Bristol: DC Universe Panel

This year's Bristol Comic Expo saw DC Comics Executive Editor Dan DiDio host the DCU Panel, a broad overview of current and ongoing projects and storylines from DC Comics and offer a sneak peak at upcoming work. Joining DiDio was a host of UK-based DC creators including Lee Garrett, Gary Frank, Phil Winslade, David Hine, and Dave Gibbons.

"Green Lantern: Blackest Night" is DC Comics' biggest event of 2009, with issue #0 released as part of Free Comic Book Day on May 2 this year, and issue #1 due in July. DiDio explained that DC had been working on this project for two years, and the whole team was looking forward to it. In order to ensure cooperation and coordination between all of the DC lines affected by this massive crossover event, "Blackest Night" mastermind and DC superstar Geoff Johns moved into the office next to DiDio's at the company's Manhattan HQ.

"Blackest Night" will be accompanied by a concurrent tie-in "Tales of the Corps" series, and is followed by three three-part minis, "Blackest Night: Superman", "Blackest Night: Batman", and "Blackest Night: Teen Titans."

Audience anticipation for this event is at fever pitch, and when asked by DiDio about what his expectations were, one member of the audience responded that he wanted this to be the most epic comic story told in decades. So, no pressure there then!

DiDio expressed some surprise that nobody appeared to have worked out the identity of the new caped crusader and his trusty sidekick in "Batman and Robin," despite it being quite obvious to him - the implication being the new dynamic duo is not Dick Grayson and Damian Wayne, as surely that is what most people have suspected.

Alongside "Detective Comics" with Batwoman as the lead - the first time Batman has not been the lead since issue #26 in 1939! - DC are very excited about the way the whole Bat universe is shaping up. Artist Lee Garrett also gave a brief summary of the new "Batgirl" series which he is drawing, scheduled to begin in August. Having been chastised by DiDio for attempting to reveal the identity of this new heroine, Garrett mentioned that Batman and Robin will enter the book at issue #4, and that the Batman rogues' gallery will certainly be part of the book, steeped as it is in Bat-lore.

Garrett also briefly covered his work with Peter J. Tomasi on "The Outsiders", saying how the relaunch seems to be going well and that it is a lot of fun to draw, with DiDio adding that Tomasi is one of the rising stars of DC Comics.

The return of "Adventure Comics" to the DCU looks like an exciting prospect, with Vice President of Sales Bob Wayne explaining that each issue will have a variant cover numbers -- as if the original series had never ceased publication, so readers could choose to start with number #1 or continue with #504. The man who never sleeps, Geoff Johns, is on board with artist Francis Manapul on art duties in a book which will feature Connor Kent as Superboy in the main feature, with the Legion of Super-Heroes as the back-up. The Legion stories will act to reintroduce the futuristic super-team following the events of "Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds" (which DiDio promised would finish sometime!), focussing on individual key characters (starting with Starman) and then the team as a whole. If successful, there exists the possibility that the Legion will be spun-off into their own main series again at some point in the future.

One of the most anticipated projects in the DC Comics world is "Wednesday Comics," DC's next foray into weekly publication following the conclusion of "Trinity" in July. This, alongside "Blackest Night," is shaping up to be a must-read for all DC fans, with audience expectation again extremely high. DC Art Director Mark Chiarello brings an incredible passion to everything he does, according to DiDio, and has been fighting for two years to get "Wednesday Comics" off the ground. DiDio explained that the large fold-out newspaper format, with fifteen stories each week, is designed to recapture the Sunday afternoon comics experience. Each issue of the 12-week run will fold down to a regular comic size for shipping and bagging, and will highlight particular characters and aspects of the DCU in a completely out-of-continuity way, allowing anyone and everyone to pick the comic up and enjoy the stories with any preknowledge or preconception.

Dave Gibbons was on hand to give his thoughts on working on "Wednesday Comics" with his Kamandi story. "What attracted me was the very format of it," Gibbons explained, citing the Sunday newspaper strips of the Golden Age of American Comics as the most gorgeous comic work ever produced. With the technology and the talent of the 21st century, now is the right time to return to a grand production like "Wednesday Comics".

