Fan Expo '11: DC COMICS - THE NEW 52 Panel (JSA Returns!)

Panel discussion room #714 in the Metro Toronto Convention Centre was packed with fans a full half-hour before the scheduled start time. This was arguably the most anticipated comic book discussion at the entire Fan Expo Canada: It was the DC Comics New 52 panel. The panel board was packed with the top talent and minds from DC, including Dan DiDio, Brian Azzarello, Tony Daniel, Jeff Lemire, Shane Davis, Francis Manapul, James Robinson and Eddie Berganza.

The biggest news came near the end of the question period, as several audience members were anxious to know what would happen to some of their favorite characters who have yet to have a title announced.

“Should we tease?” asked O.M.A.C. co-writer and DC co-publisher DiDio. The rest agreed, and James Robinson confirmed that he is working on a new Justice Society project with artist Nicola Scott, and that the parallel world Earth-2 will make a return. The crowd erupted into thunderous applause.

"We don't want them to just be cameos and then forgotten," DiDio said. "We've waited on JSA because we really wanted to get the details right. We were hammering out the characters as late as yesterday."

The panel started by going through a rundown of some the DC reboot's premier titles, starting with Justice League. Berganza said that the title would take place roughly five years before the majority of the new 52 titles, and covers the emergence of heroes new to the world, a world that, for reason untold, has not known super-humans for a very long time. It will also deal with Cyborg's new origin story.

Brian Azzarello spoke with gusto about Wonder Woman #1, written by him with art by Cliff Chiang. He reiterated the horror focus of the story. “This is not the Wonder Woman that you'll recognize from before besides the costume,” he said. “I've said this is a horror book and I'm sticking to that.” Brooding panels by Chiang were shown to the crowd, including a nighttime shot of Wonder Woman fending off, presumably, an intruder in her bedroom, reinforced the statement.

Manapul gave some of this thoughts on the new Flash, sheepishly calling the stories “fun and fast.” The first arcs will tackle what kinds of situations can possibly stop the fastest man alive. Manapul said that he came up with some incredible death traps for him to overcome, with more than just his speed, and that the internal struggle within Barry Allen will be as important as his crime-fighting.

“It's his psyche that both slows him down as well as pushes him forward,” he says. He then showed a page with Flash's new transformation technique, with fragments of his costume bursting out of his ring and then overlapping Allen as he ran into them. Manapul noted that he took inspiration from Jim Lee's new costume artwork, and wanted to make something out of all the sleek new lines on the tights. “It doesn't really make sense for Barry to have to carefully put on a pair of boots like anyone else.”

At this point DiDio brought a young boy named Edwin from the crowd to read some of DC's newest titles: Justice League #1, Flash #1 and Flashpoint #5. “He now contains the knowledge of the entire DC Universe,” said Manapul. Edwin then pointed to his head sagely.

The rundown of DC's premier titles continued fast and furiously as Edwin's reading. DiDio spoke about Grant Morrison's Action Comics, and how Morrison always wanted his own take on Superman's early years. “So much of the DCU is built around Superman,” explains DiDio. “If Justice League is Year One, Action Comics is almost Year Zero.” Clark Kent starts of very much alone, after the death of his adopted parents and his move to a big new city. It will also cover how this incarnation of Clark gets his costume, and why it matters so much to him.

Tony Daniel showed off a new Savage Hawkman, someone able and very willing to use his brutal weaponry to deal with equally dangerous threats. He also said that he wanted to address niggling continuity concerns that have cropped up over the years, from reincarnation and Egyptian motifs (those are gone), to where he keeps his wings when he's not on crime-fighting duty.

Daniel also commented on the new Detective Comics, and emphasized short story arcs with a small cast of main characters. “There's Commissioner Gordon, Alfred, and Batman. And...that's pretty much it.” He did mention a new love interest for Bruce, “that is not Catwoman.” The plan for the book runs in Daniel's mind for at least two to three years, with a major storyline (“I don't want to call it an event”) coming up sometime in 2012.

Manapul said Detective Comics #1 contained “probably the greatest cliffhanger I've ever read. It will blow your face off.”

Other titles discussed included DiDio's own O.M.A.C., and Jeff Lemire's Animal Man and Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E. “Every story starts in a really normal, everyday location like a bank or a restaurant,” says DiDio of O.M.A.C., “Then we show how the world gets out of control when you introduce characters like O.M.A.C. into the scene.”

If Wonder Woman and Animal Man have a horror focus, Frankenstein is sci-fi, with a little black humor introduced by way of the title monster's role as the best straight man in comics, “because he literally has no sense of humor,” says DiDio. “You put all these funny situations around him and all he does is grunt.”

Lemire disclosed that Animal Man in The New 52 will be more known as an animal rights activist and counter-culture figure than a superhero, and added, "I love writing all the members of the family, especially Ellen."

The panel took a number of thoughtful questions from the audience. One woman asked about the status of the various Batgirls. Berganza reiterated that Barbara Gordon is Batgirl in the new 52, but we'll still see others who have worn the suit in the past. “Just because Stephanie Brown isn't Batgirl, doesn't mean she isn't around. You'll see.”

One fan asked about how confusing and intimidating 52 brand-new titles can seem to his friends who want to start reading now. DiDio took the concern very seriously. “If we scare someone off it means we didn't do our job properly,” he says, expanding on that by saying that their roll-out of characters and storylines has been meticulously planned out to not overwhelm readers, and not make any single title look cheap – hence the JSA announcement not being made until today.

The New 52 panel ended with the final ‘Lighting Round’ ever to deal with the old DCU.

Harley Quinn? “Oh, she's still crazy,” said Berganza.

Is Gail Simone working on a secret Secret Six project? “It's a secret!”

“Will we see Jack Knight as Starman?” asked young Edwin. “Never say never.”

“Will Ted Kord have existed or – “

“Next question!” shouts DiDio. 

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