pam-lifford-warner-brosWe’ve been reporting for a few weeks on the inner turmoil at DC and Warner BRos following the exposure of Batman’s junk in Batman: Damned.

The story goes that new DC head Pam Lifford was greatly displeased with the appearance of the Bat-junk and told as much to DC pblishers JIm Lee and Dan DiDio. And that the fallout has led to a total rethinking of the adult themed Black Label line, and also changes at Vertigo comics to bring them into line with LIfford’s vision – or perhaps DC’s internal interpretation of Lifford’s vision.

And now, in their first interview since Batman went commando, Lee and DiDio spoke to ICv2 on various DC matters.  Including Lifford’s role:

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You have a new boss, Pam Lifford (see Pam Lifford New DC Boss in Warner  Bros. Restructuring), and she had a somewhat similar career track to Diane Nelson (came out of Consumer Products), but this is a new situation and we’re interested in your interactions with her.  What does her different experience bring to the table in terms of new insights or directions for DC?
Didio:
  She is passionate about understanding about the characters, and making sure that we expand the awareness of them.  She’s very much built for the franchise business, and the brand part of the business.  Because of that, we want to make sure that the tonality, the voice of our books have a sensibility that seems to match what people’s expectations are, which is something we should be doing anyway in our comics.

This is a new relationship so we’re excited, and we’re pushing it forward and we’re hoping that we all together, through her and the new areas that are responsive to her, are able to grow ourselves in ways that we haven’t seen before.

Lee:  Yeah, look. She has a vision for what this business can be, an understanding that today’s consumers live in a world where this content is available 24/7 and that a fan can come into this from a number of different touchpoints.  It’s not just from watching a TV show or reading a comic book.  It might be that as a little kid they buy an action figure, and that’s how they bond or embrace the DC universe.  She’s looking at it from a very global, holistic point of view, and understanding that that experience is crucial to growing our fan base and growing the business.

It’s really interesting to see the business through that prism, and with her leadership, we feel that we’re going to do some really big and different things, and we’re excited for that.

Well a little line reading there.  “It’s really interesting to see the business through that prism.” – Yes, I’ll bet it is. Treating these globally known characters as icons and not the projection of the father issues of the month?

Interesting. It sounds like Lifford might be more interested in a Disney-like take on the characters (she came to WB from Disney) where they are timeless figures to be marketing on endless merchandise. This works for some characters, but not for others.

I worked with both Disney and WB’s consumer products departments MANY MANY YEARS ago, and Disney definitely had a lock on marketing image that WB struggled with. And Disney’s successful integration of the Star Wars and Marvel brands stands in contrast to WB’s mixed record with bringing their superheroes to the large and small screens. TV has been huge, movies…well, we may never seen another Justice League movie.

Now, it might have changed quite a bit since then. Lifford has certainly been a success at WB’s consumer products division, by bringing a different approach.

There’s arguments to be made for both approaches – timeless icons vs. projected archetypes. But the merch argument can’t really be made for Vertigo books that sell 20,000 copies if they’re lucky.

Sounds like there’s more excitement and rebranding to come.

 

34 COMMENTS

  1. It seems like Marvel’s success on the movies has psyched out Warner/DC, and its restructuring stretches to the comics. That’s just my view as a complete outsider looking at Nelson’s moving on, Johns, Lee restructuring, and Lifford. It kind of mirrors when Marvel outcompeted DC in the 80s and 90s, and DC went into more mature and literary approaches to the form, for longevity and success. But if that way has either narrowed or closed, or hasn’t succeeded or been allowed to succeed in the respective medium…

    See what happens. Bendis and King are scratching my itch. Shame if Vertigo is altered. See what this means practically in the long run but iconic sounds boring.

  2. I just noticed what you did with the vintage JLA clip there, which I know has been used in argument for Batman’s sexual feelings/relation with Robin. Very iconic!

  3. Not excited. Both in the comics and movies, Disney has made Marvel and Star Wars characters so generic in their attempt to reach every possible market. The stories have no edge and no soul and are so worried about turning off a potential consumer they consistently go with the safest story. Black Label was supposed to be an unencumbered adult line. Why were people so shocked and offended. Hopefully they don’t do to DC what they did to Marvel and use important characters to print money via recycled, uninspired, unchallenging stories.

