He­roes flood into Bur­bank

DC Comics’ uni­verse shifts as it moves from Man­hat­tan to be near Warner Bros. Stu­dios.

Los Angeles Times - - CALENDAR - By Jevon Phillips

Cer­tain im­ages come to mind for comic book afi­ciona­dos when they envi­sion the work­ing con­fines of DC Comics.

We pic­ture bat­tered desks and draft­ing ta­bles in­side an old bullpen, deep in the heart of Gotham City, where the artis­tic de­scen­dants of comic book he­roes Jerry Siegel, Bob Kane and Bill Fin­ger dream up new ad­ven­tures for Su­per­man and Bat­man.

So what are we do­ing in this slick Bur­bank of­fice build­ing a few blocks from cor­po­rate par­ent Warner Bros. Stu­dios? A Bat­man statue stands guard as we walk down the hall to an el­e­va­tor that trans­ports us to a

mod­ern wait­ing room where a life-sized Clark Kent statue — wear­ing a Su­per­man tie — seems to be tak­ing notes as he fields a phone call.

“Five years ago, the DC pres­ence in L.A. was three peo­ple in an of­fice with two rooms on the lot,” says Jim Lee, co-pub­lisher with Dan DiDio of DC Comics. “Here we are, five years later, 21⁄2 f loors with 240 peo­ple in these amaz­ing of­fices. That re­ally re­quired a lot of con­vic­tion and courage and vi­sion.”

As re­cently as April, DC Comics’ staff edited and con­sol­i­dated the work of farf lung writ­ers, pen­cil artists and inkers and oth­ers into comic books in mid­town Man­hat­tan, across from the Ed Sullivan The­ater, where un­til last month “Late Show With David Let­ter­man” was shot. But un­der the guid­ance of DC En­ter­tain­ment head Diane Nel­son, the DC Comics em­pire has gone Hol­ly­wood.

Lee and DiDio might put it another way: It’s all about “Con­ver­gence.”

Trans­port­ing its head­quar­ters from 1700 Broad­way in New York City to 2900 Alameda in Bur­bank was no small un­der­tak­ing, but it did help give birth to one of DC’s big­gest story lines. Its lat­est mega-cross­over ti­tle, “Con­ver­gence,” brings to­gether char­ac­ters from dif­fer­ent decades in a time-span­ning epic that pits many su­per­heroes and their vari­ant forms (think Vic­to­rian-era Bat­man or Rus­sian Su­per­man) against one another.

Con­ver­gence is not just a de­scrip­tion of the uni­verse-al­ter­ing ac­tion in the pan­els of the comic book minis­eries, it also de­scribes the com­pany’s new ed­i­to­rial path as it re­lo­cates closer to its on-screen brethren at Warner Bros.

“Ev­ery­thing about ‘Con­ver­gence’ is about tran­si­tion,” DiDio says. “It’s about cel­e­bra­tion, but re­ally tran­si­tion­ing to the next phase. It was the last epic story from the ed­i­to­rial team based in New York City.”

New hires

Still, it was a tough move. Only half of the New York staff de­cided to re­lo­cate, even though the com­pany of­fered jobs to all in the Man­hat­tan of­fice. One-third of the cur­rent staff re­lo­cated from New York, one-third was al­ready based in Bur­bank and one-third are new hires.

“It’s al­ways sad when you see peo­ple you’ve worked with for a while leave,” DiDio says. “But it does cre­ate op­por­tu­nity. It brings in new sets of eyes, new blood and al­lows us to re­ex­am­ine how we work. It al­lows us to chal­lenge our­selves to find ways to work bet­ter if we can.”

The trick is to bring in new blood with­out alien­at­ing long­time read­ers.

“We have a base set of char­ac­ters that ev­ery­body’s fa­mil­iar with — you know, Bat­man, Su­per­man, Won­der Woman — that have been around for a num­ber of years,” DiDio says, “and it’s our re­spon­si­bil­ity to find ways to freshen them up.”

“Con­ver­gence” is just the lat­est of many of the com­pany’s minis­eries that have seem­ingly changed the land­scape of the DC uni­verse. “Flash­point,” “Bright­est Day” and the rein­tro­duc­tion of many fan fa­vorites in the com­pany’s New 52 jump­start are ini­tia­tives that they hoped would bring in new read­ers. They’ve con­tin­ued this ed­i­to­rial re­vamp with the launch, and re­launch, this week of 24 of DC’s 49 books.

“We’re broad­en­ing the hori­zons of what we pub­lish,” Lee says. “We’re bring­ing in fresh new voices from the cre­ator pool. We are pub­lish­ing dif­fer­ent kinds of art­work that you may not have found tra­di­tion­ally pub­lished at DC. We’re wel­com­ing old fans and new fans to that ex­pe­ri­ence.”

Both Lee and DiDio are es­pe­cially ex­cited about a book called “Prez,” which posits the ques­tion of what it would be like to have a non­politi­cian — a teenage girl — as the most pow­er­ful leader in the world. A new book told with a new slant, it’s from just one of the “new voices” that Lee hinted at. These also in­clude creators who are ex-CIA em­ploy­ees, YA graphic novel spe­cial­ists and an­i­ma­tion writ­ers.

