Based on current goings on I had considered naming this article “Dan DiDio (Or The Fabulous Emancipation Of One DC Universe)” but that both seemed in poor taste and date the article even more than the topic.
Yes, you heard right. Apparently Dan DiDio is no longer going to be the co-publisher at DC Comics. Whether he was fired, left on his own, or had a mutual parting of ways, most of us don’t really care. We’re just glad he’s gone. DiDio showed little understanding or interest in the DC Universe that fans of the comics loved so much, drove off creators, and didn’t seem to care what the readership thought. It led to the loss of longstanding imprints, the creation of new ones, and decisions that ran more people off than it brought in. He’s done a lot of damage but with luck a replacement might fix those problems.
However, there’s the problem and why we don’t really have an opening to celebrate. DiDio is gone, but that doesn’t mean DC fans are immediately in the clear. He left a lot of damage behind and while we don’t have a replacement announced, or even know if Jim Lee is or isn’t going to work alone, this leaves the future of DC Comics and the DC Universe in question.
DiDio started out as vice-editor as well as a writer. I haven’t read a lot of his stories but there were a few decent ones in the mix. He also had some good ideas like Wednesday Comics, where DC titles were re-imagined as newspaper strips. Whatever bad we can say about him (and I’ll be saying quite a few and have in the past) DiDio’s problem wasn’t that he wanted to tell bad stories or necessarily destroy DC Comics, though at times it felt like it. I’ve joined in the joking that DiDio really wanted to run Marvel Comics and not DC Comics. You can see it in the stories he pushed for or at least greenlit or let go past.
The damage really started with 2004’s Identity Crisis, what started out as an interesting superhero murder mystery led to the new direction DiDio wanted to push the DC Universe towards. It’s a story where Sue Dibny, fan favorite character and wife of lesser known superhero The Elongated Man (he didn’t make it to TV until a few years ago while similar-powered character Plastic Man is the stretchy DC hero non-comic fans know), is murdered. DiDio would claim years later that heroes shouldn’t have families, although I’m sure most every soldier, police officer, and rescue worker on the planet would disagree. After this DC would show a dislike for superhero marriages. Superman is kept away from Lois, Green Arrow and Black Canary separate, Batwoman wasn’t allowed to marry longtime girlfriend Maggie Sawyer after gay marriage was made legal in the real and presumably DC universes, and Batman’s impending marriage to Catwoman was recently stopped from happening after we were told Batman “needs his pain” or some garbage. A lot of what brought down the DC Universe could be seen in this miniseries, because it didn’t stop there.
Evidence apparently pointed to Doctor Light, the supervillain not to be confused with the hero of the same name in the DCU. It turned out that years ago Light had somehow gotten onto the Justice League’s satellite headquarters they used at the time. While the other heroes were out fighting crime Sue was alone on the satellite, and when Light found her he ended up raping her. When some of the heroes returned they messed with Doctor Light’s mind, turning him into a goofy villain, a commentary on the direction writer Brad Meltzer apparently thought the character went after being a fairly decent threat to Green Lantern and other heroes. When his memory returned he became what some fans referred to as “Rapey McRapepants”, declaring he would rape the families of the heroes and sometimes the heroes themselves. If that wasn’t bad enough, when they messed with Light’s mind Batman showed up and tried to stop them, only to get his own memory of the event erased. This not only pushed a villain into darker territory but destroyed the aspirational aspects of the DC heroes, and when Batman found out what happened he started to distrust other heroes, leading to worse storylines afterwards and a re-imagining of Jack Kirby’s OMAC and Brother Eye into a spy network on the heroes that went crazy and tried to wipe out the world, a concept that has been Brother Eye’s treatment in other non-comics DC universes (even a recent direct-to-video LEGO movie) as well as the main DC universe.
