Dan DiDio: 20 Answers and 1 Question, 03.18.09

Cover to June's Batman & Robin

With apologies for missing last week, we’re back with DC Universe Executive Editor to hit him up with 20 questions, and get one in return.

This week, we hit event fatigue, Morrison and Quitely on Batman & Robin, changing costumes, James Robinson’s Justice League, and a lot more.

But you’re not here to read an introduction – let’s roll with this show….

1) To follow up on the question that you posed to readers last time – about how you hear complaints about “event fatigue,” yet people continue to buy the event storylines, miniseries and tie-ins. Let’s turn that question around on you – obviously, form panels and other feedback, you hear readers’ complaints about events, but yet, given your position, you see the numbers that are your best indicator of, naturally, what people are spending their money on. Why do you think there’s this dichotomy with them?

Dan DiDio: I think that there’s an expectation that comes with every event, that it’s going to be bigger than the last, have greater ramifications than anything that has ever come before. I always feel that it’s our job to get people excited about it, to get them willing to go out and buy it, but if fans come away feeling that their expectations weren’t met, then they want to blame that on the whole concept of the event rather than that one particular story.

It’s not that the concept of events is broken – I think that events really work. I think they get people excited about all the characters because they get to see them in one place, and how they all interact. It’s a story that’s built on continuity, built on history of the larger universe. Where the fatigue sets in is if we don’t do our jobs and don’t present it properly or make it compelling or exciting. Or we go so far in making it wide-reaching that all the various bits and pieces don’t make sense to the whole. That’s what we have to watch out for – that’s what we try to remain most aware about. If we do our jobs well and tell big, powerful, strong stories with our best characters, then the crossover feels as if it adds to overall sense of the story and the complexity of the story and the depth of the story – then we win, and we have them back for the next time. If we do a couple in a row where they don’t have any sense of worth, or they don’t seem like they’re important enough, then we fail, and unfortunately, we might lose people that we would otherwise have coming in and buying our books.

I spoke to a couple of people when I was at MegaCon, and I realized that for them, it’s not just the event that’s important, but the lead-in to the event. That as we build up to an event, we set all the pieces in place and get all the pieces in motion, and therefore it feels like it’s part of the larger whole. I still to this day get compliments on Countdown to Infinite Crisis and the four miniseries that led into Infinite Crisis. It really captured everyone’s imagination and attention and got people invested in the story so when Infinite Crisis hit, it was a rollicking adventure that they had been building up to for six to eight months. So again, it’s our job to make sure it’s as compelling as possible, as exciting as possible, and if we do that, I don’t think there’s anything called “event fatigue.”

The only fatigue that I want is a sense of exhaustion because you’ve just been through this great roller coaster ride that was so exciting that you want to catch your breath afterwards, but when the next one comes, you’re ready for it.

2) There were a couple of questions this time about the magic characters. A couple of years back, you said that wanted to explore the realm of magic because it had all changed as a result of Infinite Crisis – when will we see more with those magic characters, not necessarily the supernatural worlds?

DD: That’s something that’s going to be on the shelf for a little while. The last series, Reign in Hell reestablished the status quo in Hell itself, setting up Blaze as the new leader of Hell, replacing Neron. We’d been running those characters pretty hard for a while now, and while you might see something coming down the pipeline that will feature individual characters, but honestly, some of the storylines we were looking at felt comparable to where we were headed with Blackest Night, therefore I wanted to give that whole concept a rest for a little bit while Blackest Night takes center stage starting in July.

That’s not to say that you won’t see those characters in Blackest Night.

Talking Blue Beetle with Matt Sturges
Talking Blue Beetle with Matt Sturges
3) A question came up in the thread about the…trans-media characters of DC, that is, characters that move back and forth from comics to animation, in this case. The reader said they found it interesting that Blue Beetle was featured prominently in Brave and the Bold to the point that there are toys of Jamie in the B&B line, but in comics, his profile isn’t anywhere near as high, and can’t maintain a series. The broader question then – is there a connection between the various media so that one can support another? If there’s a character with a movie, does that guarantee a comic series starring that character a certain period of time…or at least some comic book prominence?

