Movies and the motive behind the DC reboot

You have seen the movie now here’s the comic, the other big motive behind the DC reboot.

The recent announcement of a rebooting and renumbered post Flashpoint DC universe, has brought a mix of emotions from cautious interest to outright rage. To me this represents a last desperate throw of the dice from Dan DiDio, Jim Lee, Diane Nelson, Geoff Jones and many of the DC brain trust. To increase DC’s market share and make the vital leap from number two to number one superhero comic company.

There are a variety of factors that have contributed to the reboot — one area I want to touch on with this article is that the seeds of the reboot were planted unwittingly in the mid-1990s. How you may ask? Read on.

For the last decade and a half Marvel has become the dominant United States superhero comic company. Part of this is through sheer volume of product, and part is strong TV and film projects. But what has kept it dominant can mostly be boiled down to the characters and the rich emotional investment that has been cultivated through months (and many years) of reading.

Ask any long-time comics fans especially those in the 1980s and 1990s. When did you see your first superhero? And the answer could well likely be in the movies or on TV.

For myself personally, while it was the Superman movie that made me aware of the superhero and then later comic book hero. This was also how I found out about X-Men and its mid-90s animated series that led me to take the plunge into comic collecting and reading.

But what has this to do with the DC reboot you may be saying? It’s simply this: for the past decade and a half DC’s neglect and inability to use its vast media resources, to create a movie, a TV series or anything that could attract potential new readers, has allowed the company to fall rapidly behind Marvel. Something that it is only now realising — notice that the two key characters in this relaunch, the ones with perhaps the most books are being pushed heavily are Green Lantern and Batman. Ironically it was Batman that benefited the most from the gateway TV show/movie such as the Batman animated series and the Christopher Nolan movies. And now a similar process is happening with Green Lantern.

The equation seems very simple. I see Batman or TV, I notice Batman comic, I read Batman comic, and before you know it I am a Batman fan. Why has it taken DC until now to see this trend, part of it goes back between the difference between Marvel and DC, at the time of the mid-90s when the X-Men and Batman TV series were broadcasting. While both shows were created for entertainment, the situation both companies were in was very different. Batman the animated series was a labour of love for Bruce Timm and the others involved in its creation. There was also a chance to rehabilitate the character and make people forget about the awful Batman and Robin. DC had a healthy line of titles and were cruising along at a respectable number two — it had critical acclaim with its Vertigo titles and much mainstream exposure from the death and return of Superman.

X-Men, when it was broadcast, was raced to production — in fact the first episode wasn’t even finished when it was broadcast. Part of this was due to anticipation, the other was to get the show out as quickly as possible. Marvel at this time was fighting for its very life. Over-reliance on gimmicks, and over printing combined with bad management, and an unwise attempt to create its own distributor without the proper infrastructural support. The company was bankrupt, and subject to a fierce takeover battle. Marvel had to exploit every avenue to get its product out or it very literally faced the possibility of ceasing to exist.

DC on the other hand could have gone for the jugular and bought out Marvel. DC could have outmatched it with more movies and TV shows — DC had the resources and advantage of its own global reaching media company and its parent, Time Warner. While being part of Time Warner provided a great strength, it also created a great weakness — to Time Warner, DC was just another facet of its publishing arm, a potential source for movies, TV shows and merchandise. Time Warner did not realise what it had.

DC’s failure in the multimedia world would not become apparent to itself until the dawn of the new decade. Marvel was bought out by the toy company Toy Biz — its finances and ownership stabilised and Marvel began to aggressively develop its properties for movies and TV. It finally hit mainstream film success with the first X-Men movie, they then followed it up with Spider-man and other projects, building a cinematic Marvel universe and making the public more and more aware of its properties and characters. This helped them become a major entertainment powerhouse ultimately resulting in its billion-dollar buyout by Disney.

During 2009 Time Warner suddenly realised what it had in DC and quickly began to bridge the gap appointing Diane Nelson as president of the new DC Entertainment, Dan DiDio and Jim Lee as co-publishers, and Geoff Jones as chief creative officer. The new DC Entertainment would be a quicker leaner company with a film and TV division in Los Angeles and publishing arm in the traditional publishing home of American comics New York, able to synergise and create new DC-based properties and make use of a vast library of DC characters and stories.

The reboot of the DCnU is the result of this new synergy — an easy way to sell and resell the characters and appeal to the person that has seen the new DC TV show or movie, has stumbled across the DC comic, and before you know it is hopefully a new DC Fan. If the formula still works, however, will remain to be seen.

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