Crisis on Earth Dan DiDio: How 5G was a crisis too far

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The departure of Dan DiDio as DC Co-Publisher on Friday was both long expected and shocking. His exit was rumored many many times over the years, and every contract renewal was a will he or won’t he suspense movie.

Before I get around to explaining the title of this story, I’m going to unroll some history. If you are impatient. just scroll down to the section called The Dirt. But then come back and read this. 

How did Dan DiDio last so long when he was wildly controversial? My understanding is that, abrasive and mercurial as he could be, in the past he was seen as an irreplaceable figure, manning the steering wheel of the good ship DCU with a knowledge of the seas that no one else had.  

While he and Publisher Jim Lee were the two captains, in recent years, Lee was often working on supplemental projects like DC Universe and video games. In their final ICv2 chat, or DC publisher panels, you could see a bit of where their different interests lay.

But it was always clear that the DCU, and the periodical market, was DiDio’s passion. If I could go back in time, one of the things that I would do (besides buy real estate in the 90s) is get a recording of a panel I did at the first or second NYCC called “Is The Periodical Doomed?” which featured me, DiDio, retailer Brian Hibbs and Nickelodeon editor Dave Roman. I can always hear DiDio’s words echoing in my head: “I’m a pamphlet man.” He may have said “I’m a periodical guy” – that’s why I wish I had a recording – but the meaning was clear.

DiDio loved the comic book format and specifically DC comic books. And over the year he oversaw DC, he was the singular driving force behind what you picked up on the stands, for better or worse. Call it passion…call it micro-managing.

It was a tumultuous, drama filled journey – but one that forged the kind of relationships that only drama can create. If the outpouring of emotion of DiDio’s departure on twitter showed anything, it was that he truly had forged a bond of friendship with a lot of creators, and championed a lot of today’s biggest stars – and not always the ones you would have expected.

But there was also the knowledge that it was the end of an era. As I called it here many time, “The Crisis Era” – and to see the label “Age of Crisis” applied to one of the “generation” one shots that was to launch in May was pretty hilarious.

The histories of DC and Marvel from the Silver Age to today show two different and opposite strategies. Stan and Jack’s Marvel Universe launched with a few pieces of the old Timely world (frozen Cap, a new Human Torch) but it was pretty much full speed ahead – any problems could be fixed in an editor’s note. Marvel has generally taken up what could be called the “Jane Fonda” approach. A nip here, a tuck there, and man it’s hard to believe they’re 80 years old! Peter Parker is still Peter Parker, one publicity driven marriage aside. Updating just which historical war someone was a veteran of is awkward, but quickly moved past.

The exception, of course, was the entire Ultimate line, spearheaded up by a Marvel non-purist, Bill Jemas, and now mostly set aside. But it was a singular approach to a time of horrible sales.

At DC, however, the very birth of their superhero line was a direct reference to somehow making the timeline fit: Flash of Two Worlds! Earth One and Earth Two! Editor Julius Schwartz’s need for tying things up would set off an ongoing editorial crisis that lasts to this day. And to think this was before fandom was even a real thing.

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DC was so worried about all these timelines and parallels that they introduced the most seminal event in superhero history to solve it: Crisis on Infinite Earths, a superstar maxi series that saw twelve issues of collapsing realities and tragic deaths. Marv Wolfman and George Pérez fired up the imaginations of continuity buffs everywhere with this epic “relaunch/retcon” and nothing would ever be the same – in fact “Pre-Crisis” and “Post-Crisis” would become words as important to DC editors as “theme” and “plot.”

(Notably, when Marvel made their big event in the same period, it was just a bunch of heroes going off to fight a bunch of villains, Secret Wars.)

But anyway, as time went on, the relaunch/retcon would become a cure for reader malaise as well as a way to lessen the hours of reading that editors and writers needed to do in order to write a 22 page comics story.  (Aside: it also inspired the entire career of Grant Morrison for a few decades.)

And no one rode the crisis wave like Dan DiDio.

