This September, DC Comics is doing it again.
No, the publisher won’t dive into another fully fledged relaunch of its DC Universe line after last year’s successful New 52, but they will be emulating that launch’s success with a month full of stand-alone #0 issues meant to entice readers both old and new to explore what’s happening across the line by telling origin tales and revealing secrets about the pasts of heroes from the Justice League to the Teen Titans and beyond.
“We’ve got to do things to get folks excited again,” DC Co-Publisher Dan DiDio told CBR News. “That’s our job. DC is one of the leaders in the industry, and we’ve got to lead by example. This is the best way to do that — by putting out books that get people excited.”
Alongside the #0 issues for existing titles, the publisher is also launching four new series that month. “Talon,” a spinoff from the current “Night of the Owls” crossover in the Batman world, featuring a story by Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV, written by Tynion and drawn by Guillem March, stars Calvin Rose, the only Talon to ever escape the Court of Owls. “Sword of Sorcery” is a new epic fantasy series anchored by an “Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld” serial by writer Christy Marx and artist Aaron Lopresti with a “Beowulf” back-up story written by Tony Bedard with art by Jesus Saiz. DiDio himself will write a new “Phantom Stranger” series for artist Brent Anderson spinning out of DC’s recent Free Comic Book Day special. And finally, “Team Seven” continues the merging of DC and WildStorm as writer Justin Jordan and artist Jesus Merino tell a tale of the earlier days of the DCU through a team that includes Dinah Lance, Amanda Waller, Steve Trevor, John Lynch, Alex Fairchild, Cole Cash and Slade Wilson.
For more on these series and the entire “Zero Month” initiative, CBR News spoke with DiDio about the successes and surprises of the New 52, what DC must do to keep the books from getting stale, and how discussions around everything from event comics to diversity played into the launch of the four new series.
CBR News: Dan, while there is a lot of news today, I wanted to start by looking back since this is the one year mark of the New 52. This time last year, everyone was freaking out a bit at what the relaunch would entail. What would remain from the past? Would Wonder Woman wear pants? It was a strange time. Now that you’re on the other end of everything, how do you feel about how the launch has gone and where the DC line is at?
Dan DiDio: It’s funny. Right now, we’re at that anxious moment right before “Before Watchmen” is coming out, so you’ve got me feeling exactly the same way I did before the launch of the New 52. Really, I was never in freak out mode over that. It was more like eager anticipation. We knew we had something we felt very strongly about, so it was just a matter of going out, putting the books out there and letting them speak for themselves. You can only imagine that moment in time between June and the September launch where we were just anxious to get going with it because we knew what we had. We didn’t want to sell it too hard, nor did we want to let people think we didn’t know what we were doing. I can’t say how proud I am of the teams who worked on the books and the quality of the work that got out as well as how we brought the schedule together and made it work.
One of the cornerstones of the line has been the day-and-date digital shipping, which as a result meant timely monthly shipping across the line. You’ve been on both sides of that line both as creator and working with Editorial. Who do you think has had to make more adjustments to keep the trains on time?
Everybody did. When you look at the whole system, it wasn’t just a one person problem. If it was, it would have been easier to fix. But it was something that became institutionalized with a certain level of acceptance. It was just a matter of when the books came in was when we’d send them to the printer. We had to reinstill that sense of urgency to the Editorial team, and they in turn had to reinstill that sense of urgency to the talent as well and build in enough leeway so that they had enough time to make the books the best that they could be. It wasn’t just getting them out the door, but it was also getting enough time to work on the scripts and the series. Regardless of what anybody else thinks, the editors play a very important role in the process, and they bring so much value to the work that if they were just shuffling paper around, it’d be a waste of resources.
Looking over the books themselves, when everything launched there were certain books that everyone knew were going to be high sellers like “Justice League,” and then there were books that people were hoping could revitalize characters who had been on the periphery for a while such as “Animal Man” and “Swamp Thing.” For you, what were some of the real surprises creatively in that first year?
I think you nailed it with “Swamp Thing” and “Animal Man” being a nice surprise. I’m also very happy that things like “All-Star Western” and “Demon Knights” have been able to take a hold. “Suicide Squad” broke out in a real interesting way, and “Frankenstein” was a fascinating read. You know, I never hide the fact that I love the corners of the DC Universe, and that was very exciting to me. But also the fact that we were able to launch “Aquaman” and “Green Lantern” and make them feel fresh and new at the time. We repositioned “Batman” in strong way but didn’t lose any of the momentum we had before. We got a new taste of “Wonder Woman” that was a complete departure from what had gone on before. And honestly, “Flash” has been doing stronger now than it did prior to the launch of the New 52. And that’s just a snapshot of what’s been going on. We took a lot of risks and a lot of tries, and we had to shift some people around, but I think our wins far exceeded the places where we didn’t do so well.
Let’s get into these zero issues. In a lot of ways, this is a real no brainer twist on celebrating year one of the relaunch. Was it something you had in mind from very early on in the whole process, or did it come once the first issues were out on the stands?
