Harras, Berganza: DCnU Will Keep Much of DC History Intact

Harras, Berganza Talks DCnU Continuity

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If there's one message that seemed to be clear from DC Editor-in-Chief Bob Harras and Executive Editor Eddie Berganza as they spoke to Newsarama yesterday, it was that long-time readers of DC Comics will still recognize their favorite characters.

And much of their rich history will still be intact.

DC's announcement on May 31st that it would start all titles over at #1 in September sent shock waves through the comic book community. Rumors began to fly about what it all meant to the continuity that long-time readers love, particularly focusing on whether past stories even count anymore.

And now, Berganza and Harras are making sure readers know this is not a hard reboot. Changes? Yes. Total reboot? No.

 

Newsarama had already found out from more than one creator that the rich past of the DCU isn't being completely erased, and apparently, big changes are being explained in story. As Batman writer Scott Snyder told Newsarama last week: "We're very respectful of history and continuity, especially for Batman, who has some of the best moments in comics history."

Still, solicitations indicate that some areas of the "DCnU" have changed quite a bit, particularly the history of the Justice League and the Superman family.

Berganza and Harras didn't deny those changes. Instead, they clarified. Among their announcements:

- While planning the September relaunch, DC's editorial team constructed a timeline that details the universe's history. Everything from the past that editors thought was integral and important was kept.

- DC confirmed that stories like Blackest Night, Brightest Day, Identity Crisis, Death in the Family, and Killing Joke are still part of the DCU history. In fact, editors said, some events in those stories are specifically referenced in September.

- DC would not confirm that other storylines will or will not be part of the universe's new history. (For example, we asked about Geoff Johns' recent Superman: Secret Origin story, to no avail.) Readers will have to wait and see.

 

- Both Action Comics and Justice League are set at the "dawning of the age of superheroes," DC said. (But that dawn doesn't appear to be too long ago, since it's being reported that they will take place only five years in the past.)

- All other September titles will be taking place in DC's "contemporary times," unless it's a period piece, like Demon Knights, Jonah Hex or Legion of Super-Heroes.

The editors also revealed the reasons behind the initiative, including the importance of digital. Newsarama talked to the editors to find out more.

Newsarama: I've heard from more than one creator that deadlines are being kept tight and everyone's being urged to put all they have into this relaunch. Can you describe the atmosphere at DC now, as you all prepare for September?

Bob Harras: Everyone's excited. One of the things that's happened since we've started the September program is that artists and editors and writers have all come together in a way that I find very exciting and very refreshing. It's been all about getting together, talking story, challenging each other, and trying to create more and more exciting product. We meet with editorial regularly. We have pizza parties and show what's happening in each others' books. And it actually makes another editor stand up and say, "Well I've got something even more amazing." So the energy level here is very, very high.

Eddie Berganza: Yeah, people are challenging each other saying, "Look what I got — no, look what I got." It's really cool seeing that happen. I think it brings a whole new level of energy to everything. Everyone's trying to top themselves.

Harras: Everyone's working very hard right now, but I think they're having a great time doing it.

Nrama: I'd like to review what led to the decision to make this move. Every change has reason behind it. What was the reason for DC to make such drastic changes?

Berganza: I think Bob and I like using the "party" line, or party analogy, if you will. We had created a party that was very exclusive. We weren't letting a lot of people in.

What we're saying is that we're opening the doors really wide. We want everybody to come in. We want to everybody who wants to read periodicals, or wants to read a story on their iPod or iPad — everybody.

Harras: It really comes from the fact that we love these characters, and we want to share them in the broadest possible way. Eddie and I were both fans before we became professionals, and we just really want to reinvigorate everyone and get them excited about Superman, Batman and the whole line of DC characters.

Nrama: Can you walk fans through how the titles and characters were chosen for the relaunch in September? Did you have guiding principles as the decisions were made?

Harras: Our baseline was, what would excite people? We looked at every character and every book in great detail. We looked at what the core of the character was, and what we wanted to say with the characters in the book. It was really an ongoing process once we decided to do this. It involved a lot of the talent and a lot of editors.

Berganza: Yeah, what would excite people, and also, what's the accessibility? We feel like in the past, we've created this wall for things with complexity, so we wanted this to be simple. Our goal is to tell stories that are really easy to jump into.

When we did Blackest Night, that was a really easy thing to grasp onto. The dead were coming back. And you saw the success we had with that.

