OP/ED: 10 Questions About DC's New Executive Team

DC Entertainment Makes Leadership Change

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  • Read our interview with the new team. So DC Entertainment has found its new comic book publisher.

    Actually co-publishers, since Dan DiDio and Jim Lee will share the responsibilities that come with that title. They are part of the DCE’s new ‘Executive Team,’ which also consists of Geoff Johns as Chief Creative Officer, John Rood as Executive VP of Sales/Marketing and Patrick Caldon as Executive VP of Finance.

    DCE president Diane Nelson handpicked a ‘supergroup’ to follow through on her promise last September “to maximize every opportunity to bring DC’s unrivalled collection of titles and characters to life.”

    Thursday’s big announcement immediately raises a number of questions about the future of the DCU. The principals involved may answer some during the interviews they’ll give in the upcoming days about DC’s new direction. Others may take years to answer, if ever.

    Here are 10 queries we have about the new DCE Executive Team:

    1.) Why did DC go with co-publishers?

    Having two guys steering the same ship can sometimes be a prescription for calamity. Clashing management styles and egos often lead to an untenable and ultimately, ineffective business environment. But the desire to improve communications between DC’s editorial staff and other parts of DC Entertainment was paramount to the decision, Lee said in an interview Thursday with Newsarama.

    With relatively few big screen productions featuring DC characters over the last decade, and even fewer video games featuring the game-ready properties, it has been shown that the previous operating structure between DC and Warner Bros did not lend itself to open channels of communication.

    This move, as DiDio said, is designed to change that. "I think the potential for the universe both inside and outside of comics is going to be more fully realized as we go ahead," DiDio said.

    The naming of DiDio and Lee as co-publishers of DC Comics indicates that Nelson wanted to maintain a certain amount of stability within the editorial ranks. Few things are as disruptive to a business and potentially harmful to company morale than a top-to-bottom realignment. Which is exactly what the formation of DC Entertainment five months ago appeared to be. By elevating DiDio, a highly respected industry veteran, from Executive Editor to the top position, DCE maintains continuity in the editorial process. Plus, having a publisher with in-depth knowledge of DC’s database of characters – which is what the company had with Paul Levitz at the helm for so many years – can only help.

    Lee is one of the premier artists/creators of the past 20 years, with extensive publishing experience of his own from his time at WildStorm. Under his watch, titles like “The Authority,” “Gen13” “Stormwatch” and his own creation “WildC.A.T.S.” became huge hits. And there’s something to be said for having a top talent calling (or in this case, co-calling) the shots. Joe Quesada’s tenure as Marvel’s Editor-in-Chief has seen a number of top-shelf comic creators move over to the House of Ideas. How can it not help DC to have one of the top artists on the planet sharing the publisher’s chair?

    Most important, these are two guys who have known and worked with each other for many years. They know what each brings to the table, and that may be the most crucial element to this pairing.

    2.) How will DiDio and Lee split up their responsibilities?

    The joint statement DiDio and Lee put out earlier today said “our mission is to reinvent DC Comics to prepare it for the challenges and opportunities in this quickly changing world. With the Co-Publisher structure, it’s going to allow us to be in many places at once, both literally and metaphorically.”

    Later on, the pair told Newsarama that DiDio will maintain the larger presence on the day-to-day publishing operation, since he is based here in New York City.

    Lee will be the company’s point person for all things DC digital. Given Lee’s experience in other entertainment media (like the WildC.A.T.S. animated series, and upcoming DCU Online video game) and his personal interest in all things tech (the man carries more electronic devices than Best Buy), this makes perfect sense. Lee added that he has “a lot of publishing work ahead of [him]”, and that he plans to work closely with John Rood to develop the marketing plan for DC’s digital comics experience, whatever that turns out to be.

    As he correctly points out, while the iPad has sparked a lot of talk about the future of digital comics, no one has really figured out how to really make it work, creatively or financially. Accomplishing that is one of Lee’s biggest goals in his new job.

    3.) How does this fit into Warner Bros.’ plans to turn DC into a multi-media powerhouse?

    The new executive team, on paper at least, seems to be a direct consequence of Nelson’s plan to maximize the branding of the DC Universe. Each person brings skill sets and experience that reach far beyond comics. DiDio, for example brings TV experience from his days at Mainframe Entertainment. He also worked on kids’ programming for ABC and soap operas for CBS.

    We mentioned Lee’s forays into animation earlier. He’s also Creative Director for Sony’s upcoming Massively Multiplayer Online DC Universe game. Aside from that, his ‘comic artist’ rock star status has made him lots of friends in Hollywood, which certainly can’t hurt.

