out.

NRAMA: So really, Keith just drew every character in every panel on every page flipping the bird?

DD: (laughs) See, I only wish it was that interesting.

10. There was a question asked about veteran creators – Len Wein has been getting a lot of Justice League work lately, and Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez is illustrating your Metal Men story in Wednesday Comics. Are there more DC vets in the wings that you’re looking to bring back?

DD: I don’t know, we seem to be doing it on a pretty consistent basis, so it’s hard for me to think of it as reaching out or looking for people to bring back. Right now, we’re reaching out to anybody who we think can tell the best stories possible. We’ve worked with Steve Englehart and Marshall Rogers, we’re working with Gerry Conway, we’ve got Cary Bates working on a series at this time, Marv Wolfman has been doing work for a while as well. Given the amount of product we create and the challenge of keeping the quality level as high as we can, we’ll work with anyone to meet those goals. I don’t think there’s a concerted effort to do it, it’s really just about working with the best people possible on the projects that make the most sense for them.

J.G. Jones take on DC's aborted THUNDER Agents launch

11. Next up – a reader said that since you have the Red Circle characters coming up, along with the Milestone characters, they were reminded that back, what, six years ago now, DC was after the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents and a series was just about ready to go. It was one of your first pushes after you came on at DC, and something that was very personal, but it fell apart. Any thoughts as to making a go at them again?

DD: Oh, I’m a huge fan of the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents. At the time I got here at DC, I had just worked on T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents development in animation while I was at ABC. The ways to interpret and move the characters forward were very clear in my mind. I’d love to get my hands on them again, absolutely.

NRAMA: Are you talking to anyone about them – the rights…I’m not even sure who holds them now since John Carbonaro died…

DD: I’d love to get my hands on them - if I could.

UPDATED: DC - Doc Savage & The Spirit
UPDATED: DC - Doc Savage & The Spirit
12. Speaking of different characters coming into the DC Universe – can you give us any more about the characters coming in along with Doc Savage, Blackhawk, The Spirit and the others coming up in First Wave by Brian Azzarello and Rags Morales?

DD: We’ll be giving out more information on that in the next month or so. Brian’s spearheading the creative direction for all of those projects right now. We have some initial documents from him that pretty much knocked everybody’s socks off here, and we’re in the process of building something that we can talk about in the very near future.

13. A lot of people have mentioned, since that material came out, that they would like to see DC get their hands on The Shadow again, and First Wave seems like the prime place for The Shadow to fit in. Is DC working to get the rights to The Shadow?

DD: I absolutely love The Shadow – I love him as much as I love the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents.

NRAMA: Meaning that you would love to get your hands on him - if you could?

DD: Absolutely.

14. Thought question – what do you see as the biggest threat to the monthly, or rather, weekly comic book market, as you’ve said it’s your job to get people back into the shops week after week… What do you see as the biggest problem that stands or could stand in the way of that?

DD: There are two – scheduling delays: you can’t get people to go to a store on a consistent basis if you don’t put out a consistent product. And the other – a sense of urgency. We want to tell stories that readers can’t wait six months to a year to find out what happens – they need to know now, because the story is that compelling.

It’s a wonderful challenge to give to ourselves to create that level of cliffhanger and level of importance to any book we’re working on. If people are excited about it, and want to pick it up month-to-month, that means that they’re completely engaged in the story that we’re telling. From my standpoint, that’s a good thing. At the end of the day – it’s the monthly experience. That’s what comics are about. I have no qualms about embracing out heritage and what we stand for – the periodical art form is something that’s unique to comics and it’s something that we’re proud to do, and do our very best at month-in, month-out.

NRAMA: Do you think that developing that urgency, that regular schedule - can that work, not to trump, but to counteract the negatives, such as price increases and other issues that fans complain about?

DD: Change is always going to be there, challenge is always going to be there. At this particular time, given this set of circumstances and the challenges, I believe that we can be very successful in the periodical business. We have a very strong, very loyal fanbase and a very strong distribution system in the Direct Market. Because of those two things working to our advantage right now, I see the periodical business as something that can remain healthy.

15. With Dwayne McDuffie off of JLA, will that affect the further introduction of the Milestone characters into the DC Universe?

DD: Right now we have stories that are taking place with the Milestone characters in the DCU, and those stories will continue to play out.

16. From a reader…”can we please get some non-white characters in the Bat-universe other than the women Bruce Wayne sleeps with?” And that led to a discussion about the overall diversity within the DCU…

DD: I think we’ve made some large strides forward in that area in the past couple of years, and as readers have found out, the new Azrael (who will be getting his own ongoing series later this year) is an African American who’s new to the DCU, and he will be very active in Batman’s world.

