BURBANK Batman and Superman have left their home of 81 years and moved to the West Coast.
They’re not leaving Gotham City and Metropolis behind, though. Rather, DC Comics has moved to Burbank.
“It’s really pulling aspects of DC Entertainment together,” DC Comics co-publisher Dan DiDio said Friday. “It was bifurcated between the two coasts. This brings us closer together, it brings us closer to (parent company) Warner Brothers. … There’s a lot more integration of the characters throughout the company.”
Recent DC television, movie success
DC Entertainment has had great success in recent years with its slate of superhero television shows — “Arrow,” “The Flash” and “iZombie” on the CW, along with “Gotham” on Fox, which will be joined this upcoming TV season by “Supergirl” on CBS.
In 2016, DC Entertainment will also debut “Legends of Tomorrow” on the CW and “Lucifer” on Fox. The company also has had a kid-friendly cartoon, “Teen Titans Go!”, running on the Cartoon Network since 2013.
Move to L.A helps collaboration
“It makes a huge difference,” said DiDio’s co-publisher, Jim Lee. “So much of what we do is done between meetings or walking to a meeting or in impromptu gatherings where we pull people together because we have an idea. … Now that we’re all together, there’s a great deal of collaboration and synergy that’s happening due to having everyone under one roof.”
About 70 of the 160 people in DC’s New York offices opted to make the move to Los Angeles in April, joining the 90 or so already in place in Burbank.
“It made the employees from the East Coast feel like part of a much bigger company,” DiDio said.
Comics still a high priority
The move to Los Angeles doesn’t elevate television and film above comics in editorial decision-making, the two said.
“(Comics) are central to every discussion we have,” DiDio said.
“Obviously, a lot of the stuff that we’re producing in the comics is the inspiration for things on television or in movies,” Lee said. “At the same time, they’re adding new content as well, and we love to play with that.”
“There’s a pool of creative content being generated,” Lee said, “and it’s exciting to be at the center of the enterprise and seeing all the things that are happening in all types of media.”
Although in the 1970s, Superman in the comics began to look more than a little like Christopher Reeve after the original “Superman” was a commercial hit, the small- and large-screen adaptations aren’t going to be forcing changes on the comics this time around.
“We have to remain the inspiration,” DiDio said. “We have to remain one step ahead. We have the unlimited budgets on our (comics) page, so therefore we have to push the imagination and the ideas that are on there.”
Superheroes in high demand
With DC Entertainment looking to have five television shows on the air by this time next year, and 10 superhero movies planned through June 2020, Lee doesn’t think the public’s appetite for superheroes is going to be slowing down any time soon.
“What’s interesting about superheroes (is that) it’s really just a genre,” he said. “Within that, you can tell all kinds of stories, and that’s really a challenge to us, as a business.
“Yeah, you can have all the spectacle and the CGI, but at the heart of it, you’ve got to have great characters and great stories,” Lee said. “I think that as long as you have that, you’re going to capture the audiences and you’re going to capture their imaginations and you’re going to keep this business very vibrant and healthy.”
All of this pushing into new markets beyond the traditional comic book shops and chasing audiences beyond the classic graying fanboy is no accident.
“It’s really become a lifestyle now,” Lee said. “You meet people who have tattooed these characters onto their bodies and you meet so many people that they’ve got families and they want to pass on this knowledge and this love affair onto the next generation of fans.”
Experimentation in concepts, characters encouraged
In June, DC Comics explicitly turned their creative teams loose with “DC You” in June.
The initiative encourages experimentation with character concepts and stories beyond the more traditional approaches that had been the focus of the company in recent years.
“Our goal is to constantly reinvent and constantly introduce new ideas and new concepts,” DiDio said. “If not, we’re just chasing our own tail. We’ve always got to be pushing the envelope.”
In the most recent issues, Bruce Wayne has given up the Batman mantle, which in turn has been taken up by police commissioner Jim Gordon in a robotic suit of Batman armor. Superman has been considerably weakened, and when Lois Lane has outed him as Clark Kent, much of the public has felt betrayed by the “lie” his secret identity has constituted in many of their eyes. The African-American superhero Cyborg, a long-time member of the Teen Titans and more recently the Justice League, has gotten his own series. And the openly gay Midnighter has gotten one of his own, which has been a critical and commercial success.
All of that follows an earlier change-up for Batgirl. The character was given a new costume, a very Millennial attitude and a new home base in a neighborhood of Gotham City that bears more than a passing resemblance to hipster neighborhoods of Brooklyn.
“One of the things about comics is that it’s really low-cost (research and development),” DiDio said. “You can put them out there and see whether they succeed or fail and then the goal is to follow the trends that are successful and build out from there.”
And that comes straight from the top, in the form of DC Entertainment president Diane Nelson.
“Diane has charged us to take risks,” DiDio said.
“Fearlessly,” Lee added.
“(She’s) Constantly pushing us to try and do different things, be different things, find different audiences. Just don’t accept the status quo,” DiDio said. “And that empowers us and also challenges us. … It’s more fun that way and we’ve had some great successes because of it.”
“DC You” isn’t going anywhere
Not all of the experiments succeed, of course, but the co-publishers said, despite rumors to the contrary, the company’s not backing down from the “DC You” approach.
“If you’re trying to build a fan base, a new audience, you’ve got to nurture it. You’ve got to take your time. You’ve got to take your losses,” DiDio said. “Sooner or later, it’s going to take hold and hopefully be a leader in the business. Right now, our goal is to try and feed out as much product that’s as different as possible to try and attract the widest audience possible.”
The company will start “adjusting a little bit, and start to focus,” he said, looking at what’s working with the new “DC You” initiative and what has not.
“We had some hits, we have some things that are under-performing,” Lee said. “What we (did) in June is definitely step one towards this sort of transformation of the (comics) line. And I think that story is still being written.”