State of the Genre – The Worrying Truth About Warner Bros. & DC Comics

In his latest ‘State of the Genre’ column, Martin Deer on the alleged power struggle within Warner Bros., and its impact on the studio’s DC Comics superhero movie output…

On November 10th The LA Times reported some rather disconcerting news that things are not well at Warner Bros. Ben Fritz and Meg James report – via some unidentified inside sources – that there is a major power vacuum at Warner Bros. created in the wake of a decision by Time Warner Inc Chief Executive Jeff Bewkes two years ago to create a new position, Office of the President – a position meant to inspire Warner’s top dogs: Television Group President Bruce Rosenblum, Home Entertainment Group President Kevin Tsujihara, and the one most important to us film and comic book movie fans, Jeff Robinov, President of the Motion Pictures Group.

Right now these three individuals are competing – viciously – against each other, casting a dark shadow over the once pleasant atmosphere at Burbank.

Ben and Meg report that…

Morale is low and anxiety is high on Warner’s Burbank lot. Some insiders describe an atmosphere in which executives are hesitant to extend contracts, staffers are afraid to cross department lines for fear of “taking sides” and potential partners are wary of signing long-term deals without knowing who will be in charge.

During recent contract renewal talks, movie marketing President Sue Kroll is said to have sought additional responsibilities in part because of concern that her boss and longtime ally Robinov might not remain in his post.

Several other key Warner executives have not negotiated new employment contracts — and appear unlikely to do so until the leadership situation is resolved. They include TV studio President Peter Roth, DC Entertainment President Diane Nelson and Toby Emmerich, president of film label New Line Cinema.

That last quote is very important to comic book fans. Diane Nelson President of DC Entertainment – anointed to the position in 2009 upon its formation to develop franchises for Warner Bros.’ DC Comics characters – is as yet to sign a new contract given the current situation.

We have all been wondering for a while just what is keeping Warners from developing their DC Comics projects. As Marvel and Disney plow through the cinematic landscape like Mjolnir through an Ice Giant, WB have been extremely quiet with their comic properties – we know that there are Flash and Wonder Woman scripts in the Burbank vault – and they continue to fall behind when DC Entertainment should have been celebrating its third birthday with a bright future slate of movies ahead of it. As it is, we are due Man of Steel next June and that is it. Oh, and Justice League in 2015.

Yes, a studio that is currently going through a tough time with its executives fighting for power, uncertainty over future leadership and a project leader – Diane Nelson – unwilling to commit to the company which is holding back DC properties are going to release a Justice League movie. If alarm bells aren’t ringing about this, then you may need a hearing test. I wrote an opinion piece back in August on why I felt Warners should leave Justice League well alone, and I still stand by that, more than ever now.

The future of DC properties is being risked on a cash grab. A cash grab that given the current state of affairs at the company, plus the lack of any real sort of plan for the DC franchises, has the potential – and to me, seems to be shaping up – to be a disaster that will have serious ramifications for all of the DC Universe.

The reason I suspect that Justice League is being pushed ahead without any real plan, and without establishing each individual character in their own solo films first (ala the Marvel way, ala the right way to do it), is that Robinov is vying for the Office of the President position. A Justice League film that rakes in Avengers Assemble numbers would be a great plus in his column.

Of course, pushing through a film without any real sort of plan, just because a small minority of fans are shouting the loudest that “we want this” does not equal a good business model, and will not rake in Avengers numbers.

Justice League, as I stated in my article back in August, also has the potential to derail the Superman reboot. Christopher Nolan has already walked away from the idea that he’s open to guiding the Justice League and should Warners push through with the film then his involvement on a Man of Steel sequel will be non-existent, as will David S. Goyer’s and Zack Snyder’s possibly, and could mean a sequel will not live up to what I hope – and expect – to be getting next June in Man of Steel.

Warner Bros. needs to get its house in order so people like Diane Nelson can get back to focusing on developing a good solid plan for DC on film. At the moment however that looks unlikely, and we should all remain very cautious and concerned about any and all Justice League talk given this situation.

Martin Deer

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