Wednesday, September 09, 2009

DC Gets a Corporate Shake-Up

Today, while I was working, apparently DC Comics announced the end of an era as Paul Levitz has stepped down from executive duties at DC Comics. Levitz was a writer who ascended DC's corporate ladder, becoming Jenette Kahn's right hand man (as near as I could tell), and when she left DC, became Head Honcho.

This was a move I'd recently hinted was likely to happen, and pondered what it could mean.

I obviously know very little about any of these figures other than interviews I'd read online or clips that would appear in the documentaries tied to my DC Comics-related DVD's and Blu-Ray discs. But I always liked Levitz. In interviews he always seemed aware of fanboy rantings and capriciousness, but it was one small factor as he considered DC's role within a massive media empire where the characters of Superman and Batman made millions on licensing, and the comics maybe eked out a small profit in a good year.

It's not often that I disagree with blogger Kevin Church, but I think he gets it very, very wrong. Even if its hilarious.

What happened:

Levitz announced his new position and acknowledged change was afoot on the DCU Source Blog, stating he's no longer in chief, but will keep up his writing duties. This is, of course, not unlike when Hollywood execs are let go, and to save face the company gives them a multi-picture deal with the studio as a producer (which they most likely pray will not materialize).

Later in the day, there was an announcement of that the rumored move to put Diane Nelson over DC had materialized, and DC Comics is now: DC Entertainment (sound trumpets)

IE: DC owns characters who are to be exploited in many different forms of media, not just funny books with word balloons. And Ms. Nelson will make that happen.

What it means when the new super-boss replaces the guy you thought of as boss

The continuity of Paul Levitz from Jenette Kahn meant roughly two-decades of the same leadership at DC. That's unusual in any business, let alone the entertainment business. Marvel certainly hasn't seen that kind of stability, and I'd guess with Disney now looking over their shoulder, Joey Q may want to at least have a copy of his resume updated.

I'm not surprised DC is starting from the top down. And for good or ill, Dan Didio's record at DC may be one of the most public track records of any editor in any medium, from comics journalism, bloggers and the endless interaction Didio has had with the comics media itself (which always surprised me. I'm not sure he always came off as well as he thought he did in those first few 20 Questions videos).

With Levitz de-powered, the old boys network of DC is most likely to see something of a shake-up as someone new comes in to see what actually sells, and, to be blunt, its always seemed to me there are writers put on books who must be friends of Didio or Levitz, or they wouldn't be getting the work they're currently enjoying, given where they consistently fall in sales and from a creative standpoint. And, of course, the editors who haven't really seemed to have a decent book out since I was in college, but who hang on at DC.

As of today, all bets are off at DC Comics. Removing the traditional head is usually the first signal that an organization is about to be "re-organized".

Given the lengthy readership of the fanboys who make up the bulk of the comics audience, to suggest that readers don't notice these things (or that its not their business) is sort of ridiculous on its face. Its like not noticing a band's work is better under certain producers, or that somehow certain directors make better movies than other directors, no matter who is actually in those movies. After a while you draw connections on the names you see...

Better Promotion of the DC Characters

Somehow, the comic geek perception of Superman, Aquaman, and many non-Batman DC characters as somehow not as "cool" as Marvel's heroes has seeped into the public consciousness (although, for my dollar, Brave and the Bold's Aquaman is where its at).

What we do know is that DC Comics, as its been, has lost a lot of ground to Marvel in the public eye, from number of films produced to shelf space in the toy aisle at Target. And certainly Disney declaring the competition is worth $4 Billion, even with all the dispersed licenses for theme parks, film franchises, etc...

I'd also return to the complicated issue of portrayal of women on the cover of DC's line of books (and in the interiors), and how new blood is going to bring new perspective to all of this. Especially as Nelson considers each character as a possible t-shirt, movie, TV show, etc...

From Nelson's letter on the DC Blog (this looked like an intra-office memo. I'm surprised it wound up on the blog):

The founding of DC Entertainment is about Warner Bros. taking DC to the next level and giving DC an even greater degree of focus and prioritization in all the businesses in which we operate—films, television, home entertainment, digital, consumer products and videogames.

For readers looking for Nelson to not make any big changes: it isn't going to be her focus. There's real money to be made here. But for folks who think DC is off her radar? Paul Levitz. Gone. Do the math.

In conclusion:

Surprise, comics fans... the huge multinational company that owns your favorite superheroes would very much like to exploit them in all sorts of ways that aren't currently happening, and the first thing to get a hit are the people who have been there and not found themselves worth $4 Billion dollars.

Its not going to be one massive change, but certainly Nelson has the opportunity to make her mark with DC, and is hopefully not as vaguely embarrassed by superheroes as the previous master of the kingdom seemed to be (but this is a guy who greenlit a Catwoman movie).


NTT said...

I think this will be a paradigm shift for Warners and the direct market. DC was always the red headed stepchild that Time Warner had no idea what to do with for 20 years so they just left them in their little corner to print funny books.

This will no longer be the case and now DC will be scrutinized year after year as to whether they are adding to stockholder value. In addition, Nelson's appointment makes it clear how they really want to use DC, as a holding company for content and IP assets. The print business is really a R&D shop, crafting ideas and concepts that can be immediately copyrighted and trademarked to create derivative works and licenses. So, hopefully this will create better streamlining of DC editorial and eliminate so many useless titles.

Positive wise, Levitz is back on Legion. Who woulda thunk that??

The League said...

I never read any Levitz-era Legion (or much in the way of Legion) until the past 3 or 4 years. Seriously, Leaguers... its good stuff, and DC needs a Comics Classics Library Edition of some of that stuff.

I hope my optimism in regards to your points was evident in the post. They really, really haven't known how to promote DC at WB. Superman is THE American Icon, and he's neck deep in lawsuits and a bad CW show, which.. as I write it... may say exactly the right thing about America.

Anyway, Nelson is young, she's got a golden opportunity, and I think they've got a hell of a lot of room for improvement.

Now give me a Wonder Woman movie.

Anonymous said...

i seriously hope she redeems Catwoman -- that's one brand with excellent name recognition that's suffered both in the movies and in print.

The League said...

I actually quite liked the first few issues of the latest Catwoman series, but it spiraled fairly quickly once the originators left the series. And certainly the Halle Berry movie did nothing good for the character.

I think its important to remember, Diane Nelson will not be involved in DC's day-to-day. She's a major player in WB's corporate structure in the entertainment division. DC may need attention, but she isn't there to act as publisher. She's there to make sure they can sell cartoons, t-shirts and Catwoman on cereal boxes.

Hopefully she'll make a wise choice in replacing Levitz, and we'll see where things go from there.