Welcome to B&B, CBR’s monthly column where DC Comics Editor-In-Chief Bob Harras and Editorial Director Bobbie Chase discuss what’s new in the DCU.
The DC E-I-C since 2010 and Senior Vice President since December, 2012, Harras has spent decades in the comic book trenches working as an editor for the Big Two. Promoted to Editorial Director last year, Chase also has a long history of working in comics, her tenure at DC marking her return to the medium after several years of working in children’s and other publishing.
As we navigate the twisting waters of the DCU this month, the duo discuss book cancellations, the decision making process behind the cancellation of “I, Vampire,” “Savage Hawkman,” “Team 7” and a number of other titles while announcing new creative team changes to several series as well as even more Annuals. The conversation starts below — and stay tuned for this month’s second installment of B&B when they take to the Message Boards and answer fan questions!
Josie Campbell: You’ve got a lot of announcements this time around, so let’s start with cancellations. I understand “Fury Of The Firestorm, “Ravagers,” “Savage Hawkman,” “Deathstroke,” “Sword Of Sorcery” and “Team 7” are being cancelled. Now, some of these books, like “Fury,” kicked off in 2011 as part of the initial New 52 launch, but “Team 7” and “Sword of Sorcery” are books that just started and have only had seven solicited issues, and “Deathstroke” just got a new writer in Justin Jordan. For books like these, why cancel after only a couple of issues or at the beginning of a new creative team’s run?
Bob Harras: There’s a variety of reasons for when we unfortunately have to cancel a book. The main focus on this, and this is the big picture, is we try to take a look at it as, these characters will not go away. Even though, yes, “Savage Hawkman” is being cancelled, you’ll be seeing a lot of him in “Justice League Of America.” We have also plans for Deathstroke going forward. So even though, as I said, the monthly title is going away, the characters are still going to be very important to the ongoing storyline of the New 52.
Bobbie Chase: Also, we have to take into consideration what the creatives are doing. In terms of the writers, they’re all moving on to other books, so we really want them to concentrate their interest there. For instance, Justin Jordan is going on to “Superboy.” Christy [Marx] is moving on as well, to “Birds Of Prey.”
Harras: Yeah. In a lot of ways, you can say that we’re resting them as headliners, that we’re going to move them into other venues. Again, we’re going to continue to see them. That’s our big plan, really, when we look at these things.
So for things like “Sword Of Sorcery,” which is on the fringe of the DCU, Amethyst and those characters will be reabsorbed into the DC Universe?
Harras: Yes. We’ve seen Amethyst in “Justice League Dark,” we expect to see her in places like that again. I love her showing up in that book, so she will hopefully be showing up there again. She’s part of our storyline. Just because the title is going away doesn’t mean you’re not going to see Amethyst again.
Chase: Also, the finishing story point for her last issue has something to do with what’s going to happen to that character.
“Ravagers” is a book which has been very heavily tied to the Young Justice-style teen books. Taking into account the crossovers, it feels like those characters are already part of the other books in their line —
Harras: We have plans. We have Beast Boy in there, we have Terra, you’re going to see them in other titles in upcoming months. Caitlin Fairchild, you’re going to learn things about her — so again, not to sound like a broken record, but these characters will be ongoing. We have interesting things planned for them, and I think some of them will be very surprising.
Chase: We’ve also got some [new] Young Justice titles coming up as well.
Looking at the DC line in general, it seems that a lot of your highest selling comics or most acclaimed titles have had a single creative team from day one, like “Batman” or “Wonder Woman,” while many of the books that have been cancelled have seen multiple creative teams on them, like “Ravagers” and “Deathstroke.” From an editorial standpoint, are the multiple creative shifts something that hurts the books in the eyes of the fans when it comes to sales?
Harras: I think it’s more of a natural process. It’s churn. If something is working really well, you say it’s coming together. If there’s other things that aren’t quite clicking the way anyone wants — writer, artist, editor, anyone — then change happens. I don’t think there’s anything especially revolutionary or radical; in comics, some books lose readership over time.
