So Warners have restructured DC Comics into DC Entertainment, bringing more mainstream attention to the second-biggest comic book publisher in the industry. Is this a good thing? A bad thing? Something we should even care about at all?
If you care about comic, the answer to that last question is definitely yes... and the key ingredient may be Paul Levitz stepping down as DC Comics President and Publisher as part of the announcement. Leading comic book retailer Brian Hibbs put it best:
I'm absolutely shattered by this news — I was hoping we'd have AT LEAST another decade with Paul at the helm, and now everything — everything — is up in the air. Chances are that, by 2012, nothing in comics will even remotely resemble what it does today.
If you're wondering why one man leaving can cause such upset, here's writer Kurt Busiek with a quick history lesson:
Paul has been at the forefront of just about every industry development of the last couple of decades, and has been key to how the industry's shaped itself over those years. Shifting from a periodicals-only business to a strong backlist-oriented business with trade paperbacks and hardcovers, adding imprints like Vertigo, creating new opportunities for creators and for creator ownership, seeing that DC gave a fair (or at least fairer) deal to the creators who originated the concepts that turned up in DC-based movies, from Arkham Asylum and Lucius Fox to Robin's motorcycles (yeah, because they called Chris O'Donnell's ride the "Redbird" in one of the movies, Paul Levitz saw to it that Chuck Dixon got money) and more, Paul was an important part of a huge number of changes that DC's seen, and that the whole industry's seen. Some of them big changes everyone's noticed, some of them behind-the-scenes stuff few people know about... Paul is one of a very few people who've been absolutely key in shaping the comics industry from what it was in the mid-Seventies to what it is today. Staggering changes, built slowly over time, so that DC (and the companies that adopted DC's innovations) could build from strength to strength.
The loss of a chief executive so passionate about the comic medium and comic industry comes at a perilous time for DC Comics as a comic book publisher; the creation of DC Entertainment places it firmly under the control of Warners' movie-making wing (DC Entertainment president Diane Nelson reports directly to Warner Bros Picture Group president Jeff Robinov), instead of as the autonomous entity it had been previously, and Levitz' surprise departure leaves DC Comics without a president, at least temporarily (Nelson will not be taking that role, saying that she doesn't have the expertise to do it well).
He will be staying with the company as writer for Adventure Comics and consultant, although that last part seems somewhat nebulous in terms of what it actually means:
The longer term thing is to be available as both a creative consultant and a consultant on those things in the business that have mattered most to me – how we treat the talent and what the relationships are like there. That, I think, will vary project to project. There are times where I'm sure I'll be as welcome in the room as I have been with ["The Dark Knight" Director] Chris Nolan, who's turned into a wonderful friend, Jonathan [Nolan, co-writer of "The Dark Knight"] and Emma Thomas [producer of "The Dark Knight"], the whole team there. There will be other cases where Diane will tell me, "This one's under control, kid, we don't need you. Come see the movie when it comes out." That will be fine, too, and anything in between.
Rumors have it that Nelson and Robinov both wanted Levitz to stay on during the transition, but he refused; one particularly worrying version of the rumors is that he refused because he was uncomfortable with changes that Nelson and DC Entertainment would bring to DC Comics. Despite some saying that the creation of DC Entertainment amounts to little more than a corporate restructuring, as Warners already owned DC Comics, the loss of autonomy generally and the president of the company specifically makes this a greater shift - and may ultimately have greater impact - to the comic industry than Disney's purchase of Marvel, which (if all are to be believed) will result in little-to-no change creatively for Marvel Comics. Warner Bros. Chairman Barry Meyer is already on record as saying that DC Entertainment will allow Warners to "exercise appropriate control over these properties," which sounds much more ominous than Disney chairman Bob Iger's "Marvel stays Marvel" comments about that sale, despite Nelson's reassurances that DC Comics won't be "deconstructed."
(One worry outside of Warners taking a stronger hand in DC's creative decisions - and perhaps a more important worry to the comic book industry as a whole - is that DC Comics still has an option to purchase Diamond Distributors, which has been the case since the implosion of the comic market in the mid-1990s. Diamond, now essentially a monopoly in terms of distribution to comic book stores internationally, is the speciality comic book market; whereas before Levitz was said to be the moral voice stopping any such sale from taking place, without Levitz and with Warners looking to make DC Entertainment a profitable company, what's to stop DC from buying Diamond now - especially as doing so would allow them to control the distribution of Marvel Comics?)
Also, what does the creation of DC Entertainment mean about Warner Bros' priorities in general? During an interview with The Wrap, DC Entertainment president Nelson said that the new division was
quite a big deal for the future of our company. It will be such an engine for all our content.
As a new motion picture division, it "replaces" Warner Independent, which closed last year, emphasizing the company's increasingly genre-centric programming (Warners also owns New Line Studios, as well as Warner Bros Animation, Warner Bros Family Entertainment, Warner Bros Pictures and Castle Rock) and cementing moves to make DC properties a centerpiece of their movie slate that have been ongoing for more than a year now, including bringing comic writers Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison and Marv Wolfman in as consultants this summer. As moviegoing audiences continue to vote for genre franchises with their dollars, Warners seem to be responding by finally playing with the toys that they've owned - but forgotten about - all along.
When Disney bought Marvel, I couldn't help but be reminded of Marvel editor-in-chief Joe Quesada's infamous off-the-record-but-quoted-anyway comment about DC from 2002:
What the fuck is DC anyway? ...I mean, they have Batman and Superman, and they don't know what to do with them. That's like being a porn star with the biggest dick and you can't get it up. What the fuck?
Who knows, maybe seven years later, Warners looked at what they owned, and agreed. Maybe DC Entertainment is corporate Viagra. We'll have to wait until 2010 - DC Comics' 75th anniversary - to find out.