Robot 6

“To focus on one thing is inappropriate”: Dan DiDio pushes back against the Ryan Choi outcry

from The All-New Atom

from The All-New Atom

DC Entertainment Co-Publishers Dan DiDio and Jim Lee’s lengthy interview with CBR’s Kiel Phegley tackles many subjects, from the pair’s transition into their new jobs to the future of Vertigo and WildStorm to the company’s 75th anniversary. But I’m guessing DiDio’s exchange with Phegley on the death of Ryan “The Atom” Choi and diversity among DC’s characters is the bit that will provide the most grist for the comment-thread mill, as DiDio says the focus on Choi’s death as opposed to the breadth of DC’s line-up of non-white characters is “inappropriate”:

There’s been a lot of discussion – and a lot of angry discussion, I’d say – coming out of some of the recent DCU storylines, specifically the death of Ryan Choi in the “Titans” Brightest Day launch…

Didio: And if I could jump in here for a second, I’d ask “What past that?” There seems to be a concern about us pulling back in diversity, and we identify Ryan Choi, but we don’t identify what more than that. If you’re talking about a single character, we can’t run backwards from the way we act and behave with our characters because we’re afraid of addressing characters of different race or putting them in stories that are bigger or more exciting, I’m sorry to say. This is an interesting thing to me, because since I’ve been here, we’ve been extraordinarily aggressive in trying to bring racial diversity and diversifying our cast of characters as much as possible. That’s been part of our agenda for the last five to eight years since I’ve been here. We’re talking about a single character with Ryan Choi, but I’d love to know about examples past that, because at the same time that we’ve got Ryan Choi, we’ve got a Great Ten series running. If you look at every team book and everything we’re doing, we go to extraordinary lengths to diversify the casts and show our audience in our books.

Well, I think for some that the focus gets put on characters that fail one way or another. At the same time as this has been going on, there’s been a lot of positive talk of Jaime Reyes as Blue Beetle getting a push for live action. How do you view your role in terms of making sure that successes are carried through in a long term way?

Didio: We’re always going to be exploring different ways to go. One of the things I think Grant Morrison did extraordinarily well with “52″ and “Final Crisis” was to really show that it’s not just that the heroes are U.S.-centric. The introduction of the Great Ten and the introduction of the Super Young Team are things that Grant brought that we constantly build out from. When Dwayne McDuffie was writing “Justice League of America,” we had an incredibly diverse cast of characters as we worked the Milestone characters into the DC Universe. So again, we’re taking great steps to show that we as a company reflect the audience that’s out there for our books. When we go to conventions, we look at the audience, and we see that it’s an incredible blend in terms of race and gender. Men and women read our books. We have a wide breadth of books and things going on, and to focus on one thing is inappropriate, in my opinion. It’s a mistake, because if you look at one book, you have to realize that DC Comics puts out nearly a hundred books each month, and to focus on one book, one issue, is doing a true disservice to the company, the comics and to the industry.

Is Choi’s death and the ensuing online furor a tempest in a teapot, as DiDio seems to be suggesting, or is it indicative of larger problems with the company’s superheroes? Do Blue Beetle, The Great Ten, and Dwayne McDuffie’s Milestone-featuring Justice League of America run mitigate against Choi’s removal, or do those runs’ cancellations — whether due to sales or internal maneuvering — undo whatever positive impact they might have had? Which is the “true disservice to the company, the comics and to the industry” — the death or the reaction to it? Let us know what you think.

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Considering they canceled the Great Ten MINI-SERIES before it even reached its end, I think he could use some better examples. We got twelve horrendous issues of The War THat Time Forgot, but they can’t even give us the promised tenth issue of The Great Ten?

I don’t think DC is racist at all, but I do think it’s ridiculous to kill of Ryan Choi and then to use The Great Ten as an example of diversity in their lines. They canceled a mini-series! How often does that happen?

The bigger problem here is their belief that death sells comics. I loved Blackest Night, but it was built up in GL for years. Everything else DC sells is built on an unfortunate belief that nothing will get over with fans unless they kill or mutilate something.

I think there was, circa 52, a vocal pushing of increased diversity among the DCU.

