Late last week, CBR descended upon New York City to catch up with the elite of the comics world (and eat far too much Chinese food). Among the stops made was 1700 Broadway, home to DC Comics, and amongst the regular hustle and bustle of running the DC Universe, Executive Editor Dan DiDio welcomed CBR into his office (freshly adorned with “Wonder Woman” #600 postcards) for an in-depth interview.
What follows is only the first part of newly-minted CBR News Editor Kiel Phegley and CBR Executive Producer Jonah Weiland’s lengthy chat with DiDio, covering everything from how he and DC’s creative teams built up “Blackest Night” into a chart topping event; what the future holds in store for marquee franchises, from Superman and Batman to Green Lantern and Flash; and what exactly can be done with Aquaman. And once you’re done here, be sure to check back to CBR tomorrow for the rest of the interview!
Kiel Phegley: So Dan, just so everyone at home knows how hard you’re working to keep DC’s secrets, I should probably note that as we walked in, you were furiously erasing your dry erase board…
Dan DiDio: [Laughs] I wasn’t fast enough! No, I don’t know what happened. That would give the impression we knew what we were doing, and I don’t want to ever create that impression. [Laughs]
A lot of people follow the news and interviews with you and the creators online to find future story hints, but most may not know exactly where you guys are at in production. What are you working on right now? The resurrected books? The end of “Blackest Night?”
We’re actually in the middle of both of those right now. You came at the most interesting time. Where we stand right now is that we’re having a lot of “Blackest Night” meetings taking place, and we’re talking about a lot of the events there. We’re working on the “return from the dead” books that come out in January, which is a little late to be working on them. [Laughs] But we’re talking about what will be happening in February because we’re getting those solicitations ready to go, and we’re blocking out the final “Blackest Night” beats for March. And then we’ve actually got a number of our talent coming through the doors this week to discuss what the major storylines are coming out of “Blackest Night.” Geoff Johns is going to be here, front and center, but we’ve got several other teams coming in [as well]. We’re not doing one big meeting. We’re doing a series of four short meetings.
One of the things about Geoff writing some of these events that’s very interesting, is how much he seems to be able to adapt things as he goes. I know that with “Sinestro Corps War,” there were plans in place which you guys then went back into and said, “Let’s front-load the villain reveals in this…”
It was Geoff’s idea to front-load those reveals. He had basically said, “You know, we’ve got all this excitement coming. Let’s just put everything out there.” A lot of the time, we like to let our stories roll out slowly as you would in a movie. The problem is, we’re making comics and not movies. Sometimes, if we start slow with a single issue and go, “By issue #4, things are going to be great!” then we have no guarantee that people are going to be there for issue #4. So a lot of these things we’re doing now is to front-load the bigger stories and events so you get a sample of what’s going on. That’s why you get those sneak peeks we’ve been putting in books, where you get snapshots of what might be coming six to eight months away. We’ve found those to be very successful, and that’s something we’re going to continue to do with any mini events or storylines coming over the next few years.
How has “Blackest Night” changed over the course of its creation? You’ve built to the reveal of Nekron as a series mid-point, and you’ve got a second set of mini-series coming with it. Has a lot of that been growing as you’ve gone along?
No. Actually, those mini-series were always planned to be a part of the story. Again, one of the things we wanted to do with “Blackest Night” was make sure it was a major event that crossed the complete DC Universe. That was my goal. Originally, “Blackest Night” was a story inside the Green Lantern books like “Sinestro Corps War” was. And as the story goes, a lot of people considered “Sinestro Corps War” an event. And it wasn’t. It was a big “Green Lantern”/”Green Lantern Corps” story, but it was so big and powerful that it felt like an event. So we knew, since the next phase was “Blackest Night,” we might as well make it into an actual event, and that’s what we did. When we did, we saw what the potential of the story was and how it was able to cross into so many series. It’s surprising how death has touched upon so many series in the DCU, which caught me completely by surprise! But because of that, we were able to grow the story very comfortably, very organically, because of every series that fit in.
But why we did the mini-series was because, when you look at the Superman line and all the stuff that was happening there, or “Wonder Woman,” where we saw the “Rise of the Olympians,” and in “Justice League,” where we had changes taking place continuously…we didn’t want to interrupt the flow of those stories in the ongoings. So the suggestion came to take [the “Blackest Night” tie-ins] and put them into their own mini-series. When we get into the December/January [ongoing series tie-ins], those stories are actually tie-ins where we had enough time to work them into the regular storylines so it didn’t disrupt the flow of those stories.