We knew we wanted to start all our stories “in the action,” though some of the books did need origin stories. But we knew there would be a lot of questions out there as we were rolling new stories and series out. While we really got to move these stories forward, we didn’t always get the past information necessary to fill in some of the blanks about the characters’ origins or motivations.
So this [zero issue initiative] allows us to refocus on some of the characters, to fill in some of the blanks and, more importantly, to give everybody another wonderful jumping on point to get involved with the New 52. Because it’s not just that we’re doing another jumping on point with the zero month, it’s that we’ve also got our first trades coming out. So if somebody is just reading these books for the first time, we’re only a year into the stories so it’s very easy to come in and be a part of the fun.
Do you think it’s maybe a bit easier to do origins stories now that the creators largely have a year of stories under their belt already, or will that be a challenge to the flow of the series overall?
I think it is a little bit of an easier process because we’ve had a chance to see what works and what doesn’t. We’re developing the series along the way. Also, one of the big things is that when we did launch, in some cases we started whole cloth while in others we kept what had been working before. This, in my mind, is what zero month does. It brings everybody back to an even playing field and makes it feel like they all began and exist in the same world. There’s a cohesiveness there.
The other big element for the New 52, outside of the in-story ideas, has been the outreach DC has done to the general public. Last year we saw everything from TV ads to Nielsen surveys. What’s on tap for continuing those initiatives for the zero issues?
Well, we’re promoting the launch of the collections, and we’re always constantly pushing and promoting our series. The zero month allows us to refocus on the entire line again just like the relaunch did. It’s a single month that plays across all the books. So we’re hoping that people get as excited about zero month as they did with all the #1 issues they premiered last September.
You’re also launching four new titles, and when I heard what they were, I couldn’t help but think they synched up really well with a lot of the general industry discussion we’ve heard since the New 52 launched. Let’s start with event comics. One of the selling points for the New 52 was a level of self-containment. There were eventually some character crossovers and now stories like “Night of the Owls” and “The Culling.” Now we’ve got “Talon” — an ongoing series from Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV and Guillem March — which is the first fully fledged spinoff series of the New 52. How have all the moves leading up to this book reflected how you think events should best work on comics right now?
In some ways, what we wanted to do was build a strong foundation with the existing titles and series that we owned. So we wanted to give each series a chance to breathe and find its own audience and voice. But we also wanted a continuous, contiguous world where all the characters fit in the same space. And the original crossovers that we did — and you remember that I did the first one between “OMAC” and “Frankenstein” — we wanted to do stories that made sense to the characters that were involved with them. We wanted the crossovers to feel more natural and organic, especially for the characters involved. When we did “Night of Owls,” it was unique to the Batman world, and that’s why you didn’t see the Talons showing up in “Wonder Woman” or any other book. It was a Batman story, and it branched out to all the books that made sense. With “The Culling,” we had a bunch of younger characters, and we wanted to show how they would interact. That made sense.
So we’re constantly looking for ways to crossover stories and ideas that make sense and make this feel like it all takes place in one shared world. We have to just find the places that make the most sense rather than just telling big stories that are overly complicated and encompass all 52 books. So the zero month is a shared idea. It’s a month where we’ll be revealing different secrets and origins of the various characters or addressing questions that might be out there. But we’re also creating new questions to be addressed in stories moving on.
The other really interesting thing about “Talon” as a series is that it’s the first New 52 book that’s a brand new character we’ve only just met. Every other book in the line has some kind of background as a past franchise. Have you been looking for more opportunities to do all new stuff like that?
One of the things I think we didn’t do with the New 52 that we should have done was have more original ideas in there. We hedged our bets to go with known product and characters so fans would have at least a sense of familiarity with the books themselves. Now that we’ve got some strength behind the New 52, we can start getting more aggressive with some new ideas, new characters and new conceits so we can flesh out the world so it isn’t just a repackaging or revisiting of everything that’s come before.
Another book that ties to events from the new books for September is “The Phantom Stranger” which you’re writing for Brent Anderson. This is a character whose origin we glimpsed in the Free Comic Book Day issue that Geoff Johns and Jim Lee worked on, and between the Stranger and Pandora, we know they’ve been building up to this future event that’s being called “Trinity War.” Is this series your chance to start playing along with the big plans they’ve started?
Yeah. I’ve been in every conversation leading up to this point, so I know where it’s all going. And that’s one of the reasons I co-edited the Free Comic Book Day book as well because I knew some of the beats that had to be in there which would be integral for laying out the stories we’d be telling through 2013.
What can you say at this point about the Phantom Stranger. He’s got a long history in the DCU, but he’s rarely held a solo book. Are you working to flesh him out a bit more, or will he more be a host traveling through the universe?
If you’re going to do a book about the Phantom Stranger, then he has to be the lead of the book and have his own story that develops throughout that supporting cast and also really develops what his role is in the DC Universe. That’s something we get into really quickly in the zero book. We explain who he is and what he’s meant to do. This brings him into the early days of several heroes that we have yet to introduce into the DC Universe.
Brent Anderson is another iconic artist for you to work with, but his style of illustration is very different than someone like Keith Giffen who you worked with on “OMAC.” How have you adapted your writing to match what Brent brings to the series?
