As opposed to the Sunday Conversations, which have sometimes taken an almost nostalgic tone about which comics brought readers into the fold, DiDio said that he and Lee were looking to learn about "what do you love about comics now, and what do you hope to see in comics in the future?" In the hopes of "trying to meet the challenges of the future... we want to grow the business, not to shrink it," he said. "We don't want this business to go away when we go away... and the only way to do that is to understand what works for you."
DiDio kicked off the panel asking readers about the recently concluded Blackest Night, and what they liked about it most. One fan said that he felt that "there was a real conclusion," and that Nekron felt really and truly defeated. Another fan said "I enjoy the fact that I was able to buy the main series alone and not spend all my money and I still got the full story."
"That's a real important thing with us, in terms of pricing -- we know there’s a finite amount of dollars that comes in and there's a lot of concern around those lines," DiDio said.
But what about the supporting material? One fan said he was disappointed with Batman and Robin's limited interaction in Blackest Night. Another, however, said that "you had some creative teams on there that I liked reading. For me, it wasn't a matter of, did I feel I needed to buy all these books... it was that I liked who you had on the books."
DiDio then asked the crowd who was reading Brightest Day, and why. "Event fatigue," a fan said, saying he had also purchased Flash #1. "It's just one [event] rolling into the other... I just needed a break."
"We put a lot of effort to make sure that this didn't feel like an event," DiDio said. "It was more about the individual characters."
Moving back to the previous fan's question about event comics, DiDio asked, if there were no event comics, what would people buy? One fan replied, "best stories, best writers, best artists." The panel then asked about whether readers purchased trades, periodicals, or both. A reader who bought both said that he gives trades to friends -- another said he bought trades "mainly because you guys make these beautiful editions that come out."
Jim Lee then asked if people would download comics. An older fan said he wouldn't: "I'm 47, I wear bifocals... I've seen the iPad, and its great, but the print is sometimes too small," he said. Occasionally, he said, that extends to periodicals as well, "like El Diablo -- I loved the book, but some of the balloons, with red text on black balloons... I couldn't read it."
The question of experimentation in comics then came up. "We're sitting here right now in our new positions, its funny, because Jim's coming from Wildstorm and I'm coming from the DCU, it's all part of the same big company," DiDio said. "Well, DC Comics is experimenting consistently -- Vertigo is experimenting, Wildstorm is experimenting, it's all coming from the same company."
DiDio asked again -- what are you looking for? The word "epic" was used, but how is that different than an event? "If event books were well written and well drawn, you’d be happy with them right?" Lee asked. "Just not the crappy ones." DiDio said with a laugh that "I love when people say, 'good stories with good character beats' -- you think, 'jeez, why didn't I think of that?'"
But with the evolving standards of comics, DiDio said that "we've become much more critical... it seems we're trying to constantly one-up ourselves. The stories that were told in the '60s and '70s now are hard to tell because of the epic-ness, we're always trying to outdo ourselves."
DiDio then took a moment to clarify his stance on DC's first of their recently weekly books, 52. "It was supposed to tell the stories of all the missing 'One Years,' but when the writers stepped on board, they didn't have a story for 52 issues, they just had a bunch of moments," DiDio said. "It became more about those characters, and those stories came to life, and that's how 52 came to life. That's why I don't see 52 as an event... as it ends, we already saw all the changes, so it wasn't an event. It was, in some ways more of a stunt than an event."
Yet, with books like Cry for Justice, the push to always say "next issue, everything changes!!" is dangerous, especially for gaining retailer and reader trust. "You get on a slippery slope," he said.
With the conversation zeroing in on retailers, the question of digital comics was raised once more. "There's no one at DC that doesn't want the digital comics, but it's a complex issue," Lee said, both "in terms of retailers and compensation within the creative community. We don't want to not compensate the original creators of those stories." But digital fans shouldn't drop hope yet, as Lee said that "we will announce something shortly."
DiDio then asked about another promotional tool DC has recently used -- plastic rings to go with books such as R.E.B.E.L.S., Doom Patrol, and most recently Flash #1."It led to a lot of things," one fan said. "R.E.B.E.L.S. I never would have bought, I bought R.E.B.E.L.S. and now I'm a R.E.B.E.L.S. reader. Never would have bought Doom Patrol, bought Doom Patrol, and now I'm a Doom Patrol reader... yeah, it suckered me in, but now I'm reading."
A fan brought up that his favorite part of Blackest Night was the lead-in. "What makes a story bigger and more epic is a lot of build-up," the fan said, referencing titles like Green Lantern and Vertigo's Fables. "That brings me in month after month."
DiDio responded that when he joined, megahits like Batman: Hush and Superman/Batman allowed him the latitude to create that sort of long-term planning to make books more meaningful for readers. "All the sudden, then we're figuring out Infinite Crisis, then Titans hits and Outsiders hits... there's got to be a long-term plan. They like to see that effort and thought and payoff in the end."
In that vein, a fan asked what the long-term planning was for the Superman books -- specifically, taking him out of the two main titles for more than a year. "I'm going to 'fess up to that one -- I like the bit of keeping Superman out of his books, but we did it too long," DiDio said. "Three months would have been good, six months would have been good, probably a year was too long for that. We wanted to give an opportunity for other characters like Flamebird and Nightwing and Mon-El... an opportunity to succeed." Yet another fan chimed in that these experiments do have successes -- namely, in the case of Batwoman taking over Detective Comics.