Jonah Weiland: There’s been a lot of talk over the past couple of years of “event fatigue,” yet here you guys are having a tremendous amount of success with a big event. Is event fatigue a real thing?
No. Event fatigue is a statement for “The event doesn’t work” or “The event isn’t interesting.” That’s what event fatigue is. If you’re creating stories just for the sake of having events to tie things together with no real meat on the bones, then you’re going to have event fatigue because you have all this promotion and drive and anticipation, but you’ve under-delivered on what the expectations are. That’s what some people felt about what “Countdown to Final Crisis” was. They felt it didn’t build properly off the event or for the amount of anticipation they had for the series itself. So what we’re trying to do now is really meet the expectations for what’s going on. As we saw with “Blackest Night,” the anticipation was growing, and there was real interest there. People wanted to see more, so it was easy to grow the story out because of the interest in more material. Event fatigue just means “I don’t like what you’re doing!” [Laughs]
A lot of the talent writing the various “Blackest Night” mini-series also happen to write the ongoing series starring the same characters. Geoff will write the new “Flash” ongoing, James Robinson writes for “Superman,” and so on. Have you been looking for ways to try and pull some of that attention for the tie-in minis back towards the regular titles? Will the new Flash ongoing status quo or the current Superman ongoing series status quo be affected by this story?
Sort of. One of the things I always find difficult is that everybody’s looking for absolutes. Everyone’s saying, “One size fits all.” And that goes back to your event fatigue question. “One event fits every book.” Your question is correct in some places, like with the Flash because the Flash is so prominent with what’s going on in “Blackest Night.” Your question is not the case when you look at Superman, because they have a major storyline rolling out. There will be some reflection because of what “Blackest Night” is, but the Superman story is running fine on its own and building at its own pace as a story. Again, we look at each individual series and see how they can benefit from an event – if they benefit and it’s a natural fit, great. That’s what we want. But if it feels like it’s going to be forced in, or be a story that doesn’t fit all that well, then we’re not going to do it. If people feel like they’re being forced to buy something with a “Blackest Night” banner that doesn’t deliver on what a “Blackest Night” story is, it feels like two pages shoved in the back – I would feel cheated buying that book.
“Blackest Night” built out of the Green Lantern titles, like you said, and you’ve been talking a lot lately about how the Superman family of titles will hold a place of prominence in 2010. Do you think that a similarly big Superman event could grow out of those stories and pull in some other titles like we’ve seen this year?
Yes. Those guys are working on a very particular story that ties in with what they’ve established with the “World of New Krypton” story. And one of the things we’ve wanted to do -Â and that I think we’ve done well by pulling Superman “off the stage” into “World of New Krypton” -Â is that it allowed us to build up some other new characters in “Superman” and “Action” where, if a major event took place, it would involve characters our fans have become invested in. They’ll want to follow those characters over the course of something major happening.
Well, that begs the question: Is there a turn coming to the Superman line that will shake things up for all the titles?
Yeah. You’ll see how the end of the “World of New Krypton” story is a beginning for where everything else is heading.
One of the other books people seem to really be anticipating is “The Flash.”
Good! So are we! [Laughs]
When you’ve got someone like Geoff, who’s been working with the characters for so long and who is embroiled in this big event all its own, does that make it harder to launch a new ongoing as a great starting out point for fans who may not be as plugged in?
Well, a couple of things [help with that]. We have the “Flash Rebirth” series that’s running right now, and should be finished by the end of the year. That ran with some delays, but at the end of the day we looked at the full package of how that will look as a book, and we wanted to maintain consistency all the way through. The events of that book weren’t essential to what happens with the Flash in “Blackest Night.” Some people have argued whether we did things right or wrong [in holding the end of “Rebirth”], but it’s something I feel comfortable with. Once you have that in place, you have Flash running around in “Blackest Night” and you’ve got a three-part “Blackest Night: Flash” mini-series, which also helps build the lore of the Flash as he’s being reestablished in the DCU. Those things all help with the new material in the “Flash” monthly that spins out of “Blackest Night.”
We’re talking about Green Lantern, we’re talking about Flash, and it’s funny, because even five years ago you wouldn’t expect to hear the words “Green Lantern” and “major event” together or “Flash” and “anticipated launch.” It seems that the care that everyone has put towards these, some would say, “B-List” characters who aren’t Superman or Batman, has paid off. Looking forward, I know Geoff has commented on enjoying writing the Aquaman characters in “Blackest Night…”
Oh, here comes the Aquaman question. [Laughs] I’ll tell you what, I’ll answer this if you can name me five Aquaman villains.
