Fans have heard a lot about DC Comics’ impending relaunch of its DC Universe line this September: from the ins and outs of new and renumbered series from “Batman” to “Teen Titans” to massive changes in production tied in to a day-and-date digital initiative to continuity tweaks including yesterday’s news of an end to Superman’s marriage to Lois Lane.
However, the men pulling the strings on all 52 of the new DC titles have been absent from the web. Instead, Co-Pubishers Dan Didio and Jim Lee took the opportunity to meet and greet with comic retailers in a series of road shows stretching from coast-to-coast. But now, with Comic-Con International in San Diego just days away, the head honchos of DC’s publishing line are back in the limelight and ready to tell their side of the story of how one of comics biggest publishers decided to upend their entire output this fall.
Below, Didio and Lee speak with CBR News on every aspect of the 52-title relaunch, including its origins in their perceived flaws in DC’s modern line, their personal role in breaking out story ideas and creative teams on the new titles, the big media plans for digital and advertising opportunities and what readers can expect to hear when they step to the mic at DC’s many Comic-Con panels.
CBR News: DC has been doing so much of late, from the initial announcement of the 52 relaunch titles through the retailer road shows and into more current news like this week’s word of Superman’s marriage leaving the comics. With all that, I thought it best to begin at the beginning for you two: when did the idea for such a massive relaunch take hold at DC? Is this something that’s been in the cards since you two stepped in as Co-Publishers?
Dan DiDio: Gee, that’s a good question!
Jim Lee: I think it came on few different levels. From a historical point of view, I think everyone remembers “Crisis On Infinite Earths” and how there was both a creative renaissance after that, but also some missed opportunities that might have come about if different decisions had been made in regards to the numbering and the relaunch of certain franchises. But I think the more recent history points to a writers conference we had. It was probably in the fall of the first year after we became Co-Publishers. A lot of that discussion focused on Superman, his mythology, his status quo, the tone, tenor and vibe of the DC Universe in general and ways we could improve on them. I think the seeds of what we’re seeing in September were sown back then, and it was an organic evolution of those thoughts and ideas that led us here.
DiDio: What that meeting was about was addressing what we felt was a missing tonality and voice in our books — a sense of adventure and excitement. A lot of what we see these days in video games and movies and television is that those media have taken the high ground or overpowered the scope of some of the stories we tell in comics. We wanted to get back the sense of wonder and the energy in our books, not just in the stories but in the visuals as well. We wanted to make sure our writers and artists were working hand-in-hand, really developing and crafting the best stories possible. So we sat down with our writers over a year ago to talk through some of those points, and that was the gestation of a lot of ideas, but it wasn’t until we saw where the market was moving that we knew we had to take even more bold steps to get people excited about what’s going on in comics.
We see this idea every few years — never of this scope in terms of publishing output, but the idea that occasionally the characters need to be updated, the continuity streamlined and the stories given a fresh jumping on point. Did you look at how those other relaunches from the original “Crisis” on through made their changes and take it as a challenge to do something bigger?
DiDio: Not really at all. What this started as was a company-wide initiative. This wasn’t just an event that we were going to go out and promote for story reasons. This was a top-to-bottom examination of how we worked: how we worked as editors, how we worked with talent and what our expectations were in regards to storytelling, what our visual representations in the books were going to be like and even how we distributed material. In doing that top-to-bottom reexamination, we realized we needed to do something that captured everybody’s attention and showed them how serious we were. Every month, you can look at comics and see ten to 15 new #1s from every company, it feels like. We knew that in order to say this was a really good starting point that anyone could jump on with, we had to show it across the entire DC Universe line. That’s where we started, and we knew once we did things like renumber “Action” and “Detective Comics” and books we’d never renumbered before, it would show the level of seriousness we were putting into this — and how much we were looking forward instead of looking back.
The big news that just hit involves Superman and how he’ll be presented in these new series. There are some changes coming, for sure, but as you discussed this with the talent at that first meeting on through, what did you feel were the core elements of the character that you just couldn’t touch, no matter how you presented him?
