Full reaction to Newsarama’s Dan Didio/Jim Lee Interview

Newsarama: LEE, DIDIO: Rebuilding DC To Counteract ‘Shrinking Market’ – “DC co-publishers Dan DiDio & Jim Lee discuss the New 52 relaunch in broad terms and answer some of our specific questions.”

“We need to be the best we can be right now, because if we look around us, we see a market that is shrinking,” DiDio told Newsarama yesterday as he and Lee addressed the upcoming changes. “We feel like we’re in the position right now that we have the ability to really start rebuilding ourselves and rebuilding the brand and rebuilding our characters for the future.”

Surprisingly blunt. DC’s sales are dropping critically and they’re trying to rebuild the line. DiDio and Lee go on repeat the PR spin about the reboot being an outcome of “creative” choices, but let’s be honest: WB would not have authorized DC to scrap their entire publishing line if sales weren’t at an alarming low.

What causes the changes in-story will be explained in the final issue of this summer’s big event, Flashpoint, the five-issue mini-series by Geoff Johns and Andy Kubert that ends on August 31st.

It’s incredibly unfortunate that Flashpoint is such an ugly story. At least COIE involved the entire universe(s) getting together for one last stand. This DCU will go out with no fanfare at all, just suddenly cancellations at the high of the series or a slow sad death, where Lois and Clark spent the last two years of their lives apart. None of the characters will get closure or a chance to say goodbye. (I don’t even know how the Flashpoint alternate universe coordinates with the current timeline August – is it supposed to take place between the stories published on August 30 and 31? I haven’t cared enough to even check Wikipedia.)

I’ve never read Crisis on Infinite Earths. I only read #7 for the first time a couple years ago. Coming into DC a decade after the reboot, everything I read about COIE made it sound like an incredibly depressing experience to read after the fact. Why would I want to read about the death of a entire beloved universe? Some of the post-COIE revamps were really offputting. I imagine many readers in the future looking up Flashpoint on Wikipedia and deciding to skip the whole ugly mess, and wondering how DC could do such things to the Batgirls, Harley, the Birds of Prey, the Kents, the Flash family, the JSA, Superboy, the Teen Titans, and the many many “supporting” characters who don’t get the protection the big white guys do.

It makes me incredibly sad that, because of Flashpoint, we will never have a proper transition from one DCU to the next. The sudden, erratic way most series are being wrapped up (or not) is not how anyone wants to remember this DCU going out.

That same day, DC will release the much anticipated Justice League, the new comic from Johns and Lee, who are two of the most respected reviled creators in the business.

There. Fixed Newsarama’s typo.

I’ve never read the JLA (“big 7″ versions) regularly. Gave it a shot here and there, never stuck. I’ve probably missed some runs I would have enjoyed, but the concept bores me to death. I would be totally fine with a DCU without a JLA. What’s the point of a book that shoves all the most overexposed characters together? (Not saying all the characters fit that description, but that’s the intended point of the JLA.) I’m pretty sure DC editorial would take that as proof that I’m not worthy of being their target audience. Also I wouldn’t miss a beat if Bruce Wayne had stayed dead (I know I’m not alone in this!). I love most of the other characters in that universe, so it’s not the concept, but Bruce Wayne as envisioned by the likes of Jim Lee and Geoff Johns that leaves me cold (not even going to talk about Frank Miller).

Superman

Newsarama: Dan and Jim, the news just broke about what’s coming for Superman, and there are a lot of changes to his status. We’ve already been told there are few if any changes to Batman. So why change Superman so much?

Dan DiDio: It’s one of the things we were looking at, how the storylines and characters were working. We saw a number of things we wanted to change with Superman because we’ve gone down so many roads with the character, in regards to the “Grounded” storyline, we’ve looked at things that took place with the “War of Krypton.” We’ve looked over the last few years at what we’ve been doing and the changes we’ve been making with Superman.