Which has, in fairness, played out here and there. Great Ten and etc. But it’s been largely overshadowed, as with basically every single change DC tries to make with their main line, by the push to bring back the generic white dudes from the days of jets, atom bombs, and martinis.

1. The Blue Beetle comic was canceled, the BB live-action show is a ‘maybe’ (and if it’s actually aired let’s see how it turns out).
2. Wasn’t McDuffie cheesed about his run on JLA?

He does bring up a good point, and he’s right that a lot of the diversity in DC was helmed under his watch. Of course the past doesn’t mean shit, and what we’re focusing on right now has absolutely nothing to do with what came out 2 years.

Didio sounds disconnected from the facts in his own comics universe. Sure, there has been more ethnic diversity under his watch… but it came (mostly) at the expense of existing characters, giving the whole thing an awkward, “we need token characters!” feeling. Creating *new* characters that just happened to not be White would have done a much better job. Buying Milestone’s characters doesn’t help either when they have been so poorly used so far. And Choi is *hardly* the only example of the diversity being undone (though that was to be expected with their, again, being “legacy” characters in a universe where death is undone so easily.) However by now I’m convinced Didio simply wants things done his way and if the fans (or even creators) complain, they’re the ones who are wrong. Just stop buying his comics, people. It’s the only thing that’ll wake him up.

I think it’s funny that he brings up McDuffie’s JLA and Milestone characters, when McDuffie complained so much about not being able to do what he wanted, what with all the editorial interference and then the Milestone characters being sidelined and never heard from again other than Static. I’ve heard good things about The Great Ten mini and decided to trade-wait, but if a MINI got canceled, then I doubt there’s much chance of it getting collected in trade.
And in the case of Ryan Choi, I don’t think they were being racist, just being boneheaded and not realizing the implications of what they’re doing, and then instead of being mature and admitting that “yes, that’s what it looks like, we didn’t mean it, we’re sorry” they’re doing all sorts of verbal backflips to say “we’re not racist!”

How do you cancel a mini!? And the reason ongoings get cancelled is because of people ”trade waiting” as appose to the fact the characters aren’t white americans.The reason we haven’t heard much from other Milestone characters is because quite simply, they sucked and no one was interested. Also, if mini’s are getting cancelled, does anyone reckon they will cancel Brightest Day, as it is loosing readers week by week?

The reason we haven’t heard much from other Milestone characters is because quite simply, they sucked and no one was interested.

Um, no, they don’t. And I’d be interested in seeing more of them.

Sean T. Collins

June 21, 2010 at 10:33 am

Jolewist: You cancel a mini by shortening it from 10 issues to 9 midway through its run, as was the case with The Great Ten.

Also, I’m going to ask that we try a little harder to describe things we don’t like than simply saying “they sucked.” What specifically don’t you like about the Milestone characters?

I view it as not so much DC undoing diversity, but rather, undoing legacies that should never have been created in the first place. I don’t think there was a single person out there that said to themselves, “Gee, I wish there was a new version of Atom/Firestorm/The Question/Blue Beetle/etc.”

Mr. Terrific is the perfect example of a great diverse legacy character. It was a character that has been dead for years and now a chance to create a legacy from a dormant character. There wasn’t a slaughter of current characters to create diversity.

And the Milestone characters would be great in the DCU if DC can just figure out how to use them properly.

I don’t think there was a single person out there that said to themselves, “Gee, I wish there was a new version of Atom/Firestorm/The Question/Blue Beetle/etc.”

Probably not, but I’m guessing that trademark management requires the occasional reboot so that the character gets published in some form.

The error DC made was in how they attempted to add diversity in the first place.

Their core franchises are grounded in the era of “jets, martinis and the atom bomb”. The properties that have acquired primarily came from the same era. They all have a WASP-y cultural orientation. There is nothing wrong with that.

However, America is a much more diverse place than it was in the Kennedy era. Not only are there more types of people, but folks who were marginalized have actively been part of mainstream American life for decades. Putting a super team in Japan and another one in China doesn’t really address that. Nor does taking a dusty DC legacy property and putting a generic non-white person into the suit. Being ATOM 3.5 was always a tenuous role. A lack of commercial success tends to cause these roles to revert back up the line.

