Battleground Burbank

As San Diego welcomes throngs of comics and movie fans to the annual Comic-Con, the top dogs are still DC and Marvel who continue to duke it out in their never-ending battle for market share.  But now the market is filmed franchises and the real decisions concerning these two quintessential New York City companies are being made in Burbank California by their corporate owners.

It used to be Marvel was the upstart and DC the perennial champ but Marvel, which was bought up by Walt Disney Corp. last year, has pulled in close to $8 billion in box office receipts behind its Spider-Man, X-Men and Iron Man franchises.  DC had a billion dollar hit with the last Batman release but  a string of underperforming films such as Watchmen, Superman, Jonah Hex and The Losers have forced a reorganization that left Time Warner management in the driver’s seat but playing serious catch-up.

The LA TIMES is reporting:

The premiere for Marvel Studios’ “Iron Man 2″ shut down Hollywood Boulevard in May with the year’s most bombastic red-carpet event, featuring fireworks, a heavy-metal soundtrack, go-go dancers and a parade of celebrities that included Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Mickey Rourke and Hugh Hefner. Walking through it all were two outsiders of a sort: Diane Nelson and Geoff Johns.

The industry odd couple — she previously managed the Harry Potter brand for Warner Bros. but had no experience in comics, he’s a fan-favorite comic-book writer who had never worked at a studio — are the president and chief creative officer, respectively, of DC Entertainment, main comic-book rival to Marvel. Their task is to rummage through the massive DC library and finally get venerable characters such as Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Flash and Aquaman on the silver screen for parent company Warner Bros. Their appointment, part of a restructuring of DC last September, is an implicit acknowledgment of the long dysfunctional relationship between the studio and its New York comic book unit.

Warner Bros. is counting on the pair to fly to the rescue and to do it soon — the Potter franchise, which has pulled in more than $5.3 billion at the box office, is winding down with its seventh installment this November and its finale next summer. The top Warner leadership is also frustrated that over the last decade it has been Marvel Comics characters — led by Spider-Man, the X-Men and Iron Man — who have won the hearts of moviegoers with franchises that have pulled in close to $8 billion.

Nelson and Johns say they’re not out to copy Marvel and they view the competition as friendly and motivational. But the success of their competitor has clearly put the pressure on them from the highest levels of Warner parent company Time Warner Inc.

Nelson, 43, is accustomed to that type of intensity. As the lead executive overseeing the Potter franchise, she played a key role in successfully steering author J.K. Rowling’s characters from the page into theaters, toy stores, theme parks and home-video collections. She has been tasked with replicating that success for DC characters.

Nelson’s office is dotted with superhero bric-a-brac and, to pose for a newspaper photographer, she wore a retro Wonder Woman shirt and plastic ring with the Green Lantern logo. But she made no attempt to present herself as a lifelong fan; when asked what she knew about DC Comics before taking the job, she held up the ringed hand with her fingers in the shape of a zero.

However, Nelson said her distance from the mythology gives her plenty in common with the majority of moviegoers.

“It’s no small challenge how few people have heard of these properties or understand their stories outside of fans of comic books,” she said. “Sometimes the comic-book fans who love this stuff want us to get too precious about this stuff and if we do, we’ll kill it off. We need to figure out how to evolve and grow it and bring it to more people.”

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