Then let’s talk about the mechanics of how you, as DC editorial, decide what books get cancelled and what creators move on to different books. For example, a lot of fans were surprised when “I, Vampire” was cancelled. While the individual issues didn’t necessarily sell that well, the trade paperback debuted at number four on the New York Times Bestseller list. How much do other projects versus individual monthly sales versus trade sales weigh in the decision to cancel books?
Harras: You’ve mentioned all these areas that we do put in the bucket when we decide looking at a title that we may have to let go. Something like “I, Vampire,” which is a book that was a very special book and one we’re very proud of — we did do our best to have it go on as long as we could, and we were aware of the trade sales. It’s a not a simple decision. A lot of variables go into it. No one likes to see a book go away, but the long and short of it is, it’s not a quick decision. “I, Vampire” being a book we really did, I think, support as much as we could before we made the final decision.
Chase: Obviously some of it is sales, but also, critical acclaim and fan reaction goes into [the decision].
Now, there have been multiple creators who, after leaving DC, have spoken out publicly, often angrily, about what they saw as editorial overreach, citing approved storylines which were suddenly scrapped, a lot of quick turn around and being asked to do a lot of rewrites with much more oversight into what they were doing than they thought would be the case. As the editorial faces of DC, are there steps you are taking to try to address these specific creator complaints moving forward?
Harras: We’re not going into any specifics, because we can’t address any specifics because of those involved. The thing is, we want everyone who works for DC to be as happy as possible, to feel the creative process is as enjoyable as possible. If there are communication problems with talent, we will always work on it to improve our messaging, but on the whole, I think sometimes there are going to be disagreements. Sometimes there are going to be agreements — it’s all part of the editorial process. But as in anything, it’s something all of us can improve on in terms of communication.
Are there any specific things you, as Editors, are looking to change or address in the DC offices in light of these comments?
Harras: You know, like I said earlier: Everyone should be trying to improve all aspects of communication. Everyone should be looking at the process and ways to improve. But in general, I think we’ve got a very talented bunch of creators working with us, putting out the New 52. We have exciting books every month, and that’s what I want to concentrate on. You always have to look at how you can do things better, but I’d also like to focus on what we do well, which is creating stories like “Death Of The Family,” and even “Rotworld,” that’s exciting fans. It’s an ongoing process; we’re doing great stuff, but always learning how to do it better.
Outside of the cancelled books, you have a lot of new Annuals coming out: “Batman: The Dark Knight,” “Catwoman,” “Earth 2,” “Red Hood and The Outlaws.” “Red Hood” just got a new writer in James Tynion — will he be writing the Annual, or will Scott Lobdell?
Harras: That is written by James.
Chase: Continuing in the pattern the Annuals have in the New 52, where they really spotlight major events [and] major story points in the regular books, they kick off something with their characters. A lot of the regular writers or writers involved in the projects are working on them.
Do these Annuals all tie into the current story arcs in their respective books versus presenting standalone tales?
Harras: They definitely, in a lot of ways, are jumping on points, but to Bobbie’s point earlier, they are not standalone in the sense that they are very important to the character in the series as a whole. It is something that is very important to us. An Annual is a special issue; it’s something that should be big in every sense of the word, and I think that’s something we’re trying to work very closely with our talent.
Chase: [The Annuals showcase] something that will affect continuity in the DC Universe. It’s not the regular type of stuff we’ll be building.
Looking at the some of the brand-new creative teams, writer Michael Alan Nelson will be taking over “Supergirl” from Mike Johnson, who along with Michael Green had been writing the book since issue #1. Michael Alan Nelson is known best for his darker, horror-infused comics at BOOM! — what is it about his work that made you guys think he’d be a good fit for “Supergirl?”
Harras: Well Michael is someone we wanted to work with since we started the New 52. He’s been working together with us on a few issues of “Ravagers,” and Eddie Berganza and he have a good relationship and have a lot of fun together. It was just suggested by Eddie that Michael had a lot of good ideas for “Supergirl” and we said, “Why not?” Again, he’s a writer that we wanted to work with since we first came up with the New 52. “Ravagers” was the first step and “Supergirl” is the next. We’re kind of excited about what’s coming up!
Chase: “Supergirl” is another stage, and he’s gotten a lot of attention. He’s a really solid writer — we all think he’s going to do great things.
