INTERVIEW: DiDio & Lee on "Dark Knight 3," Vertigo's Future & DC's Evolving Readership

Between fresh details on the highly anticipated "The Dark Knight III: The Master Race", a slate of 12 new Vertigo series, news of the return of Milestone Media's Dakota Universe as "Earth-M" and the announcement of upcoming Robin-centric projects like the weekly "Batman and Robin Eternal," DC Comics had a rather newsworthy few days earlier this month at Comic-Con International in San Diego.

CBR TV @ SDCC: Lee & DiDio Talk "Dark Knight III," Post-"Convergence" DCU & More

At the convention, CBR News spoke with the company's Co-Publishers -- Dan DiDio and Jim Lee -- about some of DC's biggest headlines, including what made Andy Kubert the right choice to follow the legendary Frank Miller as "Dark Knight III" artist, how the company plans on balancing its traditional superhero comics with its recent more esoteric fare, recruiting new creators while bringing veterans back into the fold and the challenge of rejuvenating the seminal Vertigo line, when publishers like Image Comics have successfully occupied a similar space in the industry.

CBR News: At Comic-Con, it was announced that Andy Kubert and Klaus Janson are the primary art team on "The Dark Knight III: The Master Race." Of course, Janson is a link back to the original "Dark Knight Returns," but Kubert is a newcomer to the franchise -- though he's been a go-to guy for a lot of high-profile DC projects in recent years. It can't be an easy gig for him to be drawing this book, when Frank Miller's art is so closely associated with this world. What made Andy the right choice for this story?

Dan DiDio: There was a comfort from Frank, working with Andy. More importantly, Andy really got into the headspace -- the design aspect, the look, what he brings to the material, will be essential to the storytelling. It's not that Andy will be imitating Frank's work; he's really bringing his own style to the work. But he'll be working very closely with Frank on the storytelling, which I think is important, because it will capture the essence and the energy of it.

RELATED: Kubert & Janson Join "The Dark Knight III: The Master Race"

The other exciting thing is, we'll also be bringing guest artists in, in every issue. More information will be coming, but the goal is to really have this be a true celebration of "Dark Knight." This is the conclusion of a trilogy, and we want to elevate it to the nth degree.

I can't stress importantly enough -- Frank will also have interior pages in the books, and he'll also have covers, as well.

So there will be sequences drawn by Miller?

DiDio: Exactly.

Jim Lee: Andy's a great storyteller, he's got a dynamic art style, he is a professional through and through. On a big project like that, you need someone that's got all three of those abilities. When you say "go-to guy," it's because he has these amazing tools.

The other great contributor is going to be Klaus Janson. I was going to say he's an inker's inker, but he's really an artist's artist. He's a guy that's kind of transcended inking -- he's penciled, colored. People really understand that when he works on a project, what he brings to the inking is more than just bringing the pencils to life. He's adding textures, and making all sorts of artistic decisions. Having that connection to the original volume brings a nice bookend to the overall trilogy, and unites the project in a way, aesthetically, that it wouldn't without his presence.

Let's talk the philosophy behind the additional stories that will appear in each issue. It sounds like readers will see more of the world, and it also seems to be a way to get more creators involved in telling these stories.

DiDio: That's part of the goal for this. The way this story breaks down is, there's an overarching story that's told throughout the series. So many of the characters that Frank has introduced during the course of "The Dark Knight Returns" and "The Dark Knight Strikes Again" will be brought back to the storytelling, and they'll be integral to the main story, and go off on separate adventures that are tied very tightly into what's happening in the main series.

To shift topics, you've both talked about how you don't have to pick and choose in terms of direction; right now doesn't have to just be core superhero, and doesn't just have to be the more left-of-center books, either. It can be both. In terms of audience, is it the goal to see those readerships become more integrated -- to get the people who like "Black Canary" to check out "Justice League," and vice versa? Are you happy with an audience that's picking and choosing, or are you looking to integrate it all?

DiDio: I'll go back and say: We want both! Having people pick and choose is great, and having people read it all is great, too. The goal is to make sure everybody's enjoying what they're getting. That's the major push there.

