Today, DC releases Sideways #1, the third book in the New Age of Heroes line following Damage and Silencer. Drawn by Kenneth Rocafort with plotting by DiDio and Rocafort and dialogue by DiDio and Justin Jordan, Sideways introduces Derek, a young Puerto Rican-American teenager with the power to open portals to take him around the world and beyond.
Recently, DiDio sat down with the Beat to discuss the effort that the New Age of Heroes creative teams have put into bringing fresh faces and better representation into the DC Universe. We also look into the artist-focused nature of the line and take a deep dive into Sideways, where DiDio unveils his future collaborator Grant Morrison‘s plans for the series and the Dark Multiverse at large following the conclusion of this year’s Metal event.
Lu: So Dan, as we all know, the comics market is in a pretty big state of flux right now. And DC’s been putting out a lot to try and keep up with the market’s demands through the upcoming Vertigo relaunch, Young Animal, DC Super Hero Girls, and the newly announced Zoom & Ink lines. Where does New Age of Heroes fall in relation to these initiatives?
DiDio: It’s funny, I always say I gotta put on different hats as I talk. I’m going to put the publisher hat on for two seconds and then I’m going to take it off and put the writer hat on, okay?
With the publisher hat on: we’ve gotta keep pushing and trying to see where all the opportunities are and where a potential audience is. That’s where Ink & Zoom come from, and some of the other initiatives that we’ll be pushing out for DC Comics.
Changing hats: as a writer I saw an opportunity to try and reintroduce young teen characters and to push some more diverse characters into the DC Universe. When we built The New Age of Heroes, it was really built to fill what we felt were gaps in our character roster following Rebirth. Rebirth really brought the sensibilities of the core line back to what their core strengths are. So what we’re doing with New Age is seeing where we were missing opportunities for stories and characters. So for me with Sideways, I saw that we were missing a young teenage loner character– somebody who is really trying to discover himself while dealing with the challenges of being a teenager.
Lu: One of the things that I noticed first about Derek is that he is an adoptee. While there are some pretty notable orphans and adoptees in the DC Universe already, namely Batman and Superman, I think Derek’s character opens avenues to a different sort of parent/child relationship story than you could even get from Superman nowadays.
DiDio: And that’s what I really want to explore, too. Because you know, Derek feels isolated because he’s adopted. He has difficulty fitting into school. He’s trying to find his place in the world. And then these powers are thrust upon him. And in some ways, he finds the powers very liberating, but not as Derek. He puts on his costume because he doesn’t feel comfortable enough as Derek to explain who he is because he’s afraid of what doing so would bring to him. So that’s why he ultimately steps out into society as that. He uses the anonymity as a release– as a way to fully express himself.
It’s like how people present themselves. You know, people have facades. When they’re anonymous, [they] are a lot of times very different from their facades when people know who’s talking or who’s not talking.
Lu: Absolutely. And one of the many identities that Derek wears is that of a minority. Like you mentioned, Dan, you wanted to create a character like Derek to help introduce more underrepresented groups to the DC Universe. What sort of work did you, Kenneth Rocafort, and Justin Jordan do to make sure that his experience felt authentic to the reader?
DiDio: First thing’s first. I don’t wanna put words in…the first thing is that one of the reasons why Derek is Puerto Rican is because Kenneth is Puerto Rican. And with that, he brought an authenticity to Derek’s style of dress, attitude, personality, and how Derek conveys himself in general. And in Derek, I see a lot of the body language that comes from Kenneth. I see him in the expression of how this character acts and behaves, and the people that travel in Derek’s circle.
My fiance and her son– she has a 15-year-old son, so a lot of this is based on him– his attitudes and personalities. Watching him interact with his friends– how they can all be sitting in a room together, not speaking, and actually texting each other side-by-side. It boggles my mind, but it shows you that teens are expressing themselves differently today than they did 20 or 30 years ago. And that form of expression is just another thing that we can draw a story from. It’s something we can present in our character as we portray him over time.
Lu: I love that you bring up body language in particular. Because the New Age of Heroes lineup was definitely branded as an artist-focused line where the visual creators really dictate a lot of the storytelling. That’s reflected in the credits of Sideways where you and Kenneth are listed side by side as “storytellers.”
DiDio: Yeah. This book doesn’t exist without Kenneth. That goes without saying! I mean, it’s his energy and style that really built the entire series. And, like I said, I did come up with basic conceits of who these characters are. Those could seem extraordinary superficial at the start, but he was able to take those [concepts] and breathe life into them. And after we’d get his images back, we were able to build the contextual textures of the character’s personalities, and actions, and behavior in a way that I think really gives them a certain level of depth in the storytelling.
Lu: How does that sort of back and forth end up coming through on an individual page? Do you allow Kenneth to draw the page and then you and Justin come in with the dialogue?
DiDio: It actually works exactly like that. What happens is that I write the basic plot outline, which goes to Kenneth. He sends us thumbnails for his storytelling. Then we look at the thumbnails– I review it more just for the flow of the story than anything else. And then once Kenneth starts to lay the book out, Justin does a pass on the dialogue. Then I do a pass on the dialogue. And we go back and forth until we’re all satisfied.
Once we have everything laid out, the story comes together in its own right. It’s really an interesting collaborative process because you’re getting a lot of different perspectives. And it’s not until we get to the final product that we feel that it’s that proper amalgam of all our different ideas.
