ECCC ’08: A Conversation With DC Comics’ Ian Sattler and Dan DiDio

Last Sunday at Emerald City Comic Con, Pop Culture Zoo was able to talk for a few minutes with DC Comics Executive Editor Dan DiDio and Senior Story Editor Ian Sattler. The enthusiasm, respect and commitment that these two have for the DC Comics universe and its characters is very evident and infectious. You may not always agree with them, but I really do think they are trying to tell the best stories while staying true to both the characters and fans.

That said, check out our interview with Dan DiDio and Ian Sattler from DC Comics!

PCZ: Let’s start off with the big one: Why bring back Barry Allen now and whose idea what is to do that?

Ian Sattler: (looking quizzically at Dan) Are we bringing back Barry Allen?

Dan DiDio: (looking puzzled) I don’t remember ever saying we were doing that.

IS: Did we say that?

(laughter between all three of us)

PCZ: I couldn’t help it, ok.

DD: That’s ok.

PCZ: Final Crisis, by the nature of its name, would seem to indicate that this is the final Crisis. Would this indicate that this is the last big summer event from DC for a while? Or is this taking fans further down the road of what you guys have planned?

DD: I wouldn’t say this is the last big event for a while, but it certainly is the final Crisis. You know, I have what’s called the official and unofficial trilogies of crisis and this is the end of the official trilogy. And what you see is a number of things that had started with the original Crisis on Infinite Earths really coming to fruition and to closure here with Final Crisis. From our standpoint, for as long as we know, and hopefully, for as long as we’re around, this will be the final Crisis.

IS: But there’s more seasons than summer for events.

PCZ: Are we looking at another reorginization of the mutiverse?

DD: Well, that makes the assumption that the multiverse survives (laughs).

PCZ: I gotcha.

DD: So, that’s another question that’s out there. There is a definite resolution to the story of the multiverse. There’s a definite resolution for a number of our characters and there’s an incredible launching point that really sets the direction for the DC Universe coming with the conclusion of Final Crisis. Like I said, you were talking about events before, we joked through it, but we’re serious when we say the main thing about events for us is that this is something I think the fans truly enjoy and our goal is to find ways to change it up… to give a different flavor, to give a different feel. So, the events will always be there, but hopefully it will be different styles, different sensibilities and different types of stories so (fans) don’t feel tired or burned out by reading them.

PCZ: I think it’s interesting, I know it’s a small portion of the fandom, but online it’s like everybody complains “ah, they’re doing another event, another crossover”, but the numbers don’t lie.

DD: The numbers don’t lie, but the reality is also they’ve got to be interesting and there was a point if you go back the late ’90s where there was event fatigue and people did get burnt out. Actually, when I first started at DC Comics in 2002, we didn’t do any events or any crossovers until 2005 or 2006, I think it was. We actually let it go for awhile because they were just going through an event and having events for events’ sake and I don’t believe that’s the way to do anything. It’s got to come naturally from the story, naturally from the characters and if it’s going to be big it’s because of what’s happening and who’s involved.

PCZ: Was it in the back of your head when you came on board and that there was going to be a sequel to Crisis on Infinite Earths for the 20th anniversary?

DD: Speaking for myself, when I first joined the company I always wanted to revisit that territory. When I started with the company, I looked at the defining moments, the things that made DC unique and set it apart from the other companies. Crisis on Infinite Earths was a defining moment for the company, so it would be foolish for us not to build off of what we deemed our great successes.

PCZ: So now jumping over to Trinity for a minute, is that going to be an ongoing or is that just for a year as well?

IS: One year.

PCZ: Based on that and the success of both 52 and Countdown do you see a weekly comic being a mainstay at DC?

IS: I can’t let Dan answer that question. (laughs)

DD: (laughs) I absolutely do and I don’t know if I’ve ever said it, but I’ve alluded to the fact that we’re already thinking of what a fourth weekly would be… the one after this. And, again, just the same way it is with events, so it is with weeklies. The goal is to change the focus, to change the direction, but keep the level of importance when you create a story like that so people do want to come back weekly. I love the distribution system we have, which is a weekly system. People are very, very supportive of that. They go into stores every week to look for our comics, what I want to do is give them a reason, something to find every week that they’re looking forward to and that’s what we try to build with these series.

IS: Along what Dan was saying, Countdown felt different than 52 and Trinity feels different than both of them and that’s what we’re really striving for with this. We’ve got Kurt (Busiek) and Mark (Bagley) on the lead story and it’s very focused on Wonder Woman, Batman and Superman as they impact the universe and the universe impacts them. Trinity is very different and the similarity is it’s shipping (frequency). That’s it.

DD: Between the three series the only thing really in common about the three is that they take place in the DC Universe and they come out weekly.

PCZ: That’s what’s been great about them. It’s not just a continuation, it’s a new reason to buy a weekly book.

