Thursday, February 27, 2020

Dan Didio Exits DC

Friday afternoon, I saw news that Dan Didio, former writer, promoted to Executive Editor, then promoted to Publisher at DC Comics, was no longer with the company.  No circumstances regarding his departure have been reported from DC or Didio, so at this time, it's safe to say Didio's exit was possibly due to a difference of direction from WB and/ or the head of Warner Bros. Global Brands and Experiences - Pam Lifford, who took over DC leadership when Diane Nelson resigned and the structure of DC Entertainment was folded back into WB.  There are also rumors about the perceived impact of the coming "5G" event and reshaping of DC Continuity, which, frankly... sounded exhausting as a reader.  Other possibilities included workplace issues and the good old fashioned lay-off as ATT goes about restructuring WB.

A lot of artists and writers took to twitter to talk about how Didio had done good by them, with a few popping off here and there.  Honestly, some of what I saw about how Didio is a great guy just sounded like basic human decency or Management 101, which really makes me wonder what the heck it's like actually working in comics when "he said he'd take responsibility for the thing he is responsible for" is the bar for a great humanitarian in comics.  But, still, the expressions seemed sincere, and while I'm aware there's a tendency in creative fields to not burn bridges and overly laud anyone exiting, I'll take these creators at their word.

Longtime readers will know - I am not a fan of Dan Didio. 

I'll never cheer a man losing his job, but it's been a long... however many years.  And I think if you look at what Didio managed in his tenure versus what his predecessors had accomplished - the era of Didio is going to be remembered mostly for constant fiddling, a lack of coherence, and few enduring takes on characters or stories that survive in the manner of the perennials that appeared under the leadership of Jenette Khan and Paul Levitz (Watchmen, Dark Knight Returns, etc...).  Even All-Star Superman seemed like an isolated incident which occurred in the playpen Didio set up to leave his star creators alone, and resulted in one and a half maxi-series rolling out.

There are so, so many things to remember from Dan Didio's Executive Editorship and era as Co-Publisher (with Nice Guy in Chief, Jim Lee), and so many of them happened over and over again.  And there were so many half-assed, badly executed ideas that weren't that good to begin with...  And as a reader, you sort of felt like a hostage to whatever Didio was cooking up *this year*.

Really, if there's a hallmark for a Didio-era story, it's that there's a lot of set-up, a strong start, and half-way through, you're guaranteed it's gonna falter and fall apart and end with a whimper.  Pretty clearly, he knew what a good hook looked like, and maybe what he wanted to happen *because* of the story (see: One Year Later), but he had no knack for actually telling a compelling story.  You know, those things with a beginning, middle and end.  And too often this resulted in a damn mess with writers and line editors doing backflips to make the comic series work after Didio had moved on (see: One Year Later).

But it's not hard to start at the beginning, back when Didio decided to make a mark with both co-opting the DC "Crisis" notion and making it the brand of his massive, never quite-functional cross-over events.  And he started with Identity Crisis, which could have been an actual way for DC Comics to grapple with a common and awful crime, and instead turned it into a story about Batman being mad someone pulled a trick on him once.

Oddball Publishing Efforts

Earth One:  Slim volumes that arrive sporadically and seem designed to trick moms at Barnes & Noble into a purchase for Christmas.  Supposed re-imaginings of existing storylines, but as their serialized but only coming out once in a while, good luck remembering what happened last book.

All Star:  Holy cats.  A year of build up, and then a long, slow farting sound.  All Star Superman is probably the highlight of stories told during Didio's era, but he was out there shouting about All Star Batman, which never finished.  And the promised All Star Wonder Woman and other series never appeared.  I think it took a full year after All Star Superman finished and word of mouth for DC to realize the book wasn't just a critical hit, people were happy to find it and read it.

Ending Vertigo/ Bring Vertigo over to the DCU proper:  Vertigo kept readers like me in comics and gave me writers to follow back to capes and tights when I felt my day with superheroes was in the rear-view mirror.  It fostered bold storytelling which fed the superhero lines in the wake of, frankly, the 90's.

Fetishization of Watchmen:  A seeming middle-finger in Alan Moore's face, Didio could not keep his hands off, telling stories no one asked for and making back-issue bin fodder that will be the equivalent of "Did you ever see Jaws 3?" for comics in ten years.

