Does DC Stand for “DiDio is a Crackhead”?

Nov-18-08

Jason and I, when we discussed reviewing comics, mentioned that it was important to us that we critique the work, not the people who created the work. I may not enjoy a comic that Rob Liefeld pencilled, but I don’t know him as a man, so who am I to attack him personally? However, if one looks at the title for this entry, it may seem that I’m here to lob personal attacks on Dan DiDio, who is the Senior Vice President and Executive Editor of the DC Universe. I don’t want to make personal attacks against DiDio, who may be a nice guy, but the decisions he often makes certainly lead me to wonder if he does not, in fact, use drugs. I certainly can’t come up with another reason for many of the things he has done.

DiDio has earned the wrath of DC Universe fans for some time now, and many people point to him as the reason that DC comics are no longer considered (by some) to be of the high quality we enjoyed in the past. I normally resist looking at easy solutions or placing the blame for anything all on the shoulder’s of one person, but it must be said that, as the Executive Editor and overseer of DC’s entire output, he must acknowledge some of the blame for the perceived dip in the DC line.

Jason and I spend more time talking about Marvel than DC, and part of that is because Jason is more of a Marvel fan. I started out as a Marvel fan, but fell into DC Comics in the late 80s-early 90s and discovered that they published some amazing stories. By the late 90s, I was reading many more DC books than I was Marvel books. Sadly, my love affair with DC began to end shortly after DiDio joined the company in 2002 (as DC Universe Vice President-Editorial). It was less than two years after DiDio became a staff member at DC that Identity Crisis was published, which I have long viewed as the point where the DC Universe became darker than I enjoyed. Rape, murder and unheroic activities seemed to invade the stories of these beloved icons with increasing regularity, and while an occasional story that hits a dark point is fine, when they seem to be the norm across the entire line of comics, I begin to back off. I have been backing off more and more over the ensuing years, even dropping titles I once loved like JSA and JLA. The frustration that I feel towards the current direction of the DCU is another reason that we don’t discuss DC that much.

DiDio has continued to steer the DC line into darker and choppier waters, all the while often uttering comments which draw down much fan ire. I personally had a friend who was ready to drive to New York and stuff DiDio in a refrigerator when he said that he didn’t see the point to Nightwing and wanted to kill him off. He has supposedly been responsible for the deaths of numerous DC Universe characters, and whether their deaths were his decision or not, he certainly had to sign off on them.

However, news today tops all of these stories, as it seems that DiDio has been fighting with two of his hottest writers. Apparently, DiDio and James Robinson, acclaimed writer of Starman and The Golden Age who just recently returned to comics to write some Superman stories, had an argument with DiDio, and quit the books, and apparently the entire DCU. Even more spectacular, DiDio apparently argued with Grant Morrison about the ending to Final Crisis, demanding rewrites, leading Morrison to say he’ll not work with DC again in the future either.

Obviously, there is likely more to both of these stories than we know, and will probably ever know, but the question before us now is how DiDio could let this happen? Is it good business to allow these writers to slip away from DC? I have some points to make, and can even offer some arguments in DiDio’s favor, but I’m curious to hear what Jason has to say first.

One could make the argument that the current path that DC Comics is traveling down was not mapped out by Dan DiDio, but it’s one that he feels helpless to diverge from. Of course, one would be totally stupid to think that. The stuff with character deaths is questionable, since we all know that superheroes come and go with no sense of boundaries when it comes to life and death. Horrible things happen to these characters in an attempt to show that they are strong and can overcome all obstacles. A quick perusal of the Women in Refrigerators page shows you all you need to know about how people are treated in superhero comics.

Not being as avid a DC fan as some, I could also begin a convincing debate about the need to inject a spark into the universe. The stories of the past few decades, for the most part, have been boring and forgettable. The characters are flat and have no true sense of themselves, no depth, no meaning. I guess that’s why I feel that Identity Crisis wasn’t a completely off-base idea. That’s not to say the actual plot and follow-through were done with any sort of class or purpose. Providing a rallying point for the hero community was important. Making that rallying point the rape and subsequent murder of a hero’s wife was disturbing, to say the least.

You know how certain parts of the world are always a bit behind the times? It takes longer for popular culture to hit the shores or technology doesn’t advance as quickly in some corners? Well, in my eyes, DC is like the Eastern Europe to Marvel’s USA and Japan. Everything is either a cheap knock-off, produced to score some immediate rewards, or it’s the real thing…only about a dozen years after the “real thing” has lost its impact.