I can’t tell what Dan’s trying to say here by referencing Grounded and War of Krypton. I wish he’d expanded on what that meant. What did they see as failure and success? Did they want to continue threads from some of those stories? Or does he mean that the multiple directions they’ve taken the character in were a problem? Personally I gave up on Superman a few years ago because they kept trying to retcon his origin story so many times for no good reason. None of the Superman origin retellings since COIE have felt “right” to me. There was always something wrong or that didn’t feel authentic. I suspect it’s an impossible task given all the competing interpretations both in and outside of the comics.

But they could reassure readers about the undoing of the marriage quite easily right now. Just say “This isn’t like One More Day. We know it’s Lois and Clark’s destiny to be married. We’re not looking to repeat the Silver Age.” I don’t think they are. But they’ve done worse already, so reassurance is needed. No one wants to see the superdickery of the Silver Age repeated – I hope? Many (I’d guess most) people have no desire to see the dreaded “love triangle” repeated.

Nrama: But Dan, these changes are huge. There must have been something you felt was just not working with the way Superman was going. Was it too complicated? Did he feel too old? Was it that people couldn’t relate to him? Or what?

DiDio: I think in some cases, he felt a little old. We’ve made Superman such an iconic figure over the years that we’ve lost some of the character and the ability to tell stories with that character. There’s so much continuity that’s been built on this character. We really wanted to get a Superman that is more accessible to the audience.

And one of the reasons we did it with Superman is it was done once before, and very successfully. We’re hoping for the same luck here.

They’re hoping for the same “luck” as with Man of Steel. That does not bode well. There were a lot of things MoS did right, and a lot of things it did wrong (Krypton and erasing Supergirl). In my opinion they’ve never recovered from wiping Supergirl from existence and not reintroducing her, properly, a few years after the reboot. John Byrne’s vision of Krypton was a prime example of the dangers of letting a writer with a “vision” go off unchecked. You can end up with things that permanently limit your future stories that can never be fixed. Like killing off the Kents.

Dawn of Superheroes: that impossible timeline

Nrama: There are some mixed signals out there with this language you’re using by labeling five years ago as the “dawn of the age of superheroes,” which is the time period when the new Justice League and Action Comics take place. We’ve been told that Stormwatch has a long secret history, and Demon Knights takes place hundreds of years ago. And there’s a lot of history you’re keeping with Green Lantern. Was it really only five years ago that superheroes “dawned” in the DCU?

Jim Lee: It’s really about re-introducing the concept of superheroes in the DC Universe, and doing it in a more contemporary, timely way. Even though you have books like Demon Knights or even All-Star Western, it’s not about public recognition or understanding that there are beings amongst us with extraordinary powers.

We wanted a situation in Action and in Justice League where we show the first public emergence of these so-called super-beings and how they impact society, politics, the world. In many ways, it starts out in a way that one would imagine in today’s day and age with fear and caution, and people literally freaking out about this. It’s through the introduction of a character like Superman and the Justice League that the public starts understanding and accepting these characters for who they are and sees them as heroes for the very first time, coining the word “superhero.”

So I think it’s a re-examination of how superheroes are perceived in culture, and doing it through the lens of the modern era versus looking back at the history of superheroes through five or six decades of actual time.

Thanks Jim, that…doesn’t answer the question at all.

They’re really hung up on reintroducing superheroes into the world for the “first” time, and it just isn’t all that compelling to current readers. They have to stop thinking as creators so much, to be blunt. We do not care how “excited” they are to be doing their jobs. We’re not a part of that. We can never have a part in crafting the mythos. So stop rubbing it in our faces how much all the writers and artists and editors are having a grand old party destroying what we loved and reinventing it, when we never wanted that in the first place. I’m sick to death of hearing how “excited” they all are.

I don’t think it really matters how many years ago the current crop of superheroes “debuted”. Give new readers, who will be a much smaller group, a series of “X Character Family: The Early Years” books to read alongside the present-day continuity. There’s room for lots of rewriting, for sure (I suspect my ideology and DC editorial’s ideology would lead us to completely different opinions on what should be “fixed”.)