To keep that sort of balance between new and established characters going, DiDio then announced that DC would be printing a series called Weird Worlds, which would have one existing DC character side-by-side with new characters in each issue. "And we've got some great creators on board," DiDio said. "We've got to be trying new things, we've got to grow."
DiDio then drew praise for creators who he saw as growing creatively -- Grant Morrison and Ivan Reis. "Here's the most interesting thing about Grant Morrison -- All-Star Superman," DiDio said. "Did you know there is not one old concept in there -- everything is new... he was able to capture the tone of the old material, and he was able to reinvigorate it. We're going to try the same thing with Flash."
Discussing Reis, DiDio said that "the work Ivan did on that series is spectacular... the consistency and the quality, week in and week out from each issue, we take things like that for granted sometimes... we should applaud these guys when they're able to do that." Reis's associate editor on Blackest Night, Adam Schlagman, was then called down to the panel to say a few words: "Ivan's the most humble human being -- he doesn't think he's the greatest in the world or anything, but he's amazing. He gets everything done. He gets it done and it's amazing."
A fan then asked why Doc Savage was getting his own separate "universe" through First Wave, rather than being integrated into the DCU proper. DiDio, after having a brief pow-wow with Lee, said that "if we use those characters there's a financial obligation... for us to use those characters in our books there's payments involved." Creating a new universe -- even creating a new Batman for that universe -- allows DC to work with the character without additional financial hurdles.
With a flurry of answers coming after DiDio asked about what graphic novels people wanted to see released, he then talked about J. Michael Straczynski's Superman: Earth One. "Joe, his favorite character of all time is Superman, so we wanted to give him an opportunity to launch a real voice for Superman that he was comfortable with, and to give him the open space for that story," DiDio said. He then recalled Ultimate Spider-Man, and the fact that it took several issues even to see Peter Parker in costume. "Since then the problem is that the fans' patience is limited," DiDio said. For Earth One, "[Straczynski] wanted to tell the story of [Clark Kent's] evolution of becoming Superman."
While the costumed identify doesn't galvanize until about halfway through the graphic novel, DiDio said, "he's probably telling the most iconic character story for Superman that I've ever seen... when he pitched it he said you'll never accept it -- and we said we loved it. It embraces Superman as a symbol of America -- something we shouldn't be ashamed of -- and it turns it into an interesting legend."
DiDio then went on to talk about the sidekicks of the DCU -- and their unspoken mandate of taking over for their mentors if they perish -- and if the return to the status quo impedes the growth of these characters. "That was the biggest problem in DC Comics was that Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman stay the same age, and everyone else ages around them," DiDio said. "The running joke was that Dick Grayson is going to be older than Bruce Wayne in a few years -- it'll get to the point where Dick Grayson adopted Bruce Wayne."
Yet DiDio then went a bit serious, talking about the changes in the status quo, and the decisions to return to the "standard" DC pantheon. "What they did to [Hal Jordan] was a sin," DiDio said, referencing Jordan's revised origin in Emerald Dawn. "Things like making him an alcoholic, letting him walk away from a car accident... basically all these things were inconsistent to who he was -- I just thought that Hal Jordan was a stronger character."
When a fan then asked about Wally West, DiDio recalled the lead-up to Infinite Crisis, where he had initially advocated killing off Dick Grayson. "That was the turning point for Dick Grayson -- I really wanted him dead because we wanted that big moment in Infinite Crisis that really mattered... and no death would have mattered more than Dick Grayson, because he mattered to everyone." DiDio ended up sparing Dick's life because so many people inside the office cared for the character, and said that that lesson informed his decision to keep Wally West up and running. "We made a very conscious decision not to do anything to Wally when Barry came back," DiDio said. "Wally's been running side-by-side with Barry Allen since day one, and there's no reason why he can't do that now."
Another reader then asked about Wonder Woman, and if she would get a second ongoing series like Superman and Batman. "We keep on trying, we just want to get the first one right," DiDio said. Another fan asked about Wonder Woman's revised origin, post-Infinite Crisis, to which DiDio explained that her mother Hippolyta was no longer the original Wonder Woman of World War II. Additionally, Wonder Woman was again a founding member of the Justice League. "Wonder Woman is our premier female superhero in DC Comics," DiDio said. "When she first appears she should be in our premier superhero team."
But perhaps the strongest statements came at the end of the panel, as DiDio asked people around the room for what they would do if they were publisher or editor-in-chief. Answers abounded such as digital comics, Geoff Johns back on the Teen Titans, Dick Grayson back as Nightwing, but the answer that hit hardest was Lee himself: "Lower the price on monthly comics."
"I really think they're expensive and if we're trying to make people come to the stores every week... three or four dollars a comic is getting kind of crazy," he said. "It completely doesn’t exist in any other business -- you guys are very, very selective. You will pay more for certain creators, and sometimes you are blind to the price point because you are so passionate about it... but if were trying to get casual consumers they are going to pay attention to the price point."
"These are the things we're weighing very heavily," DiDio said, as the panel wrapped up. "We've got to find a way to grow the business, bring new things to the market, and keep these people around."