    Johns started out in movies, as Richard Donner’s assistant, and has written episodes for several Adult Swim shows as well as the recent “Absolute Justice” episode of “Smallville.” He’s also a producer and co-writer on the upcoming “Flash” and “Shazam!” movies.

    If this were a fantasy baseball draft, John Rood would be the last round ‘reach pick’ that could turn out to be the biggest surprise. The veteran marketing guy just spent a decade on the digital side at ABC Family, a cable network that did a complete 180 in terms of programming and perception to become a major player in reaching young viewers. We all know attracting younger fans is a constant challenge for the comics industry.

    Rood is a guy with a track record at figuring out ways to do that. His task at DCE will be figuring out a way to do that. His experience with online and mobile marketing could come in very handy with regards to digital comics and mobile comics content.

    He also speaks Geek.

    Caldon’s appointment may get the least fanfare, but the fact that he’s been with DC since 1985 is another move that speaks to maintaining some consistency with the day-to-day operation. After all, it’s important to keep the finances in order as you’re trying to reinvent the way you do business.

    All this cross-platform, potential-tapping multimedia hooey is all fine and good, but what does it all mean for fans of DC comic books? According to the new Exec Team, it’s all good.

    Rood points out that the new hires are proof that Nelson believes in the importance of comics to the overall success of DCE and Warner Bros. Johns chimed in by saying he, Lee and DiDio come from the comics’ world, and want nothing more than to promote and support monthlies.

    "I think everybody here is really committed to comics as we know them,” Johns said, “but we just want to make sure we push them to the next level in the right way."

    4.) What does the hiring of Geoff Johns as Chief Creative Officer mean?

    Johns is the hottest writer in the business right now, and one of the single most important people in DC Comics today. Look at what he’s done with Green Lantern.

    So, with his importance to DC and his value as a creator at an all-time high, giving him a new title, with new responsibilities, is the absolute smartest move DCE executives could make. In any company in any field, you lock up your best guys so they can make you a better company. The most effective way to do that is to give them the opportunity to do what they love to do, what they excel at, and offer them new challenges. For Geoff Johns, that means making sure he keeps on writing.

    As for what a ‘Chief Creative Officer’ does, Johns joked that it means he’ll still get to wear t-shirts and go to conventions, but also take on new responsibilities. Namely, he’ll spearhead the charge of the DC stable of characters across every possible platform.

    He said he won’t be directly overseeing regular editorial content but taking a broader approach with the DCU, much like he did with the Blackest Night crossover.

    Judging from Johns’ letter released Thursday morning, it sounds like DC has given him the keys to the sandbox and dumped all the toys in there for him to play with. This part of the statement is what should get DC fans really excited:

    “Expect the characters we love, the A-list and the ones even you and I might barely know, to be shepherded into the ‘outside world’ with respect, care and unbridled energy. They’ll be plenty of Batman and Superman, but there are a whole lot of characters from the DC Universe, Mad, Vertigo and Wildstorm waiting to be unleashed.”

    He also said one of his assignments will be to maintain consistency in the portrayal of the characters across the different platforms. So how many of these new adventures will the prolific writer actually write? Good question, which leads us to…

    5.) Does this mean Johns won’t be writing as much?

    Johns said that he’s going to keep writing Green Lantern, The Flash, Batman: Earth One and Brightest Day, along with providing creative advice on the entire comic line. Besides that, as mentioned above, he’s going to be spearheading the creative charge, as he put it, to bring the DCU to film, television (live-action and animation), video games and even toys.

    So it would appear his writing schedule will remain as crowded as ever. It’s also apparent DCE placed a guy who has written for TV, has film experience and written a video game (he wrote the story for Sony’s DCU MMO game), in charge of translating their massive character library across the media spectrum. Given DCE’s clearly-stated intention (from a Warner Bros. directive) to bring its characters under a more structured theatrical universe, you would be hard-pressed to find another person in better position to help pull that off.

    6.) Does this mean Lee won’t be drawing as much?

    While Johns isn’t ditching his day job, it remains unclear what his new job means for Lee’s future penciling. His responsibilities at Wildstorm have kept him busy enough that he’s mainly done covers (he’s still working on finishing the long-delayed All-Star: Batman & Robin with Frank Miller). Now as co-publisher of DC, it’s certainly reasonable to expect his art output to diminish even further. Lee didn’t address the question while making the media rounds Thursday. And who’s to say a project won’t cross his desk a year from now that he will be damned to hand over to another artist?

    Being the (co-) boss does have its perks, including being able to assign yourself to a gig. And if that gig would mean drawing a book written by the CCO, a certain bestselling writer named Geoff Johns, well…

    7.) Will Lee remain as Creative Director of Sony’s DC Universe MMO game?