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1994’s Zero Hour: Crisis in Time was a relatively benign crisis by today’s standards. But then in the Aughts, under DiDio’s watch, the crises came thick and fast.  It started with 2004’s Identity Crisis, a grim tale that found our heroes dealing with a gory rape/murder in an “adult” way. Although it didn’t set off any collapsing universes, a tone was set. Then came the aptly named Infinite Crisis, which touched off 52, the weekly comics series that was hell to produce but drove people into stores like crazy. Then came Countdown, aka Countdown to Final Crisis, another weekly series that led to…well, if you guessed a mini series called Final Crisis, you were correct. And it was only 2008.

But it was not to be the actual final crisis. All of these events on steroids — mostly masterminded by DiDio – had kept sales up but at the end of the decade things were floundering again. It was time for a NEW reboot, this one even more startling than the last few. Thus came Flashpoint and the big bang of The New 52, the most complete reboot of the DC line yet, with new #1s for 52 titles, and radically altered continuity.

But that was still not enough, so we had Convergence (which was actually an event created to allow DC’s staff to move cross country) and then….Rebirth!

Rebirth, unlike the other crises, was the baby of a different DC executive, Geoff Johns, who had been feuding with DiDio over the details of all of these revamps and retcons for years. Supposedly ushering in a more “optimistic” DCU, Rebirth pleased some old timer fans, but it also ushered in the eventual departure from DC of Johns.

BTW, I know I’m glossing over lots and lots of details here, but you want to know why Dan DiDio was fired, and I’m getting to that.

In the post-Johns DC, DiDio was back to crisis mode. Dark Nights: Metal was originally to be called Dark Crisis and frankly, it’s too bad it wasn’t because that would make the thread clear. (Heroes in Crisis wasn’t a continuity reboot, but it was another crisis…and a chance to make Wally West, long a DiDio target, a psychopathic killer.)

To be honest I didn’t really cover the DC beat as closely in the last two years – The Beat has a wonderful staff of writers who are huge DC fans and readers to do that; so I may be missing a nuance here or there. But The next few DC events all sounded rather dire: The Year of the Villain, DCeased.

It should be mentioned here that all of these crises were accompanied by a full helping of maiming, dismemberment, and death, usually of characters that Dan DiDio was not fond of, like Nightwing, Wally West and so on. He made his feeling clear about why he didn’t like them publicly: they aged the heroes they had once sidekicked to. Female characters were regularly fridged and sidelined along the way.

Anyway, all of this leads to the present moment and DiDio’s crisis too far: Generation Five, or whatever this spring’s retcon reboot was to be called.

Zack Quaintance did a fine job of laying out the known history of 5G here.  The basic idea has been floating around since the middle of last year, and is seemingly yet another response to flagging sales. The idea was sort of to Ultimatize DC: all of the main heroes would be replaced by new younger versions, a tried and true comic book procedure which ends up giving you a great wave of cheers when the originals return AND new refreshing characters with youthful appeal.

Just what was going to happen with 5G – or Generation Five, as it was beginning to be called – isn’t all that clear. Although I’ve been hearing bits and pieces about it for months, the plans seemed to keep morphing and changing. With the announcement of the Generation Zero one shot for Free Comic Book Day in May, the rocket seemed to be about to be launched. As reported by Quaintance:

For nearly a year, DC Co-Publisher Dan DiDio has been hinting at a new official timeline for the shared superhero universe, one that includes the entirety of the publisher’s 80-plus years of superhero continuity. DiDio first mentioned this timeline at SDCC in July, before giving a quick glimpse of it to the audience at NYCC in October. In that timeline, there are five generations. Wonder Woman is the first superhero to reveal herself to the world, kicking off the first generation in World War I (see the Snyder/Hitch short that will also be in the FCBD issue). A second generation starts with the appearance of Superman, and a third spans from Crisis on Infinite Earths (1986) to Flashpoint (2011). The fourth generation is the one we’re in now, and a fifth generation is yet to come.

The rumor is this will all be made possible by a mix of Hypertime and Crisis, explaining how characters like Batman, for example, could have been active for so many years. We learned today that we’re getting a one-shot that takes place within each of those generations, and the subtitles for these books seem to imply that the above chronological demarcations were correct (yay!).

I think the key phrase above is “mix of Hypertime and Crisis.”

Although I haven’t mentioned it until now, Hypertime was yet another method for a different generation of DC editorial to deal with continuity headaches: all stories were true. It all happened somehow, and no need to worry about what was real. Hypertime wasn’t an actual story, it was a policy, as opposed to the shocking stories of an actual Crisis.