DD: Let me answer this in bits and pieces. If there’s a movie, does that guarantee a comic series? No – so before anyone asks the question, Jonah Hex is still going because we believe in Jonah Hex as a series, and I like the series. I like its purpose, what it accomplishes in the DCU and I like the different tonality and the different voice that we provide in the different superhero books. That’s why that book is going, not because there’s a movie coming in a year. If we were really doing that we’d have cancelled the book and launched a new series when the movie came out, and that is not our intention. Our plan is to go on and keep running as strong with Jonah Hex as we are doing.

As for Blue Beetle – as I say almost every time we do this, I really don’t have any involvement on any of the media properties – or rather, the publishing side doesn’t have any involvement in what choices are being made with those characters, and we haven’t been involved in any aspects of Brave and Bold. The fact that they use the Blue Beetle that we created is very exciting to me, and very flattering in that they recognize the strength of that particular character, and were gracious enough to use it in the cartoon.

For anything other than that, realistically, as I always say, we are the publishing arm of DC Comics. Because of that, we live and die by how we publish and what we do. We don’t rely on other support. Realistically, when things reach film and television, they can only add to what we are, but at the end of the day, we have to be able to stand on our own legs and support ourselves with the quality of material that we produce, week-in and week-out.

And of course, we’ve got Blue Beetle coming as a co-feature in Booster Gold, so it’s not like we’ve completely given up on the character.

NRAMA: And that’s pretty much a confirmation of a break from the characters in other media as well? There was a time when superhero films were really starting to surge in popularity when comic publishers were rushing to make sure the comic version matched the film version – for better or worse – just to grab that film audience and somehow bring them into comics… So there’s no pressure on your from Warner Bros. to make sure things between the films (or other media) and comics match up?

DD: None whatsoever. What’s wonderful about working for DC Comics is that we do run our editorial. Granted, it is a process like anything’s a process, but it’s something we handle ourselves. So I don’t get involved with any of the other media.

4) At WonderCon, James Robinson said that his Justice League project has been taken down from an ongoing to a miniseries. What was the thought that went into that decision?

DD: There were a couple – one was particularly story-driven, because the first story that we’re creating in that series has a very clear beginning, middle and end; and the second decision is that once you see the artistic style of the series, you’ll understand why I wanted to elevate it up from what it was, which was an ongoing series, and move to make it more of a showcase, because it’s just exceptional. Also, the story becomes a launch point for other things that take place in the DC Universe.

Also, the style of the art is very “painterly” and I was having trouble following up with that, so that helped us decide to make this story its own miniseries. It really does have strong ramifications, not just for the justice League, but for the entire DCU. So I think it’s a good thing – it puts a real spotlight on a really exceptional story that’s not just well-written by really beautifully painted.

Cover to June's Batman & Robin
Cover to June's Batman & Robin
Batman & Robin #1

5) The Batman titles that are coming out in June – a reader asked if there will be a cohesion between them once they all launch and start rolling in the post Battle for the Cowl world as we see in the Superman titles after New Krypton?

DD: There’s a cohesion in a sense that it’s clear that they’re all coming from the same place. There is a new Batman, that’s pretty clear, so that character will be reflected in all the series and the ramifications of the change in the character will be reflected as well. But each of the series comes from a different point of view – Batman & Robin will naturally focus on the new team of batman and Robin, Batman will focus on the new Batman, Detective Comics will focus on the new Batwoman and her role in Gotham City as she tries to affect change; Streets of Gotham will focus on the supporting cast members of Gotham’s world and how they interact with Batman; Gotham City Sirens will be dealing with Catwoman, Ivy and Harley Quinn and their adventures, many of which may dovetail in with other adventures that are taking place in other places in other aspects of Batman’s world; Outsiders deals with Alfred who will be seen in other books, but this is Alfred’s mission and directive and is about adventures that take place outside of Gotham City and Batgirl will be featuring…well, we’ll leave that for another day.

NRAMA: And all of those are ongoing?

DD: Yes they are.

6) An interesting question was posted in regards to costumes of the iconic characters. Is there any chance of that happening? After all, there’s iconic, and then there’s also keeping things contemporary for the times – after all, famous brands change their logos from time to time, decade to decade in order to look “fresh…”

DD: We like to keep our character designs as classic but as contemporary as possible, but I always argue the fact that you can look from when Superman was introduced to where he is now that the costume has been revised, gradually, over the years. Look through the years at Batman – that’s been changed over the years as well, from gaining and then losing the spotlight behind the bat on his chest, to the color of the costume, to type of belt and boots, to the shape of the cowl. So, we have done some revisions along those lines and we want them to always feel as fresh as possible, but remain true to the character as well.

