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DC's Jim Lee explains reduction to comics slate, reveals DC Universe originals migrating to HBO Max

By Matthew Jackson
Jim Lee Batman At 80

It's been a rough week for DC Entertainment. On Monday, restructuring at WarnerMedia hit the company hard in the form of layoffs to staff at DC Comics and the DC Universe streaming and comics service. As word of the cuts -- which affected several prominent editorial voices, as well as many other staff members -- got out, rumors inevitably followed, including the claim that DC's comic book publishing slate might be moving entirely to a graphic novel format, or be disappearing entirely in the coming years. Now, DC Publisher Jim Lee is here to put some of those fears to rest. 

In a candid interview with The Hollywood Reporter on Friday, Lee -- who's been a key leader at the company since he was named co-publisher a decade ago -- addressed everything from changes at DC editorial to the future of DC Universe and beyond, and sought to make one bottom line very clear: "We are still in the business of publishing comics."

In terms of leadership at DC editorial for the moment, Lee confirmed that he retains his role as publisher, while editors Marie Javins and Michele Wells now share the editor-in-chief position, presiding over what Lee calls a "smaller, more concentrated editorial group." Lee also noted that, while he will continue in his role as publisher and oversee creative decisions at the company, a still-unannounced "general manager" is also joining the team to serve as his partner on the "operational side" of DC. 

So, what does this mean for the actual comics fans will continue to be on the lookout for? According to Lee, "there is no pencils down notice" at DC, meaning all previously greenlit projects will continue to go forward. That said, he also noted that we can expect at least some reduction in the size of the overall publishing slate in the future.

"[Comics] is still the cornerstone of everything that we do. The need for storytelling, updating the mythology, is vital to what we do. The organization leans on us to share and establish the meaningful elements of the content that they need to use and incorporate for all their adaptations," Lee said. "When we think about reaching global audiences, and we see comics as helping drive that awareness and that international brand, it’s very much part of our future.

"That said, we will be reducing the size of the slate. But it’s about looking at everything and looking at the bottom 20 percent, 25 percent of the line that wasn’t breaking even or was losing money. It’s about more punch for the pound, so to speak, and increasing the margins of the books that we are doing. It was about aligning the books to the franchise brand content we’ve developed and making sure that every book we put out, we put out for a reason."

So what about DC Universe?

Lee also addressed another crucial question many fans have been pondering for months now as WarnerMedia rolled out HBO Max: What happens to DC Universe? The all-DC streaming service, fan community, and comics reader debuted a little less than two years ago and has since rolled out acclaimed original programming including Doom PatrolHarley Quinn, and Stargirl, much of which has since begun migrating to other services. Just this week, Harley Quinn joined Doom Patrol on HBO Max, fueling speculation that DC Universe was not long for this world.

According to Lee, that's at least partially true. In terms of streaming content, HBO Max will be taking the reins, but that doesn't mean other aspects of DC Universe are going to vanish. Thankfully, we will apparently still have access to the service's vast DC Comics archives, in some form. 

"The original content that is on DCU is migrating to HBO Max," Lee confirmed. "Truthfully, that’s the best platform for that content. The amount of content you get, not just DC, but generally from WarnerMedia, is huge and it’s the best value proposition, if I’m allowed to use that marketing term. We feel that is the place for that.

"In regards to the community and experience that DCU created, and all the backlist content, something like 20.000 to 25,000 different titles, and the way it connected with fans 24-7, there is always going to be a need for that. So we’re excited to transform it and we’ll have more news on what that will look like. It’s definitely not going away."

So, while we are still looking at a somewhat uncertain time from a fan standpoint in terms of the future of DC Entertainment, according to Lee there are some cornerstones that simply will not move, and that's reassuring. For more from Lee, including his thoughts on how DC's distributor change-up is working so far and what's going on with DC Direct, check out the full THR interview.