Op/Ed: In Theory - 10 Candidates for DC Publisher

It’s been about four months since Warner Bros. announced it would reorganize DC Comics into DC Entertainment in an effort to “to maximize the potential of the DC brand.”

But with 2010 now in full swing, it’s likely only a matter of time before the company’s new president Diane Nelson lays out the company’s full reorganization plans — including potentially who will take over the Publisher’s role vacated by outgoing President & Publisher (and now Writer, Contributing Editor and Overall Consultant) Paul Levitz.

Whoever takes over the role will have some big shoes to fill. Levitz has been with the company since the mid-1970s and has played a major role in making DC the comic book publisher it is today. He is seen as a defender of the Direct Market, the continued publication of periodical comics and better deals for creators.

Whoever fills the role will need a special combination of talents to manage the creative and business aspects all DC publishing efforts from the Direct Market to bookstores and the burgeoning digital realm. They also will have to work within Nelson’s overall plans for developing DC Entertainment into a cross-platform powerhouse that generates content and profit from comics, books, movies, TV, video games, licensed merchandise and new digital media

So here’s a completely speculative run down of some of the more obvious candidates for the job of DC Publisher, both from within the comics industry and outside it.

Word Balloon: Geoff Johns
Word Balloon: Geoff Johns
Candidate: Geoff Johns.

Current job: Comic book writer extraordinaire.

No one gets the DC Universe better right now than Johns, the writer who has developed Green Lantern into a top-notch franchise and topped the sales chart as the mastermind behind Blackest Night. Johns has exactly the kind of cross-platform experience the company is looking for, having worked in movies, TV and games as well as comics. He wrote the upcoming JSA-themed movie, and is co-writer and producer on big screen adaptations of and Both Gail Simone and Keith Giffen cited him as instrumental in their new Brightest Day-related books. Given how visible he is and how bright his star is shining right now, it’s hard to believe DC wouldn’t do everything in its power to recruit him to its top ranks.

Candidate: Dan DiDio.

Current job: VP Editorial of the DC Universe

Dan Didio
Dan Didio
If DC is looking to reassure fans that the revamp will not radically change its superhero comics publishing plans, they could stay in house and promote DiDio from within. No one besides Levitz would be as familiar with today’s DC Universe and its creative talent. DiDio also has experience as a television producer. And while editorial decisions made during DiDio’s tenure have at times polarized fans, he hasn’t been afraid to experiment with content (Identity Crisis) or format (52, Wednesday Comics).

Candidate: Jim Lee

Current job: Editorial Director, Wildstorm

Lee has been one of comics’ hottest artists for more than 20 years now, but he’s also got plenty of business experience and good will with fans that could make him an ideal choice. On the business side, Lee of course is a co-founder of Image Comics and founder of Wildstorm Studios — which he sold to DC for a nice chunk of change in the late 1990s. Since joining DC, he’s been involved in a number of the company’s major initiatives, including taking on a leadership role as creative director on the upcoming DC Universe MMORPG — exactly the sort of crossover DC is looking to do more of. The real question is whether Lee, who sold Wildstorm to focus on art more than business, would be willing to put down his pencils to take on a desk job.

JG Jones and Grant Morrison share a moment at the 2008 New York Comic Con
JG Jones and Grant Morrison share a moment at the 2008 New York Comic Con
Candidate: Grant Morrison

Current job: Comic book writing superstar

There’s no doubt Morrison [on right, with J.G. Jones] is one of the crown jewels in DC’s creative roster. The company has done very well giving the Scotsman behind such mad visions as The Invisibles the keys to its kingdom, as witnessed by the success of everything from JLA to Final Crisis, All-Star Superman and the current Batman & Robin. And while Morrison is perpetually in wait to become the next big thing in Hollywood, he could be ruled out by his lack of business experience or lack of interest in taking on a business role. He, along with Johns, has already been tapped as a consultant for possible movie adaptations of DC properties. Even if he doesn’t join the executive ranks, expect DC to do everything it can to keep Morrison in its ranks for as long as possible.

