When word came down last Friday afternoon about your abrupt departure from one of the biggest and most recognizable comic book publishers in the world – DC Comics – this lifelong fan of the four colored medium that used to be known in simpler times as “funny books” took a step back from all of the online hate (because you were, let’s face it, polarizing among many comic book fans) and all of the predictable prognostications of the death of comics in general and of DC specifically and I attempted to process a comic book world without your guiding hand.
I had been reading comic books since 1976 by the time you began your tenure with DC in 2002 and in that time before what I’ve come to call The Age of Dan I had seen many seismic shifts in the industry that had unwittingly adopted me when, at the age of three, my parents split with one another in a very contentious divorce. I can remember this as a particularly confusing and sad time in my young life and I immediately found some solace with my very first comic book given to me by my mother, a Gold Key copy of Winnie the Pooh which she had written my name in marker on the top portion of the cover. From there it was full speed ahead with my first true love, a love that was immune to such dastardly things as death, divorce and heartbreak. It was a safe imaginary playground for a towheaded latchkey kid. I quickly graduated to DC and Marvel comic books courtesy of my well-meaning and concerned father who loaded me up with tons of Legion of Superheroes, Spider Man, Superman, Captain America and SGT. Rock comics from the local Air Force base PX in Ramstein, Germany where we lived for a short time. In pre-DiDio time, a kid could easily find comics everywhere; grocery stores, gas stations, barber shops, department stores and on and on. Over the years that distribution system converted nearly one hundred percent to strictly specialty comic book stores, leaving behind subsequent generations that might otherwise have also become huge comic book aficionados. The name of comic books began to change, too. The term “comic books” almost seemed too embarrassing for some of the so-called more mature fans and they began to be called “Graphic Novels” by the more mainstream media (thanks for nothing, New York Times). In 1985, DC introduced a huge twelve issue epic they called Crisis on Infinite Earths that streamlined their convoluted fifty year history into one earth (before Crisis there had been a bright and gleaming multiverse which was effectively jettisoned after the final issue of the series wrapped). Following Crisis there was a huge influx of incredible talent in the DC swimming pool thanks to the Mature Readers Only offshoot of the main DC Universe, Vertigo. I lapped all of this up, even as I opined the loss of such childhood staples as Earth Two (the shiny and fun world where DC’s Golden Age characters and their progeny hung out) and six thousand versions of Superman’s deadly Achilles Heel, Kryptonite.
When you entered the DC fray as Vice President-Editorial in ’02, you did so with a genuine love of the comic book medium and over the years you actively worked to make the company a solid oasis for fans of comics. In an age of chronic internet and fan outrage you took a lot of dings, some of them deserved and others just beyond any sort of good grace or constructive criticism. Until 2011 you embraced a lot of what had made DC great in the past such as the concept of parallel earths (something that was practically off limits from 1986 until the late 90s very early 2000’s) and a reversion from certain Legacy characters (characters who had stepped into the multi-colored boots of iconic characters such as the Silver Age Flash and Green Lantern) in favor of bringing back and showcasing their original mentors. You also actively worked on bucking the Direct Market only approach to comics and struggled tirelessly to bring at least some iteration of the comic book back to the masses in forms of giant reprint comics sold exclusively at box chains like Walmart and Target. True, it wasn’t the Five and Dime’s and gas station venues of my childhood, but it was at least something in an era that had seen the advent of The End Is Near crowd of fans who routinely predicted the end of my childhood love. You were out there, looking after the field of comic books and actively attempting to find and grow new audiences.
Along the way you had some stumbles, of course. Your New 52 initiative (an almost complete and total erasure of the zany and brilliant comic book continuity DC had more or less maintained for nearly eighty years) drove this longtime supporter almost completely away from the DC fold for half a decade (No more classic Golden Age Justice Society of America? No thank you.), never mind that word around campfire had it that you were given orders from up on Warner Brothers High to execute this extremely divisive decision. When you and your fellow Gremlin, comic book writer extraordinaire Geoff Johns, brought much of that beloved continuity back in 2016’s Rebirth line of books it seemed that Happy Days were indeed here again. Bad news never seemed too far off though and I would occasionally read in the fan press rumbles of discontent over supposed micromanaging of DC talent and to be for sure the recent spate of editorial turnover with the company was disconcerting, to say the least.
And now you’re gone from the DC pastures and while a million and one foaming at the mouth fan boys assure me that this can be only a good thing for my beloved hobby, I can’t help but miss you already. You could be hardheaded and nigh immovable when it came to certain things in comics. But dammit, you loved and cared about this bonkers comic book industry more than almost anyone. And in an era of corporate synergy and faux internet outrage over, well, almost everything, and where these mythic heroes who transformed and shaped our very pop cultural existence are now commonly referred to without any irony by fans as “IP’s” and thought of more in terms of stock shares and opening weekend box office, well, you’ll have to forgive me if I can’t help but think that ATT&T did the wrong damn thing by removing you with nary a “how do you do” or thank you for the time and love you put into this industry. Dan DiDio – with love and with anger – I’ll miss you. Thank you for your blood, sweat and dreams. These shiny heroes were never IP’s to you or me, just magnificent embodiments of our deepest dreams.
The present could be better. Could the past have been better too? What I have …