Sunday morning at the Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo, DC Comics co-publishers Dan DiDio and Jim Lee met fans for an informal chat in the style of the previous "Sunday Conversation" convention panels. With DiDio leading the way, the two DC bosses offered sometimes very frank thoughts on their company's publishing program and listened to both praise and complaint about recent events like "Blackest Night" and the return of Barry Allen as the Flash. Also in the course of the hour, DiDio let slip news of a previously unannounced series and Lee made money more valuable.
DiDio kicked off the town hall-style panel by discussing the changes to the platform. "We're moving it into another discussion. In the past, we've done Sunday Conversation, it was mostly about reflection," he said. "Now we want to hear what you love about comics now, what you hope to see in the future."
To this end, DiDio began by asking what fans liked about "Blackest Night." Members of the audience cited the emotional tone, the return of Aquaman and the fact that a reader could read the core series without needing the tie ins. This prompted a a discussion of who only bought the main miniseries and who bought all the spinoffs. Some only bought "Blackest Night" proper due to financial restraints, while others bought all the books because of strong creative teams.
"What were you looking to come out of 'Blackest Night?'" Didio asked, also asking whether fans bought 'Brightest Day.' One fan who didn't buy the new series offered "event fatigue" as his reason. DiDio compared "Brightest Day" to "52" and asked whether fans considered "52" an event, with consensus that it wasn't.
After asking whether fans were choosing trades instead of monthlies and finding they didn't - they sometimes bought both - Lee clarified, "So, you're buying the trades as your permanent collection, and the monthlies to keep up with events in real time."
DiDio then asked his usual Sunday question of how many attendees had been reading comics for one year, five years, ten, and so on up to 51 - the man who had been reading longest was "Tiny Titans" artist Art Baltazar's father.
Returning to the subject of "52," Didio said, "Let me clarify: I absolutely loved '52.'" He added, however, that he did not see the series as an event because any change exacted from the story had already been seen in the ongoing books, due to the one-year jump.
A fan said he'd like to see the option of digital comics as a way to serve readers who do not live near a comic book store. "There's no one at DC that doesn't want digital comics," Lee said, adding that "it's coming along and we should be announcing something shortly."
DiDio asked "how many of you bought in into the ring scam," laughing, then asked whether anyone bought the "Blackest Night" tie-in comics to get the promotional Lantern rings.
When a fan said that his shop did not receive the Lantern rings and he had to buy them for $15 on ebay, Lee said, "that's terrible," and handed the man's child a twenty dollar bill after sketching on it. "You just found a way to raise the price of money," DiDio quipped.
One fan said he liked the build up to "Blackest Night," which creates a sense of scale and import. DiDio agreed, and said he felt the same way about "Infinite Crisis," which is his favorite event from his tenure at DC.
DiDio recounted that, in his earliest days, "Batman: Hush" was just coming out. "That broke so huge, that we were allowed to screw up everything else," he said, confessing there were some missteps elsewhere in the line. But "Superman/Batman" allowed DC to continue to enjoy the spotlight and build momentum.
"I love the idea of keeping Superman out of his books, but we did it too long. It should have been 3 months or 6 months," DiDio said of the current direction of "Superman" and "Action Comics," which wraps up next month following "War of the Supermen." He said the reason behind it was to give characters like Mon-El, Flamebird and Nightwing the spotlight in a series with a built-in audience, in the hopes they could later support their own series. "It didn't click properly, and we had to change plans halfway through." A similar experiment did work, though, in the case of Batwoman in "Detective Comics," which a member of the audience pointed out.
In response to a fan's question about a "Showcase"-style anthology, DiDio announced that an anthology miniseries "Weird Worlds" will feature three 10-page stories, with one existing character and two new characters in each monthly issue.
After praising artist Ivan Reis for getting "Blackest Night" out on time, with amazing art and without needing a fill-in artist, DiDio brought editor Adam Schlagman onto the stage.
Asked why the "First Wave" pulp characters like Doc Savage had their own universe (with one consequence being that they were protected from the events of "Blackest Night"), DiDio said candidly, "To use those characters in our books, there are financial obligations. We can create a Batman for that universe, but if we want to bring them over we have to pay for it. And when we do our big books, we want to keep all the money."
DiDio then asked which series that had not yet been collected into trades that fans would like to see reprinted. John Ostrander's "Suicide Squad" came up, and DiDio said, "We're going to start collecting SS from the first issue on up." His response to "Absolute New Teen Titans" was, "Hm. That's interesting." Other suggestions included Jerry Ordway's "Power of Shazam," "Fury of Firestorm," Roy Thomas' "All Star Squadron" and "Infinity Inc." and the gaps in the original "Justice League of America."
DiDio asked about comics for kids, with "Tiny Titans" proving a favorite. One fan noted that DC does not seem to have comics aimed at 10-12 year-old readers, who are well served on the other side by "Marvel Adventures." "We always felt that group would trend higher, reading the stuff they're not supposed to," Lee said. "Wait til the DC Universe game comes out, those 10-12 year old crowd will be seeing a lot new DC characters." Lee and DiDio also mentioned that there would be comics based on the game and its universe, apparently the first time this was confirmed.
Continuing on this theme, a fan asked what age group are the "Earth One" graphic novels were aiming for. "Superman's very accessible," Schlagman said of the J. Michael Stracynski-penned series of books. "I'd say it's OK for ages ten and above." DiDio noted that the single volume nature allowed JMS to roll out Superman's origin slowly, keeping him out of costume for 60 pages, which doesn't always work in monthlies ("Ultimate Spider-Man" excepted). He added that JMS' upcoming work on Superman's monthly series was "the most iconic" take on the character, one which would "make Superman a symbol of America."
On the subject of sidekicks, DiDio joked, "We've got so many Robins coming up, pretty soon I'm going to say we have to kill off Tim Drake." The problem of characters aging - specifically, that Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman do not - followed naturally. "Pretty soon Dick Grayson's going to be older than Bruce; we're going to find that Tim adopted Bruce."
Regarding the return of Barry Allen as the Flash and Hal Jordan as Green Lantern, DiDio discussed the concept of those heroes, especially Jordan. "What they did to him was a sin," he said, specifically referencing the "Emerald Dawn" origin story in which Hal, "this man whose strength is his willpower, becomes an alcoholic, he walks away from a car crash - things that, too me, are just inconsistent with his character." He later added, "Nothing against Kyle Rayner, but Hal Jordan was, core to the concept, the man without fear."
A fan who admitted he was a bit behind mentioned that he was currently reading "Amazons Attack," at which DiDio interrupted him to say, "Skip!" to general laughter "Did you read 'Siege?' Same story!" he joked. This prompted a discussion of Wonder Woman, and DiDio confirmed that continuity changes wrought in "Infinite Crisis" erased Hippolyta's World War II adventures and that Diana was once again a founding member of the JLA. "The reason is this: Wonder Woman is our premiere female hero. When she appears, it should be Diana," DiDio said. "To say that there was this other Wonder Woman, her mother, in World War II dilutes the character."
After a final round of asking what fans would do if they were given the job of Co-Publisher of DC Comics, actual co-publisher Jim Lee said simply, "Lower the price of monthly comics." He explained the interesting nature of comics consumers, noting that the price is often not a factor for committed fans, though it is for casual readers. "It completely doesn't exist in any other business," he said. "You guys are very, very selective. You will pay more for certain creators, and sometimes you are blind to the price point because you are so passionate about it." To attract new readers, though, price does play a role in what they're willing to sample.