Even Superheroes Can Use Some Buffing of the Brand
By GEORGE GENE GUSTINES
Published: May 9, 2005
The publisher of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman is getting a makeover. DC Comics, a division of Warner Brothers Entertainment, is unveiling a new logo today.
DC Comics is uniting its stable of superheroes under a new logo.
David James/Warner Brothers Entertainment
The new logo - the letters DC encircled by a whirlpool-like ring with a single star - will be used to brand DC Comics across all media, including comics, toys, television and film. The new look replaces the old logo - the DC letters in a circle and bounded by four stars - that has been on the covers of DC Comics since the mid-1970's.
The move is one part facelift and one part marketing strategy. The branding may also help take the spotlight away from Marvel comics and its recent box-office successes with Spider-Man and The X-Men.
"We're talking about a multibillion-dollar brand," said Kevin Tsujihara, the Warner Brothers executive vice president for corporate business development and strategy, whose portfolio includes DC Comics. "There was a level of concern that we weren't fully utilizing the power of DC."
The first comic book with the new symbol will be in stores on May 25; the full library of titles will receive it the following week. The logo will also be featured on toys, direct-to-video cartoons, DVD releases of television shows like "Birds of Prey," and computer games. Versions of the logo will also appear on the WB network live-action series "Smallville" and the cartoons "The Batman," "Teen Titans" and "Justice League Unlimited." An animated version of the DC logo will be used in the movie "Batman Begins," which opens in theaters on June 15.
"Batman Begins" and next year's "Superman Returns" are testaments of faith in the money-making possibilities of DC's stable of characters. A successful superhero movie can generate hundred of millions of dollars in box office receipts. The first film featuring the Marvel superhero Spider-Man brought in more than $800 million worldwide.
The comic book industry generates $400 million to $500 million in book sales each year, down from nearly a billion dollars at its peak in the early 1990's.
According to Diamond Comic Distributors, Marvel's market share was 35.54 percent in 2004, while DC's was 30.63. The rest of the market was split among more than 15 other publishers.
But while Marvel may have a bigger market share and several big-screen successes with Spider-Man and X-Men movies, it has not shared in profits of the films the way DC can as part of the Time Warner empire.
"Marvel has gone to a variety of studios to license their characters. They don't have much risk, but they don't have much opportunity for significant rewards," said Gordon Hodge, a media analyst at Thomas Weisel Partners. "If you own the movie and handle the distribution all the way, soup to nuts, to home video and cable television, there's a lot better money to be made."
Mr. Hodge estimated that Marvel, which licensed Spider-Man to Sony Pictures, received only about $20 million of the profits from the first film. Two weeks ago, Marvel announced that it would start producing some of its own movies and signed an exclusive distribution and promotion deal with Paramount.
Two other films this year were based on DC Comics characters. "Constantine," about a man dealing with the forces of heaven and hell, was released in February and has brought in just over $200 million worldwide. "V for Vendetta," about a freedom fighter in a fascist society, will be released in November. Mr. Tsujihara said the films might not generate as much excitement as "Batman Begins," but they demonstrated the value of DC's diversity of characters. Other films under way include "Superman Returns," "Watchmen" and "Wonder Woman."
On television, "Krypto the Superdog," starring Superman's boyhood pet, an animated series aimed at young viewers, began earlier this year. "The Legion of Super-Heroes," about a team from the 30th century, is being developed as a cartoon. The home video market includes DVD releases of the live-action series "Wonder Woman" and "Lois & Clark" and the animated "Challenge of the Superfriends" and "Static Shock." In toys and related merchandise, DC Direct produces everything from posters, collector's plates and prints to replica costumes, power batteries and lines of action figures from specific artists.
All those products add up. For 2005, "We expect to be over a billion dollars in revenue," Mr. Tsujihara said. The company does not dwell on missteps like "Catwoman," a box office disappointment. ("A bump in the road," Mr. Tsujihara said. "We can't win them all.") Instead, it spotlights its big successes.
Paul Levitz, the president and publisher of DC Comics, said: "Look at the Superman movies with Chris Reeves. Look at the animated Batman series. The projects that people remember for a generation also have a financial impact for a generation - they continue to air. When we're successful, it has a long, cumulative effect."