Greetings, folks. Ambush Bug here with the second in a ton of interviews I conducted at the San Diego Comic Con. Special thanks to AICN’s unsung hero, Muldoon, for transcribing all of these back and forthings. Expect a ton of interviews to be released daily until my interview well is dry (and believe me, it’s going to be a while after this con). I had a chance to catch up with two of the three men of the hour when it came to comics at this con: Dan Didio and Jim Lee. With DC’s New 52 looming just a few weeks away, Lee and Didio were working overtime to let everyone know that DC is making a major move to be the new top dogs in comics this year. I had a chance to sit with Jim and Dan in the DC Green Room which looked over the con floor--a view few outside of the DC elite got to see. Here’s what Dan and Jim had to say.
AMBUSH BUG (BUG): I’m sitting here in the DC green room. We can see the entire floor from here and I’m here with Dan Didio and Jim Lee. How the con going for you guys so far? It’s Saturday, day three or two and a half…I think.
DAN DIDIO (DD): I’m in the groove man. I’m locked and loaded. No, this is the biggest day of the con and the days leading up to this were the warm up, so at this point we are a well oiled machine.
JIM LEE (JL): (Laughs) And we’ve said everything about ten times before.
BUG: Exactly, so you’ve got it all planned out.
DD: Look, this is fun, man. At this point you know like I said you are in the groove, it’s all on instinct at this point. You don’t even have to think about it, it’s like boom, boom, boom, and it’s good.
JL: And I think what’s even better right now, because we got here Wednesday night and you have watched the tenor of the room change, the tone and you are starting to see the level of excitement start to…
DD: You know what? The level of excitement has been astoundingly awesome actually. It’s crazy. I would have never of thought there was anything controversial about this at all. Even the panel we did yesterday, and there was a JUSTICE LEAGUE panel later, you know people were applauding. They love the new Superman costume. They loved a lot of the changes. I mean they loved a lot of the changes. Maybe they are just being polite in person, but who knows?
JL: It’s that damn poker chip. “If I clap real loud, I’ll get a poker chip.” (Laughs)
DD: But you know what? Look, people come to the San Diego Comic Con not to hate on the comics. It’s an expensive thing to do, they come here because they love this stuff.
BUG: Why come and gripe when you can just enjoy your experience?
DD: Everyone is having fun here.
JL: That’s why I’ve always enjoyed conventions more, because we know the people are making the trek to go see it. They are making the effort to go see you at a panel and you want to have that interaction with them, because you know they want to be here. It’s not just something that’s passive, it’s something that’s extraordinarily personal and we want to connect with them on that level and get them as much excited as we are about what we are doing.
DD: I think that’s the danger of print or even just when words are put on paper, they can be misconstrued in so many ways. When you hear the emotion behind the words, for example at a panel, you hear the enthusiasm and the tone of what we are trying to do, I think it makes a big difference.
BUG: Yeah, and the enthusiasm in the room too.
DD: Of course.
JL: And also the jokes don’t play really as well on paper as they do in the room.
BUG: Well, let’s talk about all of the big changes.
JL: We need to put emoticons through all of our press releases. So for after every sentence there should be a smiley face. (Laughs)
DD: Ma and Pa Kent can have big frowny faces. Anyways…
BUG: So Jim, you’ve got JUSTICE LEAGUE coming up. Do you want to talk about that?
JL: Yeah, we had a JUSTICE LEAGUE panel yesterday. It was exciting to have the whole team assembled: it’s not just Justice League, but Justice League Dark, Justice League International, and there’s a book I’m doing with Geoff Johns. He and I have been friends for many years. We have worked together in different capacities, but never as a writer and artist, and yeah, it’s awesome. It’s the core iconic characters with Superman and Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman, Cyborg…am I missing anyone? I think that’s all seven, right?
DD: Did Geoff announce anybody else last night?
JL: Yeah, yeah we announced Hawkman and Atom… no, no, not Atom, a character that rhymes with Atom. We wanted to keep a secret…
JL: And then I think we are going to unveil the mysterious female character at 11:15.