If DC wants to promote diversity, then they really should create new properties from the ground up. Re-use an old trademark, but create a totally new character with no legacy ties backwards.

I don’t think there was a single person out there that said to themselves, “Gee, I wish there was a new version of Atom/Firestorm/The Question/Blue Beetle/etc.”

Blue Beetle would be the nearest of that list to a non-white male legacy character done right. He wasn’t a latino kid flying around in the Bug with a slightly modified costume. He had his own distinct origin, supporting cast and powers.

Sadly, Blue Beetle 3.0 was freighted down by the baggage of a popular B-lister of the same name getting rather roughly shoved aside to make room for him. Legacy transitions are not easy, since the trademarks that have meaning tend to be attached to characters that at least generate a nostalgic attachment.

I have two words for Dan Didio – “Egg Fu”.

The current regime of DC Comics has ZERO credibility regarding use of Asian characters when the they revived one of the racist characters in their history, albeit “rehabilitated”. Someone please explain to me how you “rehabilitate” a racist and hate symbol, because maybe Grant Morrison and DC Comics should try rehabilitating the swastika or the n-word next since they have that ability.

Despite the name change to “Chang-Tzu”, they’re still refering to the character as Egg Fu in their comic books. The character is still colored stereotypical comic book racist yellow [like the "Jap" villains from the WW2 and like the character was originally colored in 1960s] when actual eggs are white or brown [he's not even colored the gelantious black of the fermented Chinese 100 year old egg dish]. Also in “52″, Grant Morrison and DC made the villain a sadistic and insance creature culpable for the deaths of millions, which is somehow better the ridiculous cariacture it was before.

As a Chinese-American, IMO, The Great Ten are horrible Chinese characters, many of whose powers and origins don’t make any sense. For example, “Mother of Champions” whose power is to give birth to 25 super-soliders. WTF??!!? That is one of the most screwed-up “powers” I have ever read about in comic books, and I’ve read a LOT of comic books. It is especially insensitive and inappropriate considering China’s over-population problem and “one family, one child” policy which has resulted in millions of forced abortions and the reported killings of Chinese girl babies in rural areas.

Or a character like “Seven Deadly Brothers” who is a martial artist that can split/multiply into seven separate beings. Not exactly original, but at least that power has it’s origin in Chinese mythology where the legendary Monkey King could make clones of himself from his hair [see "The Forbidden Kingdom" movie for an example of this]. But why call him “Seven Deadly Brothers”??? Because if the cover story is that these are actually seven separate individuals, who are the three other members of The Great Ten? And why pick a team name that technically limits your membership as oppose a “Legion”, “League” or “Society”? Something is definitely lost in translation.

And by Grant Morrison’s own words, they’re not even superheroes, they’re “super-functionaries”, i.e. they’re BIG TOOLS [I mean that is the uncool hipsterish jargon]. Plus in “52″, they make Egg Fu part of The Great Ten, and the Chinese Government responsible for the attack on The Black Marvel family and resulting nation-cide of Biayla, not exactly “heroic”.

I find The Super Young Team offensive for other reasons. It seems like bad commentary on the Japanese Otaku culture lacking any real depth.

But with the death of the Ryan Choi-Atom, there is dearth of Asian-American male superheroes in the DC Universe. There’s just one – Striker Z [from the Power Company], and the status of his “American”-ness is debatable since he is a recent immigrant to the US. There were three Asian-American male superheroes in the Blood Pack – Ballistic, NightBlade and Mongrel [who was have Vietnamese and half Caucasian, and they called the character "Mongrel" --- yes, I was speechless about the stupidity of that too] but they literally all died in one panel of Infinite Crisis. They couldn’t get their own separate heroic deaths, they had to be bunched together and killed off in one Superboy Prime heat vision blast [along with Razorsharp].

I think it’s a great sad there isn’t an American male superhero of Asian descent in the DC Universe, someone that an Asian-American father can point out to his son. It’s sad for Asian-American male readers and it’s sad for DC Comics.

