EDITOR’S NOTE: This interview was conducted during August’s Fan Expo in Toronto, prior to the launch of DC Comics’ New 52.
It’s a safe bet Dan DiDio is smiling today. In the weeks leading up to the DC Universe relaunch, people were calling the move everything from “worrisome” to “reckless.” Now, the first issues of “Action Comics,” “Batgirl,” “Hawk & Dove,” “Batman & Robin,” “Justice League” and “Justice League International” have sold out and are being reprinted to accommodate high demand, though that probably doesn’t come as a surprise to the DC Comics’ Co-Publisher.
Last month at Fan Expo Canada, DiDio seemed cool as a cucumber when CBR News caught up with him to discuss the stresses of being responsible for the fate of the DCU. We also spoke of the much-maligned- online Victorian collars adorning the Justice League, as well as the wisdom of once again rebooting DC’s number one female, Wonder Woman just a year out from the character’s previous high-profile overhaul.
DiDio replied with the voice of a businessman intimately aware of the cyclical nature of comic books, from costume changes and rebranding to supporting characters. It’s clear his focus is on securing a future for the some of the medium’s most recognizable heroes, but one question remains: can interest be sustained after the novelty of 52 shiny new #1s wears off?
CBR News: I would think this is a pretty stressful time for you and your staff at DC Comics. How have your thoughts about your job changed since the moment you stepped into your first position at DC to a day like today?
Dan DiDio: You know what? Any job is always constantly evolving. I’m with DC Comics now for ten years, and there were particular needs in the industry, in the comics line, when I first stepped in the door. We addressed a lot of things and went ahead, we might have fallen back into some old bad habits, but the world changes around you, the environment changes around you, the interests change around you. Pop culture evolves, and what we do in long-term fiction… with characters that are pretty much evergreen, we’ve got to be able to evolve them with the times and with the audience. When you see the audience that exists today, that reads our books and compare it to what it was ten years ago or maybe twenty years or thirty years, you see how it’s changing. We’ve got to make sure our stories speak to the people who are reading our books right now instead of locked in amber from something that existed from 1938.
You mention “bad habits.” Given hindsight, is there anything you wished hadn’t happened in the past ten years?
Everything’s a constant evolution. It’s funny, because people say, “Well, if you see something bad, then why don’t you fix it when you go along?” It’s because things slowly evolve and then you realize it’s not something that was a major change, but something that occurred over time. There are reasons for everything you did up to that point, but when you stop and look, you’re further away from your goal than you wanted to be.
We had to stop for a second, regroup and say, “Okay, here’s where we should be and what are the steps we have to take to get there?” When I say that I mean, in regard to storytelling, how do we make those stories feel big and adventurous again, because we lost a lot of that ground to both film and to video games. They’ve become more exciting than what we do. Also, how do we regain our visual sense? We’ve gotten very quiet in our storytelling. How do we open it up, because comics are an extraordinarily important visual medium. The images are what’s going to sell you first or draw you in, so we’ve got to make sure they’re strong. Those are things that we wanted to bring back.
We also had to develop habits again, about remembering that we’re in a professional business. That we have to deliver ourselves monthly, and that we shouldn’t take for granted our audience is going to be there whenever we turn out a book. We should be delivering a book when we say we’re delivering a book. And then, on the other side, we shouldn’t take for granted that everybody’s just going to come and buy our books. We have to go out and aggressively seek them and we should never take anything for granted from this point forward.
At one of the Marvel panels this weekend, Marvel staff and creators certainly weren’t being insulting towards DC, but there was a kind of comparison drawn between their approach and the DC approach. The fans also seemed to feel more like there’d been something continuously maintained at Marvel whereas maybe DC was hitting the reset button once too often. Do you see it that way?
If I look at all the Marvel books — you know what? I always choose just to focus on our own stuff. I’d rather just concentrate on myself and I’m not really sure what they’re talking about in regards to the DC button, but honestly, when I sat down — I’ll go back to a story that I always go back to.
When I first started at DC Comics, I had the opportunity to meet and work with Julius Schwartz, who was still the Editor Emeritus. He was just there, came in once a week. I got a chance to sit with him and talk with him, and he literally said to me at one point, “Every ten years, continuity needs an enema, because your characters don’t age in real time, the stories don’t move in real time and when you build too much story against the characters, it holds down the potential stories you could tell for the future because you’re so beholden to the past.”
The goal is not the throw away everything, but to hold on to what makes the most sense, what is the strongest for the series and strongest for the books and then move out from there because if you held on to every single story, there’d be no stories left to tell. We have characters that were created in 1938, so realistically, we could not say that every single one of those stories mattered and counts. [The] same way any company would be doing if they started a series in 1962. It’s impossible, especially if you’re trying to maintain an age of accessibility for these characters. We need to do this and the goal is to keep on attracting people to it and refreshing the line. The last thing we want our characters to do is to age with ourselves and our audience. What happens is that as soon as we age them up to a point, we stop becoming attractive to the new fans coming in and we just become isolated with the folks that we have.
For the record, at the Marvel Panel they did stop and say they really want this to be a successful thing for you guys, as much as there’s banter back and forth between the companies.
Oh no, I understand that too, and I’m excited about their new “X-Men” #1 that’s coming out, as much as I was about the “Fantastic Four” [“FF] #1 that just came out, as much as I am about the relaunches they did with Spider-Man and Avengers and other key franchises.
