There's been a lot of noise of late that, apparently, Warners/AT&T is going to close the comics publishing side of DC Comics if the planned 5G publishing plan is not a success. I heard it around a month to ago, but it didn't strike me as anything special, or notable. Because I heard the same about the DC Timeline. About Warners and Metal, New Age Of DC Heroes, Doomsday Clock. About Rebirth, Before Watchmen, DC You and New 52. And Blackest Night and etc etc etc. For one reason or another Warner Bros has often been going to close DC Comics because it costs too much – for decades, it just never comes to anything. There is nothing about the current mouthing off that is any different to what came before. It is true, it has always been true, that if the comics line loses a lot of money, it would be closed. However the comics line has been in profit internally at Warners for a decade, comics remain at the centre of their business strategy, and the last two years especially have made a lot of people a lot of money.
However, even hypothetically if the line was a loss-maker at Warners/AT&T, you could have years worth of poor-selling titles books, but if in the middle of all that you have one amazing Batman or Superman idea, that's worth a hundred times what was was spent on everything else. Not only that, but you get all the design elements you need thrown-in for free. The design costs saved on an animated film by adapting from a comic book are seven figures worth, so, why would you cut that creatively supply chain off?
What new folk from AT&T may not appreciate is comic book celebrity or legacy employees and talent. They may not care what or who a Brian Bendis is or how it will look bad if they have to drop him, just if he making them money, over and above anyone else. It is a Publisher's job to explain why and hold the line. But as long as they keep generating enough IP and goodwill that outstrips any losses it makes, DC – and the publishing of DC Comics – will continue to both survive and prosper.
There were certainly past times when it was not so true At one point back in the eighties, Warners were in discussion about licensing their DC comics line to Marvel rather than publish it themselves. And of course, Marvel themselves have of late been outsourcing their kids-targeted Marvel Comics to pretty much anyone who'll have them. But right now, from everyone I talk to who should know, there is no actual threat to the monthly publication of DC titles. 5G is just a part of DC's publishing plans, amongst successes which include the Walmart books, the YA/Middle Grade superhero original graphic novels and Black Label. And AT&T sees all sorts of possibilities to exploit the resultant books into direct-to-TV animation, and maybe beyond.
But AT&T as an entire company is more the kind of place that would welcome an Ike Perlmutter, a person who has a zeal to cut the fat. It is notable that Marvel Comics publish a similar number of comics to DC with far fewer editorial staff members – though some might rather see that as Marvel being seriously understaffed. However it is possible that creators such as Brian Bendis and John Romita were lured away with industry-busting pay deals that may now go under the microscope, and a demand they work on more lucrative aspects of DC than the comics. We'll see. AT&T is a $260 billion company, remember. But that would be as true of DC Publisher Jim Lee as anyone.
Because, DC has cancelled their Meet The Publishers panel at C2E2 – they only have one publisher right now, and not one who can be as candid about DC as Dan DiDio often was. So what may be happening in the higher echelons of DC? There are many ways to be a Publisher. Dan DiDio treated the role as an uber-Editor-In-Chief, but Jim Lee's take may be one more comparable to Marvel's Publisher – and former DC/Wildstorm stablemate of Lee's – John Nee. Which is not a public-facing role, or that of a micro-manager, but one who works with the right people making the right deals happen.
My eye is directed to see if DC executives Hank Kanalz, Ben Abernathy or Bob Harras get a promotion – maybe not to Publisher, but to positions that can share – or take over – DiDio's workload, leaving Jim Lee to continue being Jim Lee – and working on long-term strategy with Pam Lifford, President of Warner Bros. Global Brands and Experiences and Walter Hamada, Head of DC Films. They have a lot of people ready to step up, on hand. But who else?
There's Geoff Johns as well of course, but after being pushed out from the comics sphere, to land at film and TV, that seems to be where he's happiest – and busiest – right now. Basically they couldn't drag him back even if they wanted to. Which they don't.
But what about outside of the publisher? Jeph Loeb is also on the scene, recently ejected from Marvel TV by Marvel CCO Kevin Feige – the Loeb/Lee team gave us Batman: Hush, still a bestseller and recent direct-to-TV smash. There has even been some discussion as to whether Joe Quesada would jump Marvel to be a new Publisher at DC. Maybe someone should actually ask him, rather than just keep suggesting him in meetings…
But as things stand, there's no rush or urgency to make any changes right now. Let's see by San Diego, shall we? Here's how DC set-up is looking at C2E2 tonight…