IS: This doesn’t feel like either of the other two.

PCZ: Is Trinity also leading to a particular place?

DD: Absolutely. The thing is with Trinity is it takes place within the DC Universe, it takes place within DC continuity. It doesn’t run concurrently with the events that are taking place in Final Crisis, but things that happen in Trinity do affect the other books and, more importantly, the conclusion of Trinity is another important spot for the DC Universe… where we grow from there.

PCZ: Would there ever be the thought of adding a second weekly?

DD: It’s a little too much overkill. If you look back at the two cases of weeklies prior to this there was Action Comics Weekly that DC did, which was really just basically a series of anthologies strapped together on a weekly basis. Then you go to the triangle version of Superman with the books coming out week by week, going from title to title but telling one complete story. You might see some more of that because of the way that Geoff (Johns) and James Robinson are working on Superman right now, it might get the feel of something that might be coming out weekly or twice monthly.

IS: I can strongly hint at that feel.

PCZ: I’m glad you guys are bringing that back, too, it’s nice having the Superman books being cohesive.

IS: I’m a big fan of it.

DD: He loves it.

IS: I just get the biggest smile on my face talking about this. What those two guys are doing and what we have in store for ’09 and beyond with Superman, Action and Supergirl and some of the events that we have stemming out of the books as we start tying them together. I… wow, I’m stoked for what we have coming out of those books and how they’re tied together.

DD: Ian had the good fortune of sitting in on the Superman story meetings that took place with James and Geoff and the editor Matt Idleson and they presented him with the entire story and how it basically flows from now until the end of 2010.

PCZ: That’s how far you guys are planned out?

DD: Yeah!

IS: Yeah. It’s all locked up with some other stuff we have going on in the universe.

DD: More importantly, the two creators in Geoff and James, are both committed to the story. That means they’re both committed to the projects through the end of 2010.

IS: They’re just getting warmed up. It’s hard for me to stand here and be like “it’s going to be pretty good.” It’s going to be awesome.

PCZ: So, do you guys realize that you have the coolest jobs on the planet?

DD: From my standpoint, the good part is that we joke about this all the time and say when we get all worked up and we argue about what Superman should do or what Batman should do, we always take a break and say “do you realize what we’re discussing and this is our livelihood?” It’s funny because we’re about to step into a panel which is called For the Love of Comics and part of that idea that started this panel is we realized we’re doing something we truly love and something that was part of our lives for so long and sometimes you take it for granted. Every once in a while you need to step back and realize what you’re actually doing and who you’re doing it for and how much fun it is.

IS: I’m newer to the job and one of the things that first hit me is the responsibility to the characters and to the fans. The first day that settles in on you, it’s not just like “yeah, it’s gonna be awesome if we have this guy fight that guy!” We’ve got to do this right.

DD: The funny thing is when we sit in a meeting and go “this happens to Batman,” and (Ian) stops and goes “can we do that?” and we all stop and go “uuuuh, I guess we can.”

IS: Dan will say something insane, which he does everyday, and I go “can we do that?” and he’ll go “yeah, we can do that” and I’ll go “should we do that?”

DD: Which is a different question.

IS: In my short time with him some of the stuff that I felt was the craziest when it started is the stuff I’m most excited about now. So, that part of things is nuts.

PCZ: You guys probably have too much fun sitting there doing things like Rip Hunter’s board. Knowing what’s in there and what people aren’t going to see.

IS: That part’s fun.

DD: I do, I love the word games. I love the teases because that’s what I enjoyed when I was a fan, the figuring it out and being part of this process. Again, this is so interactive in certain ways in the sense that people have this intimate knowledge of our characters, even more so than we have, in some ways. We’re invested across the universe, we have to understand the entire piece, but some people just invest in a certain character and they know those characters better than we do ourselves. God bless the internet for that.

PCZ: I think you’re doing a really great job of mixing in just enough to get people interested without giving too much away or going overboard.

DD: The funny part about it… I always use this story, this actually goes back to the first year I started with DC sitting with Paul Levitz and we were talking about continuity. Big issue, we had very huge discussions about the importance of continuity, how much you should adhere to it, what is essential. Paul related a story to me when he was working on Legion of Super-Heroes. First of all, he said there’s three layers of continuity. First is what’s essential, what doesn’t change. The immutables, you know… rocket to earth, parents shot coming out of a theater. Understandable, got it. Then there’s second level continuity, the things that add value to the series. Barbara Gordon becomes Batgirl, Robin is a team-up member, these are things that happen. Then you have things that are stories that are just told for stories sake.

