Monday, October 17, 2011

The curious bi-furcation of DC Entertainment

DC Entertainment and puzzle and game manufacturer, Wonder Forge, have announced that Wonder Forge has licensed both "Super Friends" style DC characters for little kids puzzles and toys and "Justice League" characters for older kids and adults.

Yesterday a whole block of cartoon programming centering on DC's characters, lasting over multiple hours per week (over multiple years) on Cartoon Network was announced.  Kids (and adults) will be getting family-friendly versions of Batman, Plastic Man, Doom Patrol and a My Little Pony-type take on Wonder Woman, Batgirl and Supergirl.

One also cannot help but notice that Hot Wheels (yes, the tiny, inexpensive toy cars) has been running ads for Justice League themed cars on the backs of certain DC comics that, historically, should be kid-friendly, such as Superman

And, of course, General Mills is putting the Justice League on boxes of cereal.  In their traditional costumes.

Meanwhile, I read Catwoman and Red Hood and the Outlaws.  Bit of a different thing.

Diane Nelson was not brought to DC Comics (which she immediately renamed DC Entertainment) because she happened to suggest to Warner Bros. that they could do well to publish this nifty book about a wizarding school and the unlucky little boy living under the stairs.  Nelson was one of the architects who turned Harry Potter the book into Harry Potter the cultural touchstone.  The Potter franchise is clearly cross-generational, reaching out well past the original audience of young readers and becoming a movie franchise worth more than most nations, a tourist destination in Florida, a line of high-end collectibles in your SkyMall catalog, lines of cheap Halloween costumes, etc... 

What's curious to me is that I'm assuming Nelson is at least partly aware of the strategies at the comics side of DC, and has raised a thumb in support of the "males 18-34" plan put into place by DC Comics.

What does that mean?  Are comics for kids, the business that WAS DC Comics for 50-odd of its 75 years in existence, simply done?  Are we seeing only plans to exploit the characters for younger audiences in their current, native environs?  Games.  Cartoons.  Kid's books.  Etc...

I'd also point out - we should be watching the cartoons to see what versions of characters appear.  Will Wonder Woman appear in Silver or Gold, for example.  Is DC paying attention to both sides of the house?  Will the DCU Online game convert its characters to DCNu?  Will Young Justice begin seeing the Justice League swap out to DCNu uniforms? 

Look, licensing is a HUGE part of DC's business.  I'm half-convinced that we went back to a pantless, jacket-free Wonder Woman because, no matter how "dated" or impractical the look of the costume, both the TV show and DC's press blitz to get the public interested in a new look for Wonder Woman proved that  it doesn't float with the general public.  They aren't going to buy a t-shirt or coloring book with some new-fangled Wonder Woman.

And I wonder how much of that will be true of the pantsless, armored Superman.  Even if some people snickered at the underwear, any attempt to modernize Superman is going to be so blatant, its going to set off the cynic alarm in the heads of most of the general public.

To that end...  I know everyone was very put out by the return of Barbara Gordon as Batgirl rather than Oracle, but I kind of wonder...  Diane Nelson may well have known virtually nothing about superheroes when she stepped into her gig.  But she may have known Yvonne Craig's perky Batgirl from the Batman TV series.  Is it that hard to imagine her wanting to exploit the character and then finding out "what do you mean the Joker shot her in the spine?  That's a bankable character."  And, voila, we get Batgirl swinging around Gotham once again.

Mostly I wonder how long it will be after the initial success of the relaunch wears off and Nelson starts looking to shore up her trademarks/ intellectual property so there's not a dilution of any of the brands.  Us fans might nod knowingly at a multi-verse, but I'm watching to see how Nelson handles the tricky waters of the next year or two as she settles into the mad, mad world of who, exactly, these characters are for.


Fantomenos said...

You had me clicking at "Plastic Man".

But then? Pyg in the CG poster? And Aardman-done Batman shorts? That's some quality weirdness going on over there...

The League said...

yeah. Kind of tells me where Nelson is likely focusing her energies at the moment.