It’s funny the only Asian character I can think of, that’s active and has been around a while is Tom Kalmaku. Who happens to have been normal, then super powered as part of the New Guardians, and now I believe he’s normal again? While I will agree with the posters that DC has done a poor job introducing these characters, the fact is they were introduced, and then offed and replaced with their predecessors without so much as an afterthought. It takes time to build a brand, or in some cases rebuild a brand. But who cares, if they were no more marketable than the previous, we may as well cart the old one back.

Since DiDio made such a big deal about introducing the ethnic diversity into the DCU, he shouldn’t be surprised when one of the characters that was supposed to represent said diversity was killed off.

I think there’s a few things at play here. First, regarding Asian characters in general, there are very few in mainstream super-hero comics, and as mentioned above, those who exist are stereotypes. Unfortunately it’s not the same to equate Ryan Choi to The Great Ten, as while both have Asian heritage, the Atom is Asian American whereas the Great Ten are native Chinese. The two are actually quite different. Not to mention, that the Great Ten can’t even hold a mini-series afloat in sales!

Second, the recent rapid death of a new character who was given such a big push (Ryan Choi is the Atom in the Batman Brave and the Bold TV show) is a bit surprising. At some point didn’t DC say they would cut back on the random deaths after Blackest Night? So it’s not only a death that seems to be part of the trend of “extra” deaths, it’s a death of a character they were promoting heavily. It’s unfortunate, and I don’t really find DC’s efforts to be “diverse” that impressive beyond Blue Beetle – Jaime Reyes.

The only two minority characters I feel DC has done well with in the RECENT past were Mr. Terrific and Jaime Reyes. Before that, there was Cassandra Cain Batgirl and Kyle Raynor GL, but they’ve been sidelined in favor for a their white counterparts.

“There’s been a lot of discussion – and a lot of angry discussion, I’d say ”

Why was it necessary to describe the discussion as being “angry”?

First of all, I don’t know know if that’s a true characterization– the first piece I remember reading was Chris Sims’s piece at Comics Alliance, which… Did people really find that angry? I like to think I know a little about angry, and I found that piece entirely reasonable. I saw a couple tough responses to that wacky “orange people” quote the other day… but I don’t equate tough with angry. Maybe people are angry on twitter … but… who the hell cares about twitter?!

But second and more importantly– and maybe I’m wrong, maybe I’m being completely wrong and unfair to y’all here– but I feel like there’s a long tradition in internet comics coverage, that anytime an issue comes up about questionable material from Marvel or DC, and there’s an interview about it, the interviewer feel compelled to go out of their way to reassure whoever they’re interviewing that they don’t agree with those nasty internet people and their awful anger, and that they’re on the side of the company– before the company even responds to the controversy!

It’s like you’re apologizing for interrupting the puff piece to dare asking a real question, which just makes me feel a sadness for you.

And it casts this spin on what’s being asked that’s really unfair to people who might care about the issue. And I think it’s just unnecessary– these are grown men you’re talking to! You don’t have to offer Dan Didio a pillow for his head. It’s inherently saying “this isn’t a serious issue because it’s not being discussed in a serious way.” Which… I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and say you meant angry to allude to the passion people have about the issue. But … you know: “Angry” just isn’t the same word as “passionate”– it has totally different connotations…

I know CBR has to compete now with horrible, horrible sites like MTV’s blog or that one LA Times blog or IGN– all of whom are basically vapid whores. And I know comic creators love the whole vapid whore thing, and just want people who’ll let them promote their dubious wares with as little friction involved as possible. And so I appreciate it may be hard for you to ask tough questions, and I appreciate that at least some effort was made. Maybe I’m nuts and this is all just in my head, but actually, no, I’m right, all the time, forever.

But, yeah: Is that something that could stop happening, please? Thanks in advance!

Oh, and I apologize for using the phrase puff piece above, as it’s a fine interview and a fine piece of work besides, and thank you for it.

