Taking Stock With The DC Nation At SDCC 2019

by Noah Sharma

Co-Publisher Dan DiDio opened DC’s first big panel of San Diego Comic Con with his characteristic appeals to the room. DiDio has been a polarizing figure at DC, but seeing him work room after room at convention like these, it’s hard to say that the man isn’t both energetic and earnest. He asked to hear about people’s favorite assured fans that the panel would serve to better inform him of what’s working and not in the DC Nation.

A few minutes after showtime, DiDio returned to the stage to introduce his panel, comprising Cecil Castellucci (Batgirl, Shade the Changing Girl/Woman), Amanda Conner (Harley Quinn, Wonder Woman Giant), Jimmy Palmiotti (Harley Quinn, Dan DiDio’s fishing mate), Greg Capullo (Batman), and Josh Williamson (The Flash, Batman/Superman) sat in for Scott Snyder, who was caught in transit.
DiDio immediately turned to the recent changes to the organization of the brand. DiDio felt that it was important to leverage the power of the DC Comics name and show that DC is more than one thing. In his view, rather than be an imprint published equally with Vertigo, now DC is a brand that has YA books and mature reader books and something for everyone. Putting the DC name on every book strengths each of them and that strengthens the brand as a whole.
Castellucci started in YA and remains attached to that genre. That’s when people are falling in love for the first time, not only with other people but with stories and characters, these are the stories that will help define their tastes and ideas of storytelling. That makes it tremendously potent. But now Castellucci wants to work for a different audience, which allows her to “sing” with a different part of her writing voice.
Asked about how drawing Batman for Black Label differs from the mainline DCU, Capullo felt that the core remains the same but the perspective changes. Batman: Last Knight on Earth has a bit more grit to it than what you would find in his Batman run because it fits the subject matter. Williamson couldn’t help but butt in to say that Last Night on Earth #2 is his favorite Snyder and Capullo issue he’s ever read.
Palmiotti has a long and storied career at DC, where he’s written characters for years and years. Palmiotti and Conner have a list of about 100 Harley stories they could still do. He said that he’s very picky about what books he accepts so he rarely gets burnt out on a character. “You have to have a passion for the character,” he said before adding that you can’t just love what came before but have something new to say. Palmiotti says that if he ever feels that he doesn’t care or isn’t excited, it’s time to leave. Another sign for him is when you focus on the supporting characters over the lead. DiDio said that that’s one of the things that DC looks for in a pitch, stories that are about the cast are the first to be rejected.
DiDio asked the audience what books they’re enjoying. Detective Comics, Wonder Twins, and Doomsday Clock came back from the called upon fans, alongside the current Superman books.
“Oh you’re likin’ the Superman books?,” said a surprisingly intrigued DiDio. “You ready for “Event Leviathan?”” he asked.
“Legion of Superheroes?”
Passionate applause.
“Are you guys finally happy?”
Amanda Conner spoke about the DC Giant books, which are sold exclusively at Walmart. Intended as low cost, low continuity entry points for fans who are aware of DC but not going to comic shops, the Giants required a slightly different writing style. Conner reminded the audience that there are “miles and miles of the American country where they don’t have any direct market.” Knowing that these were many people’s only real option to read physical DC Comics, Conner said that she wanted to keep the stories very relatable. It’s possible to explain to a new reader who a particular alien race is, but if a fireman will serve the same function, she said, then it’s easier to make a welcoming landing pad for them and let other stories give them the sense of the universe once they’re comfortable.
DC has been talking internally about the “Secret Six”, the six characters who have been secretly infected by the Batman Who Laughs with a concoction that will make them like him. This thread will be the core of Batman/Superman. Williamson called The Batman Who Laughs an apex predator – a loaded term in DC continuity right now – and reminded the audience that he’s not the Joker, he’s Bruce and that means that he isn’t evil, he’s just a winner. As such, the infected parties are acting not out of evil but out of their anger and desperation. Williamson also hinted that The Batman Who Laughs killed his universe’s Superman and maybe he’s realized that that was a mistake: that maybe he wants a Superman of his own. Williamson specifically said that TBWL sees Superman as little more than a tool in his utility belt, but he wants that tool. Capullo had selective hearing and only heard that Joshua Williamson called Superman a tool.

Williamson and DiDio had a mock tense exchange where they danced around an interesting dichotomy. Just as Lex Luthor is assembling a team of villains, The Batman Who Laughs seems to be assembling heroes.
DiDio said that he feels that the DC line has been lacking a sense of connectedness. That’s changing and it will continue to change. There is a timeline and an awareness of how the books fit together and DiDio is excited to see that shared universe grow together.
Speaking of interconnected stories and shared universe plotting, Castellucci said that it’s difficult to be writing a mainline book with a character like Barbara Gordon because a huge number of writers have plans for her and the characters in her orbit. Palmiotti also had horror stories about editorial demands surrounding crossovers, several from his time co-writting Superboy with DiDio. Perhaps because he’s working at a higher level or perhaps because of his collaborators, Williamson was more positive, calling it “thrilling”.
DiDio continued to air grievances with the DC line, saying that he feels that event books have often lost the visual distinction between characters in the past. Capullo attributes his avoidance of this trend to Larry Hama, who he spoke to as a young artist pitching to Marvel. Hama looked at a Thor page Capullo had done and said, ‘that isn’t Thor, that’s someone wearing Thor’s costume’. Capullo didn’t understand at first but it slowly became clear to him. He also said that he likes to stay on a book for some time so that he can learn the intricacies of the characters. Metal, being a miniseries, was a very different animal from that and he leaned on Scott Snyder a lot to get the psychology of the characters. He said that Wonder Woman was the toughest, caught between symbolic responsibility and beloved characterization. He asked his wife for help and did a lot of research to manage it.

DiDio asked if anyone in the room wanted to be a writer or artist, leading Conner and Capullo to notice one young girl who said she wanted to be a comic artist. Capullo, in perhaps a characteristically hardcore way, urged anyone considering a career as a comic artist to really embrace the craft. That didn’t mean just draw comics or read comics, for him, that meant do anything you can to improve your art. Learn anatomy, study weapons or clothing, do commercial illustration or graphic design or anything that gets you paid for your art, because, at the end of the day, it’s hard work and you need to be prepared and you need to want it more than anyone else. He likened it to a group of dogs jostling for a bowl of food. “You have to be hungrier and you have to be stronger than that other dog.”
Williamson spoke about working on “Flash: Year One” and trying to find a new take on a character that’s been more malleable than most. In trying to live up to the legacy of Miller (and Mazzucchelli’s) “Batman: Year One”, Williamson went back to his model and wondered if he couldn’t combine the appeal of “Batman: Year One” and The Dark Knight Returns, leading him to Old Man Barry.
DiDio called on the audience to tell him what they demand, bouncing back and forth, handing out good news like a comics Santa Claus.
“More Lil’ Gotham.”
“Dustin Nguyen’s got a new series coming out next year!”
Tales of the Dark Multiverse, that’s our Elseworlds! Starting in October! Go!”
“Lois Lane!”
Lois Lane, we’re already out there! Twelve issues! Greg Rucka on it! Go!”
“Milesto- We’re workin’ on it, man…”

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