Dan DiDio joined DC Comics in January of 2002 with no prior comic experience; DC took a risk on Dan. It was a risk that worked out well for DC. Now Dan is taking a few risks with the DC Universe himself. Dan took a few minutes out of his day to talk about a few of DC’s current projects.
Rik Offenberger: Let us start with Identity Crisis, was is ever considered a risk, going back to the 70s, taking the heroes who were in a more innocent world, and retrofitting them into a much more violent world?
Dan DiDio: Absolutely, everything we try to do has some risk involved. I believe if you are not taking chances and putting your characters through the hoops, some of the value of the story might be lost along the way. We try to put risk into everything. I think if the fans know we are taking chances, they are going to be more emotionally involved. There is a sense of the unexpected coming from the storytelling.
Offenberger:Identity Crisis was a tremendous hit going into a 4th printing and spinning off four mini series and heading into Infinite Crisis…
DiDio: Exactly, that was a purpose. We really wanted to push the subject matter, to present our characters in a new light and set a new tone for the DCU. Some of the things that used to comfortable and familiar were thrown out the window so we could have a new sense of danger and excitement in the DCU and hopefully a new level of intrigue.
Offenberger: …if this project had not been successful now, what would DC do for the next 2 years?
DiDio: We have a storyline and a direction we want to push the DC Universe, this is something I feel very strongly about, and this is something that is a part of my agenda and my position here. So realistically speaking, the current level of success is just icing on the cake. What we want to do is present a new contemporary tone for the DCU. Hopefully, we will be able to keep the long-term fans exciting with what we are doing, bring back the lapsed fans and bring in new fans all at the same time.
Offenberger: With Identity Crisis selling out as well as all the mini-series selling out, it this a situation where the sales are astronomically high or is this a situation where the retailers under ordered?
DiDio: The initial orders were stronger then we projected, we were very happy with them. We saw the excitement and energy building off of Countdown, and Bob Wayne, (VP-Sales & Marketing) made the decision to overprint in higher percentages. When all those books sold out before they even hit the stands, it showed that Bob made the right bet, and more importantly it showed that the fans were buying into and were excited about what we were doing here.
Offenberger: Absolutely, because everything is selling out.
DiDio: It is a lot of fun, we could comment on how we are selling out to the retailers, but the thing that excites me more is that the retailers are selling out to the fans. There aren’t any copies on the shelves. I think that shows the level of excitement and energy out there. People are out there looking for our books and that is the type of positive momentum we always want to build.
Offenberger: The mini series are an odd mix. DC has no outer space based series, and here is Rann/Thanagar War. DC is not currently using any of there magic based heroes and yet here is Days of Vengeance. Likewise OMAC was never a popular comic nor was Checkmate. Secret Society of Super Villains was only moderately successful. How was this mix picked for the mini series?
DiDio: The goal was to present the four different corners of the DC Universe, four different flavors. Everyone thought that if you buy one mini-series you have to buy them all. That was never the plan. They are four different types of stories with four different directions in four different styles. One of the great strengths of the DC Universe and DC Comics in general is the great diversity. We talk about the science fiction aspect in the Rann/Thanagar War, sci-fi books like Adam Strange were a cornerstone of the DC Universe for tens of years. The same thing with the magical characters, we lost focus on magic in the DCU, although this is an extremely viable concept, the purpose of these mini series is to make people excited about these themes again so that we can branch out and create new series and new stories from them.
Offenberger: One of the key events in Crisis on Infinite Earths was the death of the Flash. That lead to a new Flash series, Are we going to see a new Blue Beetle series at end of Infinite Crisis?
DiDio: We have a lot of things coming out of Infinite Crisis and like I have said form the beginning of the year, the Blue Beetle is an essential part of the story.
Offenberger: Likewise, DC has put a huge commitment behind Seven Soldiers. What does DC do if they commit to that many mini series?
DiDio: We committed on the strength of Grant Morrison. You had to sit in on the pitch. Grant sold me on the first sitting with his scope, vision and ideas. The thing that gets me most excited is finding ways to make the marginal characters exciting and interesting again. That’s what really gets me going. I know we can put out big exciting Superman, Batman and JLA comics. That’s what we are supposed to do; but when we make these other characters interesting, get people invested in them and want to read more about them, then we have done a better job then if we made the other books into 100,000 sellers.
