Reading the Tea Leaves: DC Sorta Moves West, Shutters WildStorm

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This morning, DC Comics announced its long-rumored move to the West Coast–or, rather, that that move wasn’t quite as drastic as it had been rumored to be. DC Entertainment’s digital and other non-print media operations are moving out to Burbank, to be closer to the Warner Bros. mothership; the comics publishing division is hunkering down and staying put in New York, where it’s been since Anthro and Vandal Savage first walked the earth.

The more significant announcement was saved for a bit later: WildStorm, the imprint founded by DC’s co-publisher Jim Lee, is effectively shutting down as of the end of this year. The remaining WildStorm Universe titles, including the formerly bestselling and now all-but-ignored flagship series The Authority, are ending (after multiple failed attempts at relaunches); the imprint’s licensed projects will continue as DC publications. (Also, the never-more-than-sputtering Zuda imprint is being officially discontinued, but that happened in practice a few months ago.)

(More on Techland: Breaking: DC Splits Apart, Heads West)

So what does all that mean in practical terms? Probably not a lot, actually, aside from a bit of a job shuffle. (Today, a Hollywood Reporter piece on the move noted that “layoffs are expected on both coasts”; the WildStorm editorial team, the DC announcement says, will “undergo a restructuring and be folded into the overall DC Comics Digital team, based in Burbank.”) [UPDATE: It appears that the job shuffle will not be all that small: according to an L.A. Times piece, “about 20% of DC’s roughly 250 staffers will lose their jobs.”] DC has a very strong culture of “because that’s the way we’ve always done it”; it tends to serve as a kind of research-and-development node for Warners (and capitalize on successful media tie-ins), rather than acting as an arm of a coordinated media giant, and that seems to be the way it likes it.  It’s worth noting that Warner Bros. Pictures Group President Jeff Robinov’s quote in the press release–” This strategic business realignment allows us to fully integrate and expand the DC brand in feature films as well as across multiple distribution platforms… we are creating a seamless, cohesive unit…”–could have been exactly the same if the whole operation were moving to the West Coast. And, while WildStorm has itself served as an R&D division for DC (and published a number of bestselling books, including The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Heroes), it’s been running on fumes since Lee’s been spending more of his time leading DC proper.

(More on Techland: DC Entertainment Announces its Superhero Execs)

Had DC’s publishing division actually moved out to California, that would have been a huge change: a long-resisted relocation away from the publishing center of America and toward the media center, with massive personnel turnover. (Of course, fifteen or twenty years ago, it would have been much bigger still than it would have been before the Internet was omnipresent.) The fact that the comics department is staying put also means that we’re less likely to see direct influence from the film, TV and online divisions of Warner Bros. on the publishing unit than we otherwise might–the “but Batman wouldn’t say that!” syndrome hinted at by a recent Hollywood Reporter piece that suggested that DC’s properties would “play a much bigger role” in Warners’ future.