Dan DiDio: 20 Answers and 1 Question
Tony Daniel Moves to Batman
It’s that time again – with San Diego looming, there were few announcements, but still, there were some solid questions asked, and we sat down with DC Executive Editor Dan DiDio to ask twenty of your best.
1. To start off with, it’s something that’s probably on your mind a lot right about now…
Dan DiDio: Ambush Bug #6? (laughs)
NRAMA: No, no – well…not yet – that’s coming up.
DD: That can be your freebie this week – we won’t count it when you do ask.
NRAMA: It’s really like an old friend now, since it gets asked about every week.
DD: It really is.
NRAMA: Anyway – the original question was about San Diego Comic Con – it’s just under a week away at this point, and we had a couple of questions about your experience and point of view. What’s San Diego like for you, both as a fan and as a professional with a job to do out there?
DD: San Diego’s a strange experience for me, because I’ve gone there in five different incarnations of myself. I’ve gone as a fan, I’ve gone as an executive of ABC, an executive of Mainframe entertainment, as a writer, and in the editorial position at DC that I’m on now. So it’s allowed me to see the convention through a different set of eyes each time. The most exhausting, and the most rewarding incarnation is the current one, because San Diego – for what the convention has turned into and what the convention has become, it’s still about comics in my opinion, even though at times that can be a little bit lost in the shuffle. But because it’s about comics and is a celebration of what we do, it’s fun to meet and talk with the fans on such a large scale and hear what we’re doing that excited them, and more importantly, what they want to see coming from DC.
My days are pressed – every day. From the moment you wake up to the moment the bar closes at the Hyatt. Literally. You start with breakfast meetings, you work through your panels, you work through other meetings through the course of the day, you have story meetings, new business lunches, hit dinner with a group of talent, end up at the bar socializing, go to bed, get up and do it all over again. You know you’re in trouble when you’re already exhausted Wednesday morning, and you know you have four more days to go. But the energy and excitement in the room when people are there to hear about what comics you’re producing just gives you that adrenalin push to get you through the days and it makes the marathon fun.
That’s not to say that you’re not completely spent by the end of the week.
2. We’ve asked this of Paul [Levitz] at our usual post-San Diego chat, but for you, what kid of business are you getting done, or looking to get done at the con? What kind of things can happen out there that don’t necessarily happen at other times during the year?
DD: It becomes the one spot where you can get a lot of the talent together where if you’re working on an interconnected story or a larger event, you can get all the guys together in one room so you can discuss what everyone is doing and come back at least with a shared conceit of what our goals are. It allows me to meet with people that I might not regularly get to meet with – you may exchange e-mails or talk on the phone, but I always think that meeting face to face, even if it’s for a half an hour, you can accomplish so much more than even a 20-message long chain of e-mails. It’s important to meet your people and meet your fans face to face, and it’s also important to thank the people who’ve been working for you for the past year – you’re able to go out with them and buy a drink for someone who’s worked endlessly for you over the last year, or you can buy a dinner for someone and sit back and laugh after you’ve been working hard to get a book out for the past six months. That’s what that’s all about – it’s really a chance to remind people that it’s not just about e-mail exchanges and demands for pages, but rather, it’s about everyone working toward a common goal, and then, being able to enjoy the fruits of those labors – and talk about what you want to do next.
3. The most visible part of your job at San Diego, or at any con, is hosting the panels. You’ve said many times, even just a minute ago that you love the energy in the room and the lift that the crowd can give you. But what do you get in terms of usable feedback? They’re going to cheer when you say, “Blackest Night” or “Flash” or “Geoff Johns” for that matter…
DD: Then that’s all I’m going to talk about (laughs).
NRAMA: But still – that’s a self-selected audience, and cheers are hard to quantify. What are you looking to both accomplish and to read from the crowd at a panel like that?
