DC Comics Heading for Major Shake-Up?

Click to view For people who haven't been enjoying the adventures of Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman or any other DC superheroes over the last few years, relief may be at hand. It looks as if DC Comics Executive Editor Dan DiDio is about to be removed rather soon. That's the rumor that's been going around comic circles recently, made all the more believable by the past month being one of the more unfortunate for DC's PR department in recent memory. Declarations of tiny tyrants, the problem of being second best, and the dreaded deadline doom, all after the jump.

After more than a year of falling sales and stories that left readers and critics cold, DC's summer 2008 flagship comic Final Crisis was seen by many to be the one book that could fix all problems and return the publisher to the #1 spot in terms of fan conversation, critical acclaim and sales. After all, it had a fan-favorite creative team (X-Men, JLA, Invisibles and We3 writer Grant Morrison and 52 cover artist JG Jones) and promised to not only provide thematic closure to, but also wrap up long-running subplots from, the last four years' worth of DC comics. Where could you go wrong?

Well, the first issue of the series (which appeared last month) could have reviews like this one, from well-respected comics critic Tom Spurgeon:

The general feeling that I had in the midst of reading it is a strange one, and not something I've seen anyone else try to put into words. The whole work feels arbitrary in a way, if I can explain it like that. For something that comes out of a shared universe and the last four years of concentrated plot maneuverings made by the company entire, much of the plot in Final Crisis #1 feels strangely impressed on top of the book like an overlay.

Or this, from former DC editor KC Carlson:

I had to find out from the internet what Anthro was drawing in the sand, and it's a good thing I did, because I also found out that the story really ramps up in its third issue! Meaning I have to be 12 bucks into the story before anything exciting happens?

While there were some positive reviews, this review from Comic Book Resources seemed to sum up the general feeling towards the launch:

This isn't a disaster just yet, but six more issues of this caliber and this could spell the end of the sales power for a company event at DC Comics. "Final Crisis", indeed.

DC Comics Heading for Major Shake-Up?

Part of the bad feeling people had for the book was due to the weekly 51 issue prologue series, Countdown to Final Crisis. After a year of apparently hastily put-together stories that sacrificed consistency and coherence for the ability to meet deadline, everyone was more than slightly surprised to see that Final Crisis not only seemed to ignore Countdown's plot, but also outright contradict it in places. To make matters worse, Final Crisis writer Morrison gave an interview about the discrepancy that hinted at disharmony with what was going on behind the scenes at the publisher:

Final Crisis was partly-written and broken down into rough issue-by-issue plots before Countdown was even conceived, let alone written. And J.G. was already working on designs and early layouts by the time Countdown started. There wasn't really much opportunity, or desire, to modify our content at that stage. [W]hen Countdown was originally being discussed, it was just a case of me saying ‘Here's issue 1 of Final Crisis and a rough breakdown of the following six issues. As long as you guys leave things off where Final Crisis begins, we‘ll be fine.' Obviously, I would have preferred it if the New Gods hadn't been spotlighted at all, let alone quite so intensively before I got a chance to bring them back but I don't run DC and don't make the decisions as to how and where the characters are deployed... If there was only me involved, Orion would have been the first dead New God we saw in a DC comic, starting off the chain of events that we see in Final Crisis... The Countdown writers were later asked to ‘seed' material from Final Crisis and in some cases, probably due to the pressure of filling the pages of a weekly book, that seeding amounted to entire plotlines veering off in directions I had never envisaged, anticipated or planned for in Final Crisis.

But, of course, it doesn't matter how you make an omelette as long as it tastes good, right? And Final Crisis was the most successful comic book of last month, as intended, right? Well... not exactly:

Secret Invasion #2 was the bestselling comic book of May, comfortably edging out the first issue of DC's big summer event, Final Crisis.

How comfortably? Well, the second issue of Marvel's Secret Invasion sold 5 copies for every 4 copies sold of Final Crisis, which tends to add up when you're talking in the tens of thousands of copies (Comic Book Resources' estimates a 41,000 difference between the books). In fact, May was a very bad month for DC overall, with main rival Marvel having 50% more market share than them, and seven titles in the top 10 selling comics of the month to DC's three.

Luckily, there's a distraction from the sales disappointment: Chuck Dixon, a long-time DC writer recently fired by the publisher, has taken to the internet to share his dissatisfaction with the situation, officially refusing to discuss the situation while also posting blog comments like

DC, currently, is run from the top down in a way that makes [1980s Marvel Editor in Chief, infamous for his interference in other people's work and ego] Jim Shooter's aegis at Marvel look like a hippie commune... The difference between his reign at Marvel and the current one at DC is that Shooter was successful at raising circulation and longterm planning.

and

I've worked under tyrants and I can say that I'd prefer to work under a talented, knowledgeable tyrant with a successful plan than a directionless gladhander with a ouija board any day of the week.

DC Comics Heading for Major Shake-Up?

Nothing like a happy work environment and former employees willing to sing your praises, is there? Not that things look set to get better anytime soon; with confirmation on Monday that concern that JG Jones won't be able to meet deadline on Final Crisis has led to another artist being assigned to draw parts of each future issue bringing yet more calls for DiDio to step down or be fired, it's beginning to look like the rumors that DC is looking for a new guy to turn the publisher around and rebuild bridges with creators, retailers, fans and anyone else who's still paying attention when DiDio's current contract expires in October (or perhaps even earlier) may be true after all.

But who would that new guy be? The loudest buzz is around Jimmy Palmiotti, currently under an exclusive contract as a writer for DC Comics, but whose previous positions include co-founding Event Comics and co-head of Marvel's "Marvel Knights" imprint, both with friend and current Marvel Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada. Palmiotti's name has been mentioned as possible replacement in comic pro circles for a while now, and a recent Publishers Weekly article about DC's troubles quickly turned into a "Palmiotti for Boss" session. What was interesting was Palmiotti's response in that same thread as to why his then-partner Quesada got the top Marvel gig and he didn't:

joe wanted the E.I.C. job and went after it while we were doing Marvel Knights…and he was the perfect guy for the job…Its obvious to everyone. I never wanted the job then because i wanted to create new characters and start writing…and to do that, i had to start from the ground up again to make it work.

Interesting use of past tense there, Jimmy: "I never wanted the job then"? "I wanted to create new characters and start writing"? Has something changed, perhaps...?

Other than Palmiotti getting sideways involved in the online chatter, it's notable that no current DC creators have spoken out in support of their boss on this subject (In comparison, when Marvel's Quesada was being called out for removing Spider-Man's marriage via deal with the devil, Marvel's top writers publicly stood behind him on message boards and news sites), adding yet more fuel to the uncomfortable atmosphere fire.

While it's unlikely that DiDio will go before the end of convention season (if he ends up going at all), that decision may just make matters more awkward in the short run for DC, who'll be seen to be unresponsive to all the bad press and have to face multiple convention panels hijacked by fans asking variations on "Why do you still have your job when you suck so bad?" One thing is certain; while it's got to be pretty good to be the guy in charge of Marvel Comics right now (Most successful American comic publisher and two hit movies this summer), if The Dark Knight isn't a box office smash and millions of nerds point the finger at DC's Executive Editor (unfairly, as he has no real control over the movies), there's no way that Dan DiDio is being paid enough money to shoulder the blame for all of DC's perceived problems this year.