And then it turned out this part of the story was a red herring, making the whole thing pointless to the story just to take DC out of the light, aspirational universe it was built on for a horrible retcon. Meanwhile Tim Drake’s father was killed, and that’s just part of the body count the DC universe would take under DiDio’s tenure, Alfred Pennyworth being the latest victim, though DiDio famously wanted to kill Dick Grayson off as well because he has issues with legacy characters despite being responsible for bringing back Barry Allen as the Flash and Hal Jordan as Green Lantern, both legacy characters. They also decided to kill Barry’s mom and frame his dad in a way that trying to undo it nearly destroyed the universe. I’ve never seen reality so determined to kill a character, not even Jason Todd. It all turned out to be the work of a crazed Jean Lorring, ex-wife to then-Atom Ray Palmer, thus ruining her character as well. Other characters joined her in other stories, like Leslie Thompkins, another Batman confidant, as a way to bring back fan-favorite character Stephanie Brown, the Spoiler. Pa Kent was killed off, the Kryptonians were freed from Kandor–which had been added in after being taken out of continuity–turned evil, and were killed off, and the body count would even include beloved little girl Lian Harper in the terrible Justice League: Cry For Justice miniseries that also ruined Green Arrow and Roy Harper. Roy and Lian weren’t even part of the storyline until it was time to kill and damage some more people. DiDio may not be responsible for each idea, but he either greenlit them or didn’t stop them because it’s in line with his goal of darkening the DC universe.
Then came the New 52, a complete reboot of the DC Universe…that actually wasn’t all that complete. A lot of writers had their story plans cut short unless they had the clout to somehow keep it going, like Grant Morrison and Geoff Johns. The timeline became a bigger mess and things would change between the initial issue and the trade because nobody was really sure what the new timeline was. Batman had all of his Robins in the course of five years. Superman lost his wife and became more isolated and broody, while George Perez didn’t know what Grant Morrison was doing with Superman’s history, making it hard to write the story. Also they got rid of the red trunks because the “cool kids” hate them but now he just looked like he was wearing armored pajamas or actual pajamas after they scaled back Jim Lee’s addiction to v-necks and random armor lines. New incarnations of classic characters were pale imitations of the original, with possibly Starfire’s new personality being the most hated. I wasn’t happy with the re-imagining done to Firestorm either and for some reason Amanda Waller became sexy and less threatening. The universe became even further darkened, and further ran off classic DC fans without replacing them with enough of the “cool kids”.
The pushback led to “Rebirth”, an initiative that while still stuck in the New 52/DC You continuity would restore the light, hope, and fun of the DC universe. Wonder Woman was less Kratos-like, Superman and Lois were back together and had a son, and Wally West, the beloved Flash of the post-Crisis DC Universe, was restored to the universe alongside his race-swapped namesake from the New 52. DiDio had to take a backseat to this attempt to restore the DC fans loved. It didn’t last however. As soon as DiDio was back in charge Wally was a murderer, Superman Jr was aged up and the Kent family torn apart, Batman slowly went insane, and the attempt to create new heroes was met with a disappointing thud and was barely promoted. The Silencer was the only title I found interesting. [UPDATE: Another article reminded me of the character Sideways, that also had potential. Too bad they never did anything with either character.] And I’m only scratching the surface of the directions taken during DiDio’s reign. We haven’t even gotten into the treatment of Dwayne McDuffie and other writers (including screwing over Milestone Media to get Static and then do jack all with him), the Eventitis, or the cries of “sexual harassment” in the DC offices. The mistakes with the imprints is a commentary in itself.
All of this is why fans of DC are so happy to see DiDio go away, but let’s not break out the party favors just yet. The future of DC Comics isn’t necessarily that bright. We don’t know what will become of the questionable 5G project or the timeline established for it. (Note that those links are backwards chronologically–is that irony? Darn you, Alanis!) We also don’t know if DiDio will be replaced or if Jim Lee will just become full publisher, and if DiDio is replaced then by whom? Will they push out the writers responsible for the terrible changes, like Brian Michael Bendis or Tom King? Or will fears that WarnerMedia will decide to drop DC Comics altogether rather than try to save it? Do they even care about the company’s history or legacy when comics are looked down upon by the entertainment world? Look what happened to Toys Я Us.
As I wrote back when the hashtag #FireDiDio was trending on Twitter, DiDio’s leaving only takes out one obstacle to DC Comics reclaiming former glory and the DC universe getting back to fun stories with aspirational heroes. He need to be replaced with someone who cares about the DC Universe and who these character are. They need to bring back the hope and fun as well as the camaraderie between heroes that set DC apart from Marvel, and they need to do all this while making the comics a viable source of entertainment that make its way to the general public. We all have our own ideas on how to do that; the debate between keeping the periodicals or going to an all graphic novel system demonstrates that. But until we see DC Comics get back on track and WarnerMedia either treat their new comic business with respect or sell it to someone who will I’m not celebrating just yet. We may be rid of the guy responsible for all the problems, but we still have the problems and no assurance that his replacement will fix them.