DC Comics in 2015 is a lot like Disney from 1970s-1985. A brand in decline. When one looks at the state of DC Comics and compares it to Disney during this troubled period they can clearly see the parallels between both brands.
Disney in the 1970s and early 1980s was a brand in trouble. The house of Mickey mouse and family films like Sleeping Beauty began going in a different direction for its animated films featuring stories with dark tones and gritty themes. Films like Robin Hood, The Rescuers, The Fox and The Hound and the all featured grittier subject matter and dark tones and themes.
And the public’s response to those films was not positive. Sure some Disney films like Robin Hood, The Rescuers, and The Fox and the Hound were box-office hits. But many of these darker films left sour tastes in viewer’s mouths that alienated them from the Disney brand long-term. Most parents didn’t want to take their kids to films with content that was becoming darker and more violent with each film. By the time The Black Cauldron was released with its extremely dark and violent themes for that time, the Disney brand was in trouble.
Like Disney, DC was once a brand that featured a catalog of family friendly characters like Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. But since 2002 when Dan Didio took over as publisher the brand has followed a similar dark path that Disney did in the 1970s and early 1980s. Producing comics with dark themes, grittier subject matter and extremely graphic violence that gets gorier with each new publication.
And just like Disney, the fans and customers’ response has not been positive. Again, most people didn’t want to share DC comics with their children due to the content that gets darker and more violent with each new comic or each new comic storyline. In the aftermath of DC’s most recent event Convergnce the number two comic book publisher in the world actually saw sales decline for the first time in 15 years. Worse DC actually lost market share to independent publishers like Image, Boom! Dynamite.
Clearly, the DC Brand is in Crisis. Unfortunately, no one at Warner Brothers seems to understand how damaged the DC Comics brand truly is. Sure shows like Arrow and The Flash are hits. But so were Robin Hood and The Rescuers. And while some DC fans and employees focus on those bright spots like Disney fans did in the 70’s and early 80s, they don’t see how the bigger picture of the DC Comics brand is impacted by over a decade and a half of mismanagement across the board.
Movies featuring DC Characters like Man of Steel have split their audience. Trailers like Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice split their audience. And in business a Split audience is never a good thing. When the audience is split, that means half of the people are staying home and a project will only make half its money back at the box office.
And thanks to this split audience, DC merchandise clogs comic shop and toy store shelves these days. Because fans are so turned off by the New 52, DC’s new universe that started in 2011 most DC merchandise winds up remaining on store shelves even at clearance prices. Again, because the audience is split due to all the changes, gimmicks, and events like Convergence, a majority of DC Comics fans are not buying DC merchandise like T-shirts and action figures.
These days most people spend their time arguing about DC than anything else. The fans of DC Comics are fragmented and frustrated and that’s not good for the brand long term. When a brand makes people angry they don’t buy the products from it.
And when the most senior executive in charge has to explain how their Comic book universe works dozens of times to people it proves to the world that there’s something wrong with how that product is managed. The reason why the products at DC are broken is because broken people are producing them.
Clearly the DC brand is in decline. It’s suffered severe damage due to that decade and a half of Dan Didio’s mismanagement. It’s a brand in desperate need of new management with new leadership and a new vision. Someone with a plan to rebuild the brand and bring back the fun and adventure to its iconic superheroes. Someone with the same kind of vision and leadership Michael Eisner had when he led the Disney brand back to a second golden age in 1989.
The current editorial team just can’t lead DC back to greatness. Dan Didio and his editorial team are reviled by comic fans. Just the mention of his name alienates fans and starts arguments. Even the name of people who work for him like Goeff Johns and producers like Chris Nolan makes people angry. There’s just too much bad blood in all of DC’s divisions and its sucking the life out of the products before they even get released. The only way to get all that negative energy out of the product is to purge DC of all its editorial staff and its dysfunctional corporate culture.
The next editor in chief, publisher and editorial team at DC Comics has to do everything in their power to all purge all of the negative energy of the last fifteen years from the DC Comics brand. All that doom and gloom, hopelessness and misery has to be exorcised from the offices of DC Comics its products, and its people and replaced with positive energy. And with positive energy from a new leadership new employees will feel motivated towards doing the long, slow painful work of rebuilding the DC Universe and the DC Comics brand.
It took Michael Eisner close to five years to rebuild Disney and get it back to its golden age in the 1990’s. And it’ll probably take that much time to rebuild the DC Comics brand and get it back to that level of functionality. If a new editorial team works together with passion and heart then maybe it’s possible to re-establish the DC Comics brand back to its prominence and get a new generation of readers to rediscover what’s great about DC Comics superheroes.