Dan DiDio leaves DC

Well, that was a surprise. Last night the news came that Dan DiDio was no longer DC co-publisher. Bleeding Cool is reporting that he was fired for ‘fostering a poor work environment’. Which sounds awful, I’ve worked in places where just one manager could turn the air toxic. It also sounds like a contrived accusation to open up negotiations around a leaving settlement. We’ll likely never know the truth, given the power of non-disclosure agreements in US corporations, though the ‘unnamed sources’ will no doubt be doling out the gossip thick and fast.

It is interesting that, Rob Liefeld apart, comic creators – both folk who work in and out of DC’s Burbank offices – seem unanimous in wishing him well. The general thrust is that they and DiDio might not always have agreed, but he always listened and would fight for their projects if convinced they were worthwhile. To see what I mean, click on ‘there’s a round-up of comic industry reactions at Bleeding Cool’ and ‘here’s more’.

So, I know nothing. I do think it’s a shame that anyone has to leave a job they’re passionate for with no notice, but again, this seems common in US corporate culture.

What I can talk about is what I hope this means for DC Comics.

DiDio’s DC was often a very dark place, with events such as Forever Evil and Year of the Villain. Even the weekly 52 series, a big hit and fondly remembered, was laden with gloom and moments of shocking violence.

The New 52 relaunch saw heroes become ‘edgier’, the comics more violent. Word had it that DiDio hated Dick Grayson as Nightwing because an adult ward made Batman seem too old. For the same reason, he’s said to have banned superhero marriages. Superman and Lois weren’t even dating, with the former in a creepy thing with a fighting-mad Wonder Woman. Hawkman and Hawkwoman didn’t know one another. Iris West was in the Flash series but Barry Allen was dating good ol’ Patty Spivot. The company’s most powerful writer, Geoff Johns, circumvented this diktat by having Aquaman and Mera in the same relationship as previously, but without the ‘Mr & Mrs’ tag.

When the initial sales boost provided by the New 52 project ended, it was Johns who was brought in to right the ship. He led DC Rebirth, the idea being that lost, liked aspects of characters and series would return. Johns became DC’s Chief Creative Officer and had individual meetings with creative teams to ensure everyone was on the same page. The young Superman and Lois were replaced by the post-Crisis married version, who came complete with super-tween Jon. Wonder Woman was back with Steve Trevor. Wally West returned from comics limbo and the de-ageing of characters in the New 52 became a story point that led to Johns and Gary Frank’s controversial, and best-selling, Doomsday Clock series.

And for two years, the books garnered a lot of praise and, more importantly from DC’s point of view, sales. Then, the Rebirth curtain came down – literally, the Rebirth cover logos included drapes – and the Universe began getting darker once more, while Johns’ favoured role at DC came to an end. The sunniness of the Superman books was derailed as the regular creative teams were dumped to allow big money transfer from Marvel Brian Michael Bendis to take the comics in different directions. The Batman series went from impressively ambitious to only intermittently enjoyable. The Justice League got a new writer in Scott Snyder but the initially bonkers-fun comic turned into an occasionally dazzling, but generally frustrating, exercise in deferring an ending. Snyder’s run stopped at #39 last month, but the story still didn’t wrap. The continuation is coming in another Dark Knights Metal series with artist Greg Capullo, but as for an ending, don’t hold your breath.

I’d hope DiDio’s departure would see a lifting of the downbeat tone that’s so often permeated the company during his tenure, but who’s to say that all came from him? Jim Lee remains as co-publisher and he must have signed off on the big decisions, do we know he didn’t originate some of the projects that failed to grab me (to say the least). It’s very likely he was the guy who wanted the Wildstorm characters, who really didn’t fit the tone of the DCU, integrated for the New 52.

Bob Harras, DC’s editor-in-chief/Invisible Man is yet around, doing whatever it is he does. There’s no way he doesn’t have a big say in the direction of the comics, but it’s DiDio who always put his head above the parapet and took any negative criticism.

And DiDio’s own projects always leaned into the more fun side of DC Comics, with series such as Metal Men, OMAC and Forever People massively enjoyable, but not given a chance by fans… heck, his recent Sideways series, mainly with artist Kenneth Rocafort and co-writer Justin Jordan, was a delightful update on the Spider-Man/Nova/Firestorm template, with enjoyable superheroics and real heart.

I hope we’ll see more of the light-hearted projects DiDio seemed to enjoy, and more of the experimentation with formats and concepts along the lines of the YA and Black Label books, and the brilliance that was Wednesday Comics. I want a strong superhero line that leans into what DC does best – optimistic heroes, parallel worlds, legacies and a non-slavish respect for continuity. I’d love to see some of the experimentation with genre that was one of the best aspects of the New 52 – remember All-Star Comics, Men of War, Sword of Sorcery? Sadly, the willingness to look beyond superheroes was also one of the least commercially successful aspects, so I won’t hold my breath.

