FAN EXPO: DC Universe

DC Comics Co-Publisher Dan DiDio, sporting a Toronto Blue Jays ball cap, led one of his trademark quick moving, quick witted DC Universe panels Saturday morning at Fan Expo in Toronto, Canada. And while there were no official announcements, an ongoing "Batman Beyond" series was heavily teased (and later confirmed at Baltimore Comic Con by DCU Senior Story Editor Ian Sattler) and DiDio himself revealed that a new character would be headlining "Adventure Comics" after the superstar team of writer Geoff Johns and artist Andy Kubert completed next summer's "Flashpoint" event miniseries.

Joined onstage by DC writers and artists including Gary Frank ("Superman: Secret Origin"), Brian Azzarello ("First Wave"), J.T. Krul ("Green Arrow," "Teen Titans"), Francis Manapul ("The Flash"), Jeff Lemire (upcoming "Superboy"), Marcus To ("Red Robin"), Doug Mahnke and Christian Alamy ("Green Lantern"), DiDio, who also writes "The Outsiders," opened the DC Universe panel by asking each of the assembled talent for updates on their current projects.

Manapul, who received a hearty cheer as a homegrown Canadian talent, said he and Geoff Johns will be featuring more of Captain Boomerang in the "Flash" ongoing series and that he's really looking forward to the book's second story arc. After a glance at DiDio for signoff, he shared with the packed hall, "We're introducing a new character. So that's exciting."

Krul said he's working towards expanding Oliver Queen's universe in "Green Arrow" and that he wants to make Star City a special place. He explained, "The forest from 'Brightest Day' was just a great way to do that and it really gives the book a whole new identity. Obviously, we're playing up the Robin Hood mythos in 'Green Arrow,' but it's just a great way to expand Ollie's world. And as far as Star City goes, we have some new characters coming up. And Martian Manhunter from 'Brightest Day' is coming up too.

"We also want to build up Ollie's gallery of rogues by bringing some characters back and also introducing some new villains - like The Queen and everybody else. It's just all Ollie, all the time."

Krul is also taking over as the regular writer for "Teen Titans," beginning with issue #88 in October. He said artist Nicola Scott is doing an amazing job and that she was "born to draw that book." His roster will feature what he calls "the A-List of the Young Justice crew," including Wonder Girl, Superboy, Kid Flash, Beast Boy, Raven and Ravager.

The writer teased that Damian Wayne, Bruce's son and the new Robin, will also appear in the book. "Damian shows up to join the team in the very first issue. We're just trying to mix it up a little bit because we want to have a lot of fun and he's a great character to write. So it's cool having him on board."

Lemire, who is currently writing a Ray Palmer Atom co-feature for "Adventure Comics" as well as his creator owned series "Sweet Tooth" for Vertigo, is also writing a new ongoing "Superboy" series, which debuts in November. "I'm having a blast writing 'Superboy' with Pier Gallo, who is a really great new artist," said Lemire. "I wanted to give Conner a sense of community and family for the first time. To me, he was a guy who was born in a test tube, so obviously he never really had a childhood of his own. So with him living in Smallville, that really gives him a chance to build a surrogate family around himself. But while we're building the supporting cast in Smallville, we're also telling some really mysterious, dark stories about the history of Smallville, which is going to unfold over the first year of the book."

Gary Frank, Fan Expo's International Guest of "Honour," is making his first North American convention appearance in more than 10 years. The British artist known primarily for his work on "Midnight Nation" and "Supreme Power" with J. Michael Straczynski before teaming up with Johns on "Action Comics" and "Superman: Secret Origin" is next launching a series of graphic novels with the Johns featuring a re-imagined Dark Knight in "Batman: Earth One."

Frank said he and Johns are recreating the origin of Batman, so there are really no constraints with continuity, 70-plus years of history or even characterization. "Constraint probably isn't a good word, but it doesn't have to feel like anything that's come before. So we have kind of a completely blank slate in terms of how the character comes about and how he develops," explained Frank. "I'm sure there will be a few red herrings in the there but we're going to see a Batman that I don't think people will be expecting. I think we've gotten used to a competent Batman, an experienced Batman, but I think people will be quite surprised to see what we've done. It's quite new."

As for the recently completed "Superman: Secret Origin," Frank admitted he didn't know how new and different it was but it was definitely a story he and Johns wanted to do. "It was just kind of condensing the things that were important to Geoff and I in terms of what we felt captured Superman best and resonated with us," said Frank. "We were just trying to do a distilled version of that. The whole thing was to re-examine the origin and the development of the character while having everything feeling slightly familiar but without necessarily repeating events that we've seen 200 times before. We didn't want to introduce something kind of massively out of left field or then we'd feel that it wasn't necessarily consistent with what had happened to Superman."

Alamy, the inker on "Green Lantern," joked he has easiest job in the world. "I just trace what Doug Mankhe creates," quipped Alamy. "But I can tell you the most painful thing is to draw all their chest logos. Doug never uses a template. He does everything freehand, so it's a real nightmare. But it's just fun. I make sure I get all of the scripts before I see Doug's pencils, just so I know who's who and what's going on and what the writer has in mind just to make sure I carry through every expression."

After praising Mahnke for his save in completing the 30 pages of Grant Morrison's "Final Crisis" #7 in just three weeks, DiDio asked the artist of "Green Lantern" what he loves about the wide array of characters and vastness of the "Green Lantern" title. Mahnke said Johns is actually not throwing too much at him in any one issue but the challenge is keeping up with the writer's constantly evolving characters. And that's a good thing. "He's building some more meat onto each character. And for me personally, every time I think he's defined a character and he's changed it just a little bit, he does more to define them," said Mahnke. "He's done some stuff with Larfleeze lately - and everybody loves Larfleeze - and he's really funny because he's just like a big, fuzzy character but there's always more. And there's more stuff coming. The script that I have waiting for me at home when I get back tomorrow night after the convention, there are just some things in it that were really surprising. There's some shocking stuff and that's what's makes working on 'Green Lantern' so much fun. Working with the New Guardians and there's just so much more to come. We've really only touched a few of them with any depth so far."

Another highlight for Mahnke is fleshing out Atrocitus, the biggest, baddest Red Lantern. "He's just not what I expected. He's this grotesque creature and yet as soon as I get my head around him, Geoff throws something else out there to make him different."

Marcus To, the current artist of "Red Robin," said since he's working on a title starring Tim Drake he feels compelled to keep him out of the darkest shadows Gotham creates and shed a little more light on his subject. "With Tim being one of the younger characters besides Damian, I always feel that he needs to have a lighter side to him compared to the other characters in the Bat Family. So I'm approaching him like they would in a book like 'Teen Titans.'"

Before asking Azzarello for his thoughts on "First Wave," DiDio offered that he'd wanted to feature Doc Savage and other pulp heroes like The Spirit in a shared universe as far back as 2003. "It's been a long time in the making and what pulled it all together was Brian's excitement and passion," said DiDio.

Azzarello said, "The goal of 'First Wave' is to introduce those characters to a new audience. That's it first and foremost. Doc Savage has been around for longer than I have but in comics, not really. He is the Rosetta Stone for everything that you like. Fortress of Solitude, that was in his book first.

"And it's been cool to work on The Spirit too. I've really enjoyed that character a lot. It was gratifying meeting with Will Eisner's family. I said, 'This is what I want to do with this character. Take him in a little bit of a different direction.' And they were very, very supportive of that. That means we're on the right track. Something that Eisner said was, 'I don't want anybody writing a Will Eisner story.' And I'm not.

"And then we've got Batman and he's got some guns."

During the Q&A with fans, other notable DCU details shared included:

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