Offenberger: Is it possible to tell if a project is going to be successful before it is published?
DiDio: Good question, I wish it were true. The good part of the direct market is that it has a pulse and a beat that you can pretty well read. You can tell, based on characters and creators what has a chance and what doesn’t. Our goal has always been to walk into that a little more blindly. Look at a project on its own merits. See if its something that we believe strongly in publishing. If we think it adds value to the DC Universe as a whole, we will go ahead with the series and hope that people will find it and enjoy it as much as we do in creating it. You don’t want to get stuck in a rut of just creating things you think are going to sell to the biggest crowd. Granted, that is what we want, we want to sell more comics to more people, but we have to take some level of creative risk, we have to take some chances. If something like Breach isn’t selling well, or something like Manhunter struggles to find an audience, I still feel very strongly about those books and I am glad that we are putting them out. You have to take the chances, go back to the 70s on the newsstand. They didn’t know how comics were going to sell, they didn’t know how they were selling until they had the first four issues out there. To keep moving forward, You had to take a chance. The bottom line is that we don’t want to be out there when someday the world wakes up and doesn’t want to read a super hero comic, and we have nothing else out there to meet their needs. We should always be trying new ideas and new concepts to reach the widest audience possible.
Offenberger: Around the corner, is the launch of the All Star line.
DiDio: I think that’s going to do well (laughs)
Offenberger: If I were to guess, I would guess you're right. Why did you do a separate imprint with the All Star line?
DiDio: It’s not really a separate imprint; it’s a separate ideal. Although we are building such a cohesive universe for the DCU, I still want to do books that will attract the casual reader. A casual audience whose only contact with Batman and Superman might not be from the comics but from the movies, TV or cartoons. There are certain conceits in Batman and Robin that stay true in every incarnation of those characters. These books are created to literally reach the widest audience possible, and not just the comic book audience, but anyone who has ever wanted to read or see anything about Superman or Batman.
Offenberger: What happened with All-Star Superman? It was originally planned for an August release and now it has been moved back to December.
DiDio: I have to laugh at the concept that a book is running late before we even scheduled it. We don’t want to get into a situation where we run into problems later on down the line. The book is coming together on pace. We are really happy with the early material. The first issue is already done. I made a promise to myself that we would have enough material to be able to put it out on a consistent basis. We have a lot of excitement and energy coming off All Star Batman and Robin. We have Justice coming out the month after that. I haven’t set a date for All Star Superman. I am waiting to have a couple of issues done and then see what is the best month to roll it out.
Offenberger: So it’s not really scheduled yet?
DiDio: It never was scheduled. We sat down and talked about it and we would have loved for all these books to come out closer together, but you have to realize we are waiting for Grant and Frank to finish up WE3 and this is a book we want to be the best it can be. I am not rushing anything here.
Offenberger: Why was Hal Jordan brought back to the DC Universe, instead of doing an All Star Green Lantern with Hal Jordan and the regular book with Kyle Rayner?
DiDio: We all talk about bring Hal Jordan back but I don’t believe he was ever gone. I challenge many of the fans out there. In the ten years Hal Jordan is supposed to have been gone, have you ever gone six months without seeing him appear in the Green Lantern costume in a DC book. Hal is so ingrained into that character. Kyle has been an interesting replacement and a strong one at times. The best way to present the character, the best character for that role, has always been Hal Jordan. That’s the character I wanted to have interact with the DC Universe as we built this more cohesive universe. I have always felt that Hal has been the stronger of the two.
Offenberger: I agree.
DiDio: That’s a personal opinion. On the other hand Kyle is an extremely viable character and is important to what goes on in Infinite Crisis and beyond Infinite Crisis.
Offenberger: We have heard about All-Star Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. What other All Star titles can we expect?