Books like these also help to ad­dress the is­sue of diver­sity in comics, both on the page and be­hind the scenes. The growth of women and mi­nori­ties as comic book read­ers is some­thing that has be­come one of the com­pany’s high­est pri­or­i­ties.

“When we did the ‘New 52,’ we knew it brought in a lot of new read­ers,” Lee says. “What we’ve seen in the four years since, is that there were a lot of read­ers out there who didn’t nec­es­sar­ily have big voices in our in­dus­try.”

“Fe­male read­ers, the LGBT com­mu­nity ... we have this big amaz­ing uni­verse to tell lots of di­verse sto­ries,” Lee con­tin­ues. “We feel that it is the fu­ture of our busi­ness. It’s not go­ing to just hap­pen nat­u­rally.... I think if our goal is to mir­ror the diver­sity that is our read­er­ship, we need to move with some speed and some sense of pur­pose.”

This pro­lif­er­a­tion of new fans has, to a de­gree, alien­ated older read­ers. The new books seem­ingly throw decades of his­tory out of the win­dow as he­roes are rein­tro­duced to a new gen­er­a­tion, of­ten with dif­fer­ent ori­gins or dif­fer­ent re­la­tion­ships es­tab­lished (Won­der Woman and Su­per­man dat­ing?!). DiDio and Lee are aware of the prob­lem but don’t have any easy so­lu­tions.

Fresh voices

“It’s an in­ter­est­ing busi­ness for all of us now. It’s very hard to take a story line and move it for­ward in an en­vi­ron­ment that’s con­stantly back­ward look­ing,” says DiDio. “There was a lot trep­i­da­tion from the fans think­ing and won­der­ing what would hap­pen to their fa­vorite char­ac­ters. But one of our main goals we tried to do through­out the story was to make sure that we treat all of those char­ac­ters with a level of re­spect.”

What they won’t do is keep the sta­tus quo.

“If we just sit pat and say, ‘We’re only cater­ing to fans who read comics 20 years ago,’ ” Lee says, “there’s just no sound busi­ness strat­egy be­hind that.”

Many of the new fans, and old, are en­joy­ing DC char­ac­ters in other me­dia with TV shows such as “Ar­row” and “The Flash,” games such as “Bat­man: Arkham Knight” and are look­ing for­ward to the movies “Sui­cide Squad” and “Bat­man v. Su­per­man: Dawn of Jus­tice.”

The move to Bur­bank puts the pub­lish­ing arm within walk­ing dis­tance of its sis­ter com­pany Warner Bros. When pop­u­lar char­ac­ters emerge from other me­dia, as Jimmy Olsen did on ra­dio and Har­ley Quinn on an an­i­mated TV show, it makes sense that the com­pa­nies should in­ter­act as much as pos­si­ble.

“One of the ex­cit­ing things about be­ing so close to the rest of the com­pany is that you see all of the ex­per­i­men­ta­tion and the fun they’re hav­ing with our char­ac­ters,” says Lee. “We want to trans­fer that level of en­ergy to our pub­lish­ing team [and] to rec­og­nize that for us to be mean­ing­ful within this whole ecosys­tem, we have to be lead­ers and not just this dusty archive of source ma­te­rial.”

DiDio also sees that the pop­u­lar­ity of the DC brand and char­ac­ters goes be­yond the page and the screen. Won­der Woman and Bat- man may be house­hold names but so­ci­ety has also em­braced the once out­lier cul­ture of comics as part of pop cul­ture.

“It’s re­ally the ex­pe­ri­ence of what San Diego ComicCon has be­come,” DiDio says. “It’s a pop cul­ture phe­nom­e­non. We’ve seen an ex­plo­sion of con­ven­tion at­ten­dance over the past cou­ple of years. Fifty per­cent of that au­di­ence are first-timers, but they un­der­stand that there’s some­thing go­ing on and that there’s a phe­nom­e­non out there. By com­ing to these shows, they’re ex­posed to what we do.”

Other ad­van­tages

That seems to be the main pur­pose of the phys­i­cal move and the launch of new books: ex­po­sure. Not only to new read­ers, but to the rest of the DC and Warner Bros. fam­ily that is in­creas­ingly syn­er­gis­tic in its ap­proach to su­per­heroes. For DiDio and Lee, all of it, es­pe­cially the move, is a cul­mi­na­tion of a re­vi­tal­iza­tion move­ment.

“So much of what I was miss­ing work­ing 3,000 miles away was the pick-up con­ver­sa­tions in the hall­ways that could lead to some cool idea,” Lee says. “It’s giv­ing the whole place a new sense of en­ergy and fo­cus.”

It’s also a chance for cool new of­fice de­tails, like the chess set in the lobby where Cap­tain Cold faces off against Flash sur­rounded by new-age fur­ni­ture and a view of Bur­bank of­fice build­ings, one more sign of the com­pany’s ar­rival in Hol­ly­wood.

Robert Gau­thier Los An­ge­les Times

DC COMICS co-pub­lish­ers Dan DiDio, left, and Jim Lee take a selfie with a faux Clark Kent, known as a mild-man­nered guy, at the com­pany’s new Bur­bank home.

Robert Gau­thier Los An­ge­les Times

DC COMICS

chiefs Dan DiDio, left, and Jim Lee re­view cov­ers of up­com­ing spe­cial edi­tions planned by the comic book com­pany.

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