DD: I see your point, but at the same time, I can judge the feeling of the crowd by the type of questions you’re asked or the reactions to the things that you’re talking about or how they’re greeting the talent that you’re bringing on stage. What I’m looking for is a level of interaction, showing that they’re engaged by the stories we’re telling – that they’re excited by the things that are going on. You know also, if you’ve been in on my panels before, I want to hear the positive feedback and I want to hear the negative feedback. I’ve said before that it often feels like we’re working in a vacuum sometimes – we’re working together, we’re all working very fast and speaking with each other and are all in a rather similar mindset. When we look at sales numbers, we’re looking to see what’s capturing people’s attention.
It’s interesting – when we saw the reaction say, to what was going on with Justice Society, and we heard people talking about Power Girl, it made us think that it was probably worthwhile to investing in an ongoing with this character, which we did. That’s some of the stuff that we start to extract. We could say, “Hey, let’s just cancel Blue BeetleManhunter and be done with those versions of the characters,” that’s something, but when you go to a convention and you’re asked about them at every panel, and it’s not just one person, but a group among each audience that reacts to the name, then you know there’s a groundswell – there’s people interested in it, and you want to find a way to make sure we’re presenting material that can keep them engaged and keep them excited in what DC is about.
In some ways, it really is a giant focus group, but more than that, it’s just a lot of fun with a group of people talking about what makes comics good. Nine times out of ten, what’s exciting the fans in that audience are the books that are selling the best. That’s something that we try to build on.
4. Moving on to the questions about titles and characters – one of the interesting themes I found was that there were a lot of Batman questions, but ones that showed that people have moved beyond the who’s appearing where and what creator will be working on what title for the most part. Before we get into them, from the outset, does the interest in the Batman books and characters still going on a couple of months after Battle for the Cowl – does that in your mind indicate that you’ve done your job and attracted the interest of the fanbase in what looks to be an enduring way?
DD: The fact that there are so many Batman questions suggests to us that readers are initially engaged with the story – and I do say initially in that we’ve still only had one month of the new titles, and not every book has even launched yet. We’ve still got Batgirl, we’ve still got Azrael - so yeah, the fact that people are asking questions up front is great. But I want to hear those questions three or four months down the road – if they’re still engaged and asking questions, I’ll be sure that we’re getting close to what I hoped this new direction would have achieved.
Any feedback is good feedback, but more importantly, it’s not what we do the first month out, but what we do month-in and month-out that brings people back. This is a long-term plan here.
5. Well, moving on to a creative team question, since we spoke last, the announcement of Tony Daniels coming on to replace both Judd Winick and Mark Bagley on Batman was made. Is that going to be a permanent switch, or is Tony on for an arc, and then, perhaps another writer comes in?
DD: Tony’s in for his arc, and then we have Judd back for another story, with a different artist as Mark is moving to Justice League.
NRAMA: And moving Tony back to Batman after his run with Grant and Battle for the Cowl - no brainier?
DD: Exactly – in regards to the pure excitement Tony created in both of those projects. It made us want to give him this opportunity.
6. This question came up a couple of times in the thread: when Dick Grayson “graduated” to become Batman, Tim moved to Red Robin. There were some people who thought Tim would move up into the Nightwing costume. Was there ever any discussion of that, or was Tim always destined to be Red Robin?
DD: I wasn’t about to have people asking me endlessly if I was going to kill Tim Drake now that he was Nightwing (laughs). But no – we introduced Flamebird and Nightwing in the Superman stories, so the name was in use, and at the same time, we wanted to show that Tim was his own person, and not following some pre-determined progression. That pretty much agrees with how Tim has been portrayed throughout the years, back to his first appearance, really – he’s always been his own kid and now, young man, and he was placed in the Red Robin costume for a very specific reason. He wasn’t replacing Nightwing. By taking the Red Robin name – what happened with the people who used that identity before him was something that he could use to his advantage on his quest to find out what happened to Bruce Wayne.
NRAMA: So the Red Robin book was always planned with Tim in that role, rather than just a character on that particular “mission?”
DD: Always. When we saw Jason Todd in the costume during Countdown to Final Crisis, it was always something that was planned to set up Tim’s eventual assumption of the role at this particular point.
7. A question about a story that may be told in the Batman books some day – will Grant or DC every tell the definitive origin of Damian Wayne that explains who he is, his past, his development and why he sees the world in his own unique way?
