Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Comic Observations: Warner Bros. Hugs DC Tighter......Tighter!!

In a move that seems like a counter-punch to the Disney/Marvel merger, Warner Bros. has just announced the formation of DC Entertainment. The new division encompasses what used to be DC Comics, once a separate subsidiary of Time Warner Inc, and now a division of Warner Bros.

The move more closely aligns DC with Warner's to maximize DC's line of characters across film, television, animation and video games mediums. The new president of DC Entertainment will be Diane Nelson, who previously has been overseeing Warner Premiere and the Harry Potter franchise for Warner Bros.

Current DC Comics President and Publisher Paul Levitz, who has held that role since 2002, will, according to a press release, will now become a Writer, Contributing Editor and Overall Consultant to DC Entertainment. Previously, Levitz had reported directly to WB chairman Alan Horn, so it's pretty hard to see this move as anything but a demotion for Levitz.

So, much like the Marvel move, this doesn't seem to be too negative in terms of its impact on comics, except in one way. Like the Disney/Marvel merger, it suggests that the evolving relationship between film and comics is growing ever more intertwined. Are comics becoming nothing more than development engines for new movie franchises? It certainly seems that way. But as long as the creators of comics continue to direct their own stories, and not have their subject matter dictated to them by corporate execs with their eyes on box office, there are only benefits for the comic industry.

As for Paul Levitz, well, the man's a legend. In the early 1970s, while still a teenager, he went from writing a fan-zine to becoming a freelancer for DC, writing letter pages and creating DC's in-house fan-zine Amazing World of DC Comics. By the age of 20 (20!), he was the editor of Adventure Comics, the title then starring The Legion of Super-Heroes. It was during this time he began writing comic scripts.

Over the next few years, Levitz became one of DC's star writers. He took over All-Star Comics, but it was as the writer for The Legion of Super-Heroes that he really made his mark, culminating in his masterpiece, The Great Darkness Saga.

As he moved up in the company, he was responsible for some major innovations and talent discoveries, helping to bring luminaries such as Alan Moore, Marv Wolfman and John Byrne to DC. He was a mentor to assistant editor Karen Berger, who would jump start the British invasion of comic book talent through her hiring of Neil Gaiman, Grant Morrison and Peter Milligan, as well as her creation of DC's hugely successful Vertigo line of books.

But it is his impact in the relam of creators' rights that Levitz is revered in the industry. He helped created DC's standard of compensation for creators, which includes royalties for freelancers, reprint payments, art returns (which artists generally sell for additional funding), as well as having creator credits on the covers of books.

Here's how writer Len Wein describes his impact:

As I said, the difference between the two companies; DC and Marvel, is I see money off of all of my characters at DC in any incarnation. If they do paperback books, if they do movies… I also created Lucius Fox, the character Morgan Freeman plays in the current run of Batman films, and I do absurdly well off of him being in those films, financially. Because Paul Levitz made sure I signed creator equity contracts whenever I create a character. Even on something potentially so unimportant…as I said to Paul when I argued with him about signing a Lucius contract, “It’s a middle-aged guy in a suit.” He said, “Sign a contract. You never know.” He was right.

Quite a mark to make. Here's hoping he enjoys his new role as elder statesman and occasional writer.

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