As the crowd filed in for the first DC Comics panel of Toronto's Fan Expo, they were met with an empty stage, but in the back of the room a mustachioed gentleman in a New York Mets hat who sat in the back row voiced fan discontent.
"What's going on with this panel? I'm wondering if these guys are ever going to show up!" joked DC Universe Executive VP Dan Didio. The DC head honcho once again held court over a panel which included upcoming "Flash Rebirth" artist Ethan Van Sciver and "Reign In Hell" writer Keith Giffen, and by the time he took the mic, the editor noted that the panel was the second ever Canadian DC Nation and reminisced over his time working for Canadian-based computer animation studio Mainframe Entertainment before introducing his cohorts.
That was, as usual, the last semi-serious moment for the panel, which took on its wild and wooly nature when Didio invited a fan dressed as Marvel Comics' to sit on stage both because he thought the half naked fan looked cold and because he skeeved out Giffen. The fan soon became punishment for the panel as he would move to sit near (and thereby freak out) anyone who said something stupid or out of turn.
However, there were some discussions during the hour-long event that provided some surprises on how Didio and his creative staff viewed their company, the practice of resurrecting characters and how the first does the second too much.
"I'm glad 'Countdown' is over. That was a long year of DC Nation for me," Didio said after opening up the floor to fans for questions and feedback. Soon, the pendulum swung towards the Legion of Super-Heroes and the future of that franchise and how the decision to make changes and events a part of the line came out of the relaunch of another DC property.
"When I first started at DC, one of the franchises I really wanted to invigorate was 'Teen Titans'...as the legend goes, Paul Levitz, my boss, didn't believe 'Teen Titans' were going to work that well because we had done so many reboots before that, and they all seemed to trip over it," Didio explained. "When 'Titans' came out [by Geoff Johns and Mike McKone] and was a big hit, Paul came into my office, threw a copy of 'Teen Titans' onto my desk and goes, 'Too bad we can't do the same thing with Legion.'
"We know there's an audience out there, and we keep on trying to get it right," he added, saying that the current "Final Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds" would be used as a barometer to figure out which interpretation fans liked the best and then move forward with "one, clear interpretation of the Legion by the time we're through."
When asked whether or not the room enjoyed a Legion with Superman/boy or as its own team, the crowd voted by a strong majority just for the Legion without including a "Super" lead.
A long swatch of conversation was spent discussing Aquaman of all characters, with Didio recalling a dinner during the Emerald City Con in Seattle where he opened a chat with the assembled creators by saying, "Gentlemen, bring on the Aquaman pitches" as everyone always comes to him with plans to reboot the character and "finally get Aquaman right." For his part, the editor thought the character's mainstream cultural identifiability comes from nostalgia for the cartoons of the '60s.
As for the problems with the character, Didio proved his point that Aquaman needed major attention when he asked fans to name five recognizable Aquaman villains, and the audience stalled at a questionable fourth pick of the Human Flying Fish. Didio admitted that the sea king is "an incredibly strong character when he appears with the teams. He's a great counterpoint to a lot of other characters in Justice League and other places," and he said that the challenge came in giving fans one version of the character that presents the very best elements of the long-running and confusing mythos.
Apparently, step one of solving the Aquaman puzzle outside of the character's mystery tease in "Final Crisis" will be in the upcoming "Green Lantern" crossover "Blackest Night" as Van Sciver said most of his story will get resolved there.
When a fan later asked if DC would stop bringing back dead characters, Van Sciver stated, "You're going to not like 'Blackest Night,' sir."
The idea of killing, reviving and rebooting characters multiple times became a central focus of discussion after a fan asked Didio why DC was constantly second to Marvel Comics in terms of sales. Didio took the question as an opportunity to address what he thought was one of his company's problems over the past few years, which in his words was "My problem with us is that we reboot the characters too much.
"What happens is that if a character doesn't work, we go, 'We got a brand new direction to put him in! We're moving him into something new! We're going to try something brand new and different! We're going to throw everything out and start over again!' We make that mistake, but what that does is, it alienates fans.
"Our biggest mistake is that we don't continue and build on...what we should be doing is let it sit for a while and then come back with a good strong story with what's going on. That's what Geoff [Johns] does. That's Geoff's secret weapon. He doesn't throw it all out and start all over. He builds on what's existed and makes it better...We get too worried about the minutia...all we should be doing is telling great stories with out characters.
"What we're doing coming out of 'Final Crisis' " and I'll say this here, and I'll say this everywhere " is that we're locking our characters down. We're going with a good interpretation, and we're staying with it. That's why you don't see Aquaman right now, because we want it to be clear what it is, who he is and what he's all about."
Didio added that they were trying to find the best, most recognizable and most popular versions of all of their characters, including Aquaman, Hawkman, Batgirl and Supergirl, who he noted only really works for readers and for the general public when she is "Superman's cousin."
When the idea of Van Sciver's oft-teased but never actually done "Plastic Man" series was asked about by an audience member, Didio laid the issue of its release at the feet of the artist, saying he's approved it every time Van Sciver pitched it. "Don't make me bust you here, Dan, in front of this room full of people," replied Van Sciver. "I'm going to do it anyway. Ladies and gentlemen, Dan Didio not one month ago said, 'Ethan, I'd like to write it.'"
"I'll volunteer to write it right now," added Giffen in seriousness followed by cheers from the crowd. While the artist seemed very intrigued by the possibility of the creative team up, he explained that "There have been pockets of time where I've tried to allow for it to happen, but because of one various mis-communication or another, it hasn't come together. It's important that when it does happen, it happens correctly and it happens in a way that will appeal to the most people possible. So both of you guys are out."
That last comment was, obviously, a joke.
One series Van Sciver will be working on that could be talked about was the upcoming "Flash: Rebirth" series. When a fan asked why they would replace Wally West with Barry Allen when the former was the far more popular and successful version of the character, the artist said, "We have not said that Wally West will not be the Flash."
When the conversation came to a chicken or the egg type of debate between the panelists and the audience about the scarlet speedster, Didio explained, "Some of the more recognizable Wally West stories deal with the Barry Allen lore and what his legacy is. A lot of Wally can't be explained without Barry, so therefore it was essential, we thought, for Barry to come back. And at that point, we'd undone so much of what 'Crisis On Infinite Earths' was " Supergirl was back, the multiverse was back " there was only one last piece to decide upon, and it was Barry. And at that point, it didn't make sense not to do it."
"I used to be in taxi cabs with Dan and just say, 'We have to bring Barry Allen back,'" Van Sciver explained finally. "Now is the time for this character. Flash is a CSI scientist. It's a whole new avenue for Flash stories, and these are stories Geoff and I want to tell. And you have to give us the room now. This isn't a reboot. We are going to make this part of one long continuous story. Just like with Hal Jordan...everything that was done even before us was part of a much larger picture. We're going to do the same thing with Barry Allen and the entire Flash legacy."
Of course, as with any DC Nation, there were a number of questions dodged or jokingly put off for the time being, including word on the name "Superboy" thanks to the ongoing lawsuit with the families of Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, the idea of original online content for DC characters and the status of the rumored crossover "Batman: Battle For the Cowl" of which Didio would only say "'Batman R.I.P.' comes first, and 'Batman: Battle For the Cowl' comes second." When pressed on the issue of new DC buttons promoting Nightwing possibly taking over the role of Batman, Didio again asked the audience which of the supporting Bat-characters should replace Bruce Wayne as the Dark Knight. The majority of the crowd agreed Bruce should not be replaced, and then Didio admitted, "I have no idea what those buttons mean."