So, Paul relates a story about doing Legion of Super-Heroes and one day he decided to do a story to explain how the Legionaires were still teenagers. There’s one issue of Legion of Super-Heroes where you find out they’re actually hundreds of years old and somehow they’re being kept young. And he said they do the story, they print the story and it comes out and he picks it up, reads it and goes “wow, this is really a bad idea” and he never refers to it again. So, the concept is that it’s not we try to discount or discredit things that we feel don’t add to the lore, but we choose to push it aside and work around it. That way, those people who enjoyed that particular story, even tough we’re not embracing it, don’t have that taken away from them. But at the same time we find ways to move the lore of the story telling forward without that hindrance in the way.

PCZ: I think that in DC books right now there’s a lot, like you said going into Infinite Crisis, you’re going to bring back a lot more of a lighter feel… a lot more fun. To me personally, a lot of books feel almost like the silver age.

DD: Ok, let’s clear that up, because I disagree with you on both parts. Lighter, more fun feel is an area that is open for interpretation. Comedy comes from character, comedy comes from personality, comedy comes not from situation. When we were doing the later days of Justice League International and things of that nature they’d create situational comedies where they’d put the characters in ridiculous situations and had funny things happen. We stay away from that dramatically. I don’t find that funny. I find it detrimental to the character, not helpful. But if a character is in the middle of a dire situation and decides to crack a joke to lighten the tension then that sense of comedy works fine for me.

And then I’ll argue the silver age part. When people say “oh you’re getting silver age” I don’t understand what that means. Sure, some of these characters were created in what would be deemed to be the silver age and just because we’re working stories with them right now doesn’t make the DCU silver age. It just means we’re working with characters that existed then. If that was the logic then the entire Marve line would be a silver age line at this particular moment because all those characters were created then, yet nobody calls Marvel a silver age line and I don’t think they should do the same to DC.

PCZ: Where I was going with that is there is fun in the sense of fans saying that they can’t wait for the next issue of Green Lantern because it is a blast to read.

IS: Adventure is fun. Action is fun.

PCZ: The silver age reference was more in the sense of not being restrained or keeping the characters in a tight little envelope. You guys are like “let’s do something new, let’s do something different”.

IS: Yeah, we’re bringing it pretty heavy on that front.

DD: Like I’ve always said, the strength of DC comics, more so than the other universes that exist out there, is the scope of the storytelling, the spectrum of stories you can tell. We can tell stories that are buried in the magic and mystic realms of the DC Universe up to space and science-fiction. To me, we want to always show the scope and width of the universe. Not that it’s a bunch of guys sitting in a room together talking to each other consistently about things, but more so that the action is taking place and we’re showing the scope of everything we have with us.

PCZ: Going along those lines, you’ve been pretty all-encompassing within the DC Universe. Are there still any places that still need more attention or any characters that really need to be focused on?

Pauses from Dan and Ian.

PCZ: Aquaman?

DD: (laughs) You should have been at dinner last night.

IS: (laughs) Yeah, we had that conversation last night.

DD: No, one of the things I like… I loved what Greg was doing and started to do with Checkmate and some of the areas I think I want to show are the international aspects of the DC Universe from a much more grounded level than what it is. A much more meta-human level, as we would say. So that’s one of the things I want to start to explore a little bit more and similar to what we did in things like Rann/Thanagar and Reign in Hell. We’ll probably try to build stories that play upon that and those thematics as well.

IS: Along what you were saying, too, you’re going to see some elements of that in Final Crisis. They’ll creep in and then all of a sudden as the story progresses you’ll go “ah, woah!” and it starts to build. Grant’s layered some pretty amazing stuff on that level. We have a very focused event with Final Crisis and some of the stuff that’s outside the main book tackles some of the stuff you’re taking about too. I’d be curious to hear you ask that question in October.

DD: October 27th, actually.

IS: Yeah, and it turns out that the 27th is a Sunday or something.

DD: We have comics coming out on a Sunday?

PCZ: Sunday? I’ll still be willing to call and talk about it.

IS: Well, that’s during football season so I won’t even answer, I take that day off. (laughs)

DD: He’s not available. (laughs)

PCZ: Thanks very much to both of you for taking some time to chat.

DD: My pleasure.

IS: Thank you.

PCZ: Is there anything else you’d like to add, tease or throw out?

DD: No, I threw out everything.

IS: Final Crisis is awesome. Unlike everybody out there, I’ve read it, and it’s amazing. I can’t wait for people to read it, I’m literally hopping up and down, I can’t wait.

PCZ: Well, hopefully we can talk a little further along after it comes out..

IS: Yeah, please.

DD: That would be great. Talk to us after evil wins and we’ll see where we go from there.

IS: October 27th, evil wins.

DD: At 12:15.

Special thanks to Matt Brady at Newsarama for helping to make this happen.

Joseph Dilworth Jr.

Joseph Dilworth Jr. has been writing since he could hold a pencil (back then it was one of those big, red pencils, the Faber-Castell GOLIATH. Remember those? Now that was a pencil!). As the instigator of this here website he takes full responsibility for any wacky hi-jinks that ensue. He appreciates you taking the time to read his articles.