Maybe DiDio’s mistake was trying to give the market what he thought it wanted rather than being driven by his own taste… then again, isn’t the former exactly what a publisher should be doing?

The upcoming 5G/Generation Five business is, by all accounts, DiDio’s baby. Full details haven’t been released – there’s a useful article at The Beat – but the comics press reckons it will result in the current batch of characters being replaced by legacy versions, with Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and co aged up into retirement.

But was it going to be an indefinite move, or simply a stunt lasting a few months, maybe a year? That was unknown to anyone outside DC. I can’t see the higher-ups at DC owner Warners allowing the official, canonical line to be upended so massively when the general public have a certain idea of who the heroes are due to decades of adaptations and licensing; sure, we’ve had replacement characters previously, but generally as part of individual storylines, I cannot believe DiDio and chums would risk giving existing fans such a ‘brilliant’ jumping-off point. My guess is that Generation Five was simply going to straighten out the timeline (for at least a week) by organising heroes into groups according to real-life publishing debuts – a series of ‘Generation…’ specials have been announced – with the climax being a new group who don’t cut it (think Kingdom Come), leading to the return of the most iconic, classic versions.

With Generation Five titles already being solicited, I can’t see the whole thing being cancelled, but if it was ever meant to introduce a whole new DCU, that idea’s probably dead… new brooms do love to sweep aside their predecessor’s pet projects.

Whatever happens, I wish Dan DiDio all the best; we had a few exchanges on Facebook over the years and he was always courteous and helpful. As I said, I’ve not loved everything that DC did under his time as (joint, remember) publisher, but all that means is that he tried different things – nobody is going to satisfy everyone all the time. His passion was always evident, and no one should be unceremoniously dumped from their job, publicly humiliated, for doing their honest best.

14 thoughts on “Dan DiDio leaves DC

  1. No matter his motivations, I’m glad Didio is gone and hope the constant glorification of villains and giving the heroes feet of clay is over. DC is not Marvel. It is not the world outside your window. The heroes are more godlike and that’s how the DCU is built. It’s in the DNA of everything and I believe DC has been unable to get better than second place because of folk trying to make it Marvel rather than a best possible DC!

    My choice for publisher would be Mister Palmiotti. He was involved in what Quesada did to revitalize Marvel. DC could only benefit from creator summits like Mister Q started and everyone being involved with longterm planning. DC’s ages old habit of editorial groups being fiefdoms and at odds needs to go. If you do these things while remembering Dc is not Marvel, you’d have a wonderful playground I believe could finally give Marvel a run for their money again!

    Like

    1. I’d definitely take a punt on Palmiotti, he’s got a writing and artistic background and yes, knows how to handle talent due to his work with Marvel Knights. He seems very much a people person

      Like

  2. Despite all the complaining about Didio over the years, I tended to like him — if not all of the publishing initiatives he presided over. I didn’t like the New 52 (I saw a lot of value in the broadening of DC’s genres, but the line somehow corresponded with a narrowing of tone), and for an event centering on my favorite character in the DCU, Flashpoint was a misguided mess. But Rebirth was largely terrific, and the line even now seems really sturdy to me (although the Batman Who Laughs has cordoned off a corner of the DCU as enemy territory for a while).

    Didio, in particular, was a big part of the reason Brian Bendis moved to DC, and it’s his corner of the DCU I’m enjoying the most these days. And I suspect Vertigo was shuttered in spite of him, not because of him. On the other hand, he seems to be the reason Mark Waid and Peter David have been away from the DCU so long, so that’s a strike against him.

    But like you, Mart, I suspect Didio sometimes took a lot of heat for the decisions of others.

    Honestly, I feel like my biggest beef with the New 52 was probably due to the influence of Bob Harras, whom Didio hired, but who was probably more directly responsible for the general content of the line. And Jim Lee is a rockstar artist, but again, one that I’ve never really connected with. In DC’s management team, Johns and Didio were the two people I trusted to (generally) value the same things I did.

    Also, frankly, if all of the creators whose work I enjoy are saying good things about the man, and Rob Liefeld is saying bad things…. well, I know who I’ll believe.

    I love the thought of Jimmy Palmiotti as the new publisher. He’d do a phenomenal job, and has all the skills to make it work. I really worry that the new person won’t be someone with a comics background, or an appreciation for DC’s history.