Lee: But we also don't want to leave it to happenstance. We have regular meetings where we talk about, "When we get this type of reader, how do we introduce them to the rest of this? How do we guide them on a path?" I think one of the fears is that when you come into comics, digitally or in a store, it's an overwhelming amount of material. How do we help people find what they like, and then broaden their entry into the greater DC Universe? We have the "Essentials" catalogue where we have some of our top hardcovers, trades that feature our best stories. We talk about what we can do digitally for casual consumers to bring them into the universe. If someone comes in and likes "Batgirl," and they're picking up "Black Canary," where do they go from there? We have regular discussions of how we can guide people and help them find the next projects, so that we can get everyone interested in a lot more of what we're doing.

While DC is bringing in so many new creators, you've got new projects with creators like Marv Wolfman and Len Wein. How deliberate is that balance?

DiDio: It's really finding the best creators for the best projects. Look at the marketplace right now: There is a proliferation of comic books out there. You can see 400 titles on a monthly basis. We want to make sure we have the best talent pushing forward -- we're looking at the entire talent pool now, and saying, "Who's best to execute our books? The best interpretation, the best voice, the ones that are able to push this character moving forward?" Our goal is never to be in a position where we are restarting, relaunching a line, ever again. Quite the opposite. What we really want to do is build on what we created from the launch of New 52, take what existed beforehand, integrate that in, to give us the best interpretations of the characters that organically move forward, and are all part of one big continuity, that is DC Comics.

12 new Vertigo series were announced at Comic-Con, which certainly looks like a concerted push to redefine that line. While the imprint regularly has acclaimed series coming out from it, Vertigo hasn't had the same stature in recent years that it once did. How important is Vertigo to DC at this point, and how important is this new push?

RELATED: Vertigo Finishes 2015 by Launching 12 New Series

Lee: It's hugely important, and [Vertigo Executive Editor] Shelly Bond has put her heart and soul into this fall launch of titles. We felt that it would make a big splash, having a bunch of new #1s come out over a course of three months, but part of the strategy was to bring in new voices -- the same way as the DCU side of it -- we wanted to bring in people that hadn't done projects for Vertigo before, and also have people that haven't necessarily worked with each other work together and collaborate. Having a Gilbert Hernandez and a Darwyn Cooke [on "Twilight Children"] -- that's hugely exciting. They have a genuine appreciation and respect for one another, and you see that come through in the work itself. There's a project by Rob Williams called "Unfollow," which is just amazing. It really goes beyond the high-concept of it -- it seems very easily explained in one sentence, but he's got a lot of depth and exploration of who all these people are that are part of this contest. And having a "Lucifer" comic helps support the TV show that comes out later.

DiDio: With a great talent on it in Holly Black.

Lee: There are a lot of different things firing at once, and we're thrilled with what she's pulled together. We have high hopes for the fall launch.

It's a different challenge, I'd imagine, in putting together a Vertigo lineup now. The marketplace is very different than in Vertigo's heyday, and there are now a lot of different options for the books that would be Vertigo books. How much of that was a challenge?

Lee: The marketplace definitely has changed, but at the same time, I don't think there's any other company that is doing creator-owned books that has the depth and infrastructure of a company that DC Entertainment has; in terms of our marketing, our publicity support, or sales support. If you're a creator that wants to do all that -- I've done it -- it's a lot, a lot of work. God be with you. But if you're looking for someone to partner with, that will give you all these resources, be your ally, have your back, reach audiences and news sites that you couldn't on your own, so that you can focus and do what you best, which is to create -- then Vertigo is the place for you. That's been one of the key, attractive aspects of the line for many, many years. I think what you're seeing in the fall is people, like Gail Simone -- she's done Kickstarter, she's doing something with Image, she's worked for every company -- she can see the value that Vertigo brings to it, and we're very excited for the launch of "Clean Room."

Jim, I'm going to put you on the spot. We talked a year ago at a Batman event on the Warner Bros. lot --

Lee: Danny DeVito was there!

Yes! And at that time, you mentioned there were several projects you were working on art-wise that you couldn't quite talk about yet -- any update?

Lee: The update is, no update. I'm still continually working on stuff. There's a lot going on.

But in the near future we'll see more interior work from you?

Lee: As time permits, absolutely, yes. [Editor's Note: Lee was announced during Comic-Con as working on an as-yet unrevealed DC/Milestone project.]

DiDio: And that's our commitment to working with older creators. [Laughs]

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