By now, you are probably aware of the news that Warner Bros. has exercised tighter control over its longtime corporate partner, DC Comics, turning into a Warner subsidiary called "DC Entertainment." However, besides fancy corporate speak like "to maximize the potential of the DC brand," the initial statements have been rather nebulous on the specific intentions of the recent re-branding. In what is perhaps an attempt to bring some clarity, the new President of the newly christened DC Entertainment, Diane Nelson recently spoke to MTV about the upcoming changes for the company.
Regarding the general changes, Nelson, the new Queen of DC explains:
"I hope they see more—and better. The real operating factor behind this announcement is about focus and prioritization and doing things even better moving forward. My hope is that, through that focus and coordination, all of the businesses of Warner Brothers and Time Warner have greater opportunities to work with the characters and stories that are part of the DC library—both the big ones that we all know and, equally importantly, the ones we might not know who would lend themselves well to new brands."
Nelson also explained that the following aspects would be improved from its current state:
"That's like asking me which of my children is my favorite. I'm not going to go there. But I will say that Vertigo is an area of great interest to me. It is even less well tapped than other parts of DC, and could potentially offer amazing stories for our future television video game, digital and consumer products businesses. I'll highlight that one, but it's no less or more important than any of the other parts of DC."
When asked how the movie-making aspect will be affected, Nelson states that Warner Pictures Group head, (and HER boss) Jeff Robinov would oversee the movie initiative. However, Nelson does give a general picture of the DC Entertainment vision for multimedia:
"We've been using the phrase 'cross-platform,' but there is no question that the feature film slate is an engine that drives our business, and that it's unique and incredibly powerful. But I don't think that this is a question of making a big, tentpole feature film and spinning all of the ancillary business off of that.
This is about looking at all the different faces of the prism at the same time we're building a feature slate that could encompass both big tentpole and big- or mid- or even smaller-budget films. It will be about working with the television group and the digital group and the video game and the home video group, etc. If we do our job well, the feature slate will be a key piece of it but it won't be the only piece of it by far."
It seems that in spite of the fact that this restructuring initially looked to be a knee-jerk reaction to $4 billion Disney acquisition of competitor, Marvel, the overall game plan that is being laid out seems to be far more understated. One might have thought that this would be huge drive to get a slew of DC comic movies pumped-out to go directly head-to-head with the Marvel/Disney monstrosities that are set to hit theaters in hordes within the next few years. Instead, we hear vague talk about a seemingly smaller-scale initiative to simply improve the range of DC comic adaptations in television, videogames, and other multimedia. The movies on the other hand, seem to be more tightly controlled by the Warner Pictures division.
I would say that based on the language being used here (and pure personal speculation,) that the folks at DCE are tacitly acknowledging that, in spite of the fact that they are in possession of the two most iconic comic book characters of all time (Batman and Superman,) the rest of the roster suffers from an issue of not being as recognizable (and therefore not bankable.) Complimenting that sentiment, is the the term, (big) "tentpole," that Nelson used, which is a term insiders use to describe the concept of using the financial rewards of strong, bankable franchises to build and support newer, weaker ones.
Therefore, their solution to this problem (which DC has been attempting to address since the beginning of Marvel's dominance in the 70's,) may be to take a more grassroots approach towards the goal of gaining that recognition/bankability factor to a great deal more of its roster. While projects for The Green Lantern, The Losers, Lobo, among others are in the works, none of those bring the kind of weight to the table of a Spider-Man or X-Men. (Although Green Lantern does have a cult following and Ryan Reynolds may bring people to the box office.) Point being, a grassroots strategy of low-key TV projects (likely animated) and more of a presence in video games, may help potential movie audiences make the connection towards a desire to see these characters in a feature film.
This is a strategy that Marvel utilized very well in the 80's by building the popularity of previously obscure franchises, most notably, the X-Men. At one time, the X-Men was just an obscure Marvel title that was canceled in the 60's, revived in the 70's and barely holding on once again. That is, until their popularity was eventually built upon low-key, almost subliminal appearances in crossovers in Spider-Man cartoons, the hugely-hyped Secret Wars comic/action figure saga, and constant word-of-mouth about the quality of storylines such as The Dark Phoenix Saga (which became an essential graphic novel to have on one's shelf,) which was then helmed by the legendary team of Chris Claremont and John Byrne. At that point, spin-off titles were starting, characters from the "X-Universe" were spilling into other titles, and the popularity of Wolverine became a juggernaut (no pun intended) in its own right. By the end of that decade, the X-Men were strong enough to warrant their own brand of video games, action figures/swag, and eventually a hugely popular animated show in the early 90's. (...You know the rest of this story.) THAT is how you take something from obscurity and turn it into a mainstay cashcow.
You could chalk up a lot of Marvel's success to luck or timing, however, while Disney/Marvel seems to be an alliance built on amping-up its already powerful reach, DC Entertainment seems to be an initiative that's looking to reevaluate and restructure. If this is indeed a race, then Marvel has a huge head start. Even the idea of TV projects by DC will be trumped by the fact that Marvel will now have unfettered access to the recently re-branded cartoon channel Disney XD as a huge platform for future Marvel TV projects. (The Cartoon Network might want to keep an eye on this, as well.) DC will have quite a bit to overcome. However, I think few will argue against the idea that it will be the fans that ultimately benefit from what looks to be a refreshed war between the two titans of the DC and Marvel brands. Hopefully, it will lead to more franchises from the DC Universe being allowed to "step up to the plate" and see how well they perform. (I've provided a couple examples in the above pic.)
Let's just sit back and enjoy the show!