Storylines that No One Followed Up On

Amazons Attack
Final Crisis
One Year Later
Doomsday Clock and everything associated with it
...and a host of others

Multiple Concurrent Events

I think this year we had all at the same time:

  • Doomsday Clock
  • Event Leviathan
  • DCeased
  • Year of the Villain
  • The Batman Who Jokers/ Metal fallout/ whatever is happening in Justice League

it's a bit much, DC

Storylines We Just. Kept. Seeing.

DC kept putting out essentially the same stories in different packaging.  Over and over, as event comics no less.

Multi-verse of heroes have to fight each other... TO THE DEATH

  • Arena
  • Convergence

Somehow jumping ahead a year to a new status quo is a smart thing and will cause no problems

  • One Year Later
  • Five Years Later (New 52)


  • Blackest Night
  • Future's End
  • DCeased

Villains!  Just look at 'em!

  • Salvation Run
  • Villains United
  • Forever Evil
  • Year of the Villain

Notable Points of Disagreement:

Jason Todd:  Didio green-lit the return of Jason Todd, creating one of the most one-note characters in recent DC history, but also managing to undo "the time Batman lost and someone died", which was an actual moment of character development and made for a legitimate reason for Batman to brood and worry.

Supergirl:  Partnering with walking MeToo case, Eddie Berganza, Didio returned Kara Zor-El to the DCU, and promptly set about routinely making her "go bad".  Whether she was joining Darkseid, a tool for her mad father (sigh) out to kill Superman (both pre and post New 52), a Red Lantern or, more recently, part of the tortured Batman Who Jokers storyline, Kara has no status quo, supporting cast and is constantly being turned into part of an edgelord fantasy.

That time Superman wasn't Superman for about ten years:  In part due to the pressing legal issues of the Siegel lawsuit, DC comics decided to do the potentially interesting thing of bringing Kryptonians to our solar system in the New Krypton storyline.  But what it really meant was that Superman disappeared from his own titles for a full year.  Followed by a year of Superman out of pocket as Lex Luthor became the star of Action Comics and Superman walked around North America.  And then the New 52, which was not a Superman many fans considered to actually *be* Superman, and which the comics themselves confirmed was not, what with Rebirth.

Failure to ever do anything with the multiverse:  DC didn't just invent the idea of a multiverse in comics, it lived in that multiverse for decades before Marvel even gave it a go.  Now Marvel has one Spidey movies across a multiverse and is set to have a Dr. Strange movie take place across a Marvel multiverse.  Sigh.  But all that aside, Mark Waid and Grant Morrison both handed Didio takes on HOW one could handle a multiverse again in the DCU and free themselves up (literally no one seems to remember the Morrison maxi-series "Multiversity", which was at least interesting), but Didio never pursued it, even when it could have given DC's meganarratives a backdoor exit to solve some issues.


Comics aren't anywhere as big as TV or movies when drawing media attention, even for bad behavior (just for killing off much beloved superheroes).  But over the years it sure seemed like Didio had a sort of sphere of near-scandal around him, none of which was helped by his championing of Eddie Berganza.

Berganza was a high-rolling editor at DC Comics for years, and Didio seemed to have his back a whole lot of the time when the guy was saying things that just sounded weird and creepy in Con reports to the eventual public outing of Berganza as problematic in the workplace.  It's also been largely forgotten, but Didio pulled the DC Nation column shortly after Berganza's disastrous Supergirl pitch in said column during which Berganza (in print!) told the world why we were wrong and should like the take on Supergirl that just... kept happening, right up to The Batman Who Jokers stuff occurring now, years after Berganza's dismissal at the height of the #MeToo first stage.

It's hard to know with Didio.  There have been workplace hostility stories for years, and a thing from late 2008 that... anyway.  It was a lot of rumor mongering and not worth digging up 12 years on.  But given the rest of it, sure seemed like a "yeah, I'd buy it" sort of thing to happen.

What's Next?

Who knows?  Not me.  If I were in upper management at DC, I'd be polishing my resume and looking hard at my LinkedIn profile.  Didio's star was always a tough one to hitch yourself to, but how many leadership jobs are there in comics, anyway?

As per the 5G effort?  I don't know.  I care only so much as in...  sigh.  What were we going to have to deal with this time?

