The fans still around on a Sunday afternoon [at WizardWorld: Philadelphia] are the die-hards, DC Executive Editor Dan DiDio said. One fan quipped, “It’s like church.”
So DiDio gathered a group in one of the panel rooms for DC’s Sunday Conversation, an hour-long discussion of what people love about comics. DiDio strolled down the aisle of the room, moderating a lively discussion of people’s favorites and hidden gems, how everyone got into comics, and all the best things about the medium.
To start the ball rolling, he asked people to raise their hands if they’d been reading comics for one year. Then five years, ten, twenty, thirty, forty, forty-five, and even fifty.
The one gentleman who’d been reading comics for forty-five years had bought his first comic, Hulk #1, at his neighborhood drugstore comic rack when he was a kid. Another reader remembered buying comics from coin-operated vending machines.
At the other end of the spectrum : the reader who’d only been into comics for a year—who was in costume as the Flash—got into comics from the Teen Titans.
DiDio then asked if anyone, like him, had given up comics for a while only to return. One man joked that he started reading comics again when Star Trek ended, and that it was Green Arrow that brought him back.
For DiDio himself, it was the Batman TV show that brought him to reading comics, and he noted that you can tell when people started reading comics by who their favorite characters are. “We’re always looking for ways to bring things back,” he said.
To prove his point, he asked about people’s favorite Aquaman, since he said he gets tons of people telling him they know how to fix Aquaman.
One fan noted, “Giant sea horses, gotta love those.”
Another was fascinated by the possibilities of a hand made of water. “Can he breathe his own hand?” he asked.
The question about the strangest character people loved brought up another fun discussion. When a fan said that he loved Azrael, DiDio told a story about an old panel of an old comic that featured Azrael, in costume, in a Volkswagen convertible.
Heroes for Hire and Sgt. Rock writer Billy Tucci’s favorite strange character was Lord Malvolio, which led DiDio to a discussion of the levels of continuity in the DC universe.
The first level, he said, is immutables. “Krypton explodes, Bruce Wayne’s parents die.”
The second are things that are helpful—Barbara Gordon as Batgirl was the example he gave, but not necessarily top-level important.
And the third level are things that happen that don’t work and just kind of get ignored. DiDio quoted a writer as saying, “I’m not going to undo that story, I’m just never going to mention it again.”
Every time a character was mentioned, groups of people clapped or laughed or filled in a missing detail. “There’s always somebody obscure that someone will raise their hand for,” DiDio noted.
He told the story of the Cancelled Comics Cavalcade, a bit of DC history—a book of cancelled DC comics from the late 70s that was published as a Xerox copy, with only 50 issues, that he received when he got his job at DC. Laughing, he said, “I got ‘em, and I read ‘em, and they were crap!”
This led him to ask if there were books people loved that, in hindsight, just weren’t very good. His own story was of a book where the island of Manhattan floated out to the middle of the Atlantic and Hercules had to bring it back. “And even then I knew to ask, ‘What happened to all the bridges and tunnels?’”
Someone else mentioned a Daredevil comic with pictures hanging on Daredevil’s walls. “Why would a blind guy need a picture of his girlfriend?” he asked.
It’s hard to go against people’s expectations, DiDio continued, asking people to picture something bad happening to Bruce Wayne. “Who becomes Batman?” he asked.
“Dick Grayson” was the answer from most of the crowd, aside from a few who thought that Bruce Wayne was the only Batman.
“Batman was born of trauma and tragedy,” one fan said, “And the Robins kept him human.”
Another fan suggested marrying Dick Grayson off, giving him some kids, then having someone slaughter his family so that he could be appropriately dark as Batman.
Many people, like DiDio, got into comics because of a movie or a TV show. The Superman movie, the X-Men animated TV series, and even G.I. Joe were cited.
“Some of the few memories I have of my dad were of him reading me comics,” one fan said. Another related the story of him teaching his teacher what the word “feat” meant, which he had learned from comics, since his teacher had never heard the word before.
People shared stories of buying comics at secondhand shops, with covers cut off, or even stealing them from friends.
One woman, there with her husband, joked that she started reading Green Lantern and kept reading because “he was kinda cute. Gateway!”
She went on to say that she and her husband celebrated their first anniversary by buying comics, going to a bar, and reading comics.
The last question was: “If you could give one comic to someone to convert them, what would it be?”
The answers were a veritable map of great comics, though Vertigo titles featured more prominently here than any other time. Y the Last Man, Sandman, Lucifer, as well as Batman: Year One and The Spirit.