DD: Oh that’s today? I though that was yesterday…
JL: Yeah, and so we are filling out the ranks, so it’s a mix of the big bold iconic characters and a bunch of other lesser known characters, but part of the appeal of a team book, at least for me, is having that interplay between all of the different personalities and I haven’t been on a team book in many, many years. It’s exciting.
BUG: But you did a team book before, right?
JL: I did do a team book. There was…it was one of those X books…
DD: Moving right along…
JL: WILDCATS too…
BUG: That’s where I went to immediately. So Dan, how about OMAC? You’ve got that coming up. Do you want to talk a little about that?
DD: Yeah, to me the joy is working with Keith Giffen, who I have also known for a long time since I first started…he was one of the first people I met when I joined DC Comics almost ten years ago.
BUG: He was one of the first writers that I actually noticed when I started paying attention to who was writing things, I paid attention to him.
DD: And you know what, I have been a fan of his from DEFENDERS to ALL STAR SQUAD through LEGION OF SUPERHEROES and everything, so I’ve always loved his stuff and I always wanted to work with him. We worked a little bit together on OUTSIDERS, but we really wanted to launch a book together and we both like the eclectic ones. We like the little books that could. So we know we’ve got the big guys on the books and they are extraordinarily well covered, but to do the little corners of the DC Universe and to broaden out the appeal and the types of stories you can tell, that’s what really excites me and working on OMAC we are really taking a lot of the aspects of the Kirby interpretation and then all of the interpretations we have done since then and really brought it into something I feel is uniquely recognizable, but a lot of fun.
BUG: Yeah, things like I VAMPIRE and OMAC, those are the ones that I’m really interested in seeing your new interpretations on.
DD: You know I say this all of the time, when I first started reading DC comics I was more interested in the war and the westerns and the horror. I love all of those crazy, crazy characters in the corners. There is some really wacky stuff that started in the mid 60’s from Hawk and Dove and Creeper and Brother Power the Geek and great teams like Doom Patrol and Metal Men, and you know, those are the things that we want to start rebuilding and making people as excited about them today.
BUG: Cool. Well you talked a bit on our way up here about the DC poker chips?
DD: (Laughs) Yes!
BUG: They seem to be the hot commodity here. Everybody is lining up around the block to get these. Whose idea was that?
JL: I’m not sure.
DD: I want to say somebody in marketing did, but there was an earlier story behind that. When they saw…I almost want to say it’s Brian Azzarello that actually came up with it, because when I was there when they created the Flashpoint story with Batman and they made Wayne Casinos, Brian thought “Wouldn’t it be cool to create poker chips?” I think we had a deal with one of these places and they were able to create them because we had done poker sets with some of our characters through DC Direct before, so they decided to create these things and they have become the hot commodity and the one hundred dollar chip is the most difficult one to get, because you can only get it at panels and you have to ask a really good question or wear a really great costume. I tell you, I’ve been dressing up and I still haven’t gotten one.
BUG: So we are right in the middle of FLASHPOINT, so can we talk a little bit about that? Geoff is not here…
DD: That’s good, because we can really talk about it, because he shuts us up every time we start. He doesn’t want us to give anything away.
BUG: I know it’s mysterious how it’s going to lead into this new 52, but what can you tell us about that?
DD: A couple of things. There is a very clear moment in the fifth issue of FLASHPOINT which defines where we are now and where we go to starting in September and Flash is at the center of it, but what I think is great about FLASHPOINT is that you are getting snapshots of a lot of characters interacting that are ultimately part of the new 52 universe and the fun part is that we are seeing in one fashion here, then once we get into the DCU some of that sticks, some of that doesn’t, but there is this brand new sensibility to DC across the board that I think really is just exciting.