17. We’ll touch on this one again…but to continue with some reader’s questions, there were comments from folks about the tone of Batman and Robin #1, that it was wide-eyed wonder at the world of superheroes, that it was a “fun” book…which left some wondering why there can’t be more like it – books like Power Girl and Booster Gold rather than the darker feel that many books seem to have?

DD: We put out a lot of product, and we can balance it in many ways and many voices. One size does not fit all in the DC Universe. The thing that Grant really latched on in the Batman franchise is that if you take Dick Grayson and put him in the Batman suit, it doesn’t change who Dick Grayson is. So with that, the lighter, more flippant Dick Grayson is being played against the much grittier, angrier little Damian Wayne. There’s a lot of potential for fun in those stores. Power Girl’s story has a great sense of fun, as does Booster Gold’s. That does not mean that those are light books – it means that these characters find humor in their situations, but every situation that they’re in is dire and dangerous. That’s the fun of the story that they’re in.

And besides that – did everyone miss the horrible mutilation at the end of Batman and Robin #1 of the man in front of his daughter? And also – if anyone things we’re softening up…Blackest Night #1 is coming. That should clear up any concerns people may have about us being happy and fun. (laughs)

18. This is probably a loaded, broad question than can be easily answered, but to touch upon a couple of topics that we’ve spoken about…do you think we’ll ever see a non-white hero achieve “headliner status,” that is, to star in their own, ongoing series? I know, there was Blue Beetle and Firestorm, but they’re somewhat second tier…but we’ve yet to have a non-white character who’s on the level of a Flash or a Green Lantern lead in their own series…it’s almost as if there’s a glass ceiling when it comes to diversity. We don’t see an African American Robin or an Asian Batgirl, or a young, non-white Kandorian that Superman takes under his wing…

DD: There are story reasons as to what the characters are about. In the Batman universe, we are moving into other directions and we do have a gay Batwoman, we have an African American Azarel. We’ve talked about this before over the years, but if you come in and diversify immediately, it’s going to have all the impact and sticking power of a stunt. In some cases – perhaps with Blue Beetle, we may have rushed it. But there’s no denying that when Blue Beetle launched off of Infinite Crisis, it launched very strong for us. I think ultimately, we didn’t create the stories that we needed to to maintain reader interest. I put more of the onus on ourselves than that the character was Hispanic.

I’m not as worried that people aren’t doing it, we just have to do those stories better. That’s not just about diversifying our characters or race – we’re always trying to make our books and our characters catch on. We go way to long between new characters breaking out for the amount of product that we create. We have to find ways to excite people and entice them to come back and buy stories that keep them entertainment month-in and month-out.

19. But, and I know this is a mostly theoretical argument, but there is a line of reasoning that goes along the lines of there’s a lot of untapped readership out there that’s not reading comics because there is no “black Superman” or non-white Batman…

DD: And I know that people sometimes point to Spawn as an answer for that – but here’s the problem with that argument, I’ll argue that it’s not just a non-white character that needs to be created and find success like a Wolverine or a Flash…we need to find those new characters across the board. It’s what everyone in comics is looking for – those characters that take the fanbase by storm.

NRAMA: True – but there seems to be an opportunity when a Superboy, a Robin or a Batgirl is taken off stage to be replaced. It seems that there’s a way in with those types of situations to expose the readership to the idea…

DD: We need the right vehicles and t he right stories to be able to position them correctly. And for some reason, we’re forgetting the fact that John Henry Irons is an important player in Superman’s world, and John Stewart is an important player in Green Lantern’s world…

NRAMA: But as you’ve talked about here, both main characters, Superman and Green Lantern, are going through major storylines, and where are they?

DD: They’re not gone. What we need to do is have the stories that showcase them, and present them in exciting storylines that we think people will follow. John Henry Irons played a major role in 52, for example. Our goal is to tell the stories we need to tell with them that will get people excited about them.

20. Okay – that’s an issue we could most likely go on and on about forever, but in the interest of time, let’s try to end on an up note…something that was brought up on the thread – a reader said that George Perez had dropped hints that the long-delayed New Teen Titans graphic novel, Games had been the go-ahead for completion. Has that happened, and is George back working on it?

DD: It’s back on the table again. One of the reasons we’re looking at it, like we’re looking at a number of projects involving the Teen Titans next year because we’ll be celebrating an anniversary for the Teen Titans.

But yeah, now that George is o close to wrapping up Legion of 3 Worlds, we’re looking at a number of projects for him that will be his next priority.

And for my question for readers this week – let’s touch upon some of the issues we were just talking about: What does it take for you to try out a new character and a new series, and what does it take to have you stick with a new series? What’s the most important? Is it the publisher? The character? The creative team? We talked about it here – there are a lot of new books coming out…what makes them stick for you?

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