The room for DC Comics' first installment of its marquee DC Nation panel at Comic-Con International in San Diego was already primed for news out of the publisher thanks to the previous forum to have taken the stage being a DC Writers focus featuring talents from Denny O'Neil to James Robinson. And while the crowd was already chock full of talk of the DC cast of characters, when co-publishers Dan Didio and Jim Lee took to the mic the discussion swung from introspective chats to news-driven Q&A.
Didio took the stage first as Lee was running a bit late, though the co-publisher was joined on stage by DC VP of Sales Bob Wayne, "Sweet Tooth" cartoonist and upcoming Superboy writer Jeff Lemire, the new "Teen Titans" team of JT Krul and Nicola Scott, "Justice League of America" writer James Robinson and "Fables" writer Bill Willingham. As is par for the course with Didio-led panels, a fan in a Hawkgirl costume also appeared to play "enforcer" for the panel.
"I haven't done a panel in a while so I hope I haven't lost the skills to ask questions and then avoid them properly," Didio said in his introduction before adding of the questions as to what DC's big announcement was for the show "There is no big announcement from DC this year. I think DC is big enough as is."
Didio moved quickly to a poll of the audience on each of the families of DC titles, starting with Superman. After getting some praise from the assembled DC die hards, the co-publisher plugged the upcoming appearance of Death of the Endless in "Action Comics" by saying, "Last year, everyone was saying there was too much death in DC Comics, and now they're applauding it."
J. Michael Straczynski's "Grounded" arc in "Superman" was discussed where Didio noted of the story's hook of pulling in real life suggestions from fans "We've got some really, really wonderful responses that we're going to be incorporating into the story." He added that the point of the story was to take the character back to his roots with "a sense of Americana."
Lee arrived and the panel moved onto the Batman franchise where Didio confirmed that writer Grant Morrison is staying on the Bat-books in the future, however Wayne wouldn't let him say what title the superstar would be on.
As for the highly publicized new costume for Wonder woman, Jim Lee said, "I was thinking that we wanted something completely different" before adding that "We really wanted something that would make everyone go ape crap. And there's a reason in the story for the costume change, and as it goes along it'll evolve." He also said that he was sure that in a few years time, he'd meet a fan who would say that "Wonder Woman" #600 was their first and favorite comic as he's seen happen several times in the past with books he'd never expected.
A fan then said she loved the costume in general but hated the jacket, to which Lee replied, "It's attached to her back and sewn into her flesh. It's a magical jacket!" He then said he'd take the note into their next editorial meeting. "Once the jacket comes off, it'll be a big story point, and we're hoping for similar press coverage," joked Didio.
Discussion next swung to the Justice League, and when fans responded both negatively and positively to Robinson's "Cry For Justice" and what became of Roy Harper, the writer explained that part of his inspiration was seeing American servicemen at the airport who had lost limbs and had to live with prosthetics. "I think having a hero with a prosthetic limb that's not a cyber arm that makes it okay is a really good thing," he said.
Talk of Roy brought up "Green Arrow" where Krul explained that part of his goal for the series was giving him a homebase in Star City like Batman has with Gotham. "We wanted to give him his own center of the universe, and other people will come in like Hal [Jordan] is in issue #2," the writer explained of how he'll play smaller city-focused stories off of bigger DCU events. "At the end of the day, it's a guy trying to do what he thinks is right with a bow and arrow."
Vertigo became a topic of discussion as Willingham delved into the upcoming "Fables" #100, which will be a 100-page issue. The writer explained that 60 of those pages are "a final reckoning between one of the Fables villains that's been hanging around for a while and one of our main characters" while the rest of the issue will contain a story written by series artist Mark Buckingham for Willingham to draw and a section featuring "celebrity readers" asking questions on the series to be answered in comic form.
Many DC readers spoke on how they'd been turned on to Lemier's "Sweet Tooth" because of his upcoming DCU work. The writer said that his plan for his upcoming Superboy serial was to have "characters visiting Smallville and how that small town life affects them."
Stanley "Artgerm" Lau of "Batgirl," "Great Ten" and "Mighty Crusaders" fame will not be moving to interior art anytime soon but will continue to draw covers for DC, Didio said.
The "Rise of Arsenal" issue by Krul that rocketed around the comics blogosphere with a largely negative reaction was brought up by a fan wondering if editorial interference was the cause of the story not connecting with fans. Didio took the question first, saying, "Every book isn't going to please everybody...that's why we sit in this room like this. You're not going to find two people with the same reaction to any book." He added, "We think that was the right tone and the right voice for what was going on there. You may disagree, and that's okay...The fact that we're talking about an Arsenal book is something that would never have happened [before this story.]"
Krul then took the mic saying, "This was a story I felt needed to be told...if we would have done a new JLA issue where nobody talked about it [it would have been out of place.] This is what that story was about."
Didio noted that most of the people that reacted positively to this story had small children of their own, meaning the writers "touched a real nerve" which was a good job and not a bad job.
Later, the issue came up again in terms of why writers would make such awful things happen to a character like that, and Krul said, "It's tricky to find a character you can take these chances with....you can do stuff with Roy Harper that you can't do with Green Arrow." He then joked that they weren't going to cut off Green Arrow's arm...until issue #7.
Robinson chimed in on the hero. "If you look at the character and get a little zen about it, he's a self-sabotager," he said. "Even in the Titans back in the day, he was the bad boy...you want to make him interesting and see what you can do with him."
A fan asked after the fate of the Johnny DC line, saying that without "Super Friends" his daughter didn't have an age appropriate comic featuring Wonder Woman. Didio teased that a "Young Justice" comic would be on the way along with the new TV series, also saying that "There are [kids] books in the works....they're really not cancelled. A bunch of stuff is coming your way."
When the Wonder Woman redesign came back up, Lee joked that he's slowly working to redesign all the DC heroes. Getting serious, he said that he loves how Batman has many different looks from the classic '60s "yellow oval" look to the movie armor to the animated series look, and "To me, all the characters could have that spectrum of looks, and it'd be fun to put them all in new costumes." He promised some new takes on classic characters would be revealed at the DC Universe Online panel this week.
A fan asked after the fate of material from recent DC co-features like "Blue Beetle" in "Booster Gold" and whether they'd be traded eventually. Wayne said they were looking at ways to make the new co-feature material stand on its own more, while Didio said the upcoming "DC Comics Presents" books in the $7.99 price range would be like mini trades and would get material that hadn't been collected back into print, including the possibility of "Blue Beetle."
A reader inquired after Starman Jack Knight, and Robinson said of the character's return "never say never" but for now he was focusing on Mikaal Tomas. When the fan followed up on whether the blue-skinned Starman would meet Solomon Grundy coming up, Robinson said yes.
A young fan asked towards the panel's end if DC's new "Batman Beyond" series would continue past its initial run, and Didio said that yes, sales were better than expected and more tales of the future of Gotham would be on tap.