Dan Didio: Best & Worst of DC Comics


I am sure every comic fan has now learned that after 18 years the Co-Publisher and former VP-Executive Editor of DC Comics, Dan Didio was released from his position. By all accounts this decision came down from the new corporate overlords at DC’s parent company Warner Bros. While we could sit here for days arguing over the why and how and who said what, but I am not here for that today. What I want to look are the accomplishments Didio experienced in this role. One does not have a job for close to two decades without leaving an imprint so today I want to look at the legacy, for good or ill, left by Dan Didio at DC Comics.

BEST

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Exclusive Talents: When Dan Didio was first brought in to DC Comics, he was taking charge of a publisher which was a distant second to their competitors at Marvel. He knew in order to catch up with the House of Ideas he would need the best creators on his side and set about doing that. Seemingly out of the blue reports began to break of top tier writers and artists  inking exclusive deals with DC. Talents like: Grant Morrison, Geoff Johns, Tim Sale, Mark Waid, and Frank Quitely all committed to DC locking them away from competing publishers. In a largely freelance based industry this kicked off a bit of an exclusivity war as Marvel too began to throw out contracts for their own creative talents. Ultimately when there is a bidding war for talented professionals, it is good for said talented professionals who feel appreciated and their fans as well who see the powers which be in a competitive race to put out the best product possible. 

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New 52: Without a doubt, this relaunch of DC’s publishing line was the biggest contribution Dan Didio made in his time in charge. Across all of the media landscape noise was being made that DC Comics was going through a massive reboot. In 2011 the publisher would launch 52 new and diverse titles giving their characters fresh starts and new beginnings with what he saw as a hip and edgy tone in order to bring in new readers. When this reboot finally rolled out it was met with widespread success as DC books were met with blockbuster sales bringing in new and returning readers as well curious current readers.

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Geoff Johns on Green Lantern: When Dan Didio took over DC Comics, writer Geoff Johns was seen as the new golden boy in the industry. Aside from a run on the Avengers the bulk of his work has been at DC so it only made sense to sign him to an exclusive deal and offer him bigger projects and more creative freedom. His career is one that has touched on all of DC’s character at some point from Batman to Firestorm. But arguably his biggest imprint was left on Green Lantern. Beginning with the blockbuster Green Lantern Rebirth which saw fan favorite hero Hal Jordan return to life, Johns embarked on a seven year run on Green Lantern which introduced a new mythology and epic sci-fi tone to the book. This run saw classic Lantern tales like: “Green Lantern: Secret Origin”, “the Sinestro Corps. War”, and “Blackest Night”.

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All-Star Superman: While it was short lived the All-Star comics line gave readers one of the most beloved Superman stories of all time. Writer Grant Morrison and artist Frank Quitely were given the freedom to tell a tale which cut to the core of the Man of Steel. While saving a crew of astronauts, Superman is overexposed to solar radiation courtesy of Lex Luthor. The effects of this proves life-threatening to the hero and with his days numbered he sets out to prepare those in his life for a world without him in it. Combining Silver Age wackiness with true heartfelt emotion All Star-Superman was a hit with critics and fans alike.

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Diversifying Publishing: For so long, one of the hallmarks of reading about comic book superheroes is that you had to hunt down your local comic shop and find a book that you hoped was not bogged down in decades of mythology you were unaware of. But last year Dan Didio made moves to change that up. He would go on to introduce DC Ink which would market books based on DC Comics characters for the ever popular Young Adult reader market. For reader younger than that he created DC Zoom which would market it’s books to all ages readers. The long term effects of this movies have not been seen yet but this will no doubt go a long way in bringing new fans to the DC Universe.

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Scott Snyder on Batman: There was a time when; Eisner winner, Harvey winner, and best-selling writer Scott Snyder was only the guy behind the critical darling American Vampire for DC’s mature reader line Vertigo. But when a creative shake-up happened in Gotham City it left the window open for Snyder to leap in and write Dick Grayson as Batman in the pages of Detective Comics. This became one of the most buzzed about books in the industry and when the New 52 rolled Didio gave the writer a chance to steer the main Batman series along with artist Greg Capullo. Since then Scott Snyder has penned a number of beloved Bat-tales and has arguably become the most influential writer the character has had in the modern era. This is largely because Dan Didio recognized the talent this writer possessed and gave him the chance to reach new career highs.

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52: The idea of a weekly comic book series is something that had not been seriously attempted since the early 90’s. But following the crossover event Infinite Crisis, the timeline of the DC Universe jumped forward one year. This sparked the idea of a weekly series which would be released in real time and track what happened in that missing year. Dan Didio knew this was no easy task and would require an all-star team of talent. Editor Steve Wacker was put in charge of a writer’s room of: Mark Waid, Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, and Greg Rucka with industry vet Keith Giffen working the layouts and JG Jones doing all the covers. Despite the odds being against them, all 52 issues of 52 were released on time to great success as it explored new sides of the DCU.