Lee: I don’t think it was just limited to Superman. In general with the characters, we wanted as much drama and conflict as possible. These are stories about people with extraordinary abilities and powers, and the stories should reflect that scale. They should reflect that velocity and epicness. With a lot of these characters, we felt there was too much comfort in the status quo. We took their histories for granted. So a lot of the thinking behind the books in September was, how do we make these characters more dynamic? How do we spur interest in characters people know inside and out? How do we pair characters with creators who can realize some of the major changes we wanted to instigate?
As Co-Publishers, how did you task out these changes within Editorial? We’ve already spoken to Bob Harras and Eddie Berganza about their hands on roles getting the books out, but have the two of you taken a strong position in choosing creative teams and setting up status quos, or are you more involved with the broader picture of publishing and distribution?
DiDio: It’s an amalgam of it all. Everybody met during the process, and Jim and I were involved with it all from the beginning up to this point. But everybody had a say, and everybody had suggestions. We worked together to find what we felt was the best lineup of new talent, exclusive talent and longtime talent. What we really wanted to do was put books together that we felt were the strongest possible, but also where people would look at them and see the mix of talent and characters and go, “Hey, I’d like to try this out!” We didn’t want to build any book that was something which had existed before unless what existed before was extraordinarily successful.
You just finished a road show where you spoke with retailers coast to coast at big gatherings before this week’s coming push at Comic-Con to talk to the fans and the end consumer. What was the #1 thing you felt retailers were bringing to you that you learned from?
Lee: We learned stuff, but they were different things at every meeting. I didn’t attend every one, but Dan did so he may speak to this better, but from my experience I realized that not every retailer is the same and not every area of the country works the same. From the first meeting to the last one, there was a greater understanding of what we had planned, and especially at the last one, there was an overall excitement for what we were planning that had grown.
One thing we’ve heard a lot about, both in the retailer shows and now in official press form, is advertising. DC will have ads running in movie theaters and we’ve heard about some plans for TV. Why do you feel that comics have never had a strong presence there, and what made now the time where a big push to a broader audience could be successful?
DiDio: I think one of the reasons we’re doing so is because of the way on-air advertising works today. If you look at the way things were in the Image Comics days when they tried to do on-air advertising versus now, the difference is that you really can target things a lot better and get to what you hope is your core audience to get the message to them in a very succinct manner. What we’re hoping for in what we’re doing is to really target a particular group of fans with our message and get them excited about our product. Also, you’ve got to remember that it’s very difficult to advertise on a case-by-case basis given the size and scope of our product line. But when you have as many books being affected in such a manner as we do, it’s a lot smarter to make the investment in advertising at this time.
Digital is a big piece of things, too, and everyone is aware of the logistical challenge involved in submitting issues to DC’s content partners there, but in what ways does the simultaneous release on those formats change storytelling? Could there be some significant differences in how the stories are presented overall now that day-and-date has hit across the line?
Lee: You mean like changing all the fonts so that there are lower-case letters? [Laughs] No, there’s not really anything on a direct level like what you’re talking about. The great thing about digital comics right now is that they reflect what you see in print. There are definitely creative differences — for example, double-page spreads have more of an impact in print than they do digitally because everything is shrunk down to the size of the screen. But I don’t think we wanted to creatively muzzle our talent and go, “Because we’re on the iPad, refrain from double-page spreads.” We want the creators to go wild and do their best work, and we felt that’d work if we gave them as few restrictions as possible. In terms of other things you might see creatively, we’re looking at digital in the future as a place where we can do more short-form storytelling and then incorporate that content into the trades. We’re looking at ways to give background information on the main stories published in print. But come September, it really is all about print and digital being out there and accessible to all readers at the same time.
Let’s talk about the readers. The news has hit so hard across the ‘net, and as with anything of this scale, there’s been a lot of fretting and people saying, “I don’t know if I can continue if everything is different.” There’s a fear of change, and now, beyond practical concerns like numbering, we know about some big story changes like the end of Superman and Lois Lane’s marriage. What is the key thing you hope to say to fans who are following all this news? Are you looking for feedback in San Diego similar to what you got from retailers over the past few weeks?