JL: But I think it’s important to note…I think reading FLASHPOINT gives you an extra level of understanding and kind of lead into what we are doing in September, but it’s not a necessary read per se, you know? September will be fully understood and stand on its own two legs. That said, FLASHPOINT 5 ships on the same day as JUSTICE LEAGUE #1, so they are kind of the bookends to the end of FLASHPOINT and DC prior to September and then obviously DC September going forward and those two books ship August 31st and those are the only two books coming out from DC that week.
BUG: So do you see JUSTICE LEAGUE as basically the cornerstone or the takeoff point of this entire thing?
JL: I like to, but I think there are 51 other creative teams that don’t, you know?[Everyone Laughs]
DD: Let me take that one, because ultimately we do see them in that way, because ultimately we do see them in that way, because it’s the first book out there and it does set a style and tone and a voice, a look, that we know that the other books will also emulate and be a part of, but I think it’s important to have a premiere team with our premiere characters set the stage and it’s a great book that does it.
JL: But there is also another level of survival of the fittest. I mean when people do really great work, it sparks inspiration. It sparks excitement from other creators and it’s best to lead by example. That said there’s some awesome creative teams like Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo on BATMAN. I know they are going to be kicking ass every month, and Grant Morrison and Rags Morales on ACTION COMICS. Philip Tan is doing awesome work on HAWKMAN with writer Tony Daniel. There are so many great creators. Francis Manapul on FLASH, I mean the way he is doing Flash is influencing the way I want to draw Flash in JUSTICE LEAGUE, so it’s a little more interactive than it may sound, but you know if I had my…I always felt that JUSTICE LEAGUE, because of the iconic characters and because we are setting it five years prior to, in terms of continuity, prior to the other 51 books, we are trying to set the stage for what happens come September, which is superheroes are a relatively new phenomenon, at least publicly. Publicly known superheroes are a relatively new phenomenon. They weren’t even super heroes at first, they were just called super powered beings. They didn’t become heroes until after the notion of the Justice League, the concept of the Justice League was created. So it’s a slightly different tone to an entire DC universe than existed before.
BUG: So they are going to be…I’m not saying it’s like starting over completely, but how much of the history is going to be intact?
JL: All of the best stories are going to be…which is, I think, how people kind of handle continuity anyway. I mean, I don’t think any of us believe that 75 years worth of Superman and Batman stories actually occurred--it’d be impossible, right? We just tend to…while we read a lot of stories, we don’t read all of them, right? We like the ones best and those are the ones that become canon, honestly. There’s no book that’s written that says “this is canon, this is not canon.” It is kind of decided by fandom, the readership as they read it, and what’s popular and that’s generally what you build off of. You do Batman and he’s on the moon and there are no more storylines where he’s on the moon (laughs), that kind of disappears and whether it falls off or whatever…I’m trying to reach for analogies here, but the whole idea is that the best ideas are the ones that form canon anyway and I think that’s essentially what we are doing, but I think we are really shooting high and saying “only the very best stories are the ones that took place.”
BUG: Great, well doing this kind of puts a little bit of a target on your backs and Dan you’ve had that for a while just being…
DD: (Laughs) I was about to say “Exactly…”
BUG: Having done this for quite a while, how do you deal with the stress of that? If you do well, you are the guys that saved comics. If not, then everybody is going to be coming at you.
DD: Trust me, I always say “everything good is done by Jim, everything bad is done by me.” (Laughs)
BUG: Are you okay with wearing the black hat sometimes like that?
JL: You can’t survive in this business as a creator or as an executive if you don’t have thick skin, you know? You’ve got to roll with it. It’s a tough job in that you have to deal with so many different voices and there’s no way to please everyone, but at the same time with both of us being creators and also Geoff Johns, we have a gut instinct on what we think is right and we have to follow that and that’s generally what guides the creative process in general. I think if you follow that, it leads you to good places.
