SDCC: DC Comics Downloads Digital to San Diego

While most fans may know DC Comics for its paper comics, the publisher also has a good-sized library of digital-first titles, with everything from more seasons of "Arrow," "Smallville" and "Batman Beyond" to titles based on video games with "Infinite Crisis: Fight for the Multiverse," "Injustice: Gods Among Us" and new takes on old favorites like "Sensation Comics" and "Batman '66." For the DC Comics Digital panel at Comic-Con International 2014, the publisher focused on its upcoming initiatives in the digital space, with panelists including Ralph Garman, Kyle Higgins, Cat Staggs, Freddie E. Williams II and more.

DC's Larry Ganem moderated the panel, introducing senior VP for Vertigo and integrated publishing, Hank Kanalz and president of integrated publishing Jim Chadwick, as well as "Earth 2" co-writer Marguerite Bennett.

Kicking things off, the panel began with the general DC Comics announcement of the Batman 75th Anniversary, which drew applause from the audience. Following a brief overview of DC's celebratory plans, Chadwick explained the digital-first calendar, with one series dropping every day. "That's what we want you to know," he said. "Go online and purchase a new series every day." Kanalz also noted that 750 essential Batman books were currently on sale for $0.99 a piece in honor of Batman day. There's also currently a Batman graphic novel -- the first three issues of "Court of Owls" on the Starbucks app.

"Injustice: Gods Among Us" was the first book on the docket, with Kanalz giving a quick overview of the comic-book-based-on-a-video-game, with Chadwick discussing both "Year Two" and "Year Three" at the hands of scribe Tom Taylor.

"We're building to the climax of 'Year Two,' and that storyline will end with some shocking changes," said Chadwick. "If you've read Tom's stuff, you know there's always going to be some big surprise."

"Injustice: Gods Among Us Year Two Annual" #1 will help but an end cap on the season in an issue written by Taylor and Marguerite Bennett.

"It was terribly intimidating," Bennett said of coming on to the project. "To see Tom Taylor turn around and do these bone breaking things to characters you love was really devastating -- and really fantastic! ... When you're working with characters that are essentially the Gods of Western Literature, there's a danger that they might go into stasis. ... With 'Injustice,' you're playing for keeps. It's been really brutal and really exciting."

One of the annual stories deals with Jim and Barbara Gordon solving a cold case, with the second story centering on Hal Jordan and Sinestro being forced to work together. Chadwick then transitioned into "Year Three," saying that Taylor's outline was shocking -- and dealt with magic in the "Injustice" universe. "Year Three" will introduce John Constantine as an ally of Batman to help overthrow Superman's regime. "I think it's got potential to be the best year we've done so far," said Chadwick.

Similarly, "Arrow Season 2.5" will be written by Marc Guggenheim with art by Joe Bennett, and --unsurprisingly -- takes place between season two and season three. Unlike the previous "Arrow" digital-first series, "Season 2.5" will feature one long, over-arching story.

"Sensation Comics Featuring Wonder Woman" is one of DC Digital's other big projects. The title harkens back to Wonder Woman's first appearance at DC, and Kanalz said it could be compared to "Legends of the Dark Knight" and "Adventures of Superman." The first two chapters are written by Gail Simone with art by Etahn Van Sciver. Chapter 3 is written by Amanda Deibert with art by Cat Staggs. The series launches August 13, with a chapter every subsequent week.

"It's a dream come true," Staggs said of drawing Wonder Woman. "I grew up watching Lynda Carter every week." Staggs also had a chance to draw Wonder Woman in the "Smallville" digital series, and the panel invited series writer Bryan Q. Miller on stage.

"Everybody's got a Wonder Woman story they want to tell," said Staggs. "There's a lot of fighting [in our story], but there's a really wonderful heartfelt moment at the end that talks about standing up for yourself and being true to yourself, written by my absolutely wonderful wife, Amanda."

Higgins' "Batman Beyond 2.0" was up next, with the writer saying that the next story would be "a really big one."

"When we launched the series, the idea was to move the story forward ... to Terry starting college with he and Dana broken up. The big twist was that Terry and Bruce had broken up, and Terry's working with Dick Grayson. ... This is the arc where we give you all the answers," Higgins said. Alec Siegel will work with Higgins on writing along with Phil Hester and Eric Gapstur on art. The arc will also feature the return of the Phantasm.

"Terry's going to have some real choices to make," Higgins said. "This is my 'Return of the Joker,' this is as close as I can get to that movie, which was really inspiring to me. Chapter 28 is the one that everyone is going to be talking about online. I'll say that right now. When I pitched this book, I said, 'There's no way they'll go for this,' and Hank approved it an hour later."

"Injustice" isn't the only video game digital-first. "Infinite Crisis: Fight for the Multiverse" by Dan Abnett with art by Tom Derenick, Freddie Williams II and more.