The only problem I see is the JSA. Having the JSA be a “forgotten” group of heroes lost to time, perhaps as part of a big evil conspiracy, would be cool and would give them their due once the truth was revealed to the public. Superman could still be the “first” superhero that the public learns of, and later the JSA can be brought back and a previous generation’s memories of them restored.

From the beginning, the big problem with this relaunch has been the compressed timeline. Various creators have given contradictory explanations, leading us to realize that at the level of the people actually creating the books, there is no agreement on how it works. That’s a huge problem. And DC editorial either doesn’t realize it or doesn’t want to address it. Big problem there.

The timelime just doesn’t. work. Nothing they say can change that. Yesterday on Facebook Dan DiDio held an open Q & A, where he answered a small handful of the 100+ questions that people shot him in less than an hour. The question of multiple Robins in a 5 year time span came up. Dan said, “Think of it like an internship.” Yeah. That doesn’t work either. Maybe Dick Grayson is 18 again and just starting out as Nightwing, but going through that many sidekicks in that time period kills the potential for all sorts of stories and is devalues the importance of each character’s time as Robin.

In that same 5 years since Superman revealed superheroes to the world, Barbara somehow became Batgirl, was shot, spent a short gig as Oracle (too short to form the Birds of Prey, have a relationship with Dick or anyone else, or inspire and mentor the next two Batgirls), and then become Batgirl again. Well, if she only spent a couple years as Oracle, I can see why she wouldn’t care about giving that up and going back to Batgirl. She barely had time to do anything!

DiDio always says at least one incredibly stupid thing in an interview, and of course it would be about Oracle. He can’t help himself.

Oracle to Batgirl

Nrama: Let’s talk about the decision to change Barbara Gordon’s status from Oracle to Batgirl. Was there any consideration about how this would affect diversity in the DCU, since you’re basically eliminating one of your most beloved disabled heroes?

DiDio: I think we have a really strong line that features a wider range of diversity throughout it.

WRONG ANSWER. Diversity DOES NOT WORK THAT WAY. You can’t just swap a disabled character for a black character or a gay character. For pity’s sake. Get some social awareness 101 training Dan.

[I]n this particular case, we were looking specifically back at the Barbara Gordon character. And when you talk about Batgirl, whether it’s with a casual fan or even to somebody who just knew the Batman character, Barbara Gordon is always the one people default to as “who Batgirl is.”

A line of reasoning they are following for no other character. I call bullshit. No one knows who’s behind the Batgirl mask outside of comics today. The Batman TV series is long forgotten.

A couple things helped make our decision on this. One is that we felt like Barbara Gordon was always going to be the strongest Batgirl. And we had chances to tell new stories with her too.

That’s it. It was always going to be Barbara. Their minds were made up: Cass and Steph weren’t good enough. Oracle plus Black Bat and Batgirl weren’t as strong together as one teenage Batgirl. This is what going on “instinct” gets you, when your political worldview is as skewed and out of touch as these guys’.

Then Dan goes on to imply that the internet is less important today than before:

the role of Oracle as a character in the DCU has changed greatly. When Oracle was first created, there was a sense of an emerging internet, and an emerging world of data out there. A lot of that has changed, and the role of Oracle has changed over the years.

Unreal.

What I get out of the compressed timeline for these characters is that their stories aren’t considered important enough to maintain or to retell from scratch. Supergirl at least gets a do over. In the new DCU, Oracle is next to meaningless. This is worse than rebooting her to 20 and having her become Batgirl for the first time, and eliminating Cass and Steph from the timeline. Because now there will never be an Oracle legacy in the new DCU. However Cass and Steph are shoehorned into the story, they will be the less for it.

Rebooting only works for characters who have only been around a few years or haven’t had many stories. You just can’t take decades of stories and cram them into a compressed timeline and expect anyone to be happy.