"Kamandi is Jack Kirby at his most off-the-wall," Gibbons explained, noting that he had gone back and re-read all of the original issues and how the subject matter itself, featuring talking tigers and battling armies, really suited the format. Gibbons approached the project in true Golden Age style, writing it exactly like an old Sunday newspaper with no word balloons, instead keeping everything in captions. He complimented Ryan Sook on his phenomenal artwork which captures perfectly the grandeur, detail and color of the time. "I'm absolutely thrilled to be working on it. And it is a kind of a groundbreaking format, and it's going to be really novel to go in every Wednesday to get your comic books and get a big thing you can actually sleep under when you've read it!"

Talking about the amazing line-up of talent for "Wednesday Comics," DiDio was cornered when it came to his own contribution, "Metal Men." "I actually got hoodwinked into doing one of these things, which was kinda fun. I like to think it was important to them to have me, but actually somebody dropped out and they needed someone, so they recruited me at the last minute!"

Art duties on "Metal Men" are being handled by Jose Luis García-López. DiDio described the collaboration as a life-long dream. This is also only the second time García-López has drawn the Metal Men. Other key players in "Wednesday Comics" include Paul Pope on "Adam Strange" and Neil Gaimen and Mike Allred on "Metamorpho."

DiDio explained how the weekly comic book had been the biggest learning process for DC Comics. "'52,' regardless of what's been said, is one of the proudest moments I've had since being at DC Comics. It was something we thought about, we came up with, we executed, we didn't know if it would succeed or not, but everybody put every ounce of energy into it - not just myself, editorial, creative, but the whole entire company."

DiDio described how in the process of creating "52," problems arose which they tried to address with "Countdown," only for "Countdown" to create a whole new set of problems. Again with "Trinity," these were addressed, only for an entire new range to appear. But despite this, DiDio said that was a hugely important learning process for him and for DC as a whole. It is clear that DC has a loyal fanbase that wants to go to the comic store every single week to get their fix. While the UK is used to weekly comics, having had them for more than thirty years, the US needed to be introduced to the concept from scratch. And while DC may take a break from the gruelling schedule now and again, DiDio was adamant that weekly comics are a business DC needs to be in.

DiDio rounded up discussion of "Wednesday Comics" by commenting, "I think what I find most enjoyable is the fact that people are calling us innovative for bringing back something from 1937!" Bob Wayne was also quick to point out that if you bought "Wednesday Comics" on a Thursday - the usual new comic day for the world beyond the US - you could always leave it for six days and the title would still be accurate! DC are also interested in continuing the concept of "Wednesday Comics" if the perceived interest and excitement shown by fans now will translate into sales.

Artist Gary Frank was on-hand to discuss "Superman: Secret Origin," the forthcoming retelling of Superman's early years illustrated by Frank and written by Geoff Johns. Frank described it as a clean-up of the Superman story, re-establishing the character and continuing the vision that Johns has, which places Superman central to the DCU, and also providing a new chance to explore the relationships between Clark Kent and his family and enemies - including Lex Luther - right from the beginning.

"Superman, over the years, has become almost a cipher. He's represented what is supposed to be best about heroes, the ultimate superhero, but that doesn't always make him the most interesting character," Frank explained. "The way that Geoff has approached it is to question why Superman is important and how he has survived since his first appearance in 1938."

Commenting on the scope of the miniseries, Frank added, "It's a large project - nobody really knows how large! Every time we turn around Geoff says 'I just need a couple more pages!' Everything he is doing just seems necessary. There's no filler - the first issue at the moment is on 40 pages, he promises issue #2 will only be 30, but you never really know!"

"Battle for the Cowl: Arkham Asylum" was a recent release, with scribe David Hine selling off his comp copies at Bristol personally! Hine described how reaction had been very positive, and also about how difficult it had been to construct the plot. Hine had been provided with a very long list of things he couldn't do, and said, "I did send in a detailed plot outline, and I think every single plot element actually had a line through it!"

As DiDio reminded the audience, a lot of the chaos now reigning in Gotham City stems from the destruction of Arkham Asylum, and Hine's story essentially sets the tone and personality of the place from hereon in. The writer described the one shot as a true standalone, with no ongoing continuity, but sowing a lot of possibilities for the infamous institution. "It asks an awful lot of questions, and answers none of them really!"