"Dan's doing an amazing job on this," said Chadwick. "The fun thing about this series is you see various versions of DC characters in different universes, but it's all a big mash-up. So, Batman from Earth Prime might team up with Nightmare Robin and Atomic Wonder Woman. They have to join teams and form up and try to figure out how to get past this crisis."

Williams will be doing a "Gotham by Gaslight" universe story, and the artist said part of the challenge goes hand-and-hand with the fun. "It creates an opportunity for the artists to do ... different rendering styles or moods to explore," he said. "In the Gaslamp universe, I was using a different rendering style -- artistically, it's really fulfilling to try your hand for different moods that fit that universe. ... The challenges are getting to know the characters all over again and connecting them to the prime universe versions you're used to seeing, but still making them feel like [themselves]. ... It's like role-playing or acting. You have to get into the minds of the characters and how they're different."

Gaslamp Joker is massive, and a big departure from the traditional depiction. Williams said he had to mold it into a different direction, and seeing Gaslamp Luthor and Gaslamp Joker was a challenge, but fun.

Miller was luckily on hand to discuss his current work on "Smallville," which is working its way to its own version of "Crisis on Infinite Earths." "Smallville: Chaos" finds Clark and Lois lost in the multiverse. The duo comes up against the "one true Darkseid," and the series introduces Hank Henshaw as Cyborg Superman with Supergirl and Superboy dealing with a virus. "At the same time, Lex Luthor has taken over Ted Kord and Michael Holt's supercollider, and Booster Gold is the help," said Miller.

"Teen Titans Go!" is DC Digital's all-ages title based on the Cartoon Network series of the same name. "We do something called DC squared, and we work that into 'Teen Titans Go!'" said Kanalz. "It fits really well with the series, and we have several writers working on it -- writers from the show." Sholly Fisch and Merrill Hagan are currently on the series with art by Jorge Corona.

Another big project for DC Digital is "Batman: The Jiro Kuwata Batmanga," which sees the English translation of the entire series of manga by Jiro Kuwata. It's currently on sale in the DC Digital store and will be collected in trade paperback later in 2014.

Speaking of old Batman comics, "Batman '66" was next on the docket -- by Jeff Parker, Tom Peyer, Gabe Soria and more with art from Dean Haspiel, Dave Bullock, Wilfredo Torres and many more. "So many people have so many great memories about it," said Chadwick. "We try to keep the spirit of the show, and we're conveying that as much as possible. It's all the villains you remember from the show." The current issue features an old villain, The Archer, in a story by Tom Peyer and Wilfredo Torres.

Garman's "Batman '66 Meets the Green Hornet" was up next. Co-written by Kevin Smith with art by Ty Templeton, Garman described his love for the characters as "psychotic," and that the series is based on what happens after the first time Batman and the Green Hornet met on the original TV series. "We brought back the villain they faced in those original series, Colonel Gumm," he said, going on to note that the creative team brought in the Joker to team up with the old television villain. Garman also did a pretty spot-on impression of Adam West as Batman.

"My challenge was -- it's a very established world these characters come from," he continued. "You have to work within those parameters and bring something fun and special to it."

There was one big announcement to close out the panel -- "Batman '66: The Lost Episode" by Harlan Ellison with a script by Len Wein and art by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez and Joe Prado. Ellison had a lost script for the old "Batman" series, DC has obtained the rights to the script and will be releasing it November 2014. The script would have introduced Two-Face to the "Batman '66" universe.

"Now, almost 50 years later, here it is, coming to life," said Chadwick. "Jose is just knocking it out of the park."

With the time left, the panel opened up for Q&A, with one of the audience members -- dressed as Adam Strange -- kicking things off asking the whole panel about which digital title they'd like to cross over with.

"I've made this joke before, but 'Batman '66 Beyond' where Adam Strange would play himself now," said Higgins.

"I would do 'Supernatural' with 'Smallville,'" said Miller. "Etrigan and Klarion? Oh yeah."

Williams sidestepped the question a bit, praising DC for their use of the digital format, calling it "amazing and a revolution" the way the publisher handles its digital properties, releasing its products on time every week.

A young Batman Beyond asked about inclusion of the Justice League Beyond, but Higgins stated he didn't have any plans to bring them on to the core "Batman Beyond" book. "Never say never," he said.

One fan asked Higgins about his love of Dick Grayson, and the writer said that his time on "Nightwing" was "a blast."

"When we launched '2.0,' I was still doing Nightwing, and the idea of moving Terry forward -- Adam Beechen has actually introduced Dick Grayson in 'Hush Beyond,' so I thought it'd be really fun to run with that and build a story about the past," he said. "I was writing Terry McGinnis and Dick Grayson at the same time, and I realized I was writing them the same! ... Any time to explore the character is great."

Garmin said writing the "Batman '66 Meets The Green Hornet" was "almost like cheating" because he's had the characters in his head for such a long time. "It was important to us to honor the best of what that series had to offer, which was Batman and Robin being heroes for the sake of it. If you just stick by that and the wholesomeness of it -- which can be ludicrous in this day and age -- ... you can just tell a good story."

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