When Batman comes back in June, you’ll see some examples of this – there will be some changes to the belt and some of the design of the costume, and of course, as you’ve seen already, the Robin design has been changed a little bit for Batman & Robin as well.

7) Speaking of Batman & Robin – with the announcement of Grant and Frank on that title, a lot of people immediately started wondering about scheduling. How are you going to be working that out with this title, given that Frank’s not really a monthly artist?

DD: All Star Superman was a particular book that was the story that Grant and Frank were telling, so that’s why we waited on that one. In this case, we all are going in with our eyes open in regards to the expectations and the challenges of doing a monthly series with this creative team. Grant is working with Frank on beginning the books – they started early, but more importantly, we will make sure this book comes out, and the story is constructed in a way that other artists can come in so we can keep it on a monthly schedule.

8) When will Superman: Secret Origin be starting?

Superman: Secret Origin#1

DD: The Latter half of the year. Again, because some of the issues are oversized, we’re actually waiting until we have a few in the can, because we want Secret Origin to roll out monthly over six months, so we want to make sure we’re in a position that we can do that, confidently, and as I said, a lot of the things that were focusing on now are aimed at making sure we have enough material in the pipeline so we can be consistent in our delivery as promised.

9) Touching on the co-features that have been announced. You’ve described what kinds of characters and teams will get these co-features, but how are the books that they’re going into selected? Is it something where, by the end of 2009, every DC book will have a co-feature in it, or is it picking and choosing between titles?

DD: We were very judicious in picking out which characters would be co-features, and as I said, part of that litmus test was if we felt those characters could support their own series or miniseries at another time, rather than just putting random characters and random concepts out there. I don’t want them to ever feel like fill-in material – these stories are being done for a very particular reason.

As for the titles that will see them, it will be a cross section. Some of our higher-end titles will see them, while some won’t. The match will come down to the particular character and who we think is the best fit, more so than putting a certain book at a certain sales point, of filling the back of any particular issue at a given time. The mix will include some of our better selling book, maybe some #1s, and some of our weaker selling books – it just depends where we feel it will work best.

10) At conventions this year, you advised people to re-read Final Crisis in one sitting, yet you constantly emphasize that the biggest part of your job is telling episodic stories, and getting people back into comic shops either monthly or weekly for their next hit. How do you resolve those two things?

DD: It’s very simple – the statement came back about people being “confused” about Final Crisis, I think the book reads very well as individual issues, but for those people that had some difficulty following the story in the format is was presented, and they felt the story was lacking for that, my suggestion is to then sit down and read it again as a complete story, from beginning to end, because all of the questions or things that they think are missing are all there, and can be caught in reading it in one sitting. There were so many things that were established early in the books that paid off later on, which is one of the reasons why we’ve re-structured the collected edition of Final Crisis to include other works so that it makes for one complete reading.

The statement that sitting and reading Final Crisis in one reading was pretty much an answer to the question that was being asked of me, in regards to being unclear to the overall story. I think reading it all together will answer the questions people may have.

11) A question came up for readers who are unfamiliar with DC Comics, why DC doesn’t go for the idea of having recap pages in the front of their books?

DD: My answer on this one is still the same – I believe that it’s the writer’s job and the editor’s job to make the stories as clear as possible in the way we present them. A recap page – a pure splash page of pure text, laying out what has come before, is neither a dynamic way to start a comic nor a necessary way to start a comic. It is our job to be as clear and as informative as possible in our storytelling. We shouldn’t fall back on lazy methods of writing, which is what I call putting a recap page in the opening of a book, in order to remind everybody what happened. Granted we don’t succeed all the time, but hopefully we create stories and directions that are so exciting and compelling that people will want to pick up the next issue because they remember what has happened before and want to follow the story all the way through. That’s our job – we have to try harder to make the stories compelling so that people can’t wait to read the next issues, and more importantly, we’ve got to be clear enough so people won’t get lost in the process.