In response to an audience comment that the story was enjoyable, with fascinating characters, Hine asked DiDio if he could have a miniseries based on Arkham Asylum. "Absolutely!" said DiDio. "And I'm serious, let's talk about it later!"

"Justice League: Cry for Justice" is an upcoming six-part miniseries by James Robinson with art by relative newcomer Mauro Cascioli, whose previous work has included "Trials of Shazam!" The purpose of "Cry for Justice," as DiDio explained, was to show a much more proactive side of the Justice League, as led by Hal Jordan and Oliver Queen. "It's easy for me just to say it's a beautiful book to read, but honestly there are so many things that are going to occur during the course of this series that will affect the Justice League through 2010 that this really has become a centrepiece for the Justice League, Titans, Teen Titans and a couple of other books yet to be announced."

Mention was made of the team-up of Congorilla and Starman, described as Robinson's idea of the blue and gold pairing of Blue Beetle and Booster Gold. "And in the first issue you get to watch monkeys drinking martinis!" DiDio said.

"Justice Society of America" will survive the departure of Geoff Johns and Dale Eaglesham. DC have brought in the writing team of Bill Willingham and Matt Sturges, who are fully expected to bring the same level of passion and dedication to the JSA as they have done to "Fables" and "Jack of Fables." Artist Jesus Merino also brings his exceptional talent, with a beautifully detailed pencil style.

Discussing "The Brave and the Bold," writer Phil Winslade described his team-up of Supergirl and Raven, and how it dealt with the super-teen's father issues. DiDio stressed that they will be coming up with more eclectic character mixed for the title, as the impression seemed to be that the comic was about Batman and a guest star. Future pairings include Booster Gold and Magog, and team-up using the Milestone characters which DC will merge into the main DCU.

The infusion of the Milestone heroes forms an important aspect of the DCU in 2009 and 2010, with co-creator Dwayne McDuffie on board to oversee the project. DiDio revealed that the inclusion of Milestone characters will be based on reader interest, but will start with Icon, Hardware and the Blood Syndicate in "Justice League of America," and Icon and Static in "The Brave and the Bold." Lots of new ideas will be added to the DCU with the Milestone characters, although as a result Steel will be placed on the backburner in order to focus attention on Hardware.

Also new to the DCU are the characters of Archie Comics, now referred to by their original imprint name as the Red Circle to avoid confusion with the adventures of Archie and Jughead! The Red Circle heroes will be introduced to the DCU in August in four one-shots written by Joe Straczynski, who has also written the DC bible for the characters to aid in their reintroduction. Following these single issues, two new series will be launched, featuring The Shield and Inferno in one, and The Web and Hangman in the other. Bob Wayne also mentioned that there were no plans for any archive editions of Archie Comics, as they may be too costly to prepare, and there are already a few reprint books currently in print.

The third new entrant to the DCU is Golden Age pulp hero, Doc Savage, who DC has just acquired the rights to and are in the process of creating a world around. DiDio indicated Doc Savage will provide new ways of telling superhero stories from a completely different perspective. "The way Doc Savage works is that when he is in a world where people don't have superpowers, he becomes the superman of that world. You put him next to Superman, he's just a guy. He loses his value. A place needs to be created where he is the pinnacle of achievement, just as Superman is in the main DCU."

DiDio also fielded a question about whether DC were also perusing the rights to The Shadow? "Of course! Next question!" he said.

After accidentally revealing that an Azrael series was upcoming later in 2009, DiDio reiterated his vision of the DCU, explaining that one of the things DC are most proud of, and concentrating the most on, is a shoring up and strengthening of the key franchises of the DCU. Titles like "Batman" are being revamped; "Blackest Night" and "The Flash: Rebirth" are key events; and "Teen Titans," "Justice League of America" and "Justice Society of America" have new creative teams and are being rebuilt and relaunched, while "Wonder Woman" is in great hands with Gail Simone. And with "Blackest Night" as the blockbuster event of 2009, the DCU is shaping up to have an exceptional summer.

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