On the eve of comic book publisher DC’s massive fete – August 22’s DC FanDome – something entirely unexpected occurred that has sent shockwaves through the comic book world community: The oldest continual publisher of the distinctly American art form known as the comic book was presented with a massive number of top layoffs of some of their top-tier creative talent. This “bloodbath” (as many in the comics industry are now calling these firings) came courtesy not of the Ultra-Humanite, Brainwave, The Mist, Solomon Grundy or any number of other assorted and legendary comic book villains but instead from the venerable publisher’s own new corporate master, AT&T which merged with DC’s longtime parent company Warner Media in 2018.
In an inter-company memo from brand-spankin’ new Warner Brothers CEO Jason Kilar, employees were told that “none of us should expect the above changes to be easy.” The “changes” referred to by Kilar in his mucho effervescent memo are sweeping and brutal. Indeed, Kilar’s manifesto seems geared to a channel of reality that has nothing to do with putting food on the table for a family during a pandemic or a weighed consideration of all of the hard work most of the newly unemployed creatives has put into Warner/AT&T/DC over the years. Rather, this has everything to do with a seismic reshuffling and corporate downsizing that is par the course when Big Business (AT&T) merges with another Big Business (Warner Media). At the end of the day, it’s rarely about the so-called little people that provide the services that keep said Big Business functional and operational over the years and more about the all-important and dreaded bottom line. Somewhere in the vastness of the DC Universe, the Anti-Monitor and Superboy Prime cackle maniacally.
Among those from DC that have been terminated in this move are longtime editors Bob Harras, Mark Doyle, Andy Khouri and Brian Cunningham. Bobbi Chase, DC’s vice-president of global publishing initiatives and digital strategy is also confirmed as being ousted.
In all, one third of DC’s editorial ranks were purged in yesterday’s surprise announcement.
The long beleaguered DC Universe streaming service also took a massive dose of AT&T’s kryptonite, with a majority of the staff being shown the door as most of the ongoing original programming for the streaming service is simply being folded into HBO Max.
Fans of DC’s collectable statues and other chachkies were also greeted to bad news when it was revealed that DC Direct – DC’s in-house merchandiser – would also be shut down after twenty two years of excellent customer service. This latter casualty was foreshadowed a while back when Warner Brothers Consumer Products took a more active hand in the merchandising of such bric-a-brac. The writing, as they say, was on the wall.
In 1985, DC Comics and writer-artist team Marv Wolfman and George Perez gave fans a multiverse spanning epic called Crisis on Infinite Earths. The end results were of a well-told story, perhaps one of the best the industry has ever produced. The aftermath was always muddled, however, with the elimination of such charming and story-worthy concepts as parallel earths and superhero doppelgangers who were allowed to age, have families and even die, passing on their mantles to sons and daughters. Yesterday, AT&T did what Big Business has done since the dawn of Time and while I think the story left to write about the aftermath might yet bear fruit and lead to new and intriguing concepts and characters, this longtime comic reader can’t help but get that sinking post-Crisis hangover feeling where, even as I play with all of the new toys dropped inside the box, I still manage a mournful look behind my shoulder at all of the great stuff still to come that was abandoned and left behind for the nigh mythical “fix.” The true measure of what we gained might still be weighed and measured out; the full impact of what we lost yesterday can never be accurately assessed.