For the last week the entertainment industry has been consumed by watching Discovery’s takeover of WarnerMedia, as the disastrous AT&T era comes to an end. But inside comics world, the question has been: when are they going to take a look at the beleaguered DC Comics division?
According to a new story at Variety, DC Entertainment’s role at the studio is the initial focus of any restructuring – a sensible move given the importance of the DC film franchises to the studio’s future, with a new DC business unit being considered, and exec Emma Watts said to have already turned down running the potential unit.
Of course, WB already tried this once – DC Films, run by Geoff Johns and Jon Berg – and it didn’t go well.
But it’s a whole new day, yes it is!
Outside the studio, worries about the already-decimated DC Comics publishing division have been proliferating on the comics hot stove league of late. The AT&T takeover resulted in massive waves of layoffs that saw hundreds of years of institutional knowledge removed, with the comics sales force, in particular, basically wiped out, a curious movie for a business unit whose goal is to sell units.
In addition, new owner David Zaslav has already ominously pledged to cut costs by a thrifty $3 billion, necessary for the already highly over-leveraged company. The layoffs and departures in the C-suite have already been extensive. Studio head Ann Sarnoff, the distant relative of a former DC head who curtly announced no future plans for the Snyderverse? Gone. Jason Kilar, the boyish grim reaper who once got giddy at DC FanDome even as he oversaw massive layoffs? Gone. Since DC Comics really has no big execs left to cut (I’d say Jim Lee is nearly untouchable at this point) Discovery WB is left doing what new WB owners always do: kicking the superhero tires, with Zaslav said to be well aware that the DCU is the pillar of the studio.
Discovery insiders believe that although DC has achieved cinematic success with recent films such as “Aquaman” and “The Batman,” it lacks a coherent creative and brand strategy. Discovery believes that several top-shelf characters such as Superman have been left to languish and need to be revitalized. They also believe that projects like Todd Phillips’ “Joker” are a shining example of how second-billed characters from the DC library can and should be exploited (Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn is another example).
DC has started to figure out ways for its big screen films to inspire more streaming content — recent examples include the HBO Max show “Peacemaker,” which was a spinoff of “The Suicide Squad,” as well as an upcoming planned series on Colin Farrell’s The Penguin and Gotham City’s police force. But the company believes that DC must do more to grow its approach to comic book fare, including bolstering gaming. Under Walter Hamada, who took over DC Films from Jon Berg and Geoff Johns in 2018, the unit has achieved more consistency in terms of both the critical and commercial reception to the company’s movies. He is under contract until the end of 2023 and could play an important role in whatever Zaslav has planned.
Reportedly, attention has also been given to why there are no Superman movies in development when he’s the studio’s premiere character and Henry Cavill is still swole as hell.
In other words, sensible, rational questions.
Despite with comics doomsayers are writing, the article doesn’t really mention DC Comics proper, aside from the usual lip service to bringing all the verticals into better alignment.
We’ve actually been tracking this story for a few weeks, and comics insider anxiety is mostly centered on the fate of Pam Lifford, WB’s President, Global Brands and Experiences at WarnerMedia, the exec who directly oversaw the dismantling of Mad Magazine, Vertigo, DC’s direct sales dept. and basically reshaped it into the plucky, battered business unit it is today. That’s why they call it vision, baby!
Lifford hasn’t been mentioned in any studio speculation (aside from comics sites) as consumer products and branding isn’t a priority for the Discovery crew just yet, but I’m told that execs at her level may be the next group to be slashed.
That leaves DC Comics without a real clear champion inside the rebuilt studio. Walter Hamada doesn’t seem to have gone on the record much either way, even as he’s been a solid shepherd for DC’s film slate. That leaves the eternal quest for “DC’s Kevin Feige” – the visionary studio leader who can unite everyone in harmony and billion dollar profits.
Of course, this unicorn-like figure is about as likely to be found as an actual unicorn, the Northwest Passage, the unified field or a good movie starring Jared Leto. If you were going to pick someone who actually has expanded the DC ip, James Gunn, would qualify, but he’s a creative not a studio head type. Other than that who could even have the skill set?
But just because there is no “DC Kevin Feige” doesn’t mean there couldn’t be someone who is more useful than having nothing, admittedly a low bar.
Another factor that has to be included in all this: the once shining Harry Potter film franchise is now lying on the beach like a rotting fish. The “Fantastic Beasts” series was once planned as a five film franchise, but ahead of #3, The Secrets of Dumbledore’s opening this weekend, films #4 and #5 haven’t even been greenlit and Dumbledore wraps up ALL the outstanding plot threads with a neat bow.
For now, file DC Comics’s fate with a big question mark. They are too small to be a priority in the takeover’s early days, but they are intimately connected to whatever future the studio holds.
And of course, if you have any hot goss to pass along, our emails are always open.