Comic Fodder

DC Comics: Didio's Final Crisis

Howdy, all!

I'm not sure that anyone who might be perusing this column will remember my stint as one of the contributors to this site, but this column marks my return to Comic Fodder. I won't be posting DC Comics reviews this go-round (that task is being magnificently handled by Travis). Instead, I'll be popping by on a regular basis to add color commentary to the goings on at DC Comics mainline books of the DCU.

When last I left the intrepid crew of Comic Fodder, the weekly series underway was simply "Countdown" without the promise of a "Countdown to Final Crisis", and I was enjoying an ongoing commentary on the nature of the DCU with comic analyst, Jason C.

Fastforward to a post-Countdown to Final Crisis world, add in a splash of Death of the New Gods, a heaping helping of Final Crisis #1, a pinch of creative talent CYA, and a metric ton of online rabbling about the state of DC Comics and Final Crisis #1, and one has to wonder: Was the countdown to a cosmic crisis of some sort, or for a major overhaul of DC Editorial (ie: Dan Didio is shown the door)?

No doubt Didio's early days at DC were sunnier.

It seems hard to remember now, but despite the controversy surrounding the retro-active crime against Sue Dibney in 2004's "Identity Crisis", sales were excellent. Issue #4 moved 128,000 units.
This leads to "Countdown to Infinite Crisis", which wets the appetite for the four "Countdown to Infinite Crisis" mini series, a popular Wonder Woman/ Superman storyline and a natural conclusion to "JLA". Despite the fact that at least one of the "Countdown to Infinite Crisis" mini-series had almost nothing at all to do with the events of "Infinite Crisis", the series are popular.

"Infinite Crisis" does very well, despite much of comic fandom giving the series a far too literal read and kind of missing the point (ie: You are Superboy prime, whiny fanboy).

The troubles began with Didio taking two enormous leaps of faith in "52", a weekly series chronicling the "lost year" of the DCU. Which led to a "One Year Later" event, in which all DCU series were pushed ahead one year.

While "52" made for an enjoyable read, somehow the following things slipped out of editorial control:
-about three months into One Year Later, nobody had told the entire rest of the DCU what had occured in the intervening year. This made it almost impossible for most titles to actually tell a story, leading to some conflicting continuity at best. At worst, the entire DCU had to hold its breath for 52 weeks while "52" finished up its run and revealed what had actually happened. The result was a year of less than thrilling books, while writers, with nowhere else to go, spent the remainder of 52 pushing titles back to the status quo, lest they somehow mess up 52.
-52 never actually bothered to fill in many of the odd editorial changes dictated to characters. A new Aquaman? A new look for Martian Manhunter? Bart Allen as The Flash?
-Didio somehow found a pack of writers who seemed happy to tow the company line and churn out comics based on the editorial vision of the DCU.

Whether readers enjoyed 52 or not, the cracks were beginning to show across the rest of the DCU. Essentially very little had actually happened in almost all other titles. Mini-series were released which were intended to capitalize on the new status quo of the DCU (OMAC, Martian Manhunter) and mostly died on the vine. As well as revamps, such as "Aquaman: Sword of Atlantis". Even cult-favorite Blue Beetle is hanging on by a finger nail 26 issues later. Aside from Booster Gold (by DC super-scribe Geoff Johns), virtually all of the OYL changes, new books, etc... have been swept under the rug.

However, 52 was moving more than 100,000 copies per week. And so, DC smelling sales gold decided to put together another weekly series: Countdown.

Countdown was intended to act as a spine to the DCU, leading readers to a few pre-set events which would establish the state of things at the beginning of Grant Morrison's upcoming "Final Crisis", a series which was announced some ungodly amount of time before actually getting a solicitation.

The series was heavily hyped, with a promise to track down Ray Palmer, who had tragically and humanly vanished from existence in the final pages of "Identity Crisis", for some reason Jimmy Olsen would have to die (at the Joker's hand), Darkseid would somehow be involved, and Mary Marvel would get hit on by Ray Palmer's wife, who had conveniently been possessed by Eclipso as part of a non-sensical Superman mini series penned by Judd Winick. And, two supervillains would have to relive the 2 hour movie "The Defiant Ones" for a year straight.

There were also a few promised mini-series as part of the "Countdown" branding. A "Lord Havok" series, reviving villains from my middle-school days. A "Countdown to Adventure" and "Countdown to Mystery" series, neither of which were enough of a draw to even receive negative reviews online (God rest Steve Gerber). "Salvation Run", "Death of the New Gods" and I'm sure I'm missing others. But all were hinted at somehow affecting whatever it was we were counting down to.


Do you see where I'm going with this?

DC Comics was asking us, the readers, to invest in not just a weekly series, but several more series, all of which would come out to 104 comics sold, rather than just the 52.