The Justice League’s Victorian collars — people online have complained about them, with quite a few openly wondering if Jim Lee was the right guy to put in charge of redesigning the entire DC Universe.
Jim Lee is my Co-Publisher. He’s probably one of the single most influential people in comics today, one of the nicest people in the world, one of the most collaborative people in the world, and I’ll tell you the truth: there’s nobody else I’d want to be Co-Publisher with.
Victorian collars — I think it adds a level of regalness and importance to our characters. I think it positions them in a new light. Also, you have to understand that the costumes, referring to the 1930s and 1940s, were built off the archetypes of the strongmen and musclemen of that time. What we’re doing is bringing…uniformity to the uniforms. Everything that we set out to do with this particular run is give a sensibility in how, if they were invented today, how would they look. And it’s not just Jim doing all the costume designs. He’s working with Cully Hamner and with every artist on every title. Everyone has influence in what’s going on. It truly is collaborative, but you always need a leader. I can’t think of a better person than Jim Lee.
Shifting topics a bit, let’s discuss Wonder Woman. There’s a sense from fans that DC hasn’t been happy with her in a long time. In recent years, she’s received a lot of makeovers, shall we say, especially considering the past year with both the infamous pants re-design and the 12-issue run by J. Michael Straczynski and Phil Hester.
Again, if you look at the history of the character, she has constantly changed. She has gone from the early ’40s version, there was a definite interpretation during the ’60s and they tried to stretch her out in almost the same way they did Superman, with Wonder Tot and Wonder Girl. They tried to rebuild the franchise in that fashion. Then, you get into the late ’60s and she takes on, as we call it, the “Emma Peel” look, where she loses the powers and puts on the jump suit. You get past that, and what’s Wonder Woman in the ’70s? Well, then she gets her powers back, and she goes to the Goddess thing, but then she goes to World War II, and she comes back from World War II. Then we have a couple more changes along the way. We get a little more stability when George Perez comes in in the ’80s, and that seems to hold for a while, but even then, we have the changes that take place with Artemis, and she’s working [at] Taco Bell or wherever else she’s working at that time, so you have a lot of changes there too. Then we roll through the ’90s and we get into 2000. Now, we have much more of a warrior woman and a social diplomat. We’ve had Hippolyta alive, we’ve had Hippolyta dead, we’ve had Paradise Island there — it’s one of those things that’s constant evolving.
There are a lot of key things that we wanted to address in the [New 52 Wonder Woman] concept. The good part about the relaunch is that Brian Azzarello is addressing a lot of things at the core. There are people in her life, but she’s never had that strong rogues gallery as existed with other heroes, and she’s never really had that strong supporting cast. You had Steve Trevor, you had Etta Candy, you had a couple of the Amazons, but for a character who’s had almost a 70-year history, that’s not a real big well to draw from. We’re trying to fill that well now.
So that was a big factor — introducing new characters?
Oh yes, absolutely. Without getting into too much detail, you’re going to be finding and meeting Wonder Woman’s family.
Having seen the cover of issue #3, people have been suggesting online that perhaps the reveal that will be pissing Hera off is that Diana is Zeus’ illegitimate daughter.
[Laughs] Well, if anybody knows, it’s — well, let’s put it this way: there are a lot of twists and turns in the future of “Wonder Woman.”
I wanted to ask how you felt about the “Odyssey” storyline from this past year, beginning with the fact that DC renumbered Wonder Woman to issue 600…
Fans were excited…
Then it went straight out the window…
And people’s first reactions were to be, frankly, pissed.
I was disappointed with how it went, but I was encouraged by how much effort was put into trying to keep it on track as much as possible. [The] problem was that Joe Straczynski was over-committed. Joe tried to work with us, and he made his plots and his storylines available to us to keep it going. But it’s always difficult to implement other people’s visions, because he had a very distinct vision for what he had planned for Wonder Woman. I think Phil [Hester] did a wonderful job taking what he had and trying to make it his own. We had a lot of things that were just working against us. For everybody that was involved in that project, from Joe and Phil through all the artists that were involved, everybody gave it their full effort. Some things work, some things don’t work, but our main goal is looking forward right now and concentrating on how to make sure everything’s as strong as it can be.
It’s clear from recent DC panels at conventions that people are approaching the whole relaunch with a lot of passion.
There’s a level of ownership that I haven’t seen in our books in a very long time, and it encourages you to want to work more and work harder on what you do.
Which title are you most nervous about? Who is the struggling kid?
They all struggle for different reasons, you know what I mean? You can say I’m nervous about “Justice League” because the expectations are so high. I’m nervous about “Superman” because the changes are quite visual. I’m nervous about “Wonder Woman” because of the ardent fanbase that follows that character. I’m nervous about “Batman,” that maybe we didn’t change enough. I’m nervous about “O.M.A.C.” because my name’s on it! [Laughs] When you put all the people involved at DC and the creators on it, you have two hundred expectant mothers and fathers right now, waiting to give birth.
What happens in six months if sales don’t reflect what you were hoping they would? Is there already a plan in place?
Oh, I have thresholds for everything. We want to keep the intensity up. You have to walk in with the assumption that not everything is going to work, so the goal is to be able to react but make sure we’re building on success and take it from there.
Stay tuned to CBR News in the coming days and weeks for more coverage of DC Comics’ New 52.