Sean T. Collins

June 21, 2010 at 6:43 pm

Hey Abhay–This is all probably best addressed to/by Kiel, who did the interview (perhaps in the CBR forum thread for the piece, dunno if he hangs out there or not) but for my part I will say that I don’t read “angry” the way you’re reading it. You set up “angry” and “reasonable” as exclusive conditions, but I don’t think that’s true; I certainly don’t see the use of the word as a way to give DiDio and Lee an out from addressing the underlying issue (which at any rate DiDio doesn’t do–he finds another way around it).

“best addressed to/by Kiel”

Oh, right– sorry to derail.

“You set up “angry” and “reasonable” as exclusive conditions, but I don’t think that’s true”

That might be a fair point. They’re usually pretty mutually exclusive for me, but it’s entirely possible that just says more about my anger issues than anything else.

Hey Abhay!

Thanks for the comment. I always feel I’m going to come off as disingenuous when I say this, but I always very much appreciate it when smart folks give critique on the reporting of CBR in general or my stuff in particular.

I guess I can just give you a little bit of my thought process behind my wording here and see if that helps matters at all:

In general, I know that the largest chunks of interviews like this one or Cup O Joe or anything we do with big name executives and talent are promotional in nature. People make themselves available to us because they want to get out there and talk about how awesome their upcoming product is, and I really don’t feel as though us engaging them on those topics (amongst others) is anything but serving our readership. Most people who come to CBR totally want dumb story teases or an update on what Argus has been up to lately or whatever. And I’m all for making that a part of the discussion so long as it’s not the ONLY part of the discussion. It’s fun and people like it.

SO. The question becomes what is the best way to include more serious issues from critical reactions to the work to business decisions to creator’s rights and on and on. I’ve found doing these interviews over the years that if you don’t make it absolutely clear that you’re taking the conversation into more serious/heady waters, you run the risk of the subject plugging right along in promotional quote machine mode, which ultimately makes the interview read like a total softball exercise. Like, if I’d have said “Dan, there have been some passionate responses to Ryan Choi’s death” there is a great chance that he’ll go, “Well, we wanted a shocking opening to get readers attention to the GREAT things Eric Wallace has planned on the title and blah blah blah.”

And I know that to you and me and everyone else who’s regularly participating in the debate around these issues knows exactly what’s going on when someone says “people discussing Ryan Choi’s death,” but man, I just CAN NOT assume that Dan Didio and Jim Lee are going to come to any of this with anywhere near the same frame of reference as me. With all they’ve got to do in their jobs, I seriously doubt that those guys have time to be up on what the buzz discussion is on bigger blogs like CA and Robot 6, let alone all the good ancillary debate that takes place on 4th Letter or wherever else. And in this case, it turned out that someone at DC had turned Dan on to what’s being said somewhere because before I could even phrase a whole question he was off to the races defending the company. But there’s no way I could rely on that being the case.

Now, none of this really gets to the point of whether or not “angry” was the best word to make my intentions known to Dan and Jim, and I’ll admit that it probably wasn’t my finest choice of words. You’re right that most people are going to take angry to also mean irrational/unserious, and that wasn’t my intent at all. However, I do think that all the talk around the comic at hand while more civil at the top blogging levels than on Twitter or message boards – and I’ll disagree with you that the latter two aren’t worthwhile parts of the debate, especially for the purposes of discussing this with the people with decision-making power over the topics at hand – but that talk certainly came from a place of anger over the story/death and much of it got very angry in response. I mean, maybe there were some posts I missed, but the whole arc of this thing in the blogosphere felt to me less like people saying “let’s look at the reasons DC can’t seem to sustain as many non-white characters as we’d like them to” and much more like “let’s kick DC in the figurative junk for not sustaining a few non-white characters whose comics we had a positive response to.” That could be an unfair assumption on my part though.

Ultimately, all I can do as a reporter is ask the questions I feel keep both myself and my interview subject on the same page and try to get as honest and direct a response as I can out of them. I’m not sure I was 100% successful here (I personally thought my follow up lacked the focus it needed), but in the end I’ve only got 30 minutes before one of the DC publicity staff says, “one more question” and I can either try to balance out what I ask after and how I say it or let the thing turn into “CBR’s Kiel Phegley had a chance to interview the Co-Publishers of one of the Big Two and wasted his 30 minutes trying to make them say what he wanted about a comic that didn’t even sell in the top 100.” I don’t think ANYONE wants to read the second option, so if my questions in the meantime fall a little short we’ve all got to live with it and hope I get better (and no one hopes that more than me!).