OK, there’s Black Manta. There’s Atlan the Wizard. There’s the Fisherman, who’s pretty terrible but still an Aquaman villain. There’s obviously Ocean Master. And finally…I’ll go with Kordax.
All right, good. [Pause] And your question was? (Laughter)
Aquaman in 2010. Is he the next hero you guys are going to try and develop up beyond the place he’s been in recent years?
I think presenting strong Aquaman stories, if there’s an Aquaman in the DC Universe, because right now he’s dead -Â although we know there will always be “an Aquaman” in the DC Universe. He’s one of those characters. I don’t think he’s in the same tier as Green Lantern and Flash. In fact, I’d probably rank them higher than the “B-list” ranking you gave them. As you see the numbers Green Lantern and Flash are drawing, it’s clear that they’re in the A-list now in the DC Universe. We have five primary characters – Superman, Batman, Flash, Green Lantern and Wonder Woman -Â and we try to treat them like our A-list. The fact that we’re able to strengthen, stabilize and actually build franchises around Flash and Green Lantern I think makes the DCU overall a lot stronger.
I don’t know whether or not Aquaman can bring that level of heat to the DC Universe. There’s a lot of interest in him. There’s always been an Aquaman series that seems to have strayed from place to place or change directions on occasion. What we would like to do if we brought back Aquaman, is give him the same treatment we gave Hawkman, which is to give him a very clear, concise direction that felt true to the character and his past history that also presented him with a fine interpretation to be built upon.
You’ve talked a lot about the importance of bringing back the core heroic concepts, from Kara Zor-El as Supergirl, to Hawkman, to Hal Jordan and Barry Allen. Do you feel there are “the most classic” versions of these characters you should always start from?
There are default settings to a lot of these characters that most people want. There are certain aspects of Hawkman they recognize. Kara Zor-El, as I said -Â they had this incredible run on “Supergirl” that wasn’t about Supergirl. Yet, when you stop and ask people who Supergirl is, the answer comes back “Superman’s cousin.” If you’re not true to that initial concept with something as recognizable as a Superman character – something that has worldwide brand recognition -Â you want to be able to present it in a form where you have the most accessible audience with it. If you were trying to bring in a new reader or a longtime fan coming back and had to explain the intricacies of what the previous Supergirl was, you might lose them. If you bring it back to its core conceit, you have a chance to help build the audience.
Speaking of characters who are a bit away from their core conceit, we’ve got Batman. Someone on staff pointed out to me that there are already multiple Green Lanterns in the DCU and multiple Flashes. With Dick proving so popular, could we get to the point in the future where even if Bruce came back, there could be two Batmen?
There were two Batmen when we had a couple of worlds going at the same time. And that, honestly, is one of the cruxes of the storylines that will be playing out in 2010. Everybody has their opinions on it, and there are going to different ways we’re attempting to explore and build the franchise. There’s a lot of ground we’re covering that we haven’t explored with Dick Grayson as a character yet that we want to get to. There’s a lot of excitement there. We didn’t want to get away from that story too quickly. We know there’s a lot of fun to be had with Bruce Wayne as well, but I think we really want to enjoy Dick Grayson in that costume as much as possible.
The fun thing about Dick Grayson for me is…Hey! I got to kill Nightwing without actually doing it! [Laughs] No, the fun part about Dick Grayson as Batman is that the germ of the idea came from the fans themselves. It came from the concept of the near-miss death of Nightwing. When there was such a fan outcry about Nightwing possibly dying, the question went back to them immediately: why? Why did everybody care all of the sudden? Why was everybody excited? What I found was that a lot of people really embraced him as a character because they watched him grow up with them. He was one of the few characters that actually grew up. My fear was that Dick Grayson was going to get older than Bruce Wayne at some point, but the reality was that Dick Grayson was aging with the fans, and they felt emotionally invested in him as he matured from Robin to Nightwing. That’s why they wanted him around. If that was the case, then the most logical step in this maturation process was for him to take on the Batman role. That wasn’t done in [the late ’90s story] “Prodigal.” That was quick in and out. We wanted to really explore this theme and take the time to show Dick and what he was really like as Batman.
And Grant [Morrison] came up with the really wonderful twist which really solidified the whole idea, which was making Damian the new Robin. It flipped the paradigm. He made the Robin the grim, gritty little character and Batman the lighthearted character. So Dick Grayson didn’t change at all by putting on the costume, which I think is wonderful, and we still got the same dynamic we had before in a Batman and Robin team.
Check back tomorrow for part two of CBR’s DiDio interview featuring his plans for “Outsiders,” bringing new blood into the DCU and a look back on how DC’s done in 2009!