If there’s one topic occupying the water coolers and drink-ups of the comics industry these days, it’s “Just what the heck is going on at DC ComicsEntertainment? Where is the new publisher?” After investigating and talking to our most trusted sources, we’ve been able to come up with a fairly definitive answer: NOBODY KNOWS. Or at least no one who knows is beyond the most inner circle of Opus Dei.
But you don’t need the investigative skills of Robert Langdon to see that the great uncertainty is taking a toll on DC, morale-wise, anyway. Paul Levitz stepped down and Diane Nelson stepped in at the beginning of September, meaning things have been on hold for five months. That’s a loooong time to have things “on hold,” which is what everyone internally and externally have been told…over and over and over.
While increased attention by the studio is definitely being paid to DC’s movie prospects — see the just announced Superman reboot by Chris Nolan and brisk progress reports on the Green Lantern film — the comics side is caught up in a state of limbo. One victim thus far: DC’s 75th Anniversary.
As we were reminded by one insider the other day, in February 1935, New Fun Comics #1 was released, the first comic book issue of all-original material, published by the company that evolved into the DC Comics of today. While the occasion is being marked at Bloomingdales with some apparel, and the Legacies series, inside DC, we’re told, there’s been nothing: “Not a word. Neither cake, nor card, nor mention on The Source blog. It’s as if DC Comics is trapped in limbo or the Phantom Zone.”
The task of finding a new publisher for DC—someone with publishing chops, business sense and some feel for the characters–is clearly one that has proven daunting for the Diane Nelson team. Just what they (meaning Warners top brass) had in mind when they put Nelson in charge and rebranded DC Entertainment isn’t clear — it seems they were surprised when Levitz decided to step down. Wildstorm’s Hank Kanalz may have been considered for the job, but he wasn’t keen on uprooting his family to move to the east coast. And so…the hunt has gone on.
Another uncertainty is DC’s perpetually looming move to the west coast. Getting the DC superhero brain trust closer to the studio has been a move long considered, and one that Levitz successfully held back for years. While we’re told some of DC’s top execs have been asked to think about whether they’d like getting their coffee at Priscilla’s instead of the Bagel and Bean, and a move has been threatened widely internally, it’s still not a done deal.
With all these distractions, getting out all those comics every month still has to go on, although sometimes clumsily. You might file the Joe Casey Superman/Batman business, under this. It seems Casey, writer of both 2001’s “World at War” crossover, and a current Superman/Batman story that ties up all the loose ends from that series, questioned both whether there were any loose ends, and whether marketing a tie-in to a nine-year-old story was the best way to go about things. The matter got more play when the above thoughts were left out of a CBR story (since emended)–a typical comics newssite preview piece so rarely being a container for the actualities of the making of a book that the writer just didn’t seem to know what to do with it. Casey’s thoughts were aired in both a Bleeding Cool story and a much longer explanation in an interview with Tom Spurgeon:
At the end of the day, I don’t “object” as much as I look at it and feel like certain retailers, certain readers are going to be turned off from even sampling what I think (I hope, heh) is a pretty fun story because the branding is such a turn off. Obviously, DC can sell their books whichever way they choose, and with the “Blackest Night” books they’ve done a pretty good job of it… but when it’s also something that I’ve worked hard on, something that’s got my name on it and something I can get tagged for, I’m going to have an opinion, especially when asked. I was asked, I answered.
Casey, a member of the Man of Action studio which created the cartoon franchise hit Ben 10, has the independent means to talk about such things — a luxury most creators don’t — and points out the elephant in the room:
As much as it’s good fun talking about all this stuff now, these are not things that keep me up at night, Tom. It’s still a fascinating, disingenuous, ass-kissing industry and if people knew the basic, day-to-day operating chaos of their favorite companies, they’d shit a brick. Or fall over laughing. And in those rare moments when even I’m too depraved to fit in, I just turn around with the guys in my company and sell another TV show or whatever. It’s almost comical, and certainly ironic… by finally becoming part of the mainstream entertainment landscape, the comics industry has managed to actually minimize itself in a way that I find imminently exploitable.
With all the uncertainty and questions hanging over DC, it’s hard to blame the hard-working and talented folks there for letting a few things slip through the cracks. Take this official DC web listing for the Superman 80 Page Giant:
A thrilling collection of up-and-coming talent tackles Superman and the heroes of Metropolis! Packed with guest stars galore including Bizarro, Lois Lane and many more, these timeless tales of The Man of Steel are destined to thrill!
* $5.99 US
When an 80-page giant has only 32 pages…you’ve got problems.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.