Revisiting Why Dan DiDio Is Wrong

With the hubbub of DC Universe: Rebirth, and the controversy around the apparent inclusion of a hallowed group of characters, I thought it was time to revisit a critique I did of Dan Didio’s statements on Before Watchmen. This was posted four years ago, to the date, on my personal blog, before I started writing for this web site. I know that Geoff Johns is the creative force behind Rebirth, but when someone has been as obvious as Didio in orchestrating large events for DC Comics, and he (or she) is in charge, the critique falls equally on his (or her) head.

I will probably have a specific critique of the issue after it comes out, but for now, this will suffice. Thank you, Facebook, for reminding me of this.

Dan DiDio By Luigi Novi

Dan Didio By Luigi Novi, CC BY 3.0

Dan DiDio Is Wrong

I’ve been hesitant to talk too much about the Watchmen prequels. While the situation irritates me from a creative standpoint (read: no imagination to do a sequel or a prequel), it doesn’t really affect me. However, recently, Dan DiDio gave comments about the controversy surrounding it and addressed Watchmen co-creator Alan Moore’s complaints about the prequels and the way DC has treated him over the years. The article is at the Guardian’s Facebook page.

Let’s start at the beginning:

“We knew when we were trying to build these books that there were going to be a lot of questions, concern, and a lot of deep introspection about what we’re trying to do here. We wanted to make sure if anything that the books could stand on their own merits and their own creative strengths, which is one of the reasons we assembled the teams we did,” said DiDio, who admits that at one point, “even our own internal staff were having problems with it”. But “we’re not going to shy away from the controversy on this – as a matter of fact we’re embracing it because we have belief in the strength of the product and stand behind it.”

This is something that I can’t dispute the facts on, because Didio doesn’t give examples of which DC staff members having problems, but given if the treatment of writers recently that have publicly complained about their treatment by DC, I doubt very seriously that anyone complained to Dan Didio, and the staff members he is talking about are ones he is certain exist, but hasn’t been able to identify. As far as having belief in the strength of the project, flooding the market with 35 issues is not demonstrating faith in the strength of the product, it’s catering to a collector’s mentality in the grand old Pokemon “gotta catch ’em all” mentality DC has exhibited under DiDio. Flashpoint, Final Crisis, Darkest Night are also examples of this strategy.

In the prequels, DiDio revealed, the Silk Spectre comic is a coming-of-age story about a girl in the late 60s who rebels against her mother, the Comedian’s back story will take a look at “turbulent times in the government”, Nite Owl’s is “almost a father and son-style story as one man hands the mantle of Nite Owl to the other” and Dr Manhattan’s a time-shifting journey through history. Rorschach’s story, predictably, is “extremely violent”.

Silk Spectre’s mother drove her to the Crimebusters meeting. Her mother pushed her into being a super-hero. If she were rebelling, she would have quit the costumed gig like she had in the original story. The Golden Age Nite Owl didn’t know who Dan Dreiberg was until well into the near ending of his career by the Keene act, there was no passing of the mantle, and no father and son relationship, not even in the original story. I find the Dr. Manhattan time shifting story as wholly unoriginal, as Alan Moore used it as a plot element in the original story, and as a way to tell the history of the characters. Rorschach was meant as an homage to not only Ditko’s Question, but Mr. A as well, a crimefighter that sees the world as black and white. The ultra-violent nature was only a side effect of the perceived insanity created by his failure to save a small child. If an Ultra-violent story was desired, I would propose the Comedian for the venue, but putting out a violent story for the sake of a violent story is not good writing. The violence in Watchmen reinforced the characters, progressed the story and resolved sub-plots. It wasn’t there for the sake of being there.

The Ozymandias prequel “is basically the string that ties it all together, from his story of how he first formulates his idea of how to save the world to the moment when he decides to execute that plan”, and the Minutemen miniseries will chronicle “the final days of the Minutemen and how that team really came apart”. The first book in the series, Minutemen #1, is out on 6 June, with a new issue to follow each week.

This is strictly retelling the same story that got told in much briefer form in the original story, and in a way that revealed the nature of the Ozymandias character. The Minutemen falling apart was not a “final days” story, but a final years as everything slowly deteriorated as society changed. The story was also told already by Alan Moore.

DiDio is hopeful the books might just help save the struggling comics industry. “Honestly, it dates back to when we started the ‘New 52’ line of books and relaunched the entire DC universe. The industry we saw was fading, for several reasons, whether the strength of the product or the fact there’s been so many other distractions taking people away from buying comics. We saw our sales not just in DC but across the industry starting to flag a bit and we knew we had to do something about it, take some dramatic steps in order to reinvigorate our fan base and get people excited about comics again,” he said.

The industry is fading for several reasons, competition for entertainment dollars from video games, the Internet, and a distribution system that does not reach out to find new readers in places that they already go. The industry also loses fans when editors like DiDio tell them to buy more every few months. DC has produced good books, but over saturation of pricey collections like the Absolute Editions and leaping from event to event has demonstrated no confidence in those creators. DiDio goes for the fast solution, instead of the slow build. Look how long it took for Sandman to generate it’s fan base of people who didn’t read comics. DC squandered that by not building another book that people that don’t read comics can get behind while that fan base were buying Sandman. The only title to come close has been Fables, which started six years after Sandman ended.