Considering his horror past, does him coming on as writer signal a shift in tone for “Supergirl” from a slow-moving quasi-indie title to a much darker comic?
Harras: I think Supergirl in the New 52 is a very interesting character; she’s certainly not the character as she’s been portrayed before, and that’s really what we want to explore. What is it like to be a sixteen-year-old girl who wakes up one day to find her planet is gone, her world is changed and she’s not very happy about it and she feels very isolated?
Chase: It’s a little dark! [Laughs]
Harras: I think we’re going to be exploring that in a big way. Mike Johnson, with his nineteen issues, is a great guy and it was a great run. And again, we fully expect to work with him on another project. This is not an absolute end; Mike opted to move on to something new at this point, and we hope to work with him again on something else.
The other Super book that’s getting a new writer is “Superboy,” as Justin Jordan is replacing Tom DeFalco. Justin was the guy working on the now-cancelled “Deathstroke” and “Team 7.” Why the shift him away from those two books to “Superboy?”
Harras: Again, with “Deathstroke” and “Team 7” where he’s working with editor Eddie Berganza, the relationship and the going back and forth and discussing storylines is something they both enjoyed. When the change came up with Tom leaving “Superboy,” Eddie suggested that Justin would be an interesting choice to bring a new type of voice to “Superboy.”
Chase: We’re looking forward to seeing what Justin’s going to do with it — we’re not quite sure yet! [Laughs]
The last two books with new people is “Legion Of Superheroes,” where Francis Portela is returning to art, and “Batwing” where Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti are taking over the title. Justin and Jimmy are a duo that have done fare like “Jonah Hex” or “All-Star Western,” and the Freedom Fighters characters. Did they come to you about wanting to write Batwing?
Harras: They came to us with, and I do want to stress that Fabian [Nicieza] was there to help us out during transition time; he’s a great guy and really helped us out there. But Jimmy and Justin really pitched a new direction for Batwing that was very intriguing. And when I say new direction, I mean —
Chase: — a really solid new direction.
Harras: That’s really what sold us on it, to take “Batwing” in this direction.
Looking down the line, in April, you’ve teased the gatefold covers for the “WTF Certified” comics. From the beginning of the New 52, the talking point has been that there is no status quo. Anything goes, and every book can go through twists and turns. Given that, how is “WTF Certified” any different than the normal DC Universe?
Harras: It’s April’s F’ed up month! We’re basically saying —
Chase: — it’s an entire month of surprise!
Harras: Right. As we said in our first conversation, what we think the New 52 is — what April and “WTF Certified” is — kind of crystallized in a very cool way with the gatefold covers. We want to shock readers, we want to surprise readers, we want to, in some ways, have the writers and artist surprised at what they are doing and get excited. In many ways, it encapsulates the spirit going forward in relaunching the line.
Chase: It’s a good reminder that in all of our titles, anything can happen.
Speaking of surprises, “Death Of The Family” is wrapping up shortly, and the fallout from that will affect the whole Bat line. For readers who have enjoyed the big crossovers like “Night Of The Owls” and “Death Of The Family,” what events do they have to look forward to next out of the Bat books?
Harras: I think the readers should pay attention to all the Bat books in the next few months, because a lot of things are happening. To say the old cliche, you ain’t seen nothing yet! I think what we have coming up is really going to entertain, amaze and shock readers.
Chase: It’s funny — you can see Bob dancing around that question, because we can’t talk about it yet!
Harras: I dance very well! [Laughter]
The last huge thing coming up and tying into “Justice League of America,” which finally debuts this month, is Trinity War. We’ve spoken a little about it before and there have been teases for it since last year. When will “Trinity War” begin, and what books will be affected? Will it be contained in the Justice League titles, or is this something more like “Flashpoint,” where every single book in the DCU will be affected and part of it?
Harras: You’re going to see stuff happening in “Justice League” and “Justice League Of America” when that comes out. You’re going to see little echoes of what is going to be happening a few months down the line. As “Trinity War” develops, as you see the bigger story come together, again without going into too many specifics, you’ll see that the ripple effects will go out even further. And let me note that I got through this and only said “churn” once! [Laughter]
Keep your eyes on this space for more B&B as Bob and Bobbie return later this month to answer fan questions! In fact, submit your question for them right here!
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