By Gregory Paul Silber
DC Comics co-publisher Dan Didio moderated a loosely-structured DC Nation panel Friday at New York Comic Con, with the big news item being his announcement that “advanced planning” was underway for a vague something that will effect both DC’s superhero history and its present continuity.
The panel itself, however, was a lively yet laid-back discussion of process, characters, and upcoming stories, and it featured five of DC’s top writers and artists. Before bringing up the panelists, Didio pointed out the short ad for the DC Universe app that played for fans prior to his entrance.
“You see that video?” he asked, referring to the wealth of film, animation, and television content on the streaming service. “None of that exists without the comics.”
The first panelist brought to the stage was Tony S. Daniel, perhaps best known for drawing a number of different Batman stories over the past several years by several different writers, including Grant Morrison and Tom King. He even wrote a brief run himself starring Dick Grayson filling in for Bruce Wayne under the cowl. Most recently, he was announced as the penciller of writer James Tynion IV’s Batman run starting 2020.
Next up was King, the critically-acclaimed writer of such titles as Mr. Miracle, the upcoming Strange Adventures, and his soon-to-be completed Batman run, which will be followed by the 12-issue Batman/Catwoman limited series. Didio hailed King’s take on the Bat/Cat relationship as DC’s “best love affair,” while also poking fun at his apparently infamous penchant for profanity. He suggested fans start a “Tom King fuck counter,” and throughout the rest of the panel, fans shouted out the number every time King dropped another F-bomb.
Didio then introduced a new voice in the DCU, sci-fi/fantasy novelist Nora “NK” Jemison, whom he noted had a free ticket to do whatever she wanted at DC. Her upcoming Green Lantern title for Gerard Way’s Young Animal imprint, Far Sector, represents her first foray into comic book writing. She explained that while she was familiar with screenwriting, she didn’t know how comic book scripts were written before accepting Way’s offer to tell a story set in the furthest reaches of the DC universe. She learned by intensively studying a scriptbook from 2000 AD that showed side-by-side comparisons of comic scripts to finished art. Jemisin really impressed at the panel, noting all the preparation she had done not only to tell stories within comics (she’s won an unprecedented three straight Hugo Awards for her prose writing), but to tell stories with Green Lantern, reading both Geoff Johns‘ run and the books during Rebirth.
Jemisin’s take on Green Lantern involves a far-flung member of the core, sort of a lone sheriff on the frontier setup (a concept she noted had been done before). Most interestingly, however, she’s working to build a world in which three species have long co-existed and are just now starting to have problems. Her protagonist is sent to assist.
Artist Lee Bermejo followed, coming off of the recent success of DC Black Label’s Batman Damned (AKA the one with Batman’s penis), written by Brian Azzarello. Audible “oohs” and “ahhhs” filled the audience as several pages of Bermejo’s art graced the screens.
Finally, there was Jim Lee. While Lee is currently serving as DC Comics Chief Creative Officer, he is perhaps still best known as an influential and in-demand artist, having penciled such DC titles as Batman, Justice League, and Suicide Squad. To emphasize how beloved his colleague’s art is, Didio asked Lee to start drawing sketches for fans… then asked Tom King, infamous for his silly, crudely-drawn sketches, to do the same. “Are you fucking serious?” King laughed. “This is like Superman and Jimmy Olsen having a contest to see who can lift the most planets.”
Reeling the conversation back in, Didio asked Daniel if he approaches the way he draws Batman differently according to who is writing him. Daniel explained that while he learns something from every writer, and tries to bring something different each time, he doesn’t try to “reinvent the wheel.”
Asked what drew her to Green Lantern when invited to write for DC, Jemison said that as a sci-fi writer, she was attracted to being able to explore an area so far from the known DC Universe that a Green Lantern’s ring can’t even work at full capacity. She also noted that she wasn’t familiar with Gerard Way, best known as the lead singer of My Chemical Romance, before he called her with the idea to write for his imprint. “I was a hip-hop fan in the 90s!” she explained.
Didio then asked Lee Bermejo how the Black Label imprint affected his art on Batman: Damned. Besides the freedom of the “mature readers” edginess, Black Label titles also have a larger format–a decision that wasn’t in place yet when he started drawing. He was already 18 pages into the first issue before he learned he needed bigger pages,, but he said it wasn’t particularly difficult to expand what he’d already drawn. Plus, he liked how it enhanced the already “widescreen” nature of his work.
Tom King took the opportunity to thank DC for letting him tell such a long run on Batman, as well as the fans for following along. Despite the length, he said his run was always meant to explore two themes: the love story between Batman and Catwoman, and that “Bane is bad.” He added that this much space (#80 was the most recent issue, with #85 set to be his final installment before Batman/Catwoman) felt necessary because Frank Miller already told the best Batman story in four oversized issues with The Dark Knight Returns, and that nothing would ever top it. “I’m going to fucking try, though,” King added.
Didio brought up Lee’s next project as an artist, an 8-page war story written by Brad Meltzer. Lee said he’d been eager to work with Meltzer for a long time, but the Identity Crisis scribe’s work in other media like novels and animation means he doesn’t have time to do as many comics as DC would like. Still, at the DC Nation panel Lee said he was excited to work on this comic that would start with Batman, but segue into the true story of Salvatore Giunta, the first living recipient of the U.S Medal of Honor since the Vietnam War.
One of the more memorable moments of the DC Nation panel occurred when Didio brought up Lee Bermejo’s work as a writer, including Batman: Noel and his creator-owned Suiciders. Bermejo appeared uncomfortable with being called a writer, describing his creator-owned work as something he “tried” to do, and comparing his writing to his collaborations with “real” writers.
“Do you write?” Jemison asked Bermejo.
“Yes,” he answered.
“Then you’re a real writer,” Jemison replied, prompting a burst of applause from a small but enthusiastic portion of the audience.
During the DC Nation panel, Didio playfully tried to tone down the audience’s enthusiasm for King’s The Vision series for Marvel, and King acknowledged that his Mister Miracle title with art by Mitch Gerads came together in part because Didio saw the success of The Vision and asked “why can’t you fucking do that for us?” A similarly “artsy” and Watchmen-inspired approach was given to KIng, Gerads, and Evan “Doc” Shaner’s forthcoming Strange Adventures. King also mentioned “now they’re making a TV show out of” his Vision series, appearing to confirm that the upcoming WandaVision series on Disney+ will be based on his run.
The DC Nation panel wrapped up with audience questions. There were a lot of laughs as fans were either given sketches from Jim Lee or Tom King, but despite the stark difference in — let’s call it style? — each one was met with equal enthusiasm!