Candidate: Jeph Loeb

Current job: Comic book writer for Marvel

Word Balloon: Jeph Loeb
Word Balloon: Jeph Loeb
Stepping outside of DC, Loeb sticks out as a good candidate for a number of reasons. As a writer, Loeb has written some of the most popular takes on DC’s top characters in such series as The Long Halloween, A Superman for All Seasons and Batman: Hush. He has publishing experience from a short sting running Rob Liefeld’s Awesome Comics in the late 1990s. And he has extensive Hollywood experience, most recently stints as an executive producer and writer on the Smallville and Heroes TV series. Whether Loeb, who seems to like to move around a lot, would be willing to depart Marvel and settle down to a desk job remains to be seen.

Wonder Woman DVD - Bruce TImm
Wonder Woman DVD - Bruce TImm
Candidate: Bruce Timm

Current job: Executive producer at Warner Bros. Animation

Few folks have had as much impact on the DC Universe as Timm, whose influence comes less from the actual comics he’s drawn as much as the genre-defining look he developed for Warner Bros. Animation’s many DC-based efforts. From Batman: The Animated Series to the current string of DC Universe direct-to-DVD movies — overseen by incoming DC Entertainment president Diane Nelson — Timm has shown no one knows how to make DC characters work in a broad medium as well as he does. Even if Timm doesn’t get or take the job, it won’t be a surprise is someone else from WB Animation — execs like Sam Register or the departed Sander Schwartz — got the nod.

Candidate: Avi Arad

Current job: Movie producer

The former toymaker Arad was instrumental in turning Marvel from bankruptcy to the top of the Hollywood food chain. Arad obviously loves comics and understands their potential in other medium. No one was as influential in successfully translating Marvel’s library of characters into a wave of successful movies that changed Hollywood forever as Arad. It’s exactly that kind of success that DC is looking to emulate, and having Arad apply those principles to DC’s heroes would be a huge gain for the company.

Candidate: Michael E. Uslan

Current job: Movie producer

Another movie producer, Uslan’s history with DC Comics goes back to the 1970s when he brought the company’s creators to speak at his Indiana University class on comics — one of the first to explore the medium in an academic setting. More importantly, he’s both written comics for DC and, with partner Benjamin Melniker, brought the first Batman film to life in 1989 as its producer. He also produced Frank Miller’s 2008 movie version of The Spirit. Well-known in both movie and comics circles, he has a long track record of bridging comics and Hollywood that could be an ideal fit for the new DC Entertainment.

Candidate: Kurt Hassler

Current job: Publishing director of Yen Press

Of course, it’s also possible that DC could be looking for someone with a strong publishing track record. In that case, Hassler’s name could quickly rise to the top of the list. As the graphic novel buyer for Border’s, Hassler championed the bookstore success of many a title in the early 2000s and knows the bookstore market inside and out. His current publishing job is at Yen Press, a division of the Hachette Book Group, which shows his ability to successfully build a business within a corporate structure similar to that of DC. And Yen’s recent scoring of the graphic novel rights to Twilight has to be a profile booster for Hassler.

Candidate: Joe Quesada

Current job: Editor in chief at Marvel Comics

Credit: Seth Kushner (Marvel Comics)
Would anything drive fans crazier than DC poaching Joe Quesada from Marvel? Probably not. But were such a move possible, DC would be insane not to consider it seriously. Quesada has an impressive editorial track record, from turning struggling titles like Daredevil and Punisher into hits in his Marvel Knights days to bringing in talent like Brian Michael Bendis, Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction, Quesada has kept Marvel atop the industry with a stream of events from House of M through Siege that comics fans just can’t resist. He’s also successfully built bridges between Marvel’s comics business and its movie studio, with comic book writers regularly consulting on the films and successfully integrating the best elements of Marvel’s movies back into the comics that inspired them. Given his increased roll with Marvel Studios and some of the apparent bad blood between Quesada and DC, Stan Lee is probably a more likely candidate for the job.

And that’s just scratching the surface of potential candidates for the job. The speculation will continue right up until the moment that DC makes its official announcement on the subject, whenever that may come. So stay tuned, and if you like, share your thoughts on the above candidates or other candidates you’d like to throw into the mix…

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