DD: And for me I actually thrive on the controversy. I really do. I have a lot of fun. I find it energizing. I love the debate. I love when people get excited enough to talk and argue, because it means they care. The worst thing the comic industry can have is apathy, you know? Again, you can have a dozen people standing up and shouting, their fists, “I’m quitting comics today!” and I will listen to them. My fears are the guys who quit comics and we never hear from them, they disappear. We don’t know where they went, they just lost interest and that’s the worst thing, because if somebody loves comics enough to jump up and wave their fist, that means we have a chance to get them back if we do it right. That’s the challenge and that’s what inspires us.
BUG: That’s great. I want to talk specifically about…it’s pretty controversial, it’s Batgirl.
DD: It’s Jim’s idea… (Laughs)
BUG: Not to reveal too much on how she gets back into the costume and everything, but what can you tell us about that? You said that the best stories are going to be retained. THE KILLING JOKE seems to be one of the best…
JL: Actually the very first issue of BATGIRL there were two references, including in pictures, to KILLING JOKE to show you that it’s still an essential part of the story in which the story is built from, so that I think is a key aspect of her character and who she is and ultimately who she becomes and how she has to act in the world. There’s a great scene that Gail did, not that I want to give away, but I really do…
JL: Exactly. But anyway, as you can see, things like that…but we knew that it was going to be a controversial thing and this is something we have thought long and hard about for several years. This isn’t just an immediate decision, but it seemed like the right moment to do it, the same way we did with the changes to Superman, they seemed like the right time and all of these changes for one thing and one thing in mind, to maximize the characterization and the story potential, because again we are in the long term business. We are in the periodical business and what we don’t want to do is limit what we can do with our characters, but expand the potential of them. That’s one of the things that we have with this, but also we had to remember and the reason why we went to Batgirl is that we are also trying to broaden our audience into the existing world and to the world out there, Batgirl is Barbara Gordon. She is in every media as Barbara Gordon. That’s where we stand and we have to build on that sensibility and push it.
BUG: I asked you this on the walk up here about some of the other kind of imprints that you guys have: Vertigo, Milestone, the Red Circle titles, and things like that. How does that fit into all of this new…the new 52?
DD: Let me just say two things here: the first one is that we had a license on the Red Circle titles and that license has expired and those rights have returned back to the original owners, so we don’t have that available to us anymore. Milestone is a little more complex of a deal in how it interacts and works with DC, so even though DC has been the sole publisher and is the sole publisher, we are not the full owners of that, so we work in conjunction with the owners of the Milestone characters and we have a good relationship with them and are working them out and we are trying to incorporate those in going ahead. And Vertigo, I mean we have plans.
BUG: So are they going to be restarted at number ones? The more of the ongoing things? Or no?
JL: Vertigo starting at number ones? No, not really.
DD: It’s not that type of…
JL: Yeah, you know, it’s not a shared continuity universe. I think it reaches a different kind of audience. It’s packaged differently and marketed differently, so if we do something for Vertigo it’s not about renumbering, it’s not about changing the status quo. To me it’s all about getting the best creators and asking them to really broaden the horizons of comics and do their best long form work. I think that to me is the key to success for Vertigo and we are very fortunate to have executive editor in Karen Berger in charge, because she just has…she’s the one that really maintains the spirit and tonality of Vertigo and she has incredible connections with so many of the key creators in the business, but just because we haven’t heard about any Vertigo plans doesn’t mean there’s nothing afoot. There are some big, big plans that we hope to announce relatively shortly.
BUG: What does it say about bringing Swamp Thing and John Constantine back into the DCU? Has the DCU changed to fit their stories a little bit more?
JL: As a matter of fact, it’s actually helped change the DCU to be wider and have a greater scope of story telling, but you can say the same thing about Grifter and StormWatch and Voodoo as well. All of these characters, the reason why they are in the DC universe is because those were gaps in our storytelling. We did not have those types of creatures or concepts or conceits or attitudes. All of those things were out there and what it allows us to do, rather than turning one character into that or creating something brand new, especially when we have equity in some of these other characters, it allowed us to bring all of these into one location and really harden up the DCU.
BUG: And just to see John Constantine interact with Batman or something like that, that’s something that I’m looking forward to.