  4. I largely stopped seeing movies in the 90s. The money needed to make them and the chance to make HUGE money from the success of them means that 90% of movies are developmentally controlled by marketing interests and hairy-assed “out there” creativity is generally stifled.
    I stuck with comics because they existed in an economic backwater that allowed creative interests to overpower marketing interests.
    All was fine. I had my stories and the movie masses had theirs.
    Then came the fucking Marvel movies. Cool-Bro-Iron Man brought comic characters to the attention of millions of normal people. The blood was in the water. And it all leads to this. As long as there is more money being made selling Garcia-Lopez smiling Batman images on sippy cups than there is selling endless repackagings of Miller’s Dark Knight Returns, there can be no Batman activity subject to media scrutiny that would alarm the buyers of those sippy cups.
    With the scent of the big movie money in Warner’s nostrils, they will always prioritize coddling America’s Moms over providing juicy material for comic-reading freak-geeks.
    The Bat-dick was a thoughtless (and needless) move that should have been quashed by editorial to protect future creative opportunities. Once it became a media event (which editorial must have foreseen) it became a future-income-effecting marketing image crisis. “Black Label was supposed to be an unencumbered adult line. Why were people so shocked and offended.” Ok, but did ANY media coverage to the masses say anything about Black Label, much less explain what “Black Label” means in context? No. Just “we saw Batman’s dick in a comic!”.

    Enjoy your movies folks.

  5. Interesting, also, that in the interview they mention the new monthly 100-pager that will start up with the previously announced Flash will be Swamp Thing, who doesn’t even have his own direct-market title at the moment. I had expected either Supergirl or Harley Quinn to anchor the new book.

  6. “It’s a fucking penis. In an adult-line of books. Jesus what century is this?”

    What adult needs to read a book about a guy in a bat-eared costumed punching bad guys in the face, with or without seeing his penis? Have these people literally read EVERY SINGLE GROWNUP BOOK EVER WRITTEN? Did someone change the definition of “adult” while I wasn’t looking?

    Mike

  7. Eastern Promises. Or, I want to compare it to the character-developing effect of Tara Chase’s nudity when seeking empty sex homeside, after an Op. And it wasn’t explicit, but Bond getting his testicles blasted in torture by La Chiffre in Casino Royale might come to mind, and so might the opening intimately brutal fight of that movie, in the bathroom. All went to character, as arguably does Azzarello and Bermejo’s scene. And talk about wilfull and sustained overreaction to something. I don’t see placards in the streets or a sustained movement by the public that shows it to be at the front of memory. Overreaction that I’m trying to make sense of.

  8. Well, if Lifford wants DC’s comics line to match audience expectations, she needs to fire Didio, Lee, and Harras because their hostility to continuity, clarity of plotting, and the Legacy characters is the very thing that she doesn’t want because the audience doesn’t want it either. Hell, the entire Arrowverse is steeped in reverence for the basics of storytelling, characterization and continuity that were the hallmarks of Levitz-Kahn-Giordano-era DC, the very things that Didio openly rejects.

  9. The whole reason the penis was controversial was because it was BATMAN’s penis. If it had been an unknown supporting character, few people would have cared.

    And there’s the fact that people get more bent out of shape over male than female nudity. DC could have shown Batgirl or Supergirl totally nude, and few people would have complained.

  10. “DC could have shown Batgirl or Supergirl totally nude, and few people would have complained.”

    Yes, I’m sure Heidi and other poster around here would have had no problem with that at all.

    Mike

  11. OK? Explain the Titans TV show, then. How’s that in keeping with the iconography associated with Robin, just for example?

    As for Black Label and the Bat-Penis, I have to echo Seth above. I’m pretty sure Colbert didn’t clarify the nature of Black Label when he did his bit. It’s in the wild; these things mutate when they’re in the wild.