I was told that 5G would be an ultimate Hypertime, to coin a phrase, where all those continuities wiped out by this or that crisis would somehow be real again.

And that brings us to what you wanted to read:

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The Dirt

No matter how many times DiDio was promoted, he continued to micro-manage the DCU. I don’t think you’re going to be too shocked to learn that behind the scenes, planning for the 5G reboot/retcon/ultimate hypertime was incredibly stressful. DiDio started his own teaser roll outlast year with sneak peeks at wall charts, and hints on panels and leaks, familiar methods DiDio had used to tease previous crises. For the editorial staff, however, this was a series of constantly changing ideas, reassignments, and what turned into a hostile work environment. Although retailers may have fingered Scott Snyder as part of the coup, I’m told this was formal internal complaints that had reached a boiling point.

In recent months, morale had plummeted even more amid frequent shake ups in responsibilites. were the increasingly frequent departures. Editor Pat McCallum, who had just been made head of the whole DCU, quit in a rather sudden fashion. (I’m told he went away for Thanksgiving and then just gave notice.) Most recently, Alex Antone quit, taking a job at Skybound. 

It appears that the 5G chaos was finally enough to seal DiDio’s fate. The idea of swapping out new heroes for the older ones got a lot of pushback – especially as DC’s movie slate is gearing back up with Wonder Woman 84 and a new Batman. In addition, the whole Bat Penis Crisis left DiDIo with a black mark with Warner/AT&T’s new executive structure.

No one appears to know why the move was so sudden. As of earlier this week, Dan DiDio and Jim Lee were offered to press outlets as interview subjects at next week’s C2E2 and were slated to spear on a Meet the Publishers Panel there (now it will just be Lee.)

The timing during the ComicsPRO meeting was also awkward. Unlike last year’s dramatic presentation by DiDio, there were only two DC folks at the show, Vince Letterio and Adam Philips. DC’s planned hour presentation was cancelled, and Letterio and Phillips learned of DiDio’s departure by reading it online at the event. The reaction among retailers, I’m told, was “shock and awe.”

However, one also gets the feeling that this was a desperate, last minute surgical strike: the rollout to retailers of the complete 5G plan would have made these plans much more solid, and much more difficult to alter.

Will there even be a 5G now? And what will it be? No one I’ve talked to knows yet.

Will DiDio be replaced? No one at DC has any idea. For now, Jim Lee remains the sole Publisher. Bob Harras also remains as Editor in Chief, a position most people forget about since he keeps such a low public profile. That may change in the days ahead.

This shock is still fresh. The narrative of the last few months at DC will emerge to the public in some fashion in the days to come. For now, its safe to say that aside from the big bang of Ultimates, no one had as much effect on the course of periodical comics over the last two decades as Dan DiDio. He was an innovator and a trailblazer – one whose decisions often upset many people, both colleagues and readers. But he had a vision. The vision included harboring known sexual harassers and thinking it was fine if an entire gender was barred from working with certain editors, and a lot of other troubling things that will be assessed in the years to come. But he was the difference maker.

Since his removal, DiDio has been posting new cover photos on his FB page, photos that suggest he’s getting some time off with loved ones in a relaxed environment.

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He also broke silence to post a video, ironically, of DC’s last day in the New York Office:

Overwhelmed and humbled by the outpouring of love and support and it leaves me at a loss for words (first time for everything). So, instead, I’ll turn to what was said nearly five years ago on April 10, 2015 to best sum up how I feel. Love to you all

A sharp ding of a parting shot, it must be admitted. It won’t escape anyone with knowledge of the situation that of the executive team that oversaw DC’s move to Burbank – Diane Nelson, Geoff Johns, DiDio and Lee – only Lee remains. All the planning and scheming came to naught in the end.

I’ve written more than 2000 words about this, and I’ve only scratched the surface of a period in comics that will be written about and analyzed for years to come. The stories, the dramas, the fights, the triumphs.

Dan DiDio may be gone from DC, but it is safe to say that he will never be forgotten. To paraphrase Marlene Dietrich at the end of A Touch of Evil, he was some kind of co-publisher.

 

 

The post Crisis on Earth Dan DiDio: How 5G was a crisis too far appeared first on The Beat.

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