DD: There are stories that are going to be told with Damian, but as to whether or not they’re definitive stories, I don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves.
8. Another question this time about how you quantify “success” for a series or a project. Obviously, each series you put out isn’t going to be the next Batman, but when you do release something new, what kind of ruler do you use?
DD: We walk into certain books with certain expectations, and it’s hard to quantify that in a discussion, because each book has its own set of criteria that came in when we approved it. We have books that are out there that were created strictly because we believe they would be commercial successes, we also have books that we create that we believe will be critical successes. We have books that have a passionate belief from the creators; we have books that are there to move a story along; there are books created to introduce new characters or new ideas. So each one goes in with a particular set of goals, and if some of those goals overlap, so much the better - a book that was very successful would accomplish multiple goals among those that I just said. Not every book can do that though, but every book is created with a specific idea and ideal in mind, and if it succeeds in that, we’ll continue, and if it doesn’t, we’ll try to find out other ways to achieve those goals.
9. A returning favorite – the Marvel Family storyline that ended in Justice Society – are we any closer to seeing that resolved, or the Wizard coming back into play?
DD: Not at this particular moment. The Black Adam Family and the Marvel Family have both been very prominent for the last few years. The story of Shazam and that world has moved through Day of Vengeance, through 52 and up into the Justice Society of America with very few breaks. It’s been an interesting one, and we’ve seen Black Adam capture a lot of attention – something that was kind of set out as a goal for that character when this all started, and even before, back in his JSA days. Realistically, that story concluded only three months ago, so we wanted to reach a point where there was a resting place – a sense of conclusion, if only temporary, that we could pause for a while.
NRAMA: A case of putting the characters on the back burner for a while and letting demand grow?
DD: Yeah, and it doesn’t mean that you won’t see any of them, because we still have Freddy Freeman in the red costume as Shazam in Justice League: Cry for Justice. So it’s not like the characters are gone. The Marvel Family, through Freddy will be fully represented, and we’ll be seeing the other characters in the months to come.
10. A recurring question in the threads has been one of DC’s version of Marvel’s “Saga” books, that is, books that condense larger storylines and bring new readers up to speed before or during an event…
DD: I’ve seen those questions – and I’ve got no problem with them, generally, as long as there’s value. Done with text – eh, I’m probably not that fond of the idea, because personally, I’m looking for more of a comic book type experience. As for any book that recaps a story, if done well and adds new information- I’m all for that. Recap pages, not so much, as the writers should be able to introduce readers to the ongoing story within the issue itself, but those types of books, I have no problem with those. Some of the Tales from the Corps stories that are running in conjunction with the Black Lantern stories fill that need –they help fill in some of the blanks that people are wondering about.
NRAMA: In that vein then, we did see a question about bringing in a Secret Files and Origins book for the Milestone and Red Circle characters – two groups that are still largely unknown…
DD: With those characters, I think that’s putting the cart before the horse. What we want to do is see what the level of interest and excitement is in those characters in the stories that we tell with them, and if people are engaged with them. We can fill them in as we go if they are catching on. We just did a preview in two weeks’ worth of books with the Red Circle characters that gave a little bit of a backstory that we hope was enticing enough to get people to sample the stories when they actually come out.
Whether or not people want more information about these characters is directly related to whether or not they’re interested in them in the first place.
NRAMA: From that point of view, if you put out a Secret Files book, you also run the risk of overwhelming the readers with too much information at the start?
DD: Exactly. It could accidentally give some readers the impression that they need a big, thick book just to understand these new stories that are just coming out. If we can’t be engaging enough in a comic and tell enough story so that people understand who they are so that people want to read more, then we’re not doing our job properly, or the character is not good enough to last.
11. Now that Wednesday Comics is out and running, you had mentioned that there would be another weekly series running this year as well after a break after Trinity. Are we getting closer to that?
DD: Actually, there are plans and they are moving forward, just not for this calendar year.
12. Also tied to Wednesday Comics – since it’s been met with such a positive response, are you already discussing plans for a second installment, perhaps next summer?