WORST

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New 52: Of course this was bound to be here in both lists. While the New 52 was met with initial success with booming sales as time passed things changed. The tone of the DC Universe seemed to take on a darker and more cynical tone. Not only this but the continuity of this rebooted universe seemed to be all over the place. The rich legacy and history of the DCU which had long been it’s strength had been erased and to put it lightly fans missed it. Ultimately DC Comics’ Geoff Johns had to step in and fix the mess. With a grasp on what made DC Comics so beloved to begin with he launched his vision for Rebirth, which wiped away the edgy darker tone of the New 52 and returned many beloved elements of continuity back to the comic pages.

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Batwoman Marriage: One of the stranger and oft-criticized things about Dan Didio’s take on superheroes is his dislike of the institution of marriage. Which is why when he got to mold the DCU to his liking in the New 52 the wedded bliss of Superman and Lois as well as the Flash and Iris came to an end. His despising of holy matrimony would be the source of one of DC Comics’ biggest blunders during his era in charge. In the critically acclaimed series Batwoman, the creative team of JH Williams III and W. Haden Blackman had been fostering the relationship between the title character and the character of Maggie Sawyer. Seeing a same-sex relationship portrayed in such a realistic and positive light earned the book a number of cheerleaders and even a GLAAD Media Award . Naturally relationships go somewhere and the ultimate plan was for Batwoman AKA Kate Kane to marry Sawyer. However, this violated Didio’s edict of no marriage and he shot the idea down. The creative team quit the book and protest and the decision faced widespread backlash for both stifling creativity and for cowering down instead of making a bold stand for homosexual rights.

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Gail Simone Fired…Then Not Fired: Popping up on the comic’s radar thanks to her groundbreaking blog Women in Refrigerators, Gail Simone has been one of the most respected writers in the industry. When Didio made the controversial decision to have fan favorite character Barbara Gordon leave her wheelchair and mantle of Oracle to return to being Batgirl, Simone seemed to be one of the few writer who could tackle such a heavy task with the right even-handed approach. Her Batgirl series proved to be one of the publisher’s biggest successes. This is why readers were caught off guard when she was abruptly fired from the book. Not only was she fired but it was done with the impersonal touch of an email. Needless to say fans revolted to such a degree that Didio and crew went back on their decision and rehired Simone. To this day nobody is 100% what happened during this ordeal, but what is certain is that Didio and/or someone in his chain of command royally dropped the ball.

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Bendis on Superman: Towards the end of Didio’s tenure at DC Comics he did what many thought was impossible and brought best-selling writer Brian Michael Bendis from Marvel Comics. There was buzz about which DC Comics title the scribe would take on. To say the least there was a shock when fandom found out Didio was giving him both Superman and Action Comics. Thanks to the works of current Supes creators: Dan Jurgens, Pete J Tomasi, and Patrick Gleason, the Superman books were beloved by both fans and critics who did not see why they needed to fix something which was not broken. The Bendis era of the Man of Steel was promoted to the moon by a publisher expecting blockbuster sales. While the initial reaction to his stories were positive slowly but surely fans began to fall away. They criticized the decisions to turn Superboy from a 10 year-old kid to a teenager, Supes scandalously making out with Lois Lane IN PUBLIC, and the public revelation of his secret identity (a storyline which was attempted a few short years ago to poor results). Ultimately critics have been lukewarm on the books and despite the big name writer sales have been far from blockbuster numbers.

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All-Star Batman & Robin: While All-Star Superman will live on as one of the greatest superhero stories ever told, the other title of the failed All-Star line did not fair as well. On paper this book had everything going for it; Batman is always a popular character while Frank Miller and Jim Lee are two of the greatest talents to work on the Dark Knight. While the debut issue of All-Star Batman & Robin sold like gangbusters, readers had to wait several months for the next issue….then even longer for the following issue. The habitual lateness of this book became a punchline, and making things worse was when an issue did hit the stands it was poorly received. Eventually it became too much and All-Star Batman & Robin ended abruptly with no fanfare.

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Vertigo Cancelled: In a recent shake-up of DC’s publishing efforts which saw the instituting of many great new comics lines, one move came as a shock. Dan Didio and co-publisher Jim Lee brought Vertigo to an end. For over twenty years Karen Berger and her roster of gifted editors and creators crafted publishing wing of DC Comics which blazed a trail in the industry. Drawing in an older audience than comics were usually marketed to they introduced new concepts and talents to the industry. Throughout it’s rich history Vertigo published some of the greatest comics of all-time including: Sandman, Hellblazer,100 Bullets and Fables. To see this giant of the business unexpectedly cut down was a shock to the entire industry and left an incredibly poor taste in the mouths of many fans.