I bought and read four new comic books yesterday, one of which was Weird Western Tales #71, one of those kinda clever Blackest Night tie-ins that are literally returning from the dead (if one considers long-canceled comic books to be literally dead).
When deciding whether or not to buy that particular comic book, weighing the various pluses and minuses on some half-subconscious level that Malcolm Gladwell has probably written a book about, one of the factors was who wrote it: DC’s Vice President/Executive Editor and public face of the company Dan DiDio.
For me personally, DiDio’s involvement was more of a question mark than a plus or a minus, and even after reading the book—which ended up being pretty terrible, by the way—it’s still a question mark. What I don’t really understand is this: Does Dan DiDio have any fans?
I’m honestly not trying to be glib or dismissive or—what’s the phrase?—a dick here. It’s something I’m curious about, given DiDio’s rather regular dabbling in writing for his company. The direct market that specializes in selling single issues of Big Two super-books like those that DC publishes is largely fan-driven, and fans tend to be fans of creators more than characters or concepts at this point (And no wonder either, given the amount of choices available to them these days).
The byline “Dan DiDio” is one that comes with a lot of baggage. One need not look far to find detractors of the man, who is—rightly or wrongly—assigned a great deal of the blame for whatever people perceive as wrong with DC Comics (And, to be fair, he gets a lot more blame than he gets credit; if you love something the company does, you’ll probably credit the writer involved, whereas if you hate it you’ll blame the editors and management).
Given the negatives associated with DiDio, I imagine that comics bearing his name as anything other than fine print or an editorial credit are going to be books a lot of DC fans want to avoid. So I’m curious if there are readers who have the exact opposite reaction, who see the name “DiDio” under writer and get excited to buy the book. And, if so, do those readers outweigh the ones for whom the name is a reason to not buy the book?
I don’t really have any way of answering that, as most of DiDio’s writing credits came after his ascension up the ranks of DC editorial, and thus the way he’s perceived by readers is inextricably knotted up with his role as the executive editor for the company (and the guy you see or read about at conventions, or answering our 20 questions feature).
He co-wrote a short, doomed run on the 1994-2001 Superboy ongoing right up until its cancellation (which I read and guess liked well enough to not stop reading until it was canceled). He’s penned some contributions to DC’s low-selling holiday specials (I hated the Halloween one, and didn’t read the Christmas one). He wrote the Metal Men strip for the well-regarded weekly anthology Wednesday Comics (Which was decent writing, if outshone by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez’s art as, let’s be honest, most any writing would—general critical reaction seemed to be that DiDio did a better job scripting than most critics feared he would).
It’s hardly a big enough body of work to really generate a following, and certainly not enough to eclipse whatever sentiments one might have of him in his other role at DC.
So, from where I sit—far, far, far away from DC HQ and any information which would make my guesses anything more than armchair theories—it seems a curious choice to turn to DiDio to script something when most any other writer would at least bring less negative perceptions to the project (Well, outside of Chuck Austen maybe—people really seem to hate that guy, don’t they?). Even a complete unknown would, at the very least, not have any fans turn up their noses and thinking, “Oh, this is by the guy who personally shot Ted Kord in the head, spit in Kyle Rayner’s face and beat up Wally West…no thank you.”
That’s why seeing his name attached to Weird Western Tales #71 was a question mark for me. It’s a book that will naturally sell on the strength of its Blackest Night association, rather than its characters, concept or creators (Aside from a four-issue Vertigo revival, the book was canceled back in 1980, and the biggest “star” character in the issue is Jonah Hex, whose monthly sells at cancellation levels).
In that regard, it doesn’t matter who was writing it, I suppose, and however many issues it ends up moving, it’s going to sell a lot better than anyone would expect an issue of Weird Western Tales to sell in 2010’s direct market. But does “DiDio” cost some amount of sales, more than, say, the presence of Jonah Hex writers “Palmiotti and Gray” might have? (Additionally, their involvement would at least conceivably been able to feed interested parties into Jonah Hex). Or Joe Someguywefoundinthelobby?
I suppose a true test case of DiDio’s popularity and the value of his byline among readers will come when he becomes the regular writer for The Outsiders later this month. In the case of Outsiders, you can see one way in which DiDio’s byline may be valuable—it signals to readers that a character or property or project is perhaps more important than they might otherwise have thought.
Outsiders is perhaps DC’s most troubled title, and has been in a more or less constant state of rebooting since this particular volume was first announced. But if the top of the publisher’s editorial totem pole deems it worthy enough that he wants to roll up his sleeves and get to work on it instead of doing whatever more rewarding task he usually does—light cigars with burning one hundred dollar bills, trying to figure out who your favorite obscure DC superhero is just so he can debase and destroy them in a comic specifically to irritate you personally, etc—then hey, maybe there is something to Geo-Force and the gang after all.
Marvel’s Dan DiDio, Joe Quesada (whom no doubt loves being referred to as “Marvel’s Dan DiDio”) functions somewhat similarly for the company he works for. He’s an artist instead of a writer, of course, and he mainly just draws variant covers these days, but he seems to do so only for major things like big crossovers and deaths and resurrections and the like. A good way to tell if Marvel thinks a particular book is important or not is to see if Quesada drew a variant cover for it or not. The best example though is a few years old—Brand New Day. Quesada drew the whole thing, which served as a pretty strong indication of how strongly he supported that particular controversial project (Other than being editorial head honchos who do some creative work for their companies, DiDio and Quesada aren’t really all that comparable though—Quesada had a long-ish career as an artist before ascending to his current role, and had enough time as “just” an artist to accumulate a fan base).
It will be a few months before we see any sales on the DiDio-written Outsiders, so it will be a while before I can even guess if DC comics readers see that particular byline as a minus or a plus when considering their comic book purchases. Or you could just let me know in the comments section, I suppose (And for God’s sake, be nice—you can not like someone’s writing without being a jerk about it, even on the Internet. It’s true! I’ve seen it done!).
And hey, while I’m asking DiDio-related questions, if Dan DiDio and Joe Quesada collaborated on a DC/Marvel crossover to benefit a comic book charity, which two characters from their respective publishers would you like to see it feature? I don’t know that such a project would be any good or not, but man, I’d love to see it exist anyway.