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With the news that WarnerMedia and Discovery will merge, it’s likely that comic fans are wondering what this deal will mean for DC. It’s a reasonable question, given DC’s history with corporate mergers.
The merger comes at what has been a time of flux for DC. The publishing side of the company installed new leadership last November, capping a year that also saw multiple layoffs, as well as DC cutting ties with its longtime comic store distribution partner. This year also sees DC’s comic book line relaunch under the Infinite Frontier banner.
With the prospect for rebirth (but not Rebirth; that was five years ago) ahead on both screen and in print, and a level of excitement surrounding DC as a result, the future is, potentially, bright for the publisher, but also uncertain in profound ways.
DC has been part of the larger Warners corporate structure for almost four decades by this point, a fact that has at times led to criticism and snark from competitors — remember when Marvel’s then-publisher Bill Jemas went through a period of calling the company “AOL Comics”? — as well as no small amount of security and access that greatly benefitted the company at important times. Without the Warner Books’ editions of Watchmen or Batman: The Dark Knight Returns in the mid-80s, would those works have broken into the mainstream so easily? Without the connections to Warner Bros. as a movie studio, would we have seen 1978’s Superman: The Movie, or Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman?
What might come as a surprise, however, is that DC and Warners originally became corporate siblings in such a way that DC got there first. In 1967, DC — or, as the company was known at the time, National Periodical Publications — was one of the first entertainment purchases of Kinney National Services, Inc., a company previously known for being a parking and cleaning company, of all things. Two years later, Kinney purchased the then-struggling Warner Bros.-Seven Arts, eventually rebranding the entire company as Warner Communications in 1972.
DC thrived within Warner Communications, with corporate synergy certainly playing its part at times; beyond the movie and television adaptations and sympathetic relations with Warner Books, DC produced the Atari Force comic book series during the brief period where Warners owned Atari, for example. Nonetheless, DC remained a relatively independent structure inside Warners’ publishing empire… at least until the Time Warner merger of 1990.
According to then-publisher and president Jenette Kahn, when the merger went ahead, it was decided that DC shouldn’t be placed under the oversight of the former Time executives, but instead under the Warner Bros.’ movie division. “Warner Bros. was the better fit,” Kahn later explained to Back Issue Magazine in 2012. “Time Inc. was an information company, but DC and Warner Bros. were entertainment companies, and we both told stories in pictures and words.” In separating DC from the rest of the company’s publishing portfolio, it was a sign of where DC would head in the future — as well as the increasing value others could see in DC’s intellectual property.
That would be underscored again with the changes that DC underwent when Time Warner was purchased by AT&T in 2018. Just months after the AT&T purchase was closed, it was announced that Pam Lifford was to head up a new division of the newly-renamed WarnerMedia, titled Warner Bros. Global Brands and Experiences. As such, she’d take control of DC, filling a position left empty after Diane Nelson stepped away as president of the company months earlier, with the company’s new place in the larger order of things underscoring once again that DC’s value goes far beyond its publishing potential — or even what movies could exploit it back catalog.
Now, DC’s parent company is once again changing hands. Where, exactly, will DC fall in a company that seems predominantly focused on streaming content? There’s 80-plus years of comic books to be mined for inspiration, and multiple movie franchises to build awareness, as well as content for HBO Max streaming service and the DC Universe Infinite digital comics hub to be considered. But beyond that? As all long-term comic fans already know, the answer comes in just three words: “to be continued.”
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