The traditional DC Nation panel took on a new significance at Comic-Con 2019 in San Diego this year as Co-Publisher Dan DiDio took the time to center the conversation on changes at DC Comics which are seeing the creative and editorial teams put more focus on the idea of DC than ever before.
He took to the crowd early to ask why people were here and what they wanted from DC admitting, "I'm not sure what the business is about anymore," citing complaints about variant covers or sales manipulations in a changing market, but he said the goal at DC is to build up the DC world in a new way that taps into the energy of DC's characters' popularity in film, TV and beyond.
DiDio was joined on stage by incoming Batgirl writer Cecil Castellucci, artist Amanda Conner, writer Jimmy Palmiotti, writer Joshua Williamson and artist Greg Capullo.
DiDio went on to explain the rebranding that has seen the publisher drop labels like Vertigo and bring DC as a name to every kind of book. "It's exciting to me that if you're looking for a Young Adult or a Middle Grade book, there's a DC book for that. If you want a shared universe, there's a DC book. If you want a creator-owned book, there's a DC book for that," he said.
Conversation turned towards the different styles DC creators use on the various aspects of the line with longtime YA novelist Castellucci spoke to how she's shifting her approach now that she's doing the slightly older DCU version of Batgirl. "When you're writing for young people, it's the first time people fall in love...it's firsts for everything...but I have different stories I want to tell too. The great thing about the DC Universe and dealing with adult characters is that it allows me to 'sing' with my writing voice in a different way.
Capullo spoke to how he changes his approach based on doing a Black Label DC book like Batman: Last Knight, and he said the mature tone and apocalyptic approach changes how he draws the character. "If I was drawing My Little Pony, the style would be different than what I'm doing on Batman," he laughed. Williamson praised the artist's work on issue #2, which brings Bane back into the picture in two weeks.
DiDio brought talk around the Walmart line of 100-Page Giant comics, explaining "If there's a movie or a TV show out there, we wanted to put something out there that wasn't steeped in continuity." Conner said that her work on Wonder Woman was a creative challenge because the team had to shift so much of what they assume about a superhero story (down to the 12-page page count for single stories), but the upshot was that they're reaching an audience that may have no access to a direct market comic shop.
The main DCU line took a spotlight as the incoming Batman/Superman series from Williamson and artist David Marquez was discussed as a follow-up to events going back to Metal. "The Batman Who Laughs went around and infected different characters to make then just like him," the writer said, but now the villain has also realized that he wants his own Superman after killing the one from his world. "He's going to go out and tap these characters that are hiding in the DCU...they're hiding in places and books that you've seen...when they get infected, it gets real bad."
Williamson started to joke that if DiDio started talking about the plans for the Year of Villains plan between his book and the Lex Luthor machinations of Scott Snyder's Justice League, he'd spoil everything. "You love getting me in trouble!" Williamson said.
Batgirl meeting a new villain of her own is only the tip of the iceberg for Castellucci's run, and the writer said she 's still trying to figure out how working in the main superhero line works. "I'm coming in for the first time in the DCU, and I'm coming in on a crossover event. I'm on Year of the Villain, and I have this very specific thing I'm trying to do...but then there are all these little pocket things...pieces are taken off the table, and I'm given a direction...and then things keep getting taken," she laughed. "It makes it very difficult because when you're in a shared universe and there are these moving pieces, obviously Batgirl is a big character, but she's not an engine that drives these other stories. But everyone wants to use her in different ways, and when you're the writer of that character, you've got to manage it and put the puzzle pieces together....on one hand as a writer, it's fascinating to do, but on the other it's like 'Oh my God, this is really hard!'"
At that, DiDio had Palmiotti tell the story of when the pair were writing Superboy in the early 2000s and the latter refused to play along with a massive line-wide crossover. The pair were asked again to tie their story in when they only had two issues left, and when they did, the writers soon realized that the other books they were tying into shifted plans. "When they cancelled the book, we went off running down Broadway to celebrate," Palmiotti joked.
Williamson defended the plans, as jumbled as they can be, saying that when he and the other DC senior writers get together to plan out the major events of the line, the creative collaboration is intense and rewarding and it makes the books overall more engaging for readers. DiDio then made him tell the "sweaty Josh" story of when he initially tried to pitch to write the Flash in San Diego. Williamson had to run from a panel to his pitch meeting late, and when he arrived "I am bright red, I am sweating like crazy, and I am screaming at him...I was a maniac! He literally tried to escape, and I was like 'No, we're not done. I love the Flash, and this is what we're doing.' And he says, 'No.'" Scott Snyder eventually walked in on them and broke up the awkward meeting. Williamson accepted he had to play along with the broader DCU plans in order to make his ideas work, and longterm, it all came together.
Connor spoke to the wide range of adult and humor stories she's done, saying that when she broke in to the business, she got trapped doing Barbie comics at Marvel. "It was so soul-sucking. My favorite thing to do is character emotions and body language, and Barbie's entire emotional range is mildly happy to somewhat satisfied," she laughed, saying that despite cooler gigs like Disney's Gargoyles, it took a very vulgar book like The Pro with Palmiotti and Garth Ennis to finally shift perception of her as "that Barbie artist."
DiDio wrapped the panel with a rapid-fire callout of properties fans wanted to see more of, and the results revealed that Castellucci has been trying to pitch him on an Angel & The Ape revival, a tease where he said Green Arrow "has nothing to do with Event Leviathan," and when someone shouted "Milestone!" DiDio cried back, "We're working on it, man!"