Now I’m not going to say that everybody’s going to know everything about what’s going on there, because that’s never been the case in comics – or episodic storytelling, for that matter – but I will say that hopefully, if we have an ongoing story, people should know who all the player are if they’re picking up the story at any particular moment or issue.

Case in point – my first Avengers issue was issue #100 – with a three-part story featuring every character that was not mentioned by name. But I found the story and characters so compelling that I went out and bought all the issues following, and all the issues that led up to it. That’s what we try to do – create stories that are so compelling that people want to read them from there on, but also want to pick up back issues and trades to see how things got to this point, because the readers are so invested in the characters and stories.

12) It’s been reported that Judd won’t be writing Titans after the “Deathtrap” crossover concludes – who will be taking over the writing on that series?

DD: That will be announced at a later date, but I can guarantee you that there will be writers on Titans following Judd Winick’s departure.

13) Aquaman is showing up in Blackest Night – that much is known. Readers have been looking for the return of Aquaman for some time now, but yet, he seems to have trouble gaining a foothold lately when he does return…

DD: See – I’d argue that. Aquaman has trouble staying away – whenever he’s not on the stage, we get tons of questions about when he’s coming back (laughs).

NRAMA: but he is coming back in Blackest Night?

DD: Yes.

NRAMA: For better or for worse, as the general tone of Blackest Night seems to be hinting?

DD: One of the things that I find fun is a general misconception of what Blackest Night is. I think once #0 and #1 hit, people will understand much clearer the direction and the plans for some of the characters that are returning.

Flash: Rebirth #2
Flash: Rebirth #2
14) The Flash relaunch after Flash: Rebirth. Will that continue with the old numbering, or will it launch with a new #1?

DD: There’s a strength to a #1 when we present it in initial sales, it creates that sense that this is a wonderful jump-on point. Everyone always comes and asks us what the best ways to attract new readers is, and one of the best methods we’ve got is putting a “#1” on something, because it helps the readers to feel that they’re getting in on the ground floor.

Conversely, the continuing numbering, once you get past those early numbers, those higher numbers creates that sense of history for those characters and gives the sense that they have longevity.

So we’re still discussing it, but I imagine you’re going to see a new Flash #1 after the end of Rebirth – but we are discussing the overall numbering. The more interesting question is, if we do go to the original numbering, what number would we pick it up at? Some people would argue, with a good point, that the Wally West issues should add in there, but should the Bart issues? It’s an interesting argument. Right now, though, I’m thinking you’ll see a Flash #1 for sure.

I actually posed the question of what number picking things up with Flash number should start, and the argument in the room was very clear as to whether or not we would jump from Barry’s original run to this new run of Barry…but for right now, I feel very comfortable in saying that after Flash Rebirth, there will be a new Flash #1 – who that Flash is, I still can’t say.

15) Speaking of Rebirth, and this touches on a question that you get now and again at conventions – in DC titles this month, there’s a two page ad for Flash Rebirth #1. I think it’s a pretty safe bet that at this point, most of the audience reading DC Comics that are interested in Flash don’t need convincing, especially with a double-page ad, to buy issue #1. Yet there are titles that don’t sell as high as Flash Rebirth. Why push one to readers while others languish?

DD: What I look at when we create our ads is what the potential upside will be. If you look at particular series that have a definite ceiling to what we believe the maximum amount of sales are, and then you look at series that have a higher ceiling, or we feel we can reach higher with that particular book, then we’re going to put a lot of resources to maximize our sales in the places where we have a chance to make the biggest difference.

When it comes to Flash – I’ll be very frank with you – it’s a vey important series for us, it’s a very important character for us. This is a book and a series that may have lost its way for a period of time, but we’re relaunching the character and bringing Barry Allen back, and we’re pretty damn excited about it, and proud about it, but we’re not going to take anything for granted, so we’re going to put a big honking ad out there.

You can argue both sides of the fence, but at the end of the day, we have a limited amount of space on what we can promote, and we have to promote the things that we believe have the greatest upside for both the fans and for the company.

16) One of the current refrains – and again, it’s not a DC specific thing, but DC has said is as much as anyone else – is that “we’re launching this as a miniseries, and if the miniseries does well, it may just return as an ongoing.” We’ve seen dozens of miniseries over the past four years, but still – no ongoings based off of them to speak of. Why not?