Just as One Year Later had adversely affected the flow of the rest of the mainline DC books, so, too, had the need for events in the rest of the DCU to reflect the happenings of "Countdown". Series like JLA, which attempted to play along, were seriously hamstrung by their stories seeming like mere asides to events in other titles. Comics were withheld from release until the events synched up in "Countdown".

But, mostly, Countdown made no sense. And not in the "oh, holy smokes, where are they going with this?" sort of way. More in the "did they just put ideas in a hat and pull them back out at random to come up with this story?" manner.

Despite appearing weekly on the shelf, each issue employed one of four rotating writing teams, giving the series no consistent feel. The move reflects an uncomfortable assumption by Didio's editorial board regarding the nature of a serial narrative. No doubt, Didio saw his expertise from working in television would work here. TV shows have different writers for almost every episode. With guidance, so, too, could comics.

While the idea of a "show-runner" with multiple writers working under him/ her worked in theory, it ignored the non-episodic nature of a serial comic, wherein the action flows from one issue to the next. Most TV shows, while having a similar feel from episode to episode, are often self self-contained, with the action falling between opening and closing credits of a TV show.

The various storylines of Countdown (Jimmy Olsen, Villains Defiant, Search for Ray Palmer, Monarch & Forerunner, Mary Marvel goes bad, etc...) were, perhaps, too scatter-shot. Mostly, it seemed as if the creative team had very little idea how they were going to break down each into a year-long arc, and couldn't retain focus.

Rather than reiterate what readers of Countdown already know about how the various storylines alternately dragged and headed off into illogical and pointless territory (can anyone tell me why the Jimmy Olsen storyline couldn't have taken place over, maybe, 48 pages?). It's worth raising the question: what the heck happened? Countdown was a very high profile series and very likely could have succeeded at providing the "narrative spine" to the DCU that was promised. At the outset of the series, there was no reason to think otherwise.

If readers felt things were going a bit off, then surely the mid-series announcement that Countdown was now all but outside of Continuity for the DCU must have set off alarm bells. Not only was what readers were seeing not working, but DC was seeing some serious ramifications in editorial that hadn't yet become apparent to readers.

Events in the Superman titles weren't matching up quite right with Countdown (death of Lightray, etc...), and how Starlin's plodding "Death of the New Gods" fit into the bigger picture was anyone's guess.

"Death of the New Gods", a mini-series which should have meant seismic changes at DC, was, instead, treated like a red-headed step child and was handed off to Starlin, who has been riding his 80's reputation more than delivering since returning to DC.

Starlin seemed almost disinterested in his own story, and clearly had no love for the faux-high brow dialect (and intellect) with which Kirby had imbued the 4th World. The action felt oddly paced, stretching out three issues' worth of material across 8 issues, as New God after New God died off panel in order to prevent the reader from learning the identity of the murderer. The identity of the murderer, once revealed, demonstrated almost no understanding of the original material, or else was one of those ideas that seemed good over a beer, but when actually put to paper, was laughably awful (spoiler: the murderer was some goofy looking anthromorphization of "The Source" that had suddenly become eeeee-vil).

After issue 26, Countdown began to spiral wildly, narratively grasping at straws as storylines were more or less abandoned (Mary Marvel and the Piper/ Trickster storyline), and entirely new storylines were introduced, including a less than gripping new origin for the Kirby-version of OMAC, the Karate Kid/ Triplicate Girl storyline leading to a massive plague (hint to 31st century superheroes... take a sick day. Not for yourself, but so you don't spread your disease.)

The storylines simply never really tied back together in the manner one might hope for in a story which promised epic scope. Where 52 was set up as peeks into the window of the DCU, Countdown was meant to be a single story with multiple angles. However, the characters never really seemed to tie back in terribly well. Add in the Countdown-labeled mini-series (especially the abysmal Countdown Arena), and there simply was no cohesion to the entire concept surrounding Countdown.

Again, its tempting to recount the sins of the series, but the final insult to injury: Countdown ended with a pretty specific showdown between Darkseid and Orion. It wasn't any more badly done than anything else with Countdown, but at that point, Orion's sudden entrance into the fray seemed to come out of left field. Especially as Orion had already died not once, but twice in the final issue of "Death of the New Gods", which had hit the stands just a week before.

If readers were left scratching their heads and wondering how DC Editorial had missed the fact that two such high-profile projects had conflicting continuity, when they were intended to be complimentary, DC kept mum.

Of course, within a few pages of the first issue of the much-hyped "Final Crisis", the death of Orion occurred. Again.