“Once we reintroduced our line it gave us the strength to say we should look at other things that we knew would excite the fans. When you have a product like Watchmen that is as worldwide known as it is, and the fact there are millions of copies in print, we wouldn’t be doing our jobs if we didn’t go out and say, ‘is there other ways we can grow new material from this?’ We went out and reached the original creators and they had passed, but we still believed this was the right choice to make. And in doing so we went out with the strongest creators possible, so while you may question the decision you can’t question the quality of the product and the quality of the people behind the product.”

He’s making a straw man argument here, because I don’t believe anyone is question the quality of the work that they haven’t seen yet or the quality of the creators. They are question DiDio’s ethics. He can’t defend the later so he creates the former to swat down.

DiDio says he can understand Moore’s perspective. “Honestly I can understand why he might feel the way he does because this is a personal project to him. He has such a long and illustrious career and he’s been able to stand behind the body of work he’s created. But quite honestly the idea of something shameless is a little silly, primarily because I let the material speak for itself and the quality of the material speak for itself.”

Then why is he talking so much about it?

As for depending on Moore’s ideas, DiDio says that “all the characters in all the universes and all that we do in comics, we’re constantly building on other people’s lores and legends. Watchmen in some ways fits that bill as we have done in so many series in the past. In this particular case we feel very strong about what we’re doing and honestly I’m going to let the product speak for itself.”

Again, then why is he talking so much about it?

Even Moore himself has worked with characters he hasn’t created, points out DiDio. “Realistically some of Alan’s strongest works at DC outside of Watchmen were built off of characters like Swamp Thing which was created by Len Wein, Superman, Batman, so many of our great characters he’s worked on and they helped build his career.”

However Alan’s strongest work has probably been outside of DC. From Hell, America’s Best Comics, Miracleman and so many more were done without DC having creative input behind it, either literally or historically. Many of the stories Alan Moore did for DC, outside of Swamp Thing, which was some of his earliest American work in a market that had few outlets for talented, yet relatively unknown creators. DC has also made use of those few stories for some of their biggest projects over and over again, cheapening the impact.

The majority of characters that Alan Moore has used that he hasn’t created have come from the public domain, and in many ways the depth of redefining that he has done with those characters shows Alan Moore’s talent for creating something out of whole cloth that no one else thought to try in nearly a century. It also shows Moore as a well-read writer with interest outside of comic books, albeit a genuine love for them, although that love has been deteriorated by his treatment from DC over the years.

DC says Watchmen was “a work for hire agreement at the start”, however. And it provides such a rich basis for prequels, according to DiDio. “The stories and ideas are so well defined, and there are so many throwaways in the body of the original work, a one-line mention or a side item or a cameo shot of a character, that were basically great wonderful springboards we could grow the world from,” he said. “That’s why when everybody says this is a finite story, true if you’re looking at the beginning, middle, end of that particular story itself. But when you’re talking about the characters, there’s nothing finite about them. They have endless possibilities in the types of stories we could tell with them. And like I said we’ve found the right creators to tell those stories.”

Again, we come to the straw man argument, DiDio doesn’t address the contract, and the company line is that it was work for hire, although it has been firmly reported that the rights were meant to transfer. However, instead of defending the companies enforcement of its side of the agreement, that it is within their right to keep it in print as long as it makes them a profit, he goes back to the potential that the characters have for more stories.

The artists and writers working on the books – including Brian Azzarello, Darwyn Cooke and Len Wein – have “an incredible résumé of classic stories which have really helped change what comics are today”, said DiDio. “From our standpoint we wanted to make sure that regardless of what people feel about how this came about to be, they have no question that this isn’t the best people possible to do it. If it was ever going to be done, these are the people that should be handling it.”

Again, I don’t think anyone has criticized the creators. I certainly wouldn’t, because for the most part, I actually think that they’re all quite competent in their ability to craft a readable and in most cases, an enjoyable comic. I don’t know why DiDio keeps coming back to his straw man after he’s already knocked it down. I appreciate that he’s standing behind his talent, I just wish he would when they disagree with him publicly.

He has not spoken to Moore about the prequels, but said that if the British author “did get a chance to read them, I hope he looks at them with an open mind and a chance to understand this is a love letter to what he created, and more importantly that the strength of his work is allowing other people to grow and tell other stories which will hopefully inspire other creators along the way. In the way he was inspired by the creators when he was younger, we’re hoping these ideas and these books are inspiring new people, so that we continue to grow the comics business as a whole.”

Nothing DiDio has done has strengthened the industry. Its shaken down readers for more money from more product. All great stories produced by DC has been in spite of his leadership, not because of it. Grant Morrison can write a good Superman story. Adam Hughes will always produce a cover that will catch the eye on a rack. Bill Willingham can modernize and humanize characters. I can go down the list, but all the great work that DC has put out under Dan DiDIo has not been affiliated with his massive editorially driven events. I remember Final Crisis as anything but interruptive. I remember Darkest Night as annoying, I remember the New DC 52 as forgettable.

Will there be more Watchmen follow-ups? “Let’s wait and see how these work first,” said DiDio. “At this point the audience will decide that.” So who watches the Watchmen? It’s up to you.

I have a well read, stained, first print of the Watchmen TPB. I keep it on my shelf and it remains an example of what a super-hero comic can be. Nothing has come close. It doesn’t need anything else to make it complete, I never wondered about what happened in between those scenes because frankly, it never mattered. The story was told, and it was finished.

Now I just wish Dan DiDio would be as well.

I felt like revisiting Dan DiDio’s views on Watchmen and its legacy were appropriate given the news this weekend about Rebirth.