  12. I’m glad someone brought up Colbert, friend-to-comics and he with the Captain America shield. He made no attempt to read the page in question (and it’s the only place I’ve seen it, and I paused it to read it). No mention of the militaristic language, i.e. Bruce’s saying Affirmative and Negative to Alfred, as he’s getting out of the Batmobile and shedding his gear. No mention of why nakedness is contextually right for such a scene, and it’s not quite so gratuitous. Instead, Colbert gets material for an easy gag with Super-Friends, really gently crapping on the ridiculousness of superheroes (Hawkman) on the way. Way to inflame the conservative base, Stephen. You have just contributed to making it harder to get another Frank Miller and other creator-of-note stories out there, for a few cheap laughs to fill up time in your show. Marshall McLuhan is shown to be right, as the medium is the message, for sound bytes to a ripe audience (and I realise you can’t argue FOR cock, but what you did what was pretty awful, I thought

  13. “Yes, I’m sure Heidi and other poster around here would have had no problem with that at all.”

    They would be outnumbered by male fans applauding the Bat-boobs and Super-boobs.

  14. I found the outrage over ‘Bat Penis’ a bit much, especially since it was such a minor thing. (to me)

    Perhaps part of the outrage was from people who didn’t realize that this Batman book was supposed to be the start of DC’s ‘adult’ line of comics…even in the solicit from DC comics on their own site doesn’t say it’s an ‘adult’ line of comics or for mature audiences. Instead it touts “DC BLACK LABEL, the highly anticipated new imprint from DC Comics, starts here!”

    Perhaps branding was the issue for the outrage, not the penis, itself..?

  15. I am probably reading too much into this, but I get the feeling DC’s output is going to be rather homogeneous in the foreseeable future. Maybe not next year, but I can see in 2020 DC doing a massive relaunch. Think the New 52 but across all mediums. So that each piece reinforces the core brand image. For the comics side basically a return to the Comics Code, but rather than it being there for “morality” it is for “profitability”.

    With that in mind I think Vertigo is finally going to be put out to pasture. I can still see DC putting out a line similar to Vertigo, just without any hint of DC branding. Vertigo has too much a connection to DC that could hurt the brand. I mean they are using old Vertigo poster children, like Swamp Thing and Constantine, in their kid’s shows now.

  16. Ron Thibodeau, to be fair, if you look at the listings for BEFORE WATCHMEN or DOOM PATROL on that site, you won’t see any mention of mature content, either (the site doesn’t include Vertigo, and modern non-Vertigo examples of mature readers books from DC before BATMAN DAMNED are pretty rare). The order form listing for DAMEND is “BATMAN DAMNED #1 (OF 3) (MR)” and the full solicitation states “MATURE THEMES”, so no one reasonable was caught off guard by it being a mature readers book.

  17. I looked at BATMAN DAMNED and it was so awful I didn’t get as far as the nude bit. But there is no real need to have nudity in a superhero story, indeed arguably there isn’t in most movies or TV.

  18. “They would be outnumbered by male fans applauding the Bat-boobs and Super-boobs.”

    I hate to break it to you but it you counted up all the fans of Batgirl and Supergirl, there would be a hell of a lot of dudes. It might even mostly be guys and believe me, they would NOT be happy to see them naked. They’d be just as outraged as people are over the Bat-penis.

    I mean, you do realize that Batgirl and Supergirl have been around since the days when the comic audience was a lot bigger and overwhelmingly male, right? I’m not saying there aren’t pervs out there but I’m not sure there’s much difference between the loser who wants to see Barbara Gordon’s funbags and the “mature reader” who thinks seeing Bruce Wayne’s junk is a necessary element of storytelling.

    Mike

  19. Maybe “mature” comics shouldn’t feature “legacy” characters that were created many decades ago for children. But that would require DC and Marvel to create new characters, and fanboys have been reluctant to buy comics with all-new protagonists. They want their legacy nostalgia.

    And “MBunge,” if you think male comic-book fans are so progressive and sensitive, you’ve obviously been asleep for the last year and haven’t heard of Comicsgate.

  20. The BS outrage over the batpole is ridiculous. Shows how prudish Americans are. It wasn’t like it was pointing any direction but south. Yeesh

  21. “And “MBunge,” if you think male comic-book fans are so progressive and sensitive, you’ve obviously been asleep for the last year and haven’t heard of Comicsgate.”

    Good grief! Since when is enjoying super-hero characters as they were meant to be enjoyed “progressive” or “sensitive?”