Its hip to bemoan "continuity" as some sort of plague in superhero comics, but the reality of it is that this sort of mistake goes well beyond a simple story "glitch" with how events are presented occurring years apart. This seemingly minor hiccup was a strong indicator to even the casual observer that all was not right at DC as their shared mega-narrative hit a scratch on the record and started to skip. If the launch of the new, high profile project was this screwed up... what else was going on?

The first pages, the catalyst for what would be DC's mini-series, the series which DC had pointed a huge amount of its energy to prepping the audience, and it seemed pretty clear that nobody had actually shared the script to the first issue with either the Countdown team or Jim Starlin.

Now, that's not to say that the leap from Countdown to Final Crisis doesn't work at all ("Death of the New Gods" is another story), but the transition was just so painfully awkward. Awkward enough that Morrison felt he had to step up to the mic and lay DC's sins to bare.

From the Newsarama article:

GM: Again, bear in mind thatCountdown only finished last month so Final Crisis was already well underway long before Countdown and although I’ve tried to avoid contradicting much of the twists and turns of that book as I can with the current Final Crisis scripts, the truth is, we were too far down the road of our own book to reflect everything that went on in Countdown, hence the disconnects that online commentators, sadly, seem to find more fascinating than the stories themselves.

I'm guessing Morrison had DC's blessing on this, interview. Didio knew it was better to let DC as a whole absorb the hit rather than make it seem that Morrison was in any way culpable.

In short, the work of Dan Didio and his team of editors and writers, from One Year Later to the first issue of Final Crisis was a narrative mess. One could use the word: failure.

DC has racked up a number of successes. The two All Star titles have not just been great sellers, but have been great reads. Pioneering a successful weekly title with 52 that had none of the choppiness of the "yellow shield" Superman titles of the 90's. re-establishing much of the classic, late-70's version of the DCU by successfully returning lost characters to the page (Hal Jordan, Oliie, etc...). Add in unleashing Geoff Johns... and they've had their wins.

But the misses have been bigger. The DCU receives almost nothing but negative commentary online, and the big summer event of 2008 is deeply in question as Marvel's so-simple-its-obvious storyline is popular with the kids, if not a critical darling.

Its unknown how much attention Paul Levitz actually pays to what goes on in the DCU offices, or who holds the purse strings to Didio's paycheck. But in the periodical comic business, resting on past success is never a good idea. Looking toward next year's sales and "what are we doing next?" should be the watchword.

That said, a post-mortum on Countdown seems an obvious necessary. But is Busiek's Trinity going to continue to justify the weekly comic format? Will Final Crisis pick up steam as the events continue to unfold and folks who missed the first issue need to go back for reprints, etc...? (hey, don't laugh. Its more or less what happened with "Identity Crisis").

There are exactly two jobs in the world like Didio's, and not a very deep pool of folks who've sat in those chairs long enough and with enough success to point the way for Didio. He's going to have to have to learn to pave his own way.

A few suggestions to Didio:

-Beware the sycophants and yes men. Look for people who aren't agreeing with you about everything.
-Your stable of yes-men writers (including Palmiotti & Gray) aren't cutting it. You need two more guys like Johns who can plan out five years.
-Find editors who aren't satisfied with two fights and a chase for a 22 page comic
-Quit with the middle-school attitude regarding women (who approved the latest Batman Confidential storyline, anyway)
-Make sure the writer and editor have a storyline plotted from beginning to end before you let them write the story.
-Hold writers and editors accountable. Demotions and firings should be acceptable punishment when things blow up. It happens in every other industry.
-Hold the @#$% continuity guy you hired responsible.
-Hire someone to read the web. Not the comment section at Newsarama, for that way lies madness. Instead, hire someone to read blogs and report back. You're going to start seeing trends. Its instant, free, market analysis. And will give you an idea of who is working for the audience in your talent pool.
-Hiring veterans is a great idea. Unless they seem completely out of touch. What, in the past two years, led DC to decide Starlin was their "space" guy? Holy War? Holy @#$%.
-Quit irritating Greg Rucka, and support his series. Checkmate should have been an instant cult favorite, but for lack of support... And now Bruce Jones?

Okay, I think that's enough.

DC needs a major creative shake-up. Sloppy, very public mistakes might have been okay when Didio first took the reigns. If Didio and his crew can't take be expected to take their work seriously, why should they ask us to pay for it?

And here's your final thought in hard numbers.

Identity Crisis #1 originally sold 163,000 copies, and went into serious reprints. Final Crisis #1 sold about 145,000 copies.

Is this really a trend marking a huge success for Didio? After a year of build up?

Questions? Comments? Hate mail?

Come on, I can take it.


Ryan is an Op/Ed columnist for Comic Fodder. He keeps his comics and himself in Austin, Texas where he manages the long running blog League of Melbotis.

He likes Superman.