Nrama: Earlier this year, DC announced a new promotion called "Hold the Line at $2.99," indicating that all regular-sized comics would be priced at $2.99. Is that still the case?

Harras: Yes, we're definitely holding the line at $2.99.

Berganza: We want people to read these books! That's the whole point of the initiative, to get everybody on board.

Harras: That was one of the great things we did last year, was this $2.99 price point, and it's something we're definitely dedicated to going forward.

 

Nrama: We've seen some changes to the way women's costumes look. A lot of them are in pants, although not all. How are you approaching women's costumes going forward?

Harras: We looked at all the characters across the line with the goal to make them more current-looking. Jim Lee stepped in and looked at our entire cast of characters, trying to make them look more exciting across the board.

Berganza: It was men and women. It wasn't so much about the pants. We're an equal pants kind of company.

Nrama: We've also heard from a few writers that they're trying to tell a complete story in each issue, although planting seeds for future stories. Is there an effort to move away from the standard six-issue arcs where five issues depend on having read the first one?

Harras: I think the goal is to be more reader-friendly, but there's no edict to not do five-issue arcs or six-issue arcs. If the writer feels he wants to do one-issue stories with threads going to the next issues, that's great.

Berganza: We're looking more into weaving in subplots that tease to the next issue. But there's definitely not a move toward only doing one-issue stories and that's it.

Nrama: We've been speaking with creators from different offices and families, and their approach seems to vary. The Batman writers seem to be going out of their way to stress how things aren’t going to be changing that much, but conversely, the Superman titles seem to be going through a radical change. Is there an over-arching editorial edict, or are the “rules” what individual editors and writers want them to be?

Harras: I think there's an overarching discussion. This was a well-thought-out approach to all our characters across the line. But we also looked at events that happened in the past that we wanted to incorporate into current storylines that were going to be part and parcel into our ongoing stories.

So we really did take everything very seriously and looked at big events like Blackest Night and Brightest Day, and wanted to make sure those stayed a part of our stories.

 

Berganza: Right. The ones that really impacted people, like Death in the Family and Killing Joke. The ones that even people outside regular comic readers know. People know something happened to Barbara Gordon, that the Joker shot her. That counts.

Harras: So we looked at all these characters and really said what we're going to weave in and what we're going keep and what we're going to move forward on.

Nrama: So to clarify, the storylines you've mention, like the Killing Joke and Death in the Family, are definitely part of history going forward?

Harras: Yes, and in fact, they're even important starting points for some of the storylines we have.

Nrama: But that doesn't mean other stories didn't happen, right?

Harras: Correct.

Nrama: Did Identity Crisis happen?

Berganza: Yes, it did.

Nrama: How were these stories chosen? Because of important deaths? Or collections? Or because they were part of the upcoming stories?

Harras: We're taking this September event very seriously. We looked at what was important to our characters, what we thought were pivotal moments in their lives and could actually make more drama going forward. What really went on was a very comprehensive look at their histories, and Eddie and his team compiled a timeline for our history going forward, and everything that we thought was integral and important was part of that.

Berganza: It was all about the character. It wasn't so much, "what did this event do?" but "what did it do to the individuals?" If we got more story out of it, then definitely, that's what we were definitely going for. For instance, with Killing Joke, that event in the Bat-family is really crucial to what we're doing.

Nrama: How should fans regard favorite or even unfavorite past stories? Are they just going to find out along the way if they "counted" or not?

Berganza: You're going to have to read and see what's coming up.

Nrama: You both know DC has long-time fans where continuity and canon are a very important part of their reading experience. Can you talk about the regard for “continuity” within the editorial ranks of DC?

Berganza: We respect continuity, but I think even the fans will admit that once you get too mired in continuity, you start getting away from what's essential, which is character. If you look at what Geoff Johns has done with each time he relaunches a book, you see that it becomes very focused on character, and you don't get into questions about whether the Green Lantern fought this menace or this other menace, or where is Evil Star or the Starlings. You get more into the core of the character. And I think people have reacted very well to that. I think that's a fine model, where it doesn't get mired in continuity.

 

Nrama: Can you expand on what Jim Lee and Geoff Johns announced, about how the first Justice League and Action Comics arcs are set in the past?

Harras: It's all part of the plan that we built. Those books were chosen for particular reasons. You'll see how some of the events in those stories impact events in other books.

