There's one time at every convention where DC Publishers Dan DiDio and Jim Lee are more likely than any other to blurt something out about the company's plans: their own panel.
The regular "Meet The Publishers" free-for-all from DC arrived on Saturday at New York Comic Con, and the proceedings contained at least one new (if expected) announcement. The pair started things off in a jovial fashion as DiDio attempted to make his partner sign the water cup he was drinking and then auction it off to the audience.
But things swiftly moved to DC's "Rebirth" initiative where DiDio explained that a major inspiration for the change was the 2015 edition of NYCC where their panel had many people walk out after a few minutes of talk. "There was a disconnect, and it was palpable," he said, adding that what they realized was missing toward the end of the New 52 era was the idea of legacy in the DCU and the various relationships between characters. "Hopefully we've got you guys excited now for what we've got coming up."
Lee quoted the 14 million copies of Rebirth books sold with more than 60 issues shipping over 100,000 copies. He said they were surprised that the initiative is meeting or exceeding in some cases the sales levels of the New 52 since they were hedging their bets going in, but that response gives the company more leeway. "We've got freedom afforded by this success that as we move on to Wave 2, 3 and 4, we can take our time with it. We don't want to dilute this," Lee added, saying that moving forward the task will always be rebuilding characters from the ground up to make them their best selves.
DiDio said that the goal is to do a great shared universe – something he felt didn't quite come together in the New 52 era because so many creatives had different takes on how characters like Superman were supposed to act and behave. The big push into making that universe work will be Joshua Williamson and Jason Fabok's "Justice League Vs. Suicide Squad" in late 2016/early 2017 which the publisher described as a story about two groups with diametrically opposed viewpoints.
October 21 will mark "Wonder Woman Day" to celebrate the characters 75th anniversary, and from the fall on, DC will be working to raise awareness around the Amazon hero. José Garcia-Lopez and Cliff Chiang just unveiled a set of Wonder Woman stamps for the US Post Office, and events like that will continue to push towards the big "Wonder Woman" movie, which Lee praised. "What we love about the character is that she was ahead of her time," he said. "Wonder Woman was her own hero and a co-founder of the Justice League, and in the '70s she inspired people at the start of the Feminist movement."
A similar celebratory tone was marked for the incoming 100th birthday of Jack Kirby. DiDio called the legendary creator one of his all-time favorites, expressing a desire to celebrate the King's whole history with DC. But the big project that they'll be focusing on to spread the Kirby love will be "The Kamandi Challenge." "Over the years, I've had a number of creators who want to come and do Kamandi, but it's never been the right fit," he said, noting that he finally approved all the Kamandi fans in the creative community to do a "hand off" story that travels around the post-apocalyptic world of the boy hero. Each new creative team will have to deal with what the team before them. The first issue features a new cover by Bruce Timm, and future issues will include contributions from Keith Giffen, Neal Adams and Ivan Reis. DiDio said the "Challenge" book is about half-way finished.
Lee then picked up one of his biggest legacies at DC – the return of the WildStorm Universe. The publisher said that incoming writer Warren Elli "always got what this universe was all about...they always existed on the fringes." Taking them back out of the broader DCU, Ellis is recreating the cast of books like "WildC.A.T.S" and "StormWatch" in slight tweaks from their original '90s versions. "He's telling one big story in this particular title, and he's layering ideas into these other books," Lee said, adding that the publisher waited to announce the series until they had six issues of scripts in the can from the writer. It is now being drawn by Jon Davis-Hunt for a launch in February of next year.
The other big "pop up" imprint arriving now is Gerard Way's Young Animal which is born out of the new "Doom Patrol" series. "He found the most obscure characters trying to stump [us]...he was calling us up going, 'Do you know who Cave Carson is?'" Lee joked, noting that he always wanted to create the new Mother Panic character for the world of Batman. "As long as he has a passion for this line, we'll continue to publish this."
DiDio spoke to the name of the title "Cave Carson Has A Cybernetic Eye," saying it came from an obscure note from a DC Encyclopedia. Way wanted to know why that was part of the hero's story, and DiDio said, "Damned if I know." Over the months, the publisher worked to figure out where this bit of trivia came from, and he finally tracked down the writer who introduced it into the character's history to ask why he used it. "Damned if I know," was the writer's response, leaving Way and company to come up with all-new ideas for the C-lister.
Coming soon will be "The American Way: Those Above And Those Below" from Academy Award-winning screenwriter John Ridley and artist Georges Jeanty. The '60s-set superhero conspiracy thriller is a sequel to Ridley's previous alternate history super comic. "It's really about race and superheroes and American history, and [John] is picking up from that thread...where all the superheroes have been outlawed, and the government is acknowledging it was all a big sham," he said. "At the end of the day, it's a book about what it's like to be a person of color who's a hero and what it's like to live in the public eye."
On the wackier end of DC, new projects coming up include the MAD Magazine-created parody "Goodnight, Batcave." "We love the magazine, and we want to start to do more [parodies], and I think this is a great start to that," DiDio said. He then showed off Amanda Conner art for the new "Jetsons" comic, continuing the surprise hit Hanna-Barbera line of comics. This series will follow in the style of DC's "Flintstones" book.
DiDio then took a poll of the audience to see how they got their comics news. Many said from comic websites with others responding from friends and retailers. The publisher was pleased to hear this, saying that recently he's heard from many fans that they don't get a lot of advanced word on DC released. The company's response is "Direct Currents" – a new free magazine that will be delivered to comic shops monthly. The next issue will feature new word on the just-announced "Batwoman" series and Pete Tomasi and Jorge Jimenez's "Super Sons" – a bit of info confirmed for the first time on the stage with the Co-Publishers.
Fan questions started with one about WildStorm with someone wondering whether the new series will fit into the overall DC cosmos. Lee said that there will be now multiversal number labeled to the world for not, adding, "We do have a bit of an issue because we have this Midnighter/Apollo series, but at the end of the day, some characters will be in the DC Universe, but not a lot. Warren's book is the WildStorm Universe, and it will just be the WildStorm Universe."
Another audience member asked about the Milestone imprint coming back, to which Lee said, "I just talked to Reggie [Hudlin] last week. So it is moving, just slowly...look for something next year."
DiDio said that they'd love to do Harry Potter comics, but "I think that franchise is strictly contained, and they like to do it in prose. So we'd love to do it, but I think they want to keep it where it is."
Asked why the "Watchmen" characters were pulled into the DCU in "Rebirth," DiDio said that part of it was for "shock and awe" but ultimately he wanted to make sure that there was a real story behind it and that future appearances would be done "Very judiciously and very carefully" with top talent. He said that fans can disagree whether they should have ever done projects like "Before Watchmen" but hopefully the level of quality will bear out that you can't argue that they were bad comics.