Lu: What was the inspiration for Derek’s like world-hopping power set?
DiDio: I was looking for something different. I was looking for a character that would be able to get around quickly without running. And that’s one of the reasons why we have a speedster in the first one. You get to see what the faster method of transport is– making rifts or super-speed.
But the idea was that the rifts that Derek creates almost become characters in their own right because it’s not just about creating a rift in time and space that allows us to move places. These rifts open up different dimensions and different worlds. They also take on a physicality, at some point, which makes them become weapons in their own right. So, there’s a lot of things to this that allow Derek to be more than just a jumper, so to speak.
Lu: So, it’s not like the portal opens, he jumps through, and it closes?
DiDio: Yeah. And that’s part of the situation. You find out that these rifts– some of them close quickly, but some of them don’t close 100%. And you’ll find out that he’s not the only one creating them. There’s other rifts around. And ultimately, it’s about what this constant intrusion through time and space actually is creating and more importantly, the dangers that might come from it.
Lu: Interesting! I wanted to ask that question because I feel like a lot of the new power sets that we’ve seen come of out the New Age of Heroes line so far lend themselves to interesting visuals. Damage’s power lends itself to a lot of structural experimentation, stretching out minutes and seconds into single panels or across pages. And then, Derek has this great ability that allows Kenneth to just hop around the world and just draw all these different locations.
DiDio: You know, going back and just looking at the big picture. The big picture is, we’re a visual medium, so if these books aren’t visually interesting, then it’s hard to bring people back from issue to issue if the pictures inside these comics are not something that really draws them in. So we want every one of these New Age of Heroes books to be visually exciting and I think they are. I mean, I think just looking at the other ones that preceded us, I think John [Romita Jr.] did some of his best work at DC with Silencer. It’s an absolutely beautiful book. And Tony Daniel brought such intense power to the Damage book. I’m just glad, I came out in front of The Terrifics, because once that book is out, it’s all anybody’s gonna be talking about.
So, to be part of this group, and to be interacting with these first four titles, is exciting as anything to me because I think it really plants a very important flag and reminds people what makes comics great! These great big, visual images. It’s the fantasy and these incredible worlds that we take people to; these powerful characters. And then, of course, I love the secret identity aspect. I love the transformational aspect of these characters. And more importantly, I love characters that we can root for. And I think every one of these characters, in every one of these series, you want to root for. You want their life to be okay and perfect, but you know it’ll never be because of what they’ve been thrust into.
Lu: Did you practice that in front of a mirror? [laughs]
DiDio: No. It’s honestly what I love about comics. And I feel that we’ve gotten away from a lot of basic comics storytelling. Just because we’re familiar with it and we see these same characters over and over again. The characters evolve and change. But if we’re coming with new characters and new ideas. It gives us a place to start and remind people what brought us to comics in the first place.
Lu: I like that a lot. A back to basics approach.
DiDio: Yes! Exactly. And what’s great about it is that, it seems like we’re getting back to basics, but we’re also doing something fresh and new. We’re also pushing a lot of diverse ideas and characters into the DC universe at the same time. It’s freshening the pot by going back and remembering where we first came from.
DiDio: You know, I had a ridiculous name and Kenneth just knocked it out of the park with that! For all intents and purposes, he’s primarily an antagonist. He’s extraordinarily ego-driven and he believes he has a very important function in the universe. But one of the things he’s gonna find out is that, as much as he wants to destroy Sideways, he probably needs him more than anything else. And that’s something that’s gonna become painfully obvious over the course of the series.
Lu: Interesting. It looks like he just came out of the Fourth World.
DiDio: Yeah, and you know? Like I said, that’s all Kenneth, man! I don’t know if you’re familiar with Kenneth on Facebook, but Kenneth on Facebook does a new sketch a day. He’s been doing this for years. And every image he puts on Facebook could be its own story, its own series. They’re so just explosive with ideas and creativity. And to be able to tap into that for this series was the primary reason I did the series! I wanted to work with Kenneth. And like I said, every design he sent me, he just knocked it out of the park.
And that is going to be important to the series when we move into the Dark Multiverse– that’s when I think his stuff is just gonna sing. Because he’s just ripped with ideas that could be explosive! Setting Kenneth loose in an environment like the Dark Multiverse is exactly where you want to see his creativity come to life.
DiDio: The Dark Multiverse, we have a plan later in the year. We’re gonna go into the Dark Multiverse for a very specific reason. And those are the issues that I’m bringing Grant Morrison in to co-write. He’s gonna step into Justin’s role at that point. Primarily because nobody can write the Dark Multiverse, or any sort of Multiverse, better than Grant Morrison! And I wouldn’t even venture into that dimension without him. How about that?
Lu: I like that! That gets me excited. I’ve been waiting on pins and needles for any kind of Multiversity 2.
DiDio: Yeah! We talk about that. But I love the idea of exploring [Multiversity] in little bites like this. And just getting glimpses of it. We talked through our world and the Dark Multiverse, so when we start to move into the Dark Multiverse section of the story, it’s going to almost be like the lowest-level of subconscious in Inception. It’s trying to form, but it’s not forming correctly. And it’s constantly re-creating and falling apart because there’s just not enough substance for [the Dark Multiverse] to have a continued existence. So it’s kind of been reshaping itself. And ultimately once you step into that world, you get a better sense of where Derek’s powers are coming from.
Sideways #1 is in stores now.