DiDio: I think a lot of what we’re doing is to listen to the fans concerns. We’ve heard a lot over the last couple of months from retailers and fans through various sources, and we now want to go out and talk to them. We want them to know why we’re excited. A lot of their concerns are unfounded. A lot of what we’re doing is what they’ve been asking for for so many years. From my standpoint, I think people jump to conclusions along the way, and words like concerned and worried and scared get brought up so much. I find them kind of funny because I think this should be the complete opposite. We should be looking at excitement, wonder and anticipation. What we’re doing is a lot of what they want to see in comics and what they love about comics. We’re trying to bring that energy back to the books again. We’re doing it for the fans because we feel that we’re not putting our best foot forward right now, and we want to make sure that our product is as strong as its ever been. We have a lot of faith and excitement because we see what’s coming. We’re hoping our excitement transfers to them so they’re as excited as we are come September.
Personally, what are the books that excites you about the line? What did you want to get on the market that people hadn’t seen from DC before?
Lee: There’s a ton. Touching a little bit on the question of what we’re doing at Comic-Con, Comic-Con to me is a celebration of the artform and a chance for creators and industry people and the fans to all mingle and talk about what they love. I really wish that Comic-Con was after our launch so that people could actually have seen the level of work we’ve put into the books and we could have a more informed discussion. As it is, it’s about us sharing our knowledge of what’s coming and our enthusiasm with people so they have an idea of what to expect.
That said, some of the books to look forward to include “Supergirl” which I think is a fun new take on the character. “Batgirl” with Gail Simone and Adrian Syaf is a really inspirational book, and it’s amazing to see that character back in the Batgirl costume. And as a WildStorm guy, I’m really excited to see Grifter, Voodoo and Stormwatch back and a part of the DC Universe. I think that the creators on those titles will surprise a lot of the longtime WildStorm fans while also introducing these characters for the first time to a lot of the DC fans.
DiDio: For me, when I first got hooked into DC Comics many years ago, it was the idea that there were all these corners DC had that excited me. There wasn’t just superheroes — there were the horror and mystery lines, the wars and the Westerns and all these fun and eclectic characters that helped populate the DC Universe. When you do a line like this, where you create a line and launch 52 titles at the same time, the last thing you try to do is create something homogenous. It allows us to really explore characters and go after things that we felt deserved a chance. Hopefully, it’ll capture someone else’s interest like it captured mine. The goal of all of this is to attract as many people as possible with the widest variety of product as possible. When we’re doing books like “I, Vampire” and “Resurrection Man” and “Voodoo” and “Grifter” on top of the “Demon Knights” and “Frankensteins” of the world, I think that’s just what makes comics fun. It’s the ability to be unencumbered by any limits except those of your own imagination. We really wanted to push this as wide and far as possible.
Jim mentioned titles like “Supergirl” and “Batgirl” taking new prominence, and we’ve also got characters like Cyborg and Mister Terrific taking bigger roles in the DCU. What was the conversation around diversifying the experience of the books like, and how does it impact the books overall?
DiDio: That was an extraordinarily important piece of the line. We’re building DC Comics for today as being reflective of today’s audience. We wanted to make sure all the people buying our comics see themselves in the characters in our stories more than ever before. We went to extraordinary lengths with that, and it was important not just to diversify the line but to make sure that every one of these books is as strong as possible and had every chance to succeed.
What’s your biggest goal between now and September? Like Jim said, so much of how this plays out will hinge on how fans react when they read the new books. Do you feel like there are any other pieces you’ve got to get into play before that happens, or is it just a waiting game at this point?
DiDio: The waiting game for us is long over!
Lee: [Laughs] Yeah, that was the buildup for us.
DiDio: Right now, while everyone else is focused on September, we’re focused on October, November, December and every month after that. The goal is not to go out and make a one-month splash. The goal is to go out and build the line in the long term for sustainable success. The best way for us to do that is to make sure the books are out there, month-in, month-out, with the same level of quality they’ll be seeing in those very first issues.
Lee: In some ways, September is the easiest part of all this. The execution of these bold ideas and directions that we’ve presented will determine how successful we’ll be.
Stay tuned over the week for more reaction to DC’s September relaunch as fans have their say at Comic-Con International.