Does anything I’ve just written make any sense? I honestly can’t tell as I’ve been traveling on planes all day, and it’s really kind of stuffy in my apartment now.

Thanks for reading!

– KP

I think that’s a completely fair assessment of it, Kiel. To paraphrase, it’s either do what you did (which could have been done slightly better, but who knows really?) or you could have grilled him on it, still not have gotten a completely straight answer, pissed off the people that wanted a straight answer, pissed off the people that just want to hear news about what DC is up to next, pissed off Didio or whoever it is that decides you get to do these interviews with him, and in return not get any more interviews which really doesn’t do ANYBODY a favor. You did the best you could while not completely alienating anybody in the process.

Thanks for the thoughtful answer, Kiel. You’re right that de-railing the interview to hone in on a single topic would probably not have been to anyone’s benefit. While it may be the case that I either read better essays on the topic, or just had a higher opinion of the ones that I read, I appreciate that you’re having to juggle a number of different concerns in a short window of time, and thank you for making your thought process clearer. And like I tried to say above, I am glad someone who would ask at all is doing the interview.

Abhay and Kiel, I’m glad you connected.

What I think is disingenuous is, as mentioned, that DC seems hell-bent on restoring the Silver Age to its finest glory. I didn’t think Firestorm’s update was good (from an origin point of view, they just happened to have him die and get replace) as the Atom’s. And while Ryan Choi was a good legacy (as is Mr. Terrific) he was brutally murdered because the “Real Atom” was back now too. I wonder how long Michael Holt would last if Terry Sloane were just retired and not dead?

DC’s awful at “passing the torch,” plain and simple, because for “some reason,” they continually reinforce the power, prestige and overall “correctness” of their silver-age old guard. They need to either do a Silver Age switcheroo and just totally relaunch everything into a new universe (and I don’t mean Earth-1 trades) or they need to start finally building and enforcing legacy characters by retiring or retooling the originals (like what Marvel did with Steve Rogers and Captain America.)

I honestly would like to see some of the DC old guard retire and pass their mantles on, I think it would open up a great new heroic series to see how they cope with making the choice (or being forced to) retire and depend on new heroes … not an Elsewords, but full-on continuity.

>>>I honestly would like to see some of the DC old guard retire and pass their mantles on, I think it would open up a great new heroic series to see how they cope with making the choice (or being forced to) retire and depend on new heroes … not an Elsewords, but full-on continuity.

Why in God’s name does anyone need to pass the torch in comics? What do you suggest – Clark Kent pass the torch to a more proper colored character? Bruce Wayne? Hal Jordan? Oh, wait, they did with Hal, and look how brilliantly that turned out. Now they have there “correctness” character back and what happened? The hottest thing in comics. A legacy character treated with respect, instead of “retooling” or “passing a torch”. This New Coke idea is just absurd. Do you suggest, say, Two an a Half Men “pass the torch” and bring in some minority actors to continue the series? What is wrong with *gasp*!! CREATING NEW CHARACTERS!?

>>>>What is wrong with *gasp*!! CREATING NEW CHARACTERS!?

I believe its been said in the past that DC has found it risky or just not worth the investment to create brand new characters, especially if they are minorities (come to think of it, how many brand new superheroes have come out and actually STAYED for longer than two runs in the past decade?). By giving minority characters a name that is recognizable, they attract more attention and apparently to DC, have more of a fighting chance to stay around. It forces readers to acknowledge them, I guess.

I assume you’re right about that Jesse, but let’s face it – they’re not going to make a minority Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman etc. I guess it does give them ‘more of a fighting chance’, but with other names than those listed above I don’t think it’s going to make much difference. See: Blue Beetle, Question, Atom, Green Arrow etc etc etc. You’re absolutely right about the lack of new characters of ANY color… I mean, why create new characters when you can just add another X-Men title to the roster?

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