What I mean to say is, DC seems to be stuck in the gritty back alleys of the late 80s and early 90s. Everything is done for shock value. Everything is dark and unrepentant. Everything is selfish. It’s all built on vigilante justice and an eye-for-an-eye mentality.

DiDio isn’t responsible for that first woman stuffed in a refrigerator, but he is guilty of perpetuating that ideal. “Hey, that was a stunner, huh? Let’s do it again and again and again until our readers become first completely desensitized by the violence and then just flat out tired of it!” Anger for the sake of anger is boring. Seething just to hear yourself seethe is sad. And unproductive.

Dan DiDio didn’t break the pattern, therefore, it continues unabated. Fresh ideas are offered, only to dwindle off before realizing their full potential (see, for example, 52, Countdown, World War III, One Year Later, Infinite Crisis, Trinity and Final Crisis…to name a few). The biggest misstep had to be the whole One Year Later debacle. I owned my comic book store during that slash-and-burn period. We were told that all these crazy things were going to develop. We’ll all be shocked by stuff! A new Aquaman! A new Blue Beetle! A new Freedom Fighters! A new Atom! Oooh! You know what I remember from that period? Ollie Queen became Mayor of Star City. That’s it. And even that was uneventful.

Sure, there were Previews listings with parts of covers obscured and mixing and matching of some teams, but in the end nothing changed. In fact, they never even really explained the OYL thing…it just ceased to be (like Bart Allen). And that wasn’t all. The timing of the event was so ridiculous. I don’t recall if it was supposed to coincide with 52 or happen afterwards or whatever, but reading 52 just confused things further. And don’t get me started on all the dangling plotlines that 52 offered up and then never resolved (just how the hell did Hawkgirl get back down to normal size? When did Firestorm and Cyborg get disconnected from each other? And where is Alan Scott’s other eye?). I was actually enjoying a lot of DC titles right before all of this happened. In fact, I had soured on Marvel’s youth movement and was gravitating almost solely towards DC. Nowadays, aside from Vertigo, I read one DC title (Secret Six) and it’s currently on Death Row with little chance of reprieve. The DC universe means nothing to me anymore.

But enough about me. Let’s talk about all the near-public fallouts between DC management and their creators. We all know that Alan Moore has already stated that he won’t work with DC again. Not too long ago, Chuck Dixon was unceremoniously dropped from his writing duties. And now both Robinson and Morrison have had disruptive conversations with Mr. DiDio. You’re right in concluding that we can’t make complete judgments on these events without more information, but we can certainly speculate!

Is there a “Big Picture” that DiDio has in mind? I know he can’t reveal it without spoiling the plots of many titles and the development of many characters, but the general flailing about that seems to be dominating DC’s stable does not instill confidence. Morrison seems to have had a large hand in recreating and directing things for the past two or three years now. His influence is felt in nearly every title. But were all of his ideas home runs? Not by a longshot. And we can discuss that further later on in the week.

Same goes for Robinson. Here’s a favorite creator who put together a great run of comics, playing in a nearly forgotten corner of DC’s world with near autonomy. That autonomy helped him guide his characters and create a coherent vision. But that same autonomy may have colored his view of how things are done in the larger sandbox of licensed characters whose histories are written out on the sides of lunchboxes and within the confines of Saturday morning cartoons.

Who’s at fault? I certainly don’t know for sure. I’m not friends with Mr. Morrison. I’ve never shared a conversation with Mr. Robinson. I can attest to neither their characters nor their temperaments. To the same extent, I do not know Mr. DiDio. However, past practice would demonstrate that the decisions made by the editorial department have not always inspired, let alone made sense.

Wow. That suddenly sounded very academic of me. I apologize. Now I feel like I need to let loose with a stream of obscenities and snarky, back-handed insults. Blah.

Did anything I just say make any sense to anyone?

I think what you said made a lot of sense, and you’re absolutely right when you say that the dust-ups with Morrison and Robinson may have been a case of finicky creative types and not DiDio’s fault. Of course, if he’s had problems with three creators (counting Dixon) in the recent past (all three of whom have successfully worked with other editors on long term projects) it does begin to look a little worse for DiDio.