DiDio: We are never going to see All Star Creeper, as much as everybody seems to be clamoring for it. (laughs) Because of the iconic nature of the concept, it is very hard to go beyond some of those core characters. We always talk about the generational aspect of the DC Universe. Flash, Green Lantern or Manhunter have a generational sense, but Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman aren’t really generational characters. Superman is Clark Kent, Batman is Bruce Wayne, and we move forward from there. As the rest of the world ages around them, Batman and Superman never really age. That makes them truly icons in my mind and because of that they can really get the All Star approach to them. I didn’t want to do and I have no plans to do an All Star Justice League, because what is an iconic version of Justice League? It’s an evolving book and one that keeps changing it’s cast based on of whatever time the series takes place or whichever characters are hot at that moment. These books really have to be able to stand the test of time for the widest audience possible. I don’t expect to expand this line further than three to four books.
Offenberger: That certainly sets it apart from the ultimate titles.
DiDio: It’s a different ideal. The Ultimates are an alternate continuity and the competition is building that identity even stronger than it is right now. All Star is something that should stand on it’s own.
Offenberger: The most notable part of your tenure has been the tremendous rise in exclusive contracts. What is the advantage for DC?
DiDio: Great press releases (laughs). That’s not the truth.
Offenberger: I know.
DiDio: I come from a television animation background, where the people you are in business with and working with on a regular basis are under contract for you. If I have talent I am looking to do long term business with, it only makes sense to put them under contract. It gives them a sense of security with a guarantee of work for an extended period of time and it gives me a level of comfort because it allows me to make long term plans knowing that I will have certain creators who will be with me for the long term. It gives a level of comfort on both sides and when you have that consistency in the talent and you know you are going to have their attention for a long period, you are able to really plan ahead and build to better things. More importantly, if I know who is going to be with me three years from now, I can plan book three years from now, knowing that that particular talent will be available.
Offenberger: Some of the creators seem to sign these contracts and the leave early, for example, Tom Raney was under a two-year exclusive back in September 2003, and yet he signed a two-year exclusive with Marvel in December 2004. How does that happen?
DiDio: Tom did not leave early. Tom, to his credit, worked to the term of his agreement. He didn’t leave early. That was the contract.
Offenberger: When it was announced it was a two-year contract.
DiDio: You may have the wrong start date on that. Tom was here for two years. He did a great job for us on Outsiders and I was sorry to see him go.
Offenberger: Other creators sign exclusives and we do not see any work from them, like Joshua Middleton, who signed an exclusive contract and we have not seen any work yet. Do these people go without pay until their project comes out, or does DC pay them when they do not produce any work?
DiDio: A lot of these guys, like Frank Quietly, who are under contract are working, you just haven’t seen it yet. We’re not ready to put the books out. You have to approach things, when producing books, in a realistic fashion. You have to understand how fast a person moves. If he can only produce six books a year, he doesn’t become a monthly guy just because he signs a monthly contract. We want to build strength, consistency, continuity in projects, and put these things out in a timely fashion. So we like to get them up there working, we put their books in a drawer until we are ready to put them out on a regular basis. With Josh Middleton, he has been working on First Thunder for a while now, the first two issues are done already, and prior to that he did some work for Wildstorm. When someone signs a contract with DC it’s not just DC. It includes the DC Universe, it includes Wildstorm, it includes Vertigo and other areas of the company. That’s one of the attractive things about signing a deal with DC. You do have many options available to you. It is not just doing one flavor for an extended period of time.
Offenberger: Talking about Wildstorm, what do you see as the difference between the DC Universe and Wildstorm? Why do you keep them separate?
DiDio: You know that’s a great question, because we always like to make sure we keep them feeling different. We talk about making the DC Universe a more risky, dangerous place. But at the end of the day the one thing you know is that the heroes will prevail. We are building a world where our heroes are working very hard to make their world a better place. The Wildstorm Universe is a little more aggressive in some places. It’s been described as a frat party, a lot more crazy, a lot more shooting from the hip. There is a lot of fun, excitement and more unpredictability that comes from the Wildstorm Universe, than the DCU.
Offenberger: Thank you for taking the time to catch our reads up with what is going on in the DC Universe.
Rik Offenberger has spent the last several years running the Super Hero News service, and in his free time he interviews comic book creators. He has been published both online and in print, with his work appearing in The Comics Buyers Guide, Comic Retailer, Borderline Magazine, Good Guys & Gals of the Golden-Age, and Silver Bullet Comicbooks. He maintains his own website at MightyCrusaders.net and currently freelances wherever he is asked.