At Comic-Con International in San Diego, DC Comics kicked off Friday programming with its second New 52 panel. Co-Publishers Dan DiDio and Jim Lee, Executive Editor Eddie Berganza, and Editor-in-Chief Bob Harras were on hand to answer fan questions about the September relaunch.
"When this all started, we were looking at how the books were working, and how the sales were working," DiDio said, noting that sales had been going down even in periods they usually rise and resolving that something needed to be done.
DiDio said the initiative began last October, when 23 writers were invited to meet and talk about the direction and possibilities of the DC Universe. Jim Lee said the group was "intimidating" because he isn't a writer and he was telling them where he thought the DCU was going.
Berganza said the line "had lost its epicness, its wonder," and the New 52 would be about "getting back to that."
"We hear the phrase all the time 'event fatigue,'" DiDio said, "which we equate with bad storytelling." He said that his concern was not "the people that scream 'I'm gonna quit [comics],' but the people who just walk away." These silent former fans—"they lost interest"—are most responsible for the drop in sales, DiDio suggested.
On breaking up Lois and Clark, Lee noted that there was appeal in a Superman "who can do anything, but as Clark Kent there's this thing he can't do," and that's attain the love of his life.
"We're going to start taking stuff away from Superman," Berganza said, then joking, "beginning with his underwear."
DiDio said his initial thought with the relaunch was, "we're going to do all #1s, except for 'Action' and 'Detective.'" But he ultimately decided "nobody's going to take you seriously if you don't do 'Action' and 'Detective,'" as this would send the message that things would eventually revert. "You've got to do it with your biggest books." Lee agreed to going "all in," noting that that certainly gained attention. DiDio noted that "Batman," "Action," and "Detective" have never been renumbered.
Lee said that, if he tried for 52 new series, he expected 48. "So that was my secret plan!"
Harris spoke of a "war room" where plans were mapped out, and that this allowed the editors to look at what genres hadn't been explored recently and which creators were available.
Several pages from "Justice League" #1 were shown, which Jim Lee playfully narrated with sound effects. "Those are the sounds I make when I'm drawing this stuff, too—chh chh! [helicopter noise]."
Lee noted that Batman is sweating, suggesting "this is maybe not the Batman you know—this is hard for him." Berganza stated that "Justice League is set five years in the past." Lee further bantered about Batman diving, pursued by police shooting from helicopters. "They don't care, they're shooting into people's houses," he joked. "What, they're tenements, nobody really lives there," he said to groans.
Lee talked about loving to draw pages that look like animation, and enjoyed the "limitless budget" not available in film. "We can put as many chimneys in there as we want!" He also joked that, when Batman gets punched, the cowl comes off his nose, "which is the first time I've done a scene like that—this is the New 52!"
Talking about the contrast between Green Lantern and Batman, Lee noted that Green Lantern is "cocky" and all about light, while the Dark Knight is more an urban legend. "Batman is like, can you turn off that light?"
Lee then talked about the costuming, and how many "harkened back to '30s and '40s muscle man look," though Batman has evolved a more functional, real-world look. Lee wanted to apply this to the rest of DC's heroes. He also indicated he wanted to make the Justice League look more like a team visually. Many designs were thrown around, especially for Superman, "but at the end of the day, everybody sort of gravitated toward a certain look." Mark Chiarrello, Cully Hamner, and the books' individual artists contributed to the design process.
"I knew if we did something bold with the designs, the artists of those books would be able to take them and play around with them, make them into something they can draw day in, day out," Lee said.
DiDio then spoke about characters' ages, noting that characters had aged through the years, gaining families, having multigenerational stories, etc. He said he wanted to return characters to a younger, more exciting age. Barbara Gordon was used as an example, saying that she should be in her twenties but seemed to be in her thirties, while the Teen Titans sometimes "looked and acted like 40-year-olds."
Lee also said this would create "a rollback of their experience, where it is more of a struggle," such that heroes are still finding the level of their powers.
DiDio said that, though the series are rolling back the characters' lives, he did not want to retell old stories. "We're not going to start with origin stories, we're not going to do Year Ones."
The panel then opened to fan questions.
The first question was about Power Girl. "You will see Karen Starr in 'Mr. Terrific,'" Berganza said.
Asked about "Smallville" comics following up on the television series' finale, Lee said simply, "That's a great idea," nodding his head.
"Stephanie Brown will be part of Batman's world in the New 52," DiDio said, adding, "I was a huge Spoiler fan."
Asked about the business end and what DC would consider a success, DiDio said, "We have a number in our head—we're not going to tell you what that is, because then everyone will be counting down to it." But, he added, "if we see growth across the whole line, it will be a success."
As to whether there would be a character like "Crisis's" Psycho Pirate, who remembered everything before the change, Lee said that's not what DC is shooting for right now. DiDIo added, "No trap doors built into this right now."
Asked about Barbara Gordon's revamp as Batgirl, "I think you all have faith in what Gail Simone can do," Berganza said, referring to the series writer who also wrote Oracle in "Birds of Prey." "It's not going to be a matter of, oh, she puts on tights and she's Batgirl again."
Berganza said that Superman's death is still part of his continuity. For other stories that still happened, he playfully counted off: "Krypton still exploded; was raised by Ma and Pa; Supergirl comes to Earth..."
A fan dressed as a Guardian asked whether "Young Justice," originally position on Earth-16 in the Multiverse, would fit into the new regime. "We have a 'Multiversity' series, so that should have some of the answers," DiDIo said, clarifying that there is still a multiverse.
Berganza described "Justice League Dark" as "a team who they're the only ones who will talk to each other, and that's why they're together," adding that, "you'll see how miserable these people really are."
Talking about crossover between the series, Berganza said that a panel from "Jonah Hex" also shows up in "Justice League." Lee joked, "oh, I've got to make this deadline, [mimes pasting a panel] pop, Jonah Hex is in 'Justice League!'" He said the panel is actually a train station that still exists into the present.
Asked about new concepts, DiDIo said he wanted to build up reader confidence and added that, like "Red Lanterns," new concepts will most often spring from existing series.
"Green Lantern: Rebirth" still happened, Berganza said, and "you may see that from different angles.
Asked about gay and lesbian characters, DiDio cited Batwoman, Apollo and Midnighter, and Voodoo, who is bisexual.
A fan wanted to know if, now that Superman is single, he and Wonder Woman can get together. "The question is whether Wonder Woman is single," Berganza said, eliciting oohs from the crowd.
DiDio said he was not prepared to talk about Donna Troy at this time.
Asked about the high collars, Lee noted that "there's a sense of majesty, of royalty," and that it's somewhat of a "dress uniform, something more formal." Berganza quipped, "Maybe we don't want to show vampire bites."
On JSA characters like Alan Scott and Jay Garrick, DiDio said, "we're giving those characters a rest right now." Lee added, "We gave the Wildstorm characters a rest for about a year" before bringing them into the New 52.
The difference between the many Robins as compared to Wally West as an elbowed-out Flash, DiDio said that being Robin is "kind of like an internship." When the fan brought up Neil Gaiman (somewhat confusedly), DiDio said, "If Neil Gaiman wants to write Wally, he's back."