    Mike

  22. I keep forgetting Mike’s habit of claiming that everything he writes is misinterpreted.

    It’s called gaslighting.

  23. Not ‘essential’, Mbunge. I had no plans to buy or strong desire to read either of the Black Label’s offerings, in White Knight and Damned. I will defend the merits of art that’s already been produced though – meaning it’s not essential for me to see anyone’s genitals to make it a good story, but the choice has been made and there are merits to it for character and story (with particularly Batman), which blanket rejection of said-nudity doesn’t examine (and which I find hypocritical considering the real amount of sexual objectification in comics, which I find boring myself and leave on the shelves). So, not essential by any stretch

    Oh, and I made a mistake in my previous post re Colbert whipping up ‘the’ conservative base. It should have read ‘a’ conservative base because this issue bridges the divide of politics, with liberals, Dems and Republicans all having their nose put out of joint by this. So there’s no side of politics on this one, just personal moral outrage, I think

  24. For the high price of single issues these days, I want sophisticated story. I stopped buying in single format regularly from the Big 2 when Hickman left Avengers, and Snyder turned the Joker into a knock-off copy of Hannibal Lecter (not sophisticated). King is writing the most sophisticated Batman in a long time, Bendis is doing something interesting with Supes, and some others look good. As long as sophisticated stories are there, it’s worth the price. Doesn’t have to be Black Label, and I want to see uncensored versions of Frank Miller’s Superman, and whatever Amazonias was going to be (less likely on that latter one, I suspect). Bottom line is, serve me unsophisticated stuff and I leave, glad that I buy comics from independent and other publishers. Lot of room for what is sophistication

  25. If Batman had a comic 10 years ago no one would care and the only reason it became controversy is because of social media.A few loud voices screamed in there fake outrage voices and now some suit shows concern for the DC Brand and her best plan is to censor the black label and Vertigo most likely to the point of mediocrity like the very few weak hearted on social media just cant handle….”Oh my ” the Outrage”…..

  26. “I keep forgetting Mike’s habit of claiming that everything he writes is misinterpreted.”

    No, what YOU are doing in “gaslighting.”

    The idea that DC could produce a book with Batgirl’s exposed breasts and it wouldn’t draw huge amounts of criticism is nonsense. It’s just nonsense and everyone knows it.

    Mike

  27. Yep, I guess penisses do not comply with carefully currated consumer experiences. If there’s money to be made on lunchboxes, just forget about artistic expression. Lee and Didio are ‘excited’, and are trying to forget about the fact that every interesting property that DC owns, was once a revolutionary act of self-expression that was disliked by the establishment. It’s not a brand, it’s a Comic Book!
    My personal opinion? If it’s not a book, it’s not the ‘core-business’. All the surrounding crap is of a parasitic nature that is detrimental to the health of the one thing that matters. The surrounding crap has become so important that the powers that be want to increase their control on the content of the comics themselves.
    My personal advise? Don’t buy figures, don’t buy Funko’s, don’t go see movies featuring stories that you’ve already read 20 years ago, don’t watch Titans, don’t play Spider-Geddon, buy no keychains or posters or statues, just IGNORE the crap!
    If you spend your money on the parasites, you feed the parasites, and they’ll keep on draining the Art. If you don’t feed the parasites, in the end they’ll die and leave you in peace.
    Just for the record, I don’t buy into Comics-Gate; I don’t believe in it. Parasitic-Crap-Gate approximates my viewpoint a lot better!

  28. While we’re at it. Let’s re-brand ‘Moby-Dick’, make it more Holistic, cut out the unfashionable cruelty to animals, downplay the exploration of good and evil and the existence of God (boring!) and also rewrite that insipid opening line. Wait, maybe Ahab and Ishmael can sing a song together!
    If Melville had done this himself, HE could have sold thousands lunchboxes with a cute White Whale on it, instead of the actual work itself being out of print at the time of his death. See, it pays to carefully curate your consumer experiences!

  29. “If Batman had a comic 10 years ago no one would care and the only reason it became controversy is because of social media.”

    I recall reading about a comic book controversy in the 1950s, long before social media or the internet existed. There were Senate hearings over it. You can google it!

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