DD: Talk to me after week 5. I’m really excited by the initial response, but still – we want to see how these things sustain before we look at any plans for revisiting this as a recurring theme. Like any weekly – and we’ve talked about this before – it takes a tremendous amount of energy and resources, so we want to make sure that it can sustain before we commit to doing more.
13. Can we get a Jim Lee sighting? Any word on upcoming work from him with the DC logo on it?
DD: Yes there is – I believe Jim is working on All Star Batman and Robin right now, and they’re technically scheduling another six issues of that series. But we’re holding off announcing and soliciting it until we have enough in the can, so that we can hit a schedule that meets everyone’s expectations. I think that will run us up to #16. He’s working on it now, and Jim’s working on the scripts we have in house, and together, they’re working to bring some level of conclusion to the storyline.
14. The last time out, we spoke about the possibility of moving to a bi-monthly schedule on a title, and you said that it was something that you’re actually looking at in the cases where you know that the creators need a little more time to produce the work. We had a question this time about the shorter format, such as what Image did with Warren Ellis on Fell and Matt Fraction on Casanova, and lowering the price point?
DD: Honestly, it’s really hard to do something like that. Realistically, we look at every book and have a line – I feel that we’re holding the 32-page format and the $2.99 price, and that seems to be working well for us, and I don’t see any reason to get away from that. Plus, we’ve also been able to manage and maintain a strong shipping schedule over the last several months, and are heading things in a very positive direction, and see no reason that we need to change that. Plus, it would be telling stories in a shorter format, which is one of the reasons why we created our co-features. We’ve got a structure, we’ve got a routine and we’ve got an established way to work. When you’re operating on a smaller, independent level, you can probably be a little more flexible in places, and because it’s creator-owned, that can absorb some of the differences in cost, and while I’m not sure, I’d imagine that the creators working on those titles are working at a different scale than they would be for DC or Marvel, which allows them to make different choices because they’re personally invested in them. With our house properties, we have to work within a different structure.
15. Moving to the other side of the spectrum – from publishing business to characters – are there plans for a Tim Drake, Superboy, Kid Flash, Wonder Girl reunion of any shape or size as they’ve all been apart for a while?
DD: Red Robin and Superboy meet in Adventure Comics #3, Superboy and Wonder Girl meet in Adventure Comics #2 and Wonder Girl and Tim meet in Red Robin #3, I believe. So everyone’s meeting – maybe not as one large group, but everyone is meeting up.
16. Moving back to the family of characters concept – the announcement came last week about Warner Bros. gaining a new family of characters with the acquisition of Midway. Has anything about the use of the Mortal Kombat characters made its way to your desk yet?
DD: Nothing yet, but it could be something that we examine in the future, in the same way we occasionally use characters form the Cartoon Network and around there too.
Freebie: Let’s get this in: Ambush Bug #6?
DD: Still on my desk.
17. What’s going on with Flash: Rebirth #4?
DD: There was a couple weeks’ slowdown with the production of it, but we should be caught up shortly, and back on track with the remainder of the series.
18. Will there be more Blackest Night spinoffs other than those already announced?
DD: At this time no – there will be some crossover that will be taking place in certain series, and we’ll be announcing those shortly, but as for miniseries tied to Blackest Night during the run of Blackest Night, there are no more planned. That might change as we build the story and as the story moves forward, and we see a need to fill a particular story beat that won’t be fully serviced in Blackest Night, but as of right now, what we’ve announced stands.
19. Grant Morrison has said that he’s thinking of telling a Wonder Woman story to in part apologize for his use of her to date, and also to explore her potential – is there any word on that, or is it something that will happen in the hazy future after The Multiversity?
DD: as with everything Grant-related, if he’s interested in doing something with that character, I’m interested in hear about it. He comes in with a fresh set of eyes and a unique take that always captures the attention of readers.
20. Last one – a personal one, since you’re not connected to the films: Ryan Reynolds as Green Lantern…
DD: He’s been my choice for a while now. I’m very excited by it – I like him as an actor, and think he has a great personality, and I think it will just be gangbusters.
And my question this time out – it’s been out for two weeks: What’s your favorite strip in Wednesday Comics so far?