Comic books may be filled with unexpected punches and shocking cliffhangers, but the world of comics publishing is experiencing a whole new level of surprise in the last two weeks.
The news today that a major restructuring at DC Comics would bring the company under direct control of Warner Bros. Pictures has the comic book industry almost as astounded as they were after Disney announced last week that it was acquiring Marvel Comics.
"Holy cow. We thought last week's news was big. I'm gobsmacked," said Mark Waid, who has been both a writer and editor at DC and currently serves as editor-in-chief at publisher BOOM! Studios.
Among comic book fans, the loyalty fight of "DC vs. Marvel" is common, whether on fan message boards or at the retail counters in comic book shops. Some comic readers like Marvel's Spider-Man, while others prefer DC's Batman. Today's announcement by DC on the heels of the Marvel announcement seemed to only provide fodder for more battle cries, as now the arguments might include Mickey Mouse vs. Bugs Bunny.
"Wow! Look out Disney/Marvel!" one fan stated on the comic book message boards at Newsarama.
"This is going to get dirty," wrote another.
The restructuring of DC Comics creates a new division called "DC Entertainment," overseen by Warner Bros. executive Diane Nelson. The move was explicitly described as giving Warner the ability to market the DC characters across many platforms, although most in the comics industry simply see it as bringing the comic book side of DC's characters into a closer synergy with Hollywood.
"Honestly, the news about DC restructuring just struck me as movie stuff -- sure to have a big effect on how the DC line of characters are shepherded into other forms, but not something that would have a strong effect on the parts I care most about, the actual comics," said Kurt Busiek, the comic writer who penned the most recent Marvel/DC crossover, "JLA/Avengers". "The Disney-Marvel deal and this both struck me as far more about film and television than comics."
Others in the industry said the most disheartening news was that long-time DC executive Paul Levitz would be leaving his role as president and publisher, a job he's held since 2002. However, the most loyal DC character-loving fans were also thrilled he'd be writing comics again.
"To my mind, [Paul Levitz stepping down as publisher is] the real news," Busiek said. "That's the bombshell that's going to change the industry. What Paul did, over his years at DC, had an enormous amount to do with what the industry is like today, in some ways that the audience can see and in some ways they'll never know. And not just DC, but the whole industry."
"Paul has done more to protect DC's heroes -- and its talent and editorial -- than anyone ever, and his stewardship will be missed," Waid said. "I can't imagine a DC Comics not run by Paul; the next publisher in line has quite a legacy to follow."
"On the other hand," Busiek said, "I'm thrilled I'll get to read new Levitz 'Legion' stories. Beyond that, I'm still stunned."
But others in the industry wondered if a change in leadership wouldn't usher in a new, more dynamic era at DC.
"I have to believe this is a good thing," said Rob Liefeld, who was among the well-known artists who left Marvel to found Image Comics in 1992. "I'm 40 years old and have worked in the business for 22 years, and through it all Paul Levitz has had his hand in running the show at DC comics. His accomplishments and contributions to the industry are too numerous to list and he is a comic book hall of fame first ballot nominee.
"One can only hope, however, that a less conservative, more adventurous approach to both comic book creators as well as their amazing stable of characters will follow this new re-structuring," Liefeld said. "MTV, ABC, CBS, NBC and other networks and the movie studios aren't run by old men and neither should the publisher of Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman."
Marvel Comics, playing the opposite role that DC played last week, had no official company comment on the news from their archrival Wednesday afternoon.
Some comic book fans, however, were quick to point out the similarities between last week's Marvel news and this week's DC news. When the Disney/Marvel merger was announced last week, many people in the industry said not to worry, using Warner Bros. and DC as an example of a parent company that takes a hands-off approach to comic books. But does that analogy now still apply?
"This sounds a lot to me like what everyone was afraid would happen to Marvel as a result of the Disney purchase," one fan said on Newsarama. "Levitz is demoted? This Nelson person is in charge now? How's that not like bumping Joe Quesada back down to writer/artist and replacing him with some executive from Disney? To me, this move just seems like a step towards making DC a little less of a unique entity and more just another part of a big conglomerate."
That sentiment was echoed by one more than one comic book fan on Newsarama.
"So Levitz is demoted, and DC is brought more into the fold as a movie producing company. This is troubling," wrote another reader. "Warner's willingness to let DC be an R&D facility for their movies and other properties is much of why DC has had high quality output over the years. A more sales-focused DC is not necessarily a better one, and I hope that the actual comics' publication aspect of DC remains basically independent."
But combined with the Disney purchase of Marvel, most recognize that while this development may further entrench Hollywood in the comics publishing world, it also means comics are getting more and more influence in Hollywood. With this weekend's opening of "Whiteout," based on the comic book from Oni Press, and the release of "Surrogates" later this month, based on a comic from Top Shelf -- as well as all the superhero projects that are in development at both DC and Marvel.
"In hindsight, the DC-Warner Bros. restructuring was kind of inevitable," said Ron Marz, a comic book writer well known for his work on DC's Green Lantern characters. "Comics are ascendant as an entertainment vehicle, especially as a development tool in Hollywood. Marvel is obviously exploiting its properties very successfully, so it makes sense that Warner would look to do the same with the DC catalog.
"Ultimately, it seems like this is driven more by film and television than by the actual comics, so who knows how or even if the comics will be effected," he said. "To me, anything that means more comic-based entertainment is a positive development. Plus, Paul Levitz is going back to the Legion. How cool is that?"Related Stories: Marvel To Be Acquired By Disney for $4 Billion Stan Lee Calls Marvel/Disney Deal "Perfect" Geoff Johns to Produce/Co-Write 'Flash' Movie