FAN EXPO: DC Nation Panel

Still reeling from the fallout of "Blackest Night", in the midst of "Brightest Day", and not to mention a time traveling Bruce Wayne and a recostumed Wonder Woman, it's safe to say there was plenty to cover in DC Comics' one-hour DC Nation panel at Toronto's Fan Expo Canada.

DC Comics Co-Publisher Dan DiDio was met with welcome applause from the crowd attending the evening's DC panel event. DC Nation -- a mainstay in DC convention appearances -- is a chance for readers to voice their opinions to the company's artists, writers, and DiDio himself about what they enjoy, dislike, or want to see more of. While the conversation is lighthearted, there's a genuine sense of interest from the panelists. Put simply, they're listening.

Accompanying the undeniably charismatic DiDio on stage was artist Chris Sprouse ("The Return of Bruce Wayne #1") and freshly picked-up from Vertigo, Toronto-native Jeff Lemire ("Sweet Tooth" and the upcoming "Superboy" series).

After stating his longstanding love for the city of Toronto, DiDio briefly spoke to the Canuck crowd about his new position with the company.

"One of the things that I love about my new job is that I can a chance to not just be [involved with] DC Comics, but also get involved with Wildstorm and Vertigo," said DiDio.

As a slightly tardy Ethan Van Sciver showed up moments after Lemire, DiDio dove into the evening's topics. Beginning with one of the bigger happenings to occur throughout the greater comics industry, DiDio asked the crowd, "How are we liking Dick Grayson as Batman?" The rousing approval made it clear that Grayson is, indeed, cowl-worthy.

Despite the initial plans to off the character in final pages of "Infinite Crisis" -- a decision that was changed in the "eleventh hour" according to DiDio -- the question of whether Grayson is a permanent fixture in the Batman costume has been a popular one among comic fans.

"I'm going to give away a little secret: he was going to go back to Nightwing pretty quick, but that reaction that we've seen kept him in the costume longer -- and will see him there in the future. He's not coming out anytime soon just because Bruce Wayne is coming back," DiDio said.

After shifting to Grayson's often presumptuous sidekick (already an established fan favorite) Damian Wayne, DiDio identified the youngest of the bat-family as a "breakout character." When asked if there were any plans in the works for a Damian mini-series, DiDio paused with a grin.

"You know what would be cool? A Damian mini-series by Andy Kubert."

"Ohhs" and "ahhs" ensued.

Upon the release of "Batman Inc.," the panel divulged that there will be more than one Batman running around the DCU -- different rules, sensibilities, morals, and goals. This came up in reference to Bruce Wayne's new costume design, set to appear following his return to the present.

"There's some real character growth that he goes through on this journey," said DiDio.

DiDio also confirmed that Peter Tomasi, of "Green Lantern Corps" fame, will be heading a bat-book by the end of the year.

When "100 Bullets" and "First Wave" writer Brian Azzarello made his way to the panel, more Batman related philosophies came to the fold. Keeping with the Dark Knight theme, Azzarello defended his re-imaging of Batman in "First Wave"; most notably his decision to arm the caped-crusader with firearms. "He's younger, it's a different approach to the character when he's just getting started. He's not that cynical Dark Knight, he's a happy one -- with guns."

As the panel turned its focus to "Brightest Day," DiDio spoke to the fan appreciation Aquaman has garnered. Recalling a dinner with the greater editorial staff at DC a few years back, DiDio remembered being pulled aside as many as 16 times throughout the evening to hear different pitches about bringing Arthur Curry back. Prior to Geoff Johns' DCU-defining "Blackest Night," DiDio's hesitation in bringing the character back was based on one simple issue: who can name more than three Aquaman villains?

Looking at Batman, Superman, The Flash, and Wonder Woman, these characters all have a number of memorable faces in their rogue galleries. While one would be hard pressed to name even a few of Curry's foes prior to "Brightest Day." It was this explanation that led DiDio to state "the greatest characters have the greatest villains."

Francis Manapul, artist for "The Flash," was called up next to join the panel at the front.

Manapul is currently starring in the television series "Beast Legends", where he accompanies a number of scientists and historians around the world to study cultures' mythical creatures, and how they would look and act had they existed. "Beast Legends" is currently available on the History Channel and will hit American audiences on September 9 on the Sci-Fi Channel.

Moving to Wonder Woman-related discussions, DiDio discussed the ongoing issues associated with the character's long history within the DCU.

"Regardless of sales, Wonder Woman is an essential character of DC Comics..and that's something that will never stop. We might have to do something drastic or dramatic at times."

Offering another anecdote of his early days with DC, DiDio recalled seeing a panel from "Countdown to Infinite Crisis" where the Blue Beetle looks at Wonder Woman and says, "She's perfect".

"Where do you go from there? How do you change the character? How do you make anything that can draw readers' attention? That's one of the problems with putting a character on a pedestal -- when everything they do is perfect it makes it very hard to tell stories as creators," said DiDio.

The event took a more cryptic turn after digging into the issue of character aging in comic books; specifically, whether Damian Wayne will be turned into a teenager overnight. DiDio was adamant about putting the DCU "on hold" in terms of aging characters, explaining that through "Blackest Night" and "Brightest Day" they've aimed to re-establish the classic characters (Barry Allen, Ray Palmer, Arthur Curry, etc.) in hopes of giving further detail to those that have taken up their costumes since. In this sense there is a new sense of wholeness to the DCU, that hasn't existed in the past, DiDio said.

Sciver took the time following this to pitch his idea for a "Tween Titans" book. Complete with a Justin Bieber reference.

"We've got these younger characters now, it'd be cool to see," said Sciver.

After explaining that, in the wake of "Blackest Night," characters who are killed will absolutely remain dead, DiDio referenced making Kid Devil the first martyr of the post-"Blackest Night" DCU. Put simply, he's dead and not coming back.

"The answers we see all the time from readers: we want to see big changes but we don't want anything to change with our characters...we always hear 'I need these stories to matter, that means somethings got to happen -- just don't change everything' -- We can't do that."

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