JL: And that’s the fun of it. That’s the fun of what we are doing too and that again shows what the new potential is for the DCU.
BUG: So with all of the new number ones, what are you looking forward to the most? Is there one title other than the ones that you guys are working on? What’s the one you are looking forward to?
JL: You know, it changes week by week. You know, as you see more and more of the books, you just see pages and you go like “wow, they are killing it on this book.” I’m excited for SUICIDE SQUAD. I was talking to Adam Glass last night and just talking about his plans for the characters in the book and stuff and he’s taking a very different approach. I know the design of Harley Quinn is controversial.
DD: There was really a protest yesterday.
JL: No, I think it’s today.
DD: Oh it’s today? I’m a little upset, because I can’t wear that corset.
JL: So I think people don’t understand, like all of these characters when done well can exist in a number of different sort categories. If you look at Batman as being the prime most successful one, he’s a character that is sort of this grim and gritty dark avenger of the night, but he’s also the character in BRAVE AND BOLD, also one of the team leaders in The Justice League. There are all of these different versions of Batman and to me Harley Quinn is presented ARKHAM ASYLUM, ARKHAM CITY and the Harley Quinn that’s in SUICIDE SQUAD is probably, in terms of tonality, is closer to that character than the one you saw in the animated series and I think people have to kind of understand that these characters, when done well, can exist on a number of different levels.
BUG: Sure. Let’s talk a little bit about Superman. That’s another one of the controversial things that’s going on with all of the changes that are going on with him. What went into the decision making to make all of those changes?
DD: I think the Superman changes and actually the origins of DC New 52 all started from a big writers’ conference we all had about a year and a half ago where we brought in all of the top writers and just opened it just to dialogue. “What defines the DC Universe?” “How do we want to define it?” “How do we want to change it going forward?” And we started talking about individual characters and when we got to Superman I think people were just expressing the creative potential of doing stories that had the classic love triangle between Clark, Lois, and Superman as a back drop and how that kind of relationship really was one of the defining elements of that character. Clark Kent as an alter ego works best to Superman, because he has what Superman doesn’t have, right? Which is Lois’s attention. And I think there were a number of other things about Superman in terms of his alien heritage and how he interacts with humanity and what he represents. There’s a lot of great discussion and I think that kind of sparked the impetus to look at ACTION and SUPERMAN and go “You know what? If we were to go back to issue #1, how would we rebuild this character today? What are the things that we would do differently that would best define who Superman is?” I think that’s where all of us came from.
BUG: Do you have anything else to say about Superman?
JL: No, I think he covered it pretty well. I got the Batgirl, he got the Superman, so we are good.
JL: The only one we haven’t covered, because I’m looking at it right now, is Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang on WONDER WOMAN. You know that’s another one with some real subtle changes that they have made to Wonder Woman’s origin that will be revealed during the course of the story that I think help to really give her a much firmer understanding and really a great base to work from in terms of who she is and what her purpose is. I think by doing that, I think Brian of all people really has a great understanding of this character and with Cliff on board, he’s brought a really wonderful beautiful style to it that I think is classic. It’s sexy. It’s powerful. And I think it’s going to be an extraordinary book, I really do. I saw Cliff the other day and he showed me on his iPad the first colored pages for the first issue and the full issue just looks beautiful. I find it so exciting, because just like Superman is, Wonder Woman is a franchise we have been struggling with for a while, so I feel we are back on firm ground with both Superman and Wonder Woman now.
DD: And Cliff Chiang is knocking it out of the park on the art. The covers are beautiful, the storytelling is incredible, Brian is well known for his dialogue and how smart his characters are, not in terms of intelligence, but just in terms of the things…you get so much of a sense of the emotions and thinking that’s going on behind the character’s faces that’s not necessarily expressed in words. He’s just a master of really filling in the gaps and they have been turning in some really nice work.
