What this misses is that Dan Didio’s career has two distinct arcs. When he arrived he was the first person at DC to reliably replicate the strategy that Quesada and Jemas had pioneered at Marvel: hire big name creators and put them on high concept reboots of underperforming titles. More to the point, he opened with what was, to date, the most massive attempt along those lines to date: Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee on Batman. Which DiDio didn’t originate, but which happened on his watch.

It is impossible to overstate how big a deal Hush was. Then he quietly brought back event comics with Identity Crisis - this was also a better idea than anyone realized or gave it credit for. The new model of event comics was another prestige book - you pair a top creator on a high concept and run it as a miniseries. This was still leading from behind - the basic approach was nicked straight from Joe Quesada. But DiDio implemented at DC, and implemented it well. In the mid 00s DC was a credible challenger to Marvel with well-regarded books.

It’s actually not until Countdown that the problem with DiDio becomes clear. Prior to Countdown, DiDio was a hit machine. His only major misstep with DC was “One Year Later,” when he attempted a line-wide reboot of every title. The degree to which this was a profoundly ominous development was in no way clear - nobody gets a hit every time. But with Countdown, DiDio made a fundamentally different move than the one he was known for. Instead of a prestige book like 52 was, Countdown had a completely disposable of writers who were obviously given the gig because they were low enough on the totem pole to have to eat editorial mandates.

But by Countdown it was already six years into DiDio’s tenure. He had a power base and a record of hits, and while Countdown wasn’t as big a hit as 52, the sheer sales velocity of a weekly title was enough to be impressive. (Marvel, in fact, copied him here - they poached the editor of 52 and put him in charge of making Amazing Spider-Man do the same thing. This evolved into Marvel’s preferred strategy of having a more-than-monthly book, which is to just push multiple titles to bi-weekly.) And then came Final Crisis and the moment where Dan DiDio’s approach to running DC changed forever.

On the surface Final Crisis is another event in the now-established formula. You take your acclaimed writer and a hot artist and have them beat the drum. But Final Crisis didn’t work. Part of it was that Morrison wasn’t interested in beating the drum for the rest of the DCU, letting the Countdown to his own series go on without any actual input from him. More of it was that everywhere around Final Crisis DiDio was implementing what would become his new approach: cheap and pliable creators.

So after the excesses of Final Crisis, DiDio reversed course. He’d give events to Geoff Johns, sure, but that’s because Johns was good at them. Other than that, few creators were deemed Too Big To Rewrite. Where possible DC would rely on writers who would shut up and do what they were told. The full reversal took two-and-a-half years, but you could watch it unfolding as creator after creator stopped doing DC books, sometimes quietly (Rucka), sometimes loudly (McDuffie, ultimately).

And this marks the start of the second phase of Dan DiDio’s career, in which he promptly gets approval for his most ambitious idea yet - a redo of his failed One Year Later idea in which all of the books would be given to rewritable hacks, creating the most ruthless line-wide continuity ever seen.

Which brings us to the New 52, which does indeed look like the most astonishing clusterfuck in comics history. But it wasn’t until the New 52 that he did anything that mind-wrenchingly stupid, and the New 52 is still working well enough to justify - DC is, on paper, doing better against Marvel - although the wheels are clearly coming off.

Which is why Dan DiDio is still in a job. But much more interesting to me remains what’s going to happen next. DC is visibly heading for something as epic as Marvel’s 90s collapse or their own 70s one. Indeed, it seems like every 20 years the comics industry decides its time for a new flavor of collapse. DC is visibly about to execute it. The question is “what shakes out next?”


Dan Didio explained