    Given the amount of time and energy Lee has put into this project, it would be shocking to see him take a step back from it. The PS3/PC game, which is tentatively set for late 2010 release, is most likely too far along in the development stage to afford an abrupt departure. Plus, given the importance of the game to DC’s multimedia strategy (a weekly comic tying into the game is also under production), why risk rocking the boat at this point? Lee’s in it for the duration.

    8.) Will DC Comics be moving to the West Coast?

    Lee told Newsarama during the interview that there are “no plans to move DC’s office’s out West, to be closer to Warner Bros.’ Burbank home base. He and Johns, who both travel between LA and NY regularly, will continue the cross-country commuting, while also taking advantage of phone, email and video conferencing to stay in regular contact.

    But that said, rumors have been making the rounds in the comics’ world for some time that DC (and Marvel too, for that matter) has been contemplating a move out West. With comics being such a crucial content pipeline for Hollywood, the reasoning is that it would make good business sense to have the comics’ folks closer to the people who make the movies.

    Making Lee Co-Publisher and Johns Chief Creative Officer only seems to add fuel to the speculative fire. Lee is based in San Diego (as is Wildstorm) and by all accounts has no plans to transplant to New York City.

    Johns calls Los Angeles home, and given his increasing film and television work (and the fact his new job with DCE calls for even more Hollywood assignments), it’s likely safe bet he’s not leaving the City of Angels anytime soon.

    Of course, moving the comics operation 3,000 miles away might mean leaving behind the countless writers, artists and editors who are based in the Tri-State area.

    More important, the comics business was founded in New York City. The city has been breeding and inspiring comic book creators for decades. To have DC Comics abandon their HQ at 1700 would be like Batman taking the Batcave and moving it to Encino.

    However, it’s safe to assume industry watchers will continue asking this question for the foreseeable future.

    9.) What does this all mean for Wildstorm?

    Given that the imprint’s founder and editorial director is now co-publisher, it would seem Wildstorm is in good to shape to weather any further changes that impact the DC publishing arm. Given his familiarity with their product and his ties to people there, it stands to reason Lee will do whatever he can to protect the Wildstorm team.

    Also, Wildstorm’s experience with licensed video game properties such as World of Warcraft, Gears of War, and the recent Dante’s Inferno could prove a valuable asset in DC’s plans to maximize the potential of the brand. With already-established working relationships with companies in other parts of the media realm, reversing fields and talking to them about adapting The Authority for video game or digital content isn’t so far-fetched.

    10.) What does this all mean for Vertigo and the other DC brands?

    Karen Berger, Vertigo’s executive editor, was a name many cited as a dark horse candidate for the DC publishing job in recent months. Her success at cultivating and maintaining the high standards fans and critics had to come to expect from any Vertigo title has won her widespread industry respect. The news that she didn’t get the top job probably doesn’t speak as much to the perception of Vertigo as it does underline the importance of superheroes to DCE’s ultimate strategy.

    Simply put, the capes are more important.

    At least in terms of mainstream appeal and blockbuster potential. Certainly Vertigo has proven itself a nimble imprint, with hits as varied as Hellblazer, Preacher, Transmetropolitan, Y: The Last Man (which was specifically cited by Geoff Johns in the aforementioned letter) and its two biggest hits, Fables, already in development as a TV show, and The Sandman.

    Another Vertigo release, The Andy Diggle/Jock collaboration “The Losers,” is coming to theaters in June. So Vertigo obviously has cross-platform appeal. And given the new company-wide emphasis on maximizing the potential of a character, be they mistress of death, mercenary or monster of the muck, it would stand to reason that all possibilities will be explored (let the dreams of Fables, Preacher and Y: The Last Man triple feature continue!). It’s the amount of support they would receive that would be up for debate.

    Because in terms of the home-run hitters, the characters who support tentpole franchises that not only sell tickets but toys as well, Vertigo’s stable of unique characters can’t compete with the potential of the Batmans, Flashes and Wonder Womans of the DCU (although perhaps, Diana Prince, with her well-documented cinematic foibles, is not the best example to cite).

    The same could also be said for DC’s other imprint, the manga line CMX.

    Will the management changes lead to less attention and support for Vertigo and the other specialty imprints? Chances are no, as long as quality stays high and sells remain strong.

    The wildcard in the specialty division could be Zuda Comics. The webcomics line would seem to be in the right zip code of the DCE’s plans to max out the potential of digital comics. Will that impetus lead to a more prominent role for Zuda?

    We shall see.

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