BUG: Back home where I come from in Chicago…in my day job I work with kids and it amazes me that two of the characters that they go to the most that they like are Hawkman and Aquaman and I’m really interested to see their new interpretations that are coming up. Is there anything you can say about those two?
DD: Yeah, do the kids like wearing claws? I think they will be in hog heaven… (Laughs) And Jeff has got a wonderful take on Aquaman, which I don’t even want to give away, but it’s a lot of fun. It’s so true to the character, and again the goal for us is accessibility on all of the characters and the goal was to make both of those characters relatable and accessible. There are a lot of aspects of what Hawkman has been over the years that has made it a little more confusing with so many multiple interpretations of moving in and out and they are not discounting all of that, but I think they got a very clear center for what Hawkman is about and the same thing for Aquaman, so the kids are going to be happy. Don’t put the wings on, kids, they really don’t work… (Laughs)
JL: I also think the kids might be really responding to two different things: on a visual level I think the characters look awesome. Ivan Reis on AQUAMAN, the art is fabulous. I actually get sent all of the art and all of the books to kind of review. On his I’ve got no notes for his work and his work is just incredible, I just like looking at it. That’s the fan boy in me getting a sneak peak of what’s going on with Aquaman and then Philip Tan on HAWKMAN is just doing the best work of his career. It’s true to its title, being Savage. It’s got a lot of grit and gut to it. It’s very gutsy work and I think on a kid level those two characters work on a very high concept level. “You get wings and you can fly and battle people underwater and talk to fish.”
JL: Who doesn’t want to do that?
DD: They are very elemental in that way, right? It’s air and water and so I think there might be some truth to all of that.
BUG: Yeah, well thank you so much. I know you guys are really busy, thanks for taking this extended time to talk. I can’t wait to see all of these new titles.
DD: It’s going to be coming out there pretty soon.
BUG: Great. Thank you.
DC’s New 52 is just mere weeks away. For better or worse, it’s going to be an exciting time for comics!
Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, original @$$Hole / wordslinger / reviewer / co-editor of AICN Comics for over nine years. Mark is also a regular writer for FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND and will be releasing FAMOUS MONSTERS first ever comic book miniseries LUNA in October (co-written by Martin Fisher with art by Tim Rees)! Support a Bug by checking out his comics (click on the covers to purchase)!
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Proofs, co-edits & common sense: Sleazy G
Check out Bug’s panel Horror on the Paneled Page in its entirety from the con!!!
Ambush Bug announces his new werewolf comic LUNA on FAMOUS MONSTERS panel!!!
SJimbrowski brings back a ton of webseries news from Comic Con—Felicia Day’s DRAGON AGE REDEMPTION! MORTAL KOMBAT! & Bryan Singer’s H+ THE DIGITAL SERIES!
Bug sits for a lengthy chat with Marvel CCO Joe Quesada!
Keep an eye out for more interviews and special reports from SDCC 2011!
Going to be in Chicago this weekend? Chicago’s got two conventions of note worth checking out! FLASHBACK WEEKEND CHICAGO HORROR CONVENTION will be at CROWNE PLAZA CHICAGO O’HARE, 5440 N. River Road, ROSEMONT, IL 60018! Join Robert Englund, Malcolm MacDowell, Sid Haig, Lance Henricksen and more to see all of the sights, frights, stars, and nightmares there are to see at this Chicago’s premiere horror convention this Friday-Sunday! Be sure to click on the image to the left for ticket info, a full schedule of events, and more goodies!
And if it’s comic books and stars you’re looking for, WIZARD WORLD CHICAGO 2011 is going on just a few blocks away at the DONALD E. STEPHENS CONVENTION CENTER, ROSEMONT, IL 60018 this Thursday – Sunday! Bruce Campbell, Patrick Steward, Felicia Day, Vivica A. Fox, and many more stars are set to be there this weekend! Be sure to click on the image to the right for scheduling and ticket info! Ambush Bug and the Chicago @$$Holes will be bopping between these two conventions all weekend. No self respecting genre fan would miss these two events. See you there!