DC’s future in the hands of the new WarnerMedia regime looks like it could be in jeopardy. Rumblings of this have been felt throughout the comic industry the past several months and, on closer inspection, the dominoes are falling and starting to add up.
A new piece in Forbes spells out the circumstances and there are few takeaways. For a start, DC got a backseat, a literal small corner, at San Diego Comic-Con (SDCC) this year. In years past they have normally been out in the open presenting plans and upcoming offerings.
More telling than that, DC didn’t partake in SDCC independently. They were there as a part of the greater WarnerMedia tent, one of many cogs in the machine. A prolific content creator, one of the biggest in media, they were once known as DC Entertainment. That is no longer the case.
Disheartening as it is to the publisher’s devotees and creative minds, this out-of-nowhere turn of events isn’t without cause.
Ever since AT&T acquired WarnerMedia, the telecom giant has not given a great deal of emphasis to DC’s IP. When profiling AT&T CEO John Stankey, DC was never mentioned. And they seem to view the company as just another lifestyle brand among many they oversee. Stankey did discuss Greg Berlanti, the producer behind The CW’s Arrowverse.
“I do not lose sleep at night worrying about our creative direction around here. Our challenge will be getting that great creative strength and marrying it with great technology and the ability to manage customer life cycles. If we can get that three-legged stool working, then we’re unstoppable.”
Due in no small part to debt concerns, AT&T views its new operation in terms of assets. The company incurred a new $85.4 billion mound of debt in acquiring WarnerMedia bringing their total debt to $164 billion. In order to find a way out of that debt they are looking to monetize WarnerMedia as a whole entity, bigger than its constituent parts, to make that money back.
Consequently, certain endeavors were given priority over others. While executives were putting all their eggs in the HBO Max basket, DC’s Vertigo line, Mad Magazine, and streaming service Filmstruck were all shuttered. Low revenue appears to be the reason.
DC Universe is constantly thought to be on the bubble but is surviving, for now. The worst sign it won’t be around long or suffers a lack of faith by the brass is the cancellation of Swamp Thing. A sudden decision from on high still shrouded in mystery, it looks like a cost-cutting measure mostly, given all the above information.
And that is where DC proper is in danger. Comic sales are low and a small chunk of business as it is. On the publishing side, they rely heavily on reprints and relaunches, andt it’s the older books — from 30-40 years ago — that are doing better in the marketplace. Readers aren’t hungry for the new stuff, a fact that left Publisher Dan DiDio admitting the company’s failure.
“We do these Facsimile Editions where we reprint older issues of comics including all the old ads and stuff…and in some cases these are selling more than the new comics with these characters. People are more interested in buying the stories from 30 or 40 years ago than the contemporary stories, and that’s a failure on us. We should be focused on moving things forward, always pushing the boundaries and finding new stories to tell. That’s how we’ll survive and grow this industry.”
One guy less optimistic DC will turn around is Rob Liefeld. A few months ago, he pegged DC as circling the drain and made his thoughts very clear on Twitter, blaming incompetent management. He commented they will “drive off a cliff” and quipped Batman is their go-to prescription:
“I ain’t never seen a company in as much disarray as DC Comics. Thank God they have Batman to act as their Tylenol, Asprin, laughing gas… ‘more Batman will fix it!'”
DC is trying to generate interest in a line of teen and young adult material published in a way that circumvents comic stores. They had a booth at Book Expo — their first appearance there in years — to promote it. Though not tied to DC heroes and titles we know, it could serve as a solid revenue stream.
Still, DC has to be concerned about AT&T’s short-term focus on profitability and a lackluster approach to legacy brands. A sword hangs over them that keeps drawing closer.