DC Entertainment gave New York Comic Con attendees a peek at some of their publishing slate -- spanning DC Comics, Vertigo and DC Digital -- early Friday afternoon, with a panel consisting of Scott Snyder, Lee Bermerjo, Kyle Higgins and the "Batman: Li'l Gotham" team of Dustin Nguyen and Derek Fridolfs), with John Cunningham, DC's VP marketing, serving as moderator.
"Li'l Gotham" was first discussed, with Cunningham asking the team about the differences in working in the digital-first format. "It's become a little different in the way we format," Nguyen answered. "Usually when you write a page, you have a nice ending on each page; now we do it mid-panel. It's just a different way of storytelling. It's just a format. We try to keep the energy there."
"The digital readers get a chance to enjoy the holidays with the comic, the ones who read it in print are probably a little confused as to why Christmas are in February and March," Fridolfs said of the book, which is structured around the holidays.
"Batman" -- specifically the latest issue, #24 -- was up next. "We were all terrified doing ['Zero Year']," Snyder said of the currently ongoing origin storyline. "At first, all I tried to do was reclaim pieces of 'Year One.' It just wasn't coming out. It was pretty bad, I think. I realized at a certain point that the only way to do this story was get rid of everything I was holding on from the past, and make it, 'What if Batman formed today?'" Snyder thanked the fans for their support.
"We wanted [#24] to be the issue where he's reintroduced into [Gotham City] in ways that are bombastic and colorful," Snyder added. "I hope you see that we're trying really hard to give you something that's special in terms of an origin that's very much about now, and looks different than anything you've seen before," the writer said on behalf of the creative team.
Speaking of his close relationship with his "Batman" collaborator Greg Capullo, Snyder said he's not only a great artist, "He's also just a terrific guy. Really devoted to the book."
Snyder said The Riddler is "trying to make Gotham smarter" with his deadly riddles, which will come to light in the upcoming installments of "Zero Year." "The Riddler sees intelligence and strategy as the purest form of warfare." The main antagonist of this part of the story, Snyder said, is a reinvention of a very old villain that he doesn't want to name yet.
Multiple "Zero Year" tie-ins are coming in November, something that Snyder said he initially wasn't interested in, but was won over when he heard ideas from the individual writers. "The goal was to do issues that didn't suddenly interrupt what was happening in their books, but were pertinent to what's happening right now," he said.
Snyder said there are little changes in the "Death of the Family" collected edition, and that he's very proud of how it reads in one volume. It's "meant to be a meditation" on the Joker and Batman relationship, the writer said.
Moving on to another Snyder project, Vertigo series, "The Wake," Snyder said that issue #5 "really closes down the first half of the story, and a huge, cataclysmic, transformative thing happens." "The Wake" is almost two books, Snyder said, since the halves are so different in content, but it's still "one big story."
"American Vampire: Second Cycle" is coming soon, jumping 10 years to the late '60s. "If you haven't been reading the book, you actually jump on with this one," Snyder told the crowd. "It'll reintroduce you to the characters, but I think you'll find them in very different places than you'd expect."
Cunningham asked Higgins if "Batman Beyond Universe" is as "liberating to write as it feels to read." "I'm having a great time," Higgins replied. "They've given me an incredible amount of freedom, and a sandbox that's entirely my own. [Christos] Gage and I are collaborating. As much as I love writing 'Nightwing,' I can push ['Batman Beyond'] any direction I want to go with it."
Of the new dynamic between Dick Grayson and Terry McGinnis, Higgins said, "It's cool because it's so different than Bruce. Bruce has always been able to give the crimefighting advice, while Dick can give the 'what it was like to work with Bruce' advice."
Higgins moved to "Nightwing" talk, discussing the title character's recent move to Chicago to pursue his parents' killer, Tony Zucco. "I really wanted to start building a city in a world that could be Nightwing's."
Describing the upcoming "Nightwing" tie-in to "Zero Year," Higgins said, "It's kind of this cool urban fairy tale where young Dick Grayson goes off on his own adventure in the city, and all hell breaks loose in 'Zero Year.'"
Bermejo called his forthcoming Vertigo project -- which he's writing and drawing -- the "most liberating creative experience" that he's had in comics.
"The book takes place in Los Angeles 30 years after a huge earthquake completely decimates the city," Bermejo said. "LA actually secedes from the union, and becomes it's own mini-country. You have 'New Angeles,' which is a walled, citadel city; and you have the more decimated areas of the city across the Hollywood Hill, which is 'Lost Angeles.' There is no law, it is completely criminal run, kind of like a massive ghetto. The closest thing I could compare it to is something like 'The Fighter' with 'To Live and Die in L.A.'"
"Absolute Luthor/Joker," an Absolute format collection of the "Luthor" and "Joker" stories illustrated by Bermerjo and written by Brian Azzarello, is out Oct. 23.
The first fan up for Q&A asked how the panelists would handle crossovers differently. Snyder said that he likes how crossovers are done in the Bat-world, since it's less about mandates and more about creators excited to contribute their ideas.
The frequent "where is Stephanie Brown?" question gets asked, with Snyder saying they all love the character, and the fan could try asking at the Batman panel later in the day.
An audience member asked if it's difficult for writers to put themselves in the mind of the Joker. "It's really hard," Snyder answered. "I was writing the Joker, and then I would go to my kid's soccer game. That's why he's my favorite villain, though," because he sees himself as "doing the service" of exposing horrible truths. "['Death of the Family'] was about love," Snyder said, but if he comes back, "it'll be about hatred." (Side note, the fan who asked that question got the unusually lofty prize of a Google Nexus 7 -- provided from Google in commemoration of DC graphic novels arriving on Google Play -- from Cunningham.)
Regarding how the revelation of Nightwing's secret identity in "Forever Evil" #1 affect the "Nightwing" series, Higgins answered, "Stay tuned."
A fan asked how the death of Damian Wayne will affect Bruce, and Snyder pointed to writer Peter Tomasi's work in "Batman and Robin" (now "Batman and" various co-stars). "The stuff [Tomasi] has coming up regarding the echo of that loss and where it brings Bruce is great," Snyder said. "I try to stay out of the way of that; he's earned it more than any of the rest of us."
Snyder told an audience member he's planning the "biggest, craziest story" for Batman's 75th anniversary, coming up next year. Snyder informed the crowd he's also one of many marquee creators contributing a sci-fi story to the upcoming "Detective Comics" #27 anthology. (That fan gets a Kindle Fire HD, courtesy of another one of DC's digital partners, Amazon.)
Last fan question concerned the hotly contested perception that DC characters can't have happy endings. "I don't think it was about characters not deserving happy endings," Higgins said. "Creatively, you don't want to end a story. I think that's what the conversation was more about. Drama comes out of conflict. You put the characters through their paces, or otherwise you don't have a story." Snyder said he thinks it depends on the character.