It’s a new timeline, it isn’t a new timeline. This is the same pick and choosy approach that has always hurt DC’s reboots.

Lois and Clark: the marriage

Nrama: For us married folks, it feels like there’s this implication that marriage isn’t interesting enough for superhero stories, but is that what influenced your decision to get Clark out of the marriage to Lois? The lack of drama that marriage offers?

DiDio: It’s not that marriage isn’t interesting. It’s just that we want to make the subplots and soap opera aspects of comic book storytelling open and accessible to us.

Lee: […] I think a lot of writers can agree that one of the most dynamic periods of Superman’s history was that period where there was a love triangle between Clark Kent, Superman and Lois Lane. There’s a lot of tension and interest you create in the characters by having that kind of dynamic.

We’re not doing exactly that love triangle. We’re introducing other elements into it.

When a lot of people hear “the love triangle” they think of the worst time period for that: the Silver Age. God help us. I hope the love triangle they’re referring to is the Golden Age or Bronze Age or the 1980s – anything but the Silver Age. But come on: that stage in their relationship has been done to death in all the TV and movie adaptations, never mind the comics. I’m sorry, but there’s nothing interesting to mine in that story any more. There’s not a generation today who hasn’t seen it done. DC’s refusal to progress in their relationship went on far too long. It’s okay if Lois and Clark start out not knowing each when the universe reboots: but it better only be “explored” in Action Comics. Lois and Clark better be past that nonsense over in Superman. If they aren’t already dating and Lois knows, then they better be on the road and get there in the first year. Believe me, the generation that was raised on Smallville wants them there. These aren’t 10 year olds who are reading.

The comics’ relation to other media

Nrama: When DC Entertainment was first formed, one of the ideas behind it was to align what you’re doing in comics with other media. [Wow, really? I did not know that.] Was this move to reboot Superman in comics informed or influenced by the fact that the movie universe is rebooting Superman with the Man of Steel film?

DiDio: Not at all. That said, I doubt they would ever start a series or anything where Superman was married at the beginning. You go back to when Superman got married, that was a stunt tied to a television show at that particular moment in time, and when that show ended, the marriage continued. But every other interpretation of Superman that followed did not have them married.

So it just shows you that we do operate at our own rate and in our own rules, and that’s the way we operate now.

Lee: I’m very honored and excited to be part of an initiative with a character that is originating in print. This is really about making sure that the source material, which is the comics, remains as contemporary and fresh and exciting as possible.

It’s not a situation where the comics are licensed from games, or movies, or TV shows, or animation, where these characters are frozen in time to reflect something that might be a bigger business part of Warner Bros. It’s in fact the reverse. It’s comics.

Comics are the drivers and the creative content. Comics are where we can take the creative risks and creative chances with the characters. It’s our responsibility to keep them exciting and fresh. The overall mission of DC Entertainment is to allow other gifted filmmakers or people who work in games or animation the opportunity to go through and find things in the DC library that interest them and that they think have potential in other media. That’s part of the ecosystem we’re trying to build.

Wow. Lee all but admits that DC Comics exists as a source of IP for WB to spin off into media adaptations that actually made money. I’ve been saying this ever since WB bought DC, but it’s startling to see Lee say it out loud like that.

With that mandate in place, we should not expect to see the comics ever match or align with the animated adaptations or anything else. That’s too bad. They’re losing the chance to bring new readers in from outside sources. Also, it puts the lie to changing Batgirl back to Barbara because “that’s the character” non-readers recognize. That’s not the point. DiDio says DC is free to do whatever the hell they want with the characters, and that’s what we see happening in the DCnU. No attempt to make them accessible to the mainstream, apart from a special few like Superman.

Decision to Relaunch the DCU

Nrama: Let’s back up to when the decision for the relaunch took place. When Marvel announced their Civil War storyline, they admitted there was a division among people in the room about whether they should do it. I think Tom Brevoort even said on the record that he hated the idea at first. Yet the language from DC feels more like everyone singing the party line. Surely you guys considered challenges to this and had some in-house, didn’t you?

