Is it really only ten years since Dan DiDio, smuggled into DC by Warners as a co-writer on Superboy with Jimmy Palmiotii, was made a Vice President – Editorial, and began his rise to power within the company, making publishing changes along the way and ultimately seeing his vision for the company accepted, with the New 52?
For a time he was nicknamed “Shooter” at the company, for his pursuit of broad brush policies, which coming from Mike Carlin was never going to be a compliment. Then he picked up the sobriquet “Jemas” because of his micro management in a number of books, to the despair of the writers. But now? Now he’s Dan DiDio, and credited with being the saviour of DC Comics.
This weekend on Facebook, Dan DiDio chronicled his ten high points of his first ten years as an executive at DC Comics, in chronological order as he best remembers it. Here they are, threaded together…
1) BATMAN 608 HUSH. Work on this incredible run by Jim Lee and Jeph Loeb was started before I joined DC Comics but came out my first year there. The success of this series, putting a superstar team on the ongoing title instead of a miniseries (thanks Jim), showed that the periodical series still mattered, now more than ever. On the personal side, it was important to me because this run on was so successful that it allowed us to experiment (both good and bad) on the rest of the line while we began chartering the course for the DC Universe. The cover stated “It Begins Here”, and in my opinion, it really does.
2) IDENTITY CRISIS. Now, I’ve never been able to shy away from controversy (although I do think I’ve mellowed a bit), and this was first real controversial project of my time. This mini-series, (brilliantly written by Brad Meltzer and drawn by Rags Morales) created a complex and compelling story that would have once been considered an Elseworlds, and instead, placed it in the center of the DCU. It tackled tough issues and pitted hero versus hero and set the tone for things to follow. Personal note, for me, it perfectly captured the paranoid and unease of the post 9/11 world and put our heroes in touch we what people we feeling today, which is exactly what I was hoping to inject in the DCU.
3) GREEN LANTERN: REBIRTH. We have done a lot of re-launches, re-starts and reboots over the last ten years but this is my first, and arguably, our best. Geoff Johns (remember that name, you’ll hear it again) and Ethan Van Sciver found a way to take everything that came before, and without casting it aside, returned Hal Jordan and Green Lantern to premiere status. Geoff’s love for all things DCU shone through every page, and he brought that energy and sense of respectful re-invention to Teen Titans, Hawkman and so many other books. For me, this reminds me of the all the fans questioning why we brought Hal back from the dead.. And as I liked to remind people, for the time that Hal was “dead”, he appeared in more series than when he was “alive”. Only shows how popular he was.
(Before we more onto number 4, have to admit, I cheated a little and looked up some release dates to some of our series to make sure keep this in some sort of chronological order. )
4) SUPERMAN/ BATMAN 8: SUPERGIRL. Now Jeph Loeb did an amazing job re-inventing World’s Finest for an all new audience with Superman/ Batman, but it wasn’t until issue eight that this series made its mark on the DCU. With the return of Kara Zor-El, one of the biggest walls from the epic series Crisis on Infinite Earths came tumbling down. Beautifully drawn by Michael Turner, Supergirl returned with the full grandeur she deserved. I know for some fans Supergirl will always be a protoplasmic matrix from a pocket dimension that merged with a devil worshipping teenager before being infused with the Angel of Fire, but for most, she will always be Superman’s cousin. It’s really that simple, and that’s why she came back.
On a personal note, this is where my brief but lasting friendship with Michael Turner began, he left a lasting mark and he is missed.
5) COUNTDOWN TO INFINITE CRISIS. 80 pages for a buck, what’s not to like? Probably my favorite comic of all things published in the last ten years. Perfectly crafted by the first, true architects Greg Rucka, Judd Winick and Geoff Johns, (and a little unaccredited help from Brad Meltzer) it truly captured the scope, spectacle and humanity of the DCU. Arguably (there’s that word again) the best Blue Beetle story, it took us through all facets of the DCU as we followed one man’s struggle against all odds, never giving up, but ultimately failing. This story a sense of unexpected to the DCU that made even the most jaded fan wonder what would happen next. Personal side, I remember I could barely sleep the nights before this book came out, since the next two years of story hinged on its success. It was an all in bet that paid off in a very big way.
6) INFINITE CRISIS. Well, we had to countdown to something. When we planned to do our first company crossover, I knew only one person could write it. Geoff did a masterful job bringing all the stories of the last year and half to a single point and crescendo. All the sign posts led here. Death of Blue Beetle, Wonder Woman killing Max Lord, Destruction of Watchtower, Day of Vengeance, OMAC Project, Rann/ Thannagar War and Villains United, everything played out brilliantly. Geoff brought the characters to life, and Phil Jimenez (with help from George Perez, Ivan Reis and Jerry Ordway) brought them form, and together they did the impossible, they created the perfect sequel to the original, seminal maxi-series. To me, it’s my first, and our best. I never tire of reading it, and someday, maybe when’s it’s an absolute, we can print all our notes of how this came to be and what was supposed to happen after… maybe :)
7) 52. DC’s first, year long, weekly series. I know there were weekly series in the UK before this, but this was the first time we tried to do something on this scale in the U.S. We distributed comics weekly, so it only made sense that we made a comic that was weekly too. A bit naive, but why should that stop us.