    In the immediate-term, I doubt the launch of 5G will be affected too much — although we really don’t know what it is yet, so we won’t be able to tell one way or another. I think there’s probably too much work put into it to stop now. However, whatever the plans were for it might get truncated in favor of whatever the new person’s plans are.

    My other thought is of DC’s Walmart Giants line. That seemed to be Didio’s baby, too, and I hope it continues. The lead stories in those books are generally self-contained, crisp, and fun — precisely the kind of stories that drew me to reading comics in the first place. I hope they stick around.

    Like

  3. I wish those Walmart giants were available in UK supermarkets, they give me wonderful nostalgia vibes. I wonder what today’s kids would think if the odd reprint in there was from the Golden or Silver Age, I know the thinking is that today’s video game kids would out and out reject them, but if they’re opening a comic, they’re curious and have imagination, perhaps they’d like to see the peculiar mix of primitive and visionary in those earliest books.

    Do you listen to the Wait, What? podcast? This week’s edition has so interesting stuff on the DiDio business.

    Like

    1. re Wait What? Do you think so? For me it’s yet another round of Graeme saying another variation of “I know stuff, but I’m not gonna talk about it. Until I write about it. Unless I don’t.”
      eye
      roll
      like… gimme the dirt! And if you’re not, don’t talk about it.
      Having said that, when they restricted their thoughts to talking about Didio’s reign and what he brought to DC, and where they think things are going, it was kinda alright.

      Me… I’m gonna miss the energy that Didio brought to DC. I’m fine with him leaving, as he’s had lots of years to make an impression and for all his hits, there were some significant misses under his watch. But that’s going to be true of anyone. I’m interested in seeing new blood brought in and moving the company along.

      However, if they’re just taking Didio out and leaving Lee and Harras to do what they do… then I expect things will remain much as they are, which is… kinda disappointing. But again, who really knows what is in the works for the next couple months. There’s rumours and more rumours, but if the fifth generation thing is half as interesting as the rumours are making it out to be, then maybe that will be a shot in the arm for the line. But more of a shot than what Bendis has brought (which has been a lightness and sense of fun that has been missing for wayyyyy too long) is doubtful to me.

      We shall see.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’ve left comments in the WW feedback a fair few times asking Graeme not to be such a tease with his ‘I know something you don’t know’, it’s beyond annoying. But I did find it interesting that while he didn’t say what all the theories are, he said some were just wrong.

        Like

  4. I’ll check out that Wait, What episode — thanks!

    Hopefully, you’ve been able to check out the Giants as they’ve started getting direct market distribution in these last few months. And two of the most recent ones — From Beyond the Unknown and Titans Giant 1 — have featured older material. Titans 1 reprints Teen Titans 50, from the 70s — the first appearance of Titans West, I believe. And FBTU goes whole-hog, with a DC Comics Presents Adam Strange teamup, a Brave and Bold Metal Men teamup, and an Alan Moore GL Corps backup story (the one with the F-Sharp Bell). In his new year’s address to retailers on facebook, getting some older reprints included seemed like something Didio was pretty happy about.

    I think in the case of FBTU, a key factor in those stories reprintability is the art. Garcia-Lopez, Aparo, Willingham. Not a dud in the bunch!

    Also: DEFINITELY seek out that From Beyond The Unknown giant when it comes to comic shops (in the next few weeks, I believe). One of the new stories is a Legion story by Dan Jurgens — a PRE-CRISIS Legion story! (Not explicitly so, but given the costumes, it sure seems that way! Aside from one use of “sprock.”)

    Like

  5. That all sounds very encouraging. I must pop to the local comic shop, maybe Thursday before I go back to work after my wee three-day endoscopy break.

    I’d love to see a Superman Family giant featuring Mr and Mrs Superman!

    Like

  6. Oh, man, that Wait, What episode was absolutely worth it! Very informed, and the most responsible and cautious speculation I’ve come across. I’ll be listening to more …. Although maybe I’ll fast forward any interminable deep dives into Alan Moore books I haven’t read.

    Like

  7. THIS COMMENT FROM PROF ALAN OF THE EXCELLENT RELATIVELY GEEKY FAMILY OF PODCASTS – HE WAS UNABLE TO POST IT, FOR SOME REASON.

    HAIL DOOM!

    ///////////

    I tried to leave a reply on your Dan DiDio post, but i don’t think it took. Here are my thoughts — Prof A

    I think that DC needs to go outside of comics for a publisher, like they did in the 1970s when Jeanette Kahn became publisher, and led them successfully for a few decades.

    They need a shake-up, because the industry as a whole needs a shake-up. And someone inside the industry is far less likely to be able institute new business practices and a new model. Someone from outside might be able to take on distribution issues, talent contracts, dealer relations, online, pricing, etc …

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.