Diane Nelson

The winds of change once again blew over the comics industry last week as Warner Bros. announced a major restructuring and executive changes at DC Comics. The home of Superman and Batman will become part of a larger division called DC Entertainment, to be run by WB branding veteran Diane Nelson. The new arm is charged with expanding opportunities for DC's huge library of characters into other media, including feature films, television, interactive entertainment, direct-to-consumer platforms and consumer products.

Nelson will report directly to Warner Studios head Jeff Robinov. DC's current President and Publisher Paul Levitz is stepping down, continuing as a consultant and pursuing writing projects for the company. First up: Adventure Comics .) Nelson, who has been successfully handling the Harry Potter franchise at WB for the last 10 years, is looking to hire a new publisher who will oversee DC's comics business.

While the moves have been in the works for some time, the timing for some parts of the announcement was moved up following the previous week's blockbuster announcement Disney buying Marvel Comics. The anticipated Disney/Marvel powerhouse is expected to place Marvel's boy and teen friendly superheroes into Disney's vast licensing, publishing and theme park operations. While Marvel and DC have been four-color comics publishing rivals since the early 1960s, the stakes have intensified in recent years as superhero-based movies have flexed their superpowers at the box office. Warner/DC's The Dark Knight is the all time #2 money winner, but the recent Superman reboot stumbled, and a Wonder Woman movie has been in the concept stages for years. Meanwhile, Marvel successfully launched the little known Iron Man into a top franchise, and Spider-Man has three blockbusters in his web.

Now it's Warners' turn to start mining the DC library of properties and characters, with Nelson in a position to help the entire studio develop DC's properties across various platforms. Indeed, things are looking up for DC's stable, as they have been promoting their characters in original animated movies, including the recent Green Lantern: First Flight and the ongoing animated Batman: The Brave and the Bold, which airs on Cartoon Network. Movies in the pipeline include Ryan Reynolds as Green Lantern; a Human Target TV show; and there ae movies in production based on Jonah Hexand The Losers.

The last two are, perhaps significantly, non-superhero properties. DC's library of characters has depth and range, Marv Wolfman, a comics writer and former editor at Marvel, DC and Disney who is currently collaborating with Warner Studios on as yet unnamed projects, points out. "The bulk of DC's characters aren't superheroes; over the last 70 years they've developed mystery and horror materials, children's comics." This could be even more important down the road, if superhero movies prove to be as cyclical as other once popular movie genres. "You could take a lot of the other DC characters and succeed with them," says Wolfman, pointing to the huge library of concepts and characters at DC's Vertigo imprint as one example.Vertigo specializes in publishing nonsuperhero genre works.

As the head of Warner Premiere, Nelson has already overseen a series of direct-to-DVD animated movies which were well received both critically and sales wise; she was also instrumental in developing last year's Watchmen motion comics. With all the attention on moving DC's line-up into other media, some observers are wondering if the publishing arm may get lost in the shuffle. In statements, Nelson and Robinov have been quick to affirm that publishing is the core of DC Comics' business, but the loss of Levitz, one of the medium's strongest supporters of the direct market, the specialty comics shop retail channel, has left some fretting. San Francisco retailer Brain Hibbs voiced the concerns felt by many when he wrote, "Chances are that, by 2012, nothing in comics will even remotely resemble what it does today."

According to Wolfman, publishing as the engine for character creation is still key, even for giant movie corporations like Disney and Warner Brothers. "Profits may come from other mediums, but it's the comics that generate the characters. I think you're going to see continued emphasis on the comics because, frankly, it's a very easy way of discovering what characters you have and telling really fascinating stories."