Lee: If there was anything, we had questions about whether we’re being bold enough, not just in terms of Superman, but across the whole 52 line. We wanted to do a line-wide initiative and really make some dramatic changes that really refocused attention on the characters.

Call me cynical, but that wasn’t a very large group of people you polled, now was it? We know that most creators had no idea the universe was being rebooted, or even what they were working on until they read it on Bleeding Cool. Only a small, privileged group of editorial and the “superstar” creators would have had a chance to say their piece before the decision was set.

“Soft” Reboot and New Readers

Nrama: You’re trying to reach new readers, and you’re making Superman more “accessible” by dropping his convoluted history. And yet at the same time, you have this “soft” reboot where you’ve got Barbara dealing with her lengthy past, you’ve got a Green Lantern #1 comic that doesn’t star Hal Jordan because of a recent storyline, and you’ve got a Batman with a son from a past storyline. Isn’t this making continuity more convoluted? Why did you make the decision to keep this type of continuity when you’re dropping others to attract new readers? Was it only about what books were already selling well?

Damn, I love that Vaneta Rogers said this.

Jim Lee obfuscates and all but lies in his response (as I pointed out yesterday), but it was good to see them confronted with their own contradictions.

It’s getting late, so I’ll leave it at that for now.

Michelle loves comics and code. The Superfamily are her favourite comic book characters, but she’s a fan of DC, Marvel, Image and many different manga. Her fansites can be found at michellebacon.com

6 thoughts on “Full reaction to Newsarama’s Dan Didio/Jim Lee Interview

  1. In many ways, it starts out in a way that one would imagine in today’s day and age with fear and caution, and people literally freaking out about this. It’s through the introduction of a character like Superman and the Justice League that the public starts understanding and accepting these characters for who they are and sees them as heroes for the very first time, coining the word “superhero.”

    Okay, yeah, see, here’s the problem. The DCU and the Marvel U are pretty much the only places where superheroes are just par for the course. In almost EVERY OTHER SUPERHERO STORY, it’s a “normal world” discovering superheroes for the first time. So they’re actually going to a place that every single homage and parody of Superman has ALREADY GONE. Yay creativity!

    Also, Lois and Clark meeting and falling in love was already done pretty much perfectly already, and it was called Lois and Clark. Move on, DC. You ain’t topping that.

  2. Okay, yeah, see, here’s the problem. The DCU and the Marvel U are pretty much the only places where superheroes are just par for the course

    The whole appeal of the DCU is that superheroes are instantly embraced. It’s what distinguishes them from the Marvel U where superheroes have to struggle in a world that mistrusts and loathes most of them. Killing off the Kents and “alienating” Clark so he has to try to find his connection to humanity (wtf?) is…not very original. Thanks a lot, JMS.

    Also, Lois and Clark meeting and falling in love was already done pretty much perfectly already, and it was called Lois and Clark.

    This. The pilot is the gold standard for origin stories. You really can’t top it.

  3. “The Batman TV series is long forgotten” yeah but you are forgetting Alicia Silverstone in the role of Barbara Wilson/Batgirl from the Batman & Robin film that everyone loved… Wait a second Barbara who… Barbara Gordon she’s Oracle isn’t she??

    My bet is Oracle is being shopped since they will push Cyborg into the role of superhero information superhighway.

    1. Heck, who needs Cyborg anymore – now that we have cell phones, we’re ALL cyborgs!

      Bah, who needs a Masters in Library & Information Systems and super hacking skills anymore. There’s Wikipedia.

  4. Is Dan Didio and Jim Lee running for public office? They seem adverse to straight and direct answers. I couldn’t help but remember that scene in the director’s cut of Supergirl where Kara begs Zaltar to stop with the double talk as they tried to escape the Phantom Zone.
    Seriously, I’m getting the feeling that Didio and Lee are not even believing half of what they saying about the relaunch.

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