SDCC: Jim Lee and Dan DiDio on DC's Future and Beyond

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DC Comics co-publishers Jim Lee and Dan DiDio took to the stage at Comic-Con International in San Diego this year for their annual "Meet the Publishers" panel, kicking off DC's jam packed slate of panels at the show. Lee and DiDio spoke about the future of DC's whole range of imprints and lines from the recently launched Black Label to the ongoing efforts of the New Age of DC Heroes and everything in between.

Lee and DiDio took the stage at the show with the DC Universe subscription service in the spotlight right away. They reiterated the price point -- $7.99/mo or $74.99 annually -- and the features including thousands of digital comics that are going to be curated specifically to bolster the original content available on the platform. Titles will include the "Titans book from the 80s, the old Hawk and Dove, the origin of the Doom Patrol," DiDio elaborated.

DiDio impressed upon the importance of branching out as publishers before passing the mic to Lee who talked up the upcoming Young Adult lines, DC Ink and DC Zoom. "There are a lot of people who are hungry for our material and our characters but we're not necessarily producing the things they want," Lee explained, "So we're trying to reach those new audiences with different sizes and formats." Lee explained the importance of designing bespoke graphic novels for the young readers lines and emphasized that there was a conscious effort to pull in creators who would normally work in the DC Universe but might have massive followings elsewhere.

DiDio then took over for the Black Label line to talk about original graphic novels. "These are an exploration of the character that we wouldn't normally do that we maybe couldn't do in our main line of comics."

The panel was treated to a trailer for Black Label featuring looks at the "intense, provocative, daring" takes on iconic characters that will be "uncensored" with "no limits." Batman: Damned will spearhead the official rollout of new titles on September 19th.

The writer of Batman: Damned Brian Azzarello took the stage to speak about his work. "This is spiraling out of the work I did in Joker with Bermejo [...] we took that idea and called it the Joker-verse. It took ten years to get its feet under it but now here we are." Azzarello went on, "This story is about Joker's death. He's dead and Batman doesn't know who does it -- but Constantine does. So it's Batman works with these more magical characters to solve this mystery."

Lee and Azzarello teased team ups for Bruce with not only Constantine but Deadman, Swamp Thing, Etrigan, and maybe even Spectre.

DiDio then pivoted the panel to talk about spoilers and brought up Batman #50. He called on a fan -- a comic shop owner who said his shop was not surprised by the reveal that Batman and Catwoman were not married. "We never want to tell the last story," DiDio said, "And the wedding felt like the last story. There's a lot of great Batman stories coming."

Marc Silvestri was then announced as a surprise guest to the panel. Lee joked "Now Marc you're not here to promote an Image project here, you're here to talk about Batman," he laughed and continued, "Marc and I worked in the X-Men offices back at Marvel together, we shared studio space together. When I left, I was still in contact with a lot of the folks at Image and [Marc] drew a piece for a Batman anniversary special and ever since I saw that piece -- I knew he had to draw a Batman project. It was out of that conversation that this project came."

"As you've probably guessed, I'm working on Batman. It's a Batman/Joker team up. We'd talked about it and I couldn't believe that it hadn't been done before at least not a serious level," Silvestri said, "It would be full of dramatic and comedic moments. I've been wanting to do this story for 20 years."

Silvestri explained, "The premise is that someone is screwing around with the Joker really hard and Joker can't deal with it it. He can't handle it. So Joker makes it so that Batman has to help him. Joker takes Jim Gordon and holds him hostage -- not even Joker knows where he is -- and uses that to make Batman help him. Little pieces of Gordon keep showing up and Joker says 'look, we're going to run out of pieces that aren't important here soon.'"

The villain in the book will be new and original for the story, created by Silvestri, and the project will run about "seven and a half issues," he laughed, "because I couldn't help myself."

Silvestri is writing, drawing and inking his story.

He hopes that this story will hit fans "in the feels," he laughed, "I hope it makes fans say 'wow, I didn't expect to feel that way about Batman or Joker.'"

There is no official release date for Silvestri's book, DiDio explained, "We're going to hold this book until it's ready."

Silvestri's project may be called "The Deadly Duo" as hinted by DiDio, who said that floating deadlines ensure the best possible quality of work in the finished product.

The panel then pivoted away from the Black Label projects by refocusing on the core DC Universe, reiterating the announcements of G. Willow Wilson and Cary Nord on Wonder Woman and Kelly Sue DeConnick on Aquaman. "We had a writers summit not long ago," Lee said, "And DeConnick pitched her take on Aquaman and it was captivating. It starts with a very personal examination of who the character is and his relationship with his mother. As he gets older Arthur becomes Aquaman and is able to command sea life to come to him -- but the only person he can't command to come to him is his own mother. The story starts with Arthur washing up on a mysterious island with amnesia, he doesn't know he's Aquaman, and he's among a bunch of other sea gods who have been cast out by an angry ocean."

Lee touted the story as "huge and mythological," while DiDio picked up, "this is not about a stop or a reboot, it's about taking existing lore and adding onto it."

DiDio compared DeConnick's work to Scott Snyder's initial New 52 run on Batman and Brian Bendis' work on Superman and Action Comics. DiDio emphasized that DeConnick has displayed a clear reverence and deep understanding of Aquaman lore and explained that she pitched her story to both Dan Abnett and Geoff Johns.

The focus of the panel then shifted to Green Lantern with the recent announcement of Grant Morrison and Liam Sharp taking over the book. "When I first took over at DC making Hal Jordan relevant again was one of my primary goals. At the time Hal was the Spectre and it completely destroyed and took apart the whole Green Lantern mythos. Geoff Johns figured out how to reassemble that mythos. Now we're back at that point -- we want to get back to Hal Jordan and make sure it's clear why he's important again."

DiDio laughed, "So I was having dinner with Grant Morrison and I said "would you have any interest in doing Green Lantern," and he said he was too busy," but lo and behold, before the dinner was over, Morrison had admitted he came up with an idea for 12 issues already. "It's a brand new but back-to-basics take on Hal Jordan," DiDio explained, before bringing out Liam Sharp to elaborate on the process.

"I've never worked with Grant even though I've known him for years," Sharp said, "this was like the planets aligned."

"We were talking about space cops and what a space procedural would be, so what if someone was like...what if a giant space entity was building some giant device but it's blocking the sun and causing floods on some other planets. A Green Lantern has to show up and say "hey, you can't park that here." Sharp laughed.

"We have to question what 'justice' is," Lee said, "We always presume that the American type of justice is what the Green Lanterns use but there's really only a couple human Green Lanterns. We have to take a look at what these other cultures and species think justice really is."

"Hal's really this drifter trying to hold down a job. He doesn't really want to have a job. He's really like a drifter. He wants to be up there, he doesn't want to be down here. He's really a genius on a savant level," Sharp said about he and Morrison's take on the character.

The panel shifted to Vertigo to reiterate the Neil Gaiman Sandman universe. "Gaiman picked four writers to take over the universe that proceed under the assumption that nothing after Gaiman's stint on the book is canon. It might be. It's apocryphal."

The official Vertigo relaunch will occur on 8/8/18.

DiDio closed out the panel giving a shout out to the roots of DC "when I started reading DC comics, it wasn't just superheroes. It was war comics. It was romance. It was everything. It's important that we try and reach out as much as we can."

The panel closed officially on the official announcement on Lee and DiDio being presented the official Guinness World Record for Action Comics as the "longest running superhero comic of all time."

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