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.