It really felt like DC was doing something odd as Batman got serious about Catwoman, someone killed off Alfred (I guess?), Superman dropped his secret identity and was now a dad with a teenaged kid.  Some sort of line-wide reboot seemed inevitable.  Or unavoidable.

All of this will unfold over the next year - I'm sure no one at this time knows what will happen.  But I think it's fair that someone else get the helm of DC for a while.   If 5G was the final straw to break Didio's career's back, I wouldn't be too surprised - I'm amazed he survived the inevitable implosion of The New 52.  Doing it again (see above for how Didio loves to come back to an idea) was going to raise some alarm bells.  It would take a lot for me to drop new comics altogether, but everything I was hearing was sure as heck starting to sound like the New 52 moves that got me to drop everything DC-published for a brief while there before Rebirth.

There are other people out there with better credentials and who might have better ideas.

At the end of the day, whether Global Brands was responsible for Didio getting the heave-ho or not...  DC Comics is a fun thing for me to read, but it's also an IP farm.  And as part of that IP farm, it's only so good to have a leader who starts deciding what he should do is toss out household name characters and replace them with off-brand versions, no matter what the intention is to bring them back.  That IP farm needs to be making sure it's feeding into those bedsheet and plastic drinking cup sales, and doing it strategically.

And they shouldn't be making moves in the short term that will have a negative impact in the longterm - like giving people a reason to drop titles when their favorite character is replaced by someone they don't care about.  Or trying to sell people a Superman that isn't Clark Kent and wasn't the Superman they were looking for when they went to buy those Superman socks.

We'll see what's next.  I'm sure Jim Lee is wondering what's next, too.

One last parting shot:  I thought all those new Young Adult and For Kids graphic novels and books were part of DC proper - turns out that's a separate division.  Run by Michele Wells.  So.  You know.  How are those selling, and what is she doing?


Simon MacDonald said...

Roll it all back to pre new 52 is what I have my fingers crossed hoping for.

The League said...

I think at this point they'd be better off keeping some line of books in current continuity and cordon it off as Earth-2 or some such, let it work the way it did in the Bronze Age. New 52 was now almost 10 years ago, a generation of readers - and I couldn't tell you what was even happening line-wide in the books at that point. It could work - roll it back to end of Final Crisis or something (Morrison literally froze the DC Universe in place at the end of that series).

My real thought is to start over.

DC always tries to have it's cake and eat it, too, at the reboots. But we're also infinitely far from the last time the basic concepts of the characters were in place, so any allusion or commentary upon them is going to just be lost to newer readers. No one should get to keep their forty person cast of Robins or have teenaged children.

Remind people what the characters are all about. Superman is secretly Clark Kent and Lois doesn't know his secret identity. Batman works only with Dick Grayson and Alfred. Hal Jordan (or, take your pick) is one of maybe two Green Lanterns from Earth. They have to form a Justice League.

Simon MacDonald said...

I like your idea a lot. Just have the current continuity schlep off into it's own section of the multi-verse and start fresh with a new Earth. That would be was less complicated than this 5G they are planning. DIdn't DC already do this where they replaced all the legacy heroes with contemporary versions? When I look back on that the only real improvement that made was having Wally West be The Flash post crisis and that only really worked because it came naturally out of Barry's sacrifice.

The League said...

Agreed on the sacrifice part - and especially because we saw it. It was all organic. Simply jumping forward and saying "Oh, now Jonathan Kent is Superman", etc... doesn't make it seem like a commitment. Having Renee Montoya pal around with Vic Sage and take up the mantle of The Question - also made sense. Otherwise, it's all "wow, this feels like an editorial mandate which is very temporary".

Simon MacDonald said...

I'd have to assume it would be very temporary as DC licenses out their characters from everything from Band-Aids to underwear. Mind you most of those licenses still use the iconic Jose Luis Garcia Lopez designs which I wouldn't hate if they went back to.

The League said...

That's just part of the problem. New 52 to Rebirth saw so many changes to just Superman's costume, there's a medley of New 52 Superman and Rebirth Superman out there. It's just plain bad for the IP and for people wanting the license. I remember mullet-Superman stuff still hanging around as late as 2003 that clearly no one wanted but was inventory someone wanted to unload. Now try swapping out Clark Kent for someone else, and they're going to see it as off-brand.