Perhaps DiDio felt that losing these creators was worth it. Chuck Dixon has always been a solid writer, but never a fan favorite, so perhaps DiDio thought Dixon wouldn’t be missed. I believe that Morrison had said he was going to leave comics, either for good or for a nice long rest, after Final Crisis, so perhaps DiDio figured he had nothing to lose by going toe to toe with him. And Robinson did leave comics for years after he wrapped Starman; perhaps DiDio thought that Robinson would leave again. But even if DiDio believed all of the arguments I’ve laid out here, it still seems poor business sense to drive off top talent in this way. Dixon may not have made Wizard’s Top Ten Writer Lists (and he very well may have at some point), but he always was on time, and his books sold in the middle tier of titles at the very least. Morrison may have decided not to leave comics, or to only take a short break, and Robinson may have been back for the long haul. And even if none of those statements are true, breaks with creative talent like these seem to be a bad idea, since you also are sending a message to all of your other talent; a message that you’re not open to new or different ideas, and that you don’t play well with others.

In the end, my concern is that DC seems to be spiraling into a black hole of continuity. Most of their titles have become so bogged down in continuity that a reader has to be a long time fan to be able to understand them. It seems like they’re now writing only to the same, hardcore audience that has been buying their titles for the past twenty years. Perhaps this isn’t a bad strategy. After all, that hardcore audience is the vast majority of the people buying their product. But I can’t help but think that no one new will be drawn into the DC Universe by the stories currently gracing the pages of their comics line. I can’t help thinking that DiDio seems to be forcing his creative vision onto the pages of the DCU, and that his vision is somewhat lacking, and very short term.

Short term? We wish! This “overhaul” has dragged on for nearly four years now, slogging through special series after special series, with entire worlds reborn and left undeveloped. When will it all end (or at least start making sense)?

Cutting ties (or having them cut) with Morrison and Robinson definitely sends a message to the other creators and it’s not a very pretty one. DiDio is basically saying “my way or the highway.” and if he won’t kowtow to even the fans’ favorite writers, then what does that mean for the day-to-day, in the trenches people?

It’s not like Morrison needs DC. I’m sure he’ll be more than happy to sit at home in his immaculate suits with his feet up on his pagan ritual dais and collect his royalty checks. There are very few writers these days who are able to not only write a good superhero yarn, but are also able to look ahead, deconstruct the genre and offer insights into how new technology, new social mores and new political developments will affect stories. Morrison has that kind of acid-tripped outlook. Even if you don’t understand all of his work, you can’t deny that it’s filled with obscure notions, intelligent details and far-reaching revelations. To disconnect that free-flowing font of creativity from DC is foolish at best, and flat out depressing at worst.

Robinson is someone who has proven he can make miracles out of tidbits. His characters are strong. His stories are rooted in pragmatic solutions. And his dialogue has a natural tone that’s pretty rare in today’s stammering, overwrought world of superheroes (I’m looking at you, Bendis). Again, removing someone from the process who is able to put the pieces together calmly and effectively is the same as trying to perform brain surgery blindfolded with live chickens tied to your hands. Why would you even try? And who are you trying to fool?

You’re right to think that DC is cutting off its nose to spite its aging fanboy base’s face. The biggest reason for my ambivalence towards DC is the density of its continuity. They offer nothing for someone who just wants to be entertained. Reading a DC title is the same experience as subscribing to the Wall Street Journal if you don’t care about government policy or investment profiles. It’s a taxing and humiliating process that either makes you feel incompetent or annoyed. Not much incentive to keep doing it, huh?

Booting the very people who offer new ideas to experiment with or a new direction to explore is isolationist, and we all know how well isolated countries thrive. That is to say, not at all. DC, in its current state, is a dying breed…an exhausted, lumbering elephant just looking for a place to collapse and be picked apart by vultures and poachers.

Jeez, that was a bit over the top, huh?

Look, I sincerely hope that DiDio does have a vision. The only problem is that he doesn’t seem to be willing to share it with anyone. And there’s no way in the world, with numerous titles and ever-changing characters under his supervision, that he can effectively control it all by himself. If no one else buys into what he’s doing, then he’s a lame duck. I hope I’m wrong, but it doesn’t look good. The rumors have swirled before and, in this industry, rumors have a strange way of coming true.

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