The last few weeks have seen a lot of changes at the very top of DC Entertainment. Over the last week, Diane Nelson, the company’s longtime president, has left due to family concerns, and now Geoff Johns, the company’s chief creative officer, is stepping down to be replaced by long-time comic artist and DC executive Jim Lee, six months after Johns’ co-head in the role, Jon Berg, also stepped down. It means changes are afoot at DC, although just what those changes are is an open question.
Johns isn’t going far, according to Variety which broke the announcement. He’ll still be involved in DC’s movies, and will be tackling their upcoming Green Lantern Corps, which is scheduled to arrive in theaters in 2020. Still, it’s not a particular surprise, in some quarters. DC has dominated television; no fan, a decade ago, would have predicted a Green Arrow TV show would have lasted six seasons, let alone inspired a string of spin-off shows, and would have laughed at the idea of Superman’s grandpa or Batman’s butler getting a TV show.
The movies have been a different story. While Suicide Squad, based on a comic that was barely known outside a cult fandom, surprised everyone by being a massive hit and Wonder Woman rocketed past all expectations and right into the hearts of filmgoers, Man Of Steel, Batman V. Superman, and Justice League got critical brickbats and “underperformed” at the box office, at least compared to Marvel’s receipts. Johns, who rose to prominence as one of DC’s top writers, was supposed to be the bridge between the rabid nerd fanbase for these movies and general audiences, and it didn’t quite work out.
The main question is where the company goes from here, especially after losing Nelson, who was responsible not just for pushing a Wonder Woman movie but DC’s successes in TV and video games as well. It’s not stopping with superhero movies, certainly. Between now and 2020 we’ll be seeing Aquaman, Shazam, and Wonder Woman 2, with Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn girl-gang movie, a Suicide Squad sequel, Johns’ Green Lantern movie, and possibly two different Joker movies also in the works. And that’s discounting what DC has going under its non-superheroic Vertigo label, which has a long record of success itself with movies like Constantine and series such as Preacher, with gangster movie The Kitchen arriving next year and several other movies in the works.
But noticeably missing in that collection is any mention of much of what DC promised was coming. Aquaman was already in production, and saving the orange-shirted hero from punchlines has been a preoccupation of Johns’ for years. But The Flash has been unable to keep a director in place until recently. Similarly, we’ve had no word of Ray Fisher’s solo outing as Cyborg and new Batman and Superman solo movies don’t seem to be in the cards for a while, if at all.
This doesn’t mean that we might not see these movies eventually. But it can’t have escaped DC’s notice that its biggest successes are with heroes and villains audiences really haven’t seen before. Long-term, it’s unlikely Batman and Superman will retreat to their caves for good. But this shake-up hints that they’ll need to step back for a while, if DC really wants to take off in theaters.