You can reach Ryan (aka: The League) at

You've said it perfectly. The joint is just a shambles.
And I don't like not giving a toss about the characters I'm reading. Heck, even JSA, my book-to-end-all-books, is trying my patience a little bit with its Godspell-sized cast.
And, why, Lord, why, am I reading another Wildcat story in JSA Classified when a Wildcat arc just finished the issue before that?
There are, as I recall, more members of the JSA than just Ted Grant, Alan Scott and Jay Garrick.
At least "Manhunter" is back.
Mark Andreyko does outstanding work, and his title is one of the rare lights in the DC firmament.
The other is "The Spirit," which is probably my favorite book of the last two years.
DC has such a grand history, and I've been reading the company's titles since I was knee-high to a grasshopper, but I need a reason to care again.
And for the last two years, I just haven't been getting it.
Someone restore my faith, please.

-- Posted by: John at June 18, 2008 4:30 PM

Hey Ryan,

Glad to see you back on the board. Hasn’t been the same without you.

That’s a devastatingly detailed (although I’m sure you left out a couple prime examples) case against Dan DiDio’s reign.

I’m not eager to see anyone lose their job—especially in this economy but looking purely at results, his management has been a disaster and I fear he is doing permanent damage to the DC brand.

Everything you said is dead on but as far as I’m concerned, you need not look any further than Infinite Crisis #7 when it was released with UNFINISHED art.

Bad enough that they put out unfinished product but they NEVER acknowledged the scope of the crime—that should have been a firing offense.

If DD is indeed let go as is the current rumor, he has no one to blame but himself.

For his p**s poor attitude toward the fans, his contempt for the work of creative talent that proceeded him and for trying to do a Stan Lee and make himself THE face of DC Comics—but the bigger the face, the larger the target.

My pick to replace DD is Jim Shooter. He has done the job before at Marvel and done it well.

DC needs a rainmaker, a grown up with a proven track record and heck, he’s already working for the company writing LSH.

Your suggestions are worthy ones indeed but DD is too radioactive at this point. Save them for the next guy.

Frankly, DC could do worse than just resetting the clock back to the DCU circa 2002 like one of those Star Trek “temporal reset” episodes where The Enterprise (or Voyager or the Defiant) blows up and the time-space continuum rewinds back to the start of the episode and all of the changes that occurred during the episode never happened.


-- Posted by: FanBoyWonder at June 18, 2008 9:59 PM

Thanks so much for your comments, guys! And its great to be back, FanBoyWonder. great to get in touch again.

I saw a rumor somewhere today that the name Palmiotti is being tossed around as a potential replacement. I, personally, haven't read much by the guy I liked, so the idea of giving him the keys to the kingdom seems incredibly short sited. As was, probably giving it over to a guy who used to write Superboy when it was on its downward slide.

Who do you see as a potential replacement?

-- Posted by: Ryan at June 18, 2008 11:53 PM

Spot on Ryan! My favourite quotable from your article is "Checkmate should have been an instant cult favorite, but for lack of support... And now Bruce Jones?"

DC does have to stop jerking Rucka around. I hope they finally get off their ass with his Batwoman or Question series.

-- Posted by: Simon MacDonald at June 19, 2008 9:34 PM

So much of DiDio's success was in those first two years. I remember DC had several massive hits on its hands with Superman/Batman, Teen Titans and Outsiders. Each of those titles have fallen on hard times.

Supes/Bats was supposed to be the best team-up book ever, combining the best writers with the best artists. Once Loeb left it quickly became just another title.

Outsiders and Titans did well for a while, but eventually lost steam whether because the writer stayed on too long (Winnick) or left to soon (Johns).

When I think of DC under DiDio's reign I just see a company that started off shaking things up and that is now desperately trying make status quo.

-- Posted by: Neil at June 20, 2008 7:01 PM

I really think this Chuck Dixon situation is significant enough to be thrown into all of this too.

Dixon's a guy who in his career (politics aside) is a proven commodity who has always been willing to go along with all of the idiotic crossovers that DC has done over the years and make the best of them.

You don't get kicked off a book like Robin as of the current issue after have several issues solicited without something major going down. And considering the fact that after Chuck said the vague stuff he said no one anywhere has suggested Chuck's wrong just adds to the PR damage Didio has caused DC.

DC needs more reliable writers like Dixon, not more yes men.

-- Posted by: Kevin at June 20, 2008 9:33 PM

I hope you guys don't mind if I pick this thought thread up in my next column.

-- Posted by: Ryan at June 21, 2008 2:17 PM

Don't mind a bit, keep rolling on this. I think it will be fascinating to see what comic fans 5, 10, 20 years on will say about Final Crisis and the current state of things in the big 2.

-- Posted by: fantomenos at June 23, 2008 12:51 AM