The artist is so integral to any series you’re working on that you really want to find the right artist for the series. Keith was perfect to work with on “OMAC” and Brent is exactly the same for “Phantom Stranger.”
You’re also co-writing the “Justice League International” Annual with Geoff. That series is ending in August, so that seems like a strange place for a lynchpin story written by two of the companies executives.
What’s great about the “JLI” Annual and why I got involved is that OMAC is a focal character in the story. I wanted to get a chance to write the character one more time, and that seemed like the place to do it. What’s interesting is that events we saw introduced in the Free Comic Book Day comic are played out here, and those threads will be picked up again in October once we’re past zero month.
The third new series launching in September is “Team Seven” by Justin Jordan and Jesus Merino. This is a mashup of the original WildStorm book and DCU black ops characters like Steve Trevor and Amanda Waller. We’ve seen WildStorm characters pop up across the DCU in the past year both in their own titles and with things like Hellspont being in “Superman.” We haven’t seen the fully formed cast of books like “Wildcats” yet. What can you say about the longterm plans for integrating WildStorm fully into DC, and how does “Team Seven” aid in that?
If you look at that, it’s no different a question than “Why didn’t the Shazam foster characters appear in the early days of the New 52?” or “Why haven’t the Charlton characters appeared?” These are all characters who are a part of our world, but what’s great about the New 52 is that it gave us a starting point to naturally integrate all these characters into the world. With the WildStorm characters, there are so many great and interesting characters there that gave different styles, tones and voices than we’d had in the DCU overall. “Team Seven” is one of those concepts that fits naturally into what’s going on. And as we did with “Stormwatch,” which added Martian Manhunter to that team, it was important for this to feel like this was more than just a WildStorm book dropped into the DCU. It had to be a New 52 or a new DC comic.
Lastly, we’ve got “Sword of Sorcery” from “Jem” creator Christy Marx and Aaron Lopresti starring Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld. That seems to fit very much in line with a lot of the talk we got starting at Comic-Con International last year about more female talent working on the books, and Amethyst is a concept fans have been mentioning in terms of expanding the role of women on the page as well. Did all that talk play into the creation of this series?
Not really. Realistically speaking, this goes back to what I always say. I love those aspects of the DCU like sword and sorcery or horror or science fiction series. That’s what makes comics so fun — that you can tell so many different kinds of stories. We wanted to make sure that when we do these things, we go out with our best foot forward. Amethyst is an idea people have been talking about since I got to DC, but nobody knew how to really reintroduce it or the best way to launch it. We feel like with this team of Christy and Aaron Lopresti, we’ve got a great launching pad for the series. We hope it lasts a very long time, and we’re very proud of it. Christy is someone who I worked with prior to coming to DC in the days when I worked in animation, and she was one of the strongest writers there. She’s been very busy working on game development since then, but to get her back into working on comics has been a lot of fun. And to get to work with her again is even more fun.
With all the talk around Alan Scott this past week, everyone heard James Robinson talk about how diversifying the cast of “Earth 2” came from him as a story first idea. Do you feel that there are ways that Editorial should be working to up the diversity quotient?
It’s really what makes sense for what books and what characters. You hit the nail on the head. Everything that’s going on “Earth 2” right now is something to make that the best book possible with the best story possible. Everything that we’re building on in the DC Universe and in the New 52 is focused on having a contemporary feel that reflects the depth and breadth of our audience. We want to be as diversified as our audience is and as the world we live in is.
We’ve talked a lot about the new series launching alongside the #0 issues in September. What are the zero books you’re most excited to get on the stands from the series we’ve already got ongoing?
What I’m looking forward to is that in “DC Universe Presents,” we’re doing a ten-page origin beat for OMAC with Brother Eye that I’m really looking forward to, as you can only imagine. A lot of these stories are coming in now, and really we started the process of working on the zeroes back at the beginning of the year. And we’ve been spending an inordinate amount of time writing and rewriting and thinking these books through. We want these issues to feel as special as the #1s. We know they’re going to be compared to the #1s, so they’ve got to be as good or better. They’ve got to create mysteries and that level of excitement that we had last September again this September. That’s the real challenge right now because we’ve got to capture lightning in a bottle for the second time. And I believe we can, so much so that not only are we looking to do the zero month, but we’re looking to again like with did the giant compendium with all the #1s to do a big book with all the #0s for December as well.
Finally, the #0 issues are the latest move to grab headlines for DC going back from the New 52 on through “Before Watchmen.” How do you challenge yourself when you’ve had so many things that have hit so deeply in the public consciousness to keep that momentum going forward?
You always remind yourself of where you were before you started. We did the New 52 for a reason: because we knew there was a general sense that people were losing faith in our ability to tell stories or just a general sense of apathy for what was going on. Now we’ve got a new level of excitement, and we’re never going to take that excitement for granted. We’re going to challenge ourselves and challenge our material. Now that we’ve met expectations for the fans, we don’t want to ever take them for granted ever again.
DC’s New 52 #0 issues launch in September.