Berganza: It's a way of making everything accessible, so everyone can jump in at the same time. Whether you are an old fan and you want to catch up, or if you haven't read comics for a while, this is a way to come in. Everything is meant to be enjoyed and read without footnotes or looking up back issues.

Nrama: We've seen the announcement that Superman was the first superhero. Doesn’t that make it cut and dry that there was no JSA generation?

Harras: Nothing is cut and dry. That is something that you have to keep reading to see what happens.

Nrama: Just a few years ago, DC tried a different attempt at offering up a clean slate for new readers, "One Year Later." Eddie, you were around for that — what was successful and unsuccessful about One Year Later that informs this initiative?

Berganza: What we did on Teen Titans [for "One Years Later"] was really, really successful. You came in and there were different dynamics and different members. And I think that was a great way of starting something at a new beginning. Where I think it wasn't as successful was when there were, in other storylines, still threads from past books that continued, so it wasn't so clean-cut.

What we're doing here is saying, right here, this is it. You seriously don't have to read anything before this.

Nrama: Why do you think it has been necessary for DC to keep having these continuity resets to various degrees every few years? And how will this one will be different?

Harras: I can't speak to the other resets, because I wasn't here for that. But this one comes from us saying, "We've got great stuff here, and an amazing cast of characters" and we want people to come join us at this one, particular point. It all comes from the fact that these characters are amazing, and we've got a lot of great writers and artists, and we're giving people an invitation to jump in at this one point. We really are using the terminology that this is a party, and we want people to come. This time, it's a way to give a shock to the system and shout out that, hey, we've got great stuff here!

Berganza: It's also coming at a crucial time because there are so many ways to read a comic right now. To think there's only one way to represent our stories is very limiting, and not acknowledging what is in front of us, particularly with the iPad and other things.

Harras: So we're also looking at a long-term strategy for these characters and we're looking at the big picture as part of this whole September event.

Nrama: Is there a plan for what comes next, after September? And can you indicate what that plan might include?

Berganza: September is only the beginning.

Harras: It's a start of a grand epic, and there are a lot of plans for a lot of characters going forward.

Nrama: You mentioned the IPad, Eddie, and because the digital push is such a big part of what you're doing in September, how does digital inform what you're doing editorially?

Berganza: That's where the accessibility comes into play. That's why we want to make it so open. My goal is that you're going to be in line at bank and see someone reading a comic. You're going to be at the grocery store and there's a kid there reading a comic. It's no longer just about trying to find a comic shop. It's all around you.

My son won't read an actual comic, but if you put anything on a computer, he's there.

Harras: Just the idea of reaching new eyes and keeping them coming back is what's guiding us. Telling new stories and telling them in an incredibly exciting way — that's our guiding force — whether it's for digital or print.

Nrama: Just to put all rumors to rest, are the stories we're seeing in September taking place on New Earth?

Berganza and Harras: Yeah!

Berganza: It's not Earth Prime or any other earth. It's not Earth-One or anything.

Harras: Yeah, this is the whole of our DC characters. These are the stories of Superman, Batman and all our characters. This is the story of the DC Comics cast of characters.

Nrama: And yet there are a lot of changes. As any informed comic book fan knows, changes to iconic characters rarely “sticks.” We all remember Superman Blue and other costumes that eventually got back to iconic looks, and we've seen characters come back from the dead. Should fans even regard these changes as anything but a phase — a temporary status quo that will give way to the more familiar version?

Harras: I think this time, honestly, we've taken a lot of care making sure we look at what works for each and every character. We love these characters so we've taken an extreme amount of care to look at what we want to do.

I think what we've got coming is really exciting. I think people are going to be really happy with what they see in September, and I think people are going to be excited. I'm looking forward beyond that, to just hear people as they discover this amazing stuff.

Berganza: I think there's a little more reality to the approach we're doing on the costumes, so I think that will enable them to exist for a long time.

Nrama: No doubt you’re aware of the sect of fans who have not been happy about the changes they see, or at least appear to see at this stage. As you speak to fans who are excited as well as those who aren't, what would you say to them?

Berganza: Keep an open mind! It's like opening TV guide and it's a whole new season.

Harras: Eddie and I and everyone else here are fans as well. And I think we've got — I know we've got great stuff coming that I think will make everyone very exciting. I'm looking forward to seeing what everyone's going to be saying in September, because I think it's going to be a fantastic reaction.

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