DAN DIDIO: CHALLENGERS Return Reinforces New DC Approach

CHALLENGERS OF THE UNKNOWN Take DCUP #6

 

Among all the changes in direction taken by DC Comics since the company's relaunch in September, one has been particularly embraced by DC Co-Publisher Dan DiDio.

"When we were approaching the New 52, we really wanted a better synthesis between the artist and the writer, really working together as a team, as a tandem," DiDio told Newsarama.

Not only has DiDio encouraged his freelancers to embrace this new philosophy, but it's one he's made a central part of his creative approach to comics. He now co-plots with his artists, first with the ongoing series O.M.A.C. with series artist Keith Giffen, and now with a new Challengers of the Unknown story he's doing for DC Universe Presents with Jerry Ordway.

"I really enjoy throwing ideas back and forth, and so does Dan," Ordway told Newsarama, describing the type of collaboration he's enjoying on the Challengers story. "Dan has been great to work with, and he is taking the lead on this, as it's his initial pitch we're fleshing out."

That new pitch for the relaunched Challengers follows the premise that these characters are part of a reality show called "Challengers."

"It's actually very grounded in reality because it starts off as a reality TV show," DiDio said. "All the characters who are introduced at the start are all participating in a reality television show called Challengers. And it's during this adventure that these nine supposedly random people come together. Of course, you find out that it wasn't random at all. That they were all chosen for a reason. And that's the reason they were on that flight that ends up crashing."

The nine people crash, but only eight survive, DiDio warned.

Ordway had, earlier this year, pitched several ideas for bringing the Challengers of the Unknown back into the DC Universe. But he ended up wanting to work with DiDio on his concept because he thought it "feels very fresh" but still follows the original premise from the team's introduction.

"The Challengers are being reintroduced, with the core idea intact — that they are all survivors, and have somehow cheated death," Ordway said. "In the original series, they were brought together on a radio program."

In addition to the core group of June, Professor Haley, Rocky, Red and Ace, the new story includes characters from a 1990's run, Ordway said, although they're "in name, mostly."

"Like Survivor, you need more than 5 people in a competition of this sort, a 'challenge of the Himalayas,'" Ordway said. "In many ways, this is June's story, as she is the producer of the reality show that puts them all in a plane that goes down in the Himalayas. Without the luxury of an open ended run, our focus is narrowed, and there has to be some resolution as well."

While fans may want to compare the premise to TV shows like Lost because of its mystical plane crash, DiDio pointed out that Challengers came first — and this series approaches the concepts in a way that only comics can. "We want to bring those high concept ideas back to comics," he said. "This is where they started, and this is where they became great. And we want to reinvent a lot of what we do to regain that fun ground that so many other mediums are taking advantage of right now."

While DiDio has been co-writing a very high-action sci-fi adventure in O.M.A.C., he said this series isn't as much science fiction as mystical.

""We're going to a lot of mystic civilizations during the course of the story," DiDio said. "The very first issue takes place in Nanda Parbat, which is familiar from DC lore. And then after that, we move into Metropolis again, where the television show is placed, and they're working for one of the stations there.

Both Ordway and DiDio admitted that the new premise is placed within an "old-school" approach.

"We always think we're reinventing the wheel, but these concepts at DC are all time-tested," Ordway said. "I can recall being exposed to the Challengers comics in the 1960's Bob Brown era, but didn't become a fan until I saw the Kirby reprints DC did in the 1970's. The original series continued long after Jack Kirby left, and had a healthy run of 149 issues I believe. Re-reading those now shows that the concept is still valid."

The DC Universe Presents story will even include the type of monsters that heroes of the DC Universe used to face.

"One of the things that we did with O.M.A.C. that we want to do here is, we captured a lot of the crazy excitement and action adventure that was told in comics from earlier on," DiDio said. "And now we're going back a little bit deeper into comics history, and we're going for the giant creatures and monsters that used to inhabit the comics of the '50s and such. And we're going to be playing that in the Challengers backdrop. Something that was part of their lore when they were first created."

Besides the monsters, there will also be familiar faces from the DC Universe, DiDio said. "The man funding The Challengers TV show is somebody who's extraordinarily recognizable to DC Comics, and they're already featured in one of our series," DiDio said. "And we'll see other little ties to the DC Universe as the story moves forward."

Challengers fans will also see references to old concepts, but in new ways. "One fun example is that 'Challengers Mountain' isn't really a mountain, or even a place of operations anymore, but it's in our series with a different twist," DiDio said. "It's actually the TV set from which they do the reality series. They just call it Challengers Mountain because of the history for the characters.

"There are a lot of fun little things in there that we're dropping in just to capture the energy of the original Challengers series," he said.

Orway said his art will be drawn in his usual "somewhat realistic" style for DC Presents. "But there are elements in this that are pretty big, and I'm trying to channel a little Kirby," he said.

"I think Jerry captures some of the essence of these types of mystical realms really well," DiDio said. "Jerry had such a great tone that he brought to things like his Shazam series. I think he'll be able to capture a lot of that essence and bring it to this book too. He was able to tell a lot of the sense of history and lore. Plus he probably draws some of the best monsters around. So I think that's what we're going to see from this."

Ordway said he's also trying to give each character a unique "spark," hoping that "the reader will be moved, or upset with the situations we put them in."

"Part of my process is to become familiar with the characters before drawing that first page, so I come into the pencils with some degree of confidence that I know what I'm doing," he said.

DiDio said that although the story will only take up three issues of DC Universe Presents, the hope is that it becomes popular enough for more.

"If there's any excitement generated there, we'll come back for another three issues a little bit later down the line," DiDio said. "This was a format that first broke in with things like The Brave and the Bold and Showcase. And we want to recapture that same sense of adventure and different high concepts in our DC Universe Presents series."

And for DiDio, the whole experience he's had on both O.M.A.C. and DC Universe Presents just reinforces his hopes that comics will return to an age of artists and writers working together more closely.

"The good part about my position is I get to pick the people I get to work with, and there's nobody better to be working with than Keith Giffen and Jerry Ordway on these series," DiDio said. "I had a lot of fun working with the guys on Outsiders leading into this, but in this case, it's wonderful to be working with one person on the whole concept, from the plot to the art and all the way through, and to really bring those creative processes together this way."

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