The latest DC Entertainment shakeups: What we know

by  in Comic News Comment
The latest DC Entertainment shakeups: What we know

DC Entertainment’s twin announcements on Tuesday — the division of operations between Burbank and New York, and the end of the WildStorm and Zuda imprints — was followed by a round of interviews that provides us with a fairly good picture of what the moves mean. Here’s what we know:

DC Entertainment’s “bi-coastal realignment strategy”: Despite the silly corporate-speak, this aspect of the DC announcements is, at least on the surface, the simplest to break down. The company’s operations related to business/administration, as well as multimedia and digital content, will relocate to “a Warner Bros.-managed property” in Burbank, Calif., while the publishing division will remain in New York City. The move is expected to be complete by the end of next year.

From there, however, the details get a little murky. Although the initial press release specifically mentions “consumer products” will be part of the move, neither DC Entertainment President Diane Nelson nor DC Comics Co-Publishers Dan DiDio and Jim Lee would say whether that was a reference to DC Direct, DC Comics’ collectibles division.

“I’m not sure what that would be referring to, exactly,” Nelson told Comic Book Resources, “but Warner Bros. obviously has a meaningful consumer products division and the part of DC that works closely with Warner Bros.’ consumer products are likely to be in the Los Angeles office, but you may be referring to DC Direct and you may be referring to other licensing initiatives and unfortunately right now I can’t get in to the specifics of that. I do think it would be fair to say that we’re looking for every opportunity to work more closely with the Warner Bros. businesses, consumer products is just one, and we are going to work more closely with them.”

Nelson also wouldn’t offer specifics about which departments are covered by the press-release term “administrative functions” — it’s a “catch-all phrase for a lot of departments that we’re still talking with,” she tells Publishers Weekly — or whether marketing and sales or publicity will be involved in the move.

In addition, there remains the question of the fate of the WildStorm offices in La Jolla, California. Between the end of the imprint (more on that below), the overall restructuring and the reported end of the lease in December, it seems likely any remaining functions will shift to Burbank and New York.

Lee, who launched WildStorm in 1992 before selling the company to DC in 1999, told he’ll return to California today and Thursday to talk to the La Jolla staff: “… we have to be sensitive to the fact that we’re meeting with them one-on-one over the next couple days to inform them what’s going on. For them to find out further through interviews online wouldn’t really make sense.”

Layoffs: Although Nelson has confirmed the restructuring will involve layoffs, there’s a dispute over the Los Angeles Times report that “about 20% of DC’s roughly 250 staffers will lose their jobs.” A DC Comics spokesman challenged the statement, noting it didn’t come from Nelson. Indeed, it seems the company doesn’t yet have a clear picture of which employees will relocate and what positions will be cut.

When asked Tuesday by CBR how many jobs will be relocated or eliminated, Nelson said: “Unfortunately or fortunately I can’t go through that with you because what we’re beginning today is a pretty unique process of talking with all of our employees personally, one-on-one, over the course of the next few days to work with them on each of their individual positions. So there’s a spectrum of things that are happening for various employees – there are promotions, there are offers of relocation and unfortunately there are some layoffs to come. Until that’s all sorted and people have had time to consider their individual opportunities and we confirm all that, which will take us a few weeks, we aren’t going to be able to discuss specifics.”

Farewell, WildStorm and Zuda: On the heels of the restructuring news, DC announced the end of its Zuda and WildStorm imprints, one much sooner than the other.

WildStorm, whose star has faded in recent years, will come to a close in December as current versions of “classic” titles like WildCats, The Authority and Gen 13 conclude their runs. Miniseries like DV8 and Welcome to Tranquility will wrap up under the DC banner, which will also be home to the licensed video-game and kids’ comics.

“I’m a glass-half-full kind of guy,” Lee told IGN. “I’m very proud of the 18 years we’ve been publishing comics. We had a lot of great concepts and a lot of great books. We created a lot of cutting edge material that defined trends for a long time. I think we definitely hit a rough patch and I think taking a break and reexamining the characters and concepts, and applying some fresh inspiration, would do the WildStorm characters a lot of good.”

The WildStorm characters will return, however — after a substantial break — as Lee, DiDio and DC Entertainment Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns have “a lot of exciting plans” for them.

“It’s a ways off,” Lee told Newsarama. “I don’t want to mislead any WildStorm fans. At the same time, honestly, I think taking a bit of a breather on them and then re-energizing them with some new focus and direction will be very good for those characters. I feel very confident, as co-creator on a lot of those properties and characters, that this is a very good creative move for them.”

Zuda, DC’s three-year-old digital initiative, will be shuttered after this week, which doesn’t come as a surprise, given that its online presence closed down in July. No new material will be produced, but any titles that were set to be published this year by Zuda will be released under the DC banner.

So, what’s the status of Vertigo? “Six months ago, I was more worried about Vertigo than WildStorm,” Warren Ellis wrote. “Shows what I know.”

It’s likely a common sentiment, as plenty of people predicted the imminent demise of the 17-year-old mature-readers imprint in February, following the announcement of the company’s new executive team, and again over the summer with the editorial fiat calling for the return of DC Universe-originating characters like Swamp Thing. Yet here we are, with Vertigo as the Last Imprint Standing. That appears to be, in large part, due to brand recognition.

“One of the things […] is that we realized DC Comics is the most recognizable name,” DiDio told Comics Alliance, “but we also have a lot of strength in regards to the Vertigo [brand] and MAD magazine. When you say Vertigo and you said MAD, you clearly understand what each other brands and imprints stands for. And we’d rather build each of those to be even stronger, with a stronger message.”

Lee and DiDio suggested that non-superhero concepts, or those like the recently concluded Ex Machina that don’t fit the traditional superhero mold, could find a home at Vertigo.

“We’re going to be sitting down with [Vertigo Executive Editor] Karen Berger, because she’s so important to the voice of Vertigo and the direction of Vertigo,” DiDio told Newsarama. “So we want to sit down and talk about what works best for the imprint, and move in that direction.”

What about creator-owned WildStorm titles? As we noted yesterday, writer Kurt Busiek, whose Astro City was among the last creator-owned comics being published by WildStorm, didn’t know what the end of the imprint will mean to his book.

Lee told CBR that DC is in discussions with Busiek about the future of Astro City: “It’s a creator-owned book, so his input is invaluable and essential. Until we have finished that dialogue — and of course we weren’t able to share all this with him before the announcement — we won’t be able to have an official statement on that.”

Warner Bros.’ superhero plans: Contrary to earlier reports, Nelson said the studio won’t be announcing its movie strategy for DC’s superhero properties within the next month.

“First, [Warner Bros. CEO Barry Meyer], by his own admission, was misquoted,” Nelson told CBR, “so we’re not going to be making that announcement in the next month, but we will be discussing a lot of our content plans before the end of the year. It won’t necessarily be exhaustive, and it will not be limited to a theatrical slate, but at the same time that we’ve been looking carefully at the organization, everyone’s been working very hard to keep the business moving in the direction we want – everyone in particular being Geoff Johns who has a lot of great stuff with our divisions. So, you will hear more about that before the end of the year.”

A lingering question: Seven months after DiDio’s promotion to co-publisher, there’s still no mention of who will succeed him as executive editor of the DC Universe imprint. Do these latest announcements make the position obsolete or more necessary than before?