The original plan was to fill in the missing year from the One Year Later jump (done in real time) but when you put together a writing team of Geoff Johns, Greg Rucka, Mark Waid and Grant Morrison, the best thing to do is let the creators take their course, and craft a masterful tale. Geoff represented the present DCU, Mark knew its history, Grant had the scope, and Greg kept it grounded, and together they wrote every issue and made secondary characters like Booster Gold, Elongated Man, Steel, Black Adam and Question top sellers. And let’s not forget Keith Giffen on layouts and JG Jones on covers making this a complete package. We must have done something special here, as we did with Countdown To Final Crisis and Trinity, or other companies would have followed suit. They never did.
Infinitely proud of this masterful accomplishment, and while we’re on it, let me set record straight. I have never been more proud of what we accomplished on this series, after all, it was originally my idea, I assembled the writing and art teams, created the production method, sold the idea inside and outside the company, and cleared the way for the creators to take charge of the book. Of course there were bumps along the ways (with this much creative power, how couldn’t there be?) but to say I hated it is just plain silly.
Filling in the last three spots was more difficult than I thought it would be. Not because there was nothing to choose from, instead, it was quite the opposite. There were several more than worthy series that deserved to be on this list. New Frontier (Darwyn Cooke’s brilliant take on the early days of the DCU), Seven Soldiers of Victory (Grant Morrison’s epic re-imagining of the team), All Star Superman (one of the finest complete stories featuring The Man of Steel) All Star Batman and Robin (audacious yet incomplete) and Wednesday Comics (Mark Chiarello’s love letter to a soon-to-be forgotten format), to name a few. And while they all stood out from the rest, they didn’t exactly fit the criteria I had for the top ten. So, sure to cause some discussion, the final three…8) SUPERMAN EARTH ONE. This is slightly out of order, but wanted to slot it eighth. When we produced original graphic novels, we usually came at our characters from the sides. The material was either very eclectic, tied to continuity, or rendered our characters unidentifiable. With the bookstore market growing at the time, we decided to meet it head on with new interpretations built for today (Remember, this was started way before there was talk of a New 52). Joe Straczynski not only built a new man of tomorrow but crafted the story as a true book, and not just a series of issues strung together. It was a new take on Superman’s origin that stood on its own, and Shane Davis brought the look that dubbed him Twilight Superman. On the personal side, I wanted this book to work to show that “one size” doesn’t always fit all and different formats require different styles of storytelling. Its success paved the wave for more series as well as imitation.
9) BATMAN, GREEN LANTERN, and the Five Year Plan. Or better known as, how The Sinestro Corps War and Batman R.I.P. got me through the toughest part of my career. First, some back story. In late 2007, and into 2008, we hit a rough spot. Our delivery was shaky, several series were starting to struggle for direction, and our next big event felt rushed (too many crises too soon). Yet, whatever pressure we were feeling across the line, it did not appear evident in Green Lantern and Batman. Geoff had a five year plan for GL that would see that character from Rebirth to Blackest Night, and Grant Morrison had the same for Batman, starting with Batman R.I.P. Batman R.I.P. preformed the herculean task of crossing over with an event book, Final Crisis yet positioned the story of “The Death Of Batman” to stand on its own if read separately. The Sinestro Corps War showed that you could keep the spectacle in the main title so the on-goings can have events unto themselves. On the personal side, they were the solid ground needed to regain our footing, and a reminder that consistency in story and character, and planning, will win out over the usual bags of tricks, if the usual bag of tricks is overplayed.
Which takes us to our final entry….
10) THE NEW 52. If you look at everything I’ve mentioned from one to nine, it feels like we were building to this moment. All that we learned over the years, from every success and mistake came into play as we terraformed the entire DCU. And, it was everything we hoped it would be, a positioning of our line and characters for the future and a shot of adrenalin to the entire industry. It was a wild mix of soft changes, hard reboots, and re-imagination with the hope of finally capturing a bigger audience with a wider diversity of product. And even if we returned to pre-52 sales numbers tomorrow (and don’t worry, that’s even close to happening) this would be, hands down, the biggest success I even experienced. And the best part of all this is, we’re not done yet, this is our universe for the future, and it is a foundation worth building on. To quote one of my favorite philosophers, “Nuff said.”
So there you have it, my top ten highlights of my first ten years. Thanks for reading along, it was fun taking this troll down memory lane with you. And before you ask about BEFORE WATCHMEN, don’t worry, I’m saving that to be number one on the list for the next ten years.
Dan’s recollections of the 52 series do seem at odds with some of his contemporaries at the time, who did frequently report a disdain for the project, that it was Paul Levitz’ idea in response to his own One Year Later proposal and the whole affair culminated in editor Steve Wacker’s decision to leave the book and move to Marvel. If it was indeed the way Dan describes it, that didn’t come over to his colleagues, and his description of 52 and Countdown as, respectively, “an art house” film and a “summer blockbuster” were received as the coming from the point of view of a man who loves summer blockbusters.