DD: Our miniseries lately have been directed toward particular stories and concepts rather than being character-specific – so that’s one part of it. That allows us to byild new stories on top of one another, miniseries after miniseries, and moving characters from one adventure to the next.

It’s like what we’re doing coming out of Final Crisis – we’re spinning off miniseries, rather than series, because we’re picking up on different threads of the story as much as the characters that were part of those stories.

These are all things that enhance and feed the different corners of the DC Universe. So that’s why, when we do Blackest Night, there will be one shots and miniseries to support it, primarily because they will expand on story beats that, in the primary series, we don’t have the room to expand upon or tell.

NRAMA: To go back to the question, and use an example that you named, with the Starlin books, after the first miniseries, you had a good idea what was going on and that the there was enough support to see the series continue – why not just launch Strange Adventures as an ongoing and each miniseries storyline now just be an arc of that main series?

DD: What happens is that the miniseries allow us some additional flexibility in our scheduling, and, going back to something I was talking about earlier, the new #1 helps bring people back to the story and new readers to the story. By keeping it as a series of miniseries, we have flexibility on the creative teams – we could be wrapping up one miniseries while starting off on another. And more importantly, each of the arcs has a beginning, middle and end. We might make changes as e go that would seem dramatic for an ongoing, and ultimately, work better in a miniseries format.

17) There was some talk about her appearing previously, but that died down, but is there any chance of Smallville’s Chloe Sullivan appearing in the DCU?

DD: No, there really isn’t. Smallville is in its eighth season right now, and truth be told, if we were going to use Chloe, we would have used her at an earlier date. I think we missed our window on that.

NRAMA: That said, there is someone who will shortly be revisiting Clark Kent’s early days and friendships in Smallville…

DD: It…just wouldn’t feel right. It feels like it’s forcing something into the story that, unfortunately, would have no payoff in the current issues of Superman. Anything that might appear or reveal that we’ve never seen before in Superman: Secret Origin are definitely beats that will play out in the Superman books, or will be touched upon following Secret Origin, and Chloe would be a hard fit to add in, and explain why she hasn’t been seen until now.

Power Girl #1
Power Girl #1
18) Will Power Girl be playing a role in what’s going on in the Superman books, especially given that she’s Kryptonian, and Kryptonians aren’t allowed on earth anymore?

DD: We’ve got 100,000 Kryptonians, and we have a really strong supporting cast with the characters in the four books of the Superman family right now, and more importantly, it’s not her Krypton – and this is the moment when Power Girl has her first ongoing series. So because of that, we really want her to exist and succeed on her own merits, and build her own supporting cast in her own stories, her lore and her legend is tied more to things that take place in Justice Society than in Superman. And while she may have guest appearances in the Superman titles, I’d really prefer to have her own stories and sensibility, and become her own franchise.

19) With the options that are coming up in regards to storytelling – that meaning, the use of co-features in books, will we be seeing the tales of Cave-Batman and his roommate anywhere in the coming months?

DD: If that man is Bruce Wayne, and he is in a cave, then the answer is that yes, that is a story that will definitely be told in the DC Universe at some point.

20) A reader pointed out that this year is the Blue Beetle’s 70th anniversary and asked if there is anything coming up to commemorate this, and further, my question would be – do you subscribe to the idea of making a big event out of character’s anniversaries?

DD: I find anniversaries distracting because so much of what we do is about looking ahead and focusing on the future rather than looking at the past. I already know that someone will say that we’re bringing the Silver Age back to the DC Universe with Hal and Barry, but it’s not. Everything that we’re doing – Barry and his return, Hal and his rebirth in Green Lantern – it’s all about moving the story and situations forward. We’re not rebooting or revisiting the past; we are bringing the characters into the present and moving them into the future. We are reexamining and reinterpreting the characters as we go head, but we are certainly not going back and re-living old glories.

So from my standpoint, I understand the interest and excitement that anniversaries can create, but from what we do on a month-by-month basis, the focus is on the future and where the characters are going, and only looking back to the past or where they’ve been when it relates to the stories of today.

Okay – this time, since we were talking about the second features a little bit, my question is: what characters would you want to see as a co-feature in any of our books? Remember – as we look at them, they are characters that could, at any other time, support their own series or miniseries. So who would you like to see?

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