Change is in the air at the house of Superman. DC Entertainment — the Warner Bros. publishing and branding operation responsible for managing and advising on the conglomerate’s superhero properties — lost its primary Warner Bros. Pictures partner, Jon Berg, in December. Then, just last week, it was revealed that DC president Diane Nelson would be stepping down. And today, another pillar of the old guard has fallen: DC’s other president (confusingly enough, he shared that title with Nelson but was subordinate to her) and chief creative officer, Geoff Johns, is leaving his various executive posts. But he’s staying in the family: As revealed by The Hollywood Reporter, Johns is moving on to a creative and producing role at Warner that includes penning a long-delayed Green Lantern reboot. One of the two co-publishers of DC’s comics output (and a famed comics artist), Jim Lee, will be the new CCO, and it’s unclear who will be the new president.
This is massive news in the superhero world. Johns was long seen as something of a rainmaker for the DC brand. He was — and, to an extent, still is — their golden boy of publishing, having written a dizzying array of hit comic books since his debut in 1999. In 2010, shortly after Nelson’s installation and its attendant corporate shake-up, he was named CCO and helped guide two massively successful comics events, 2011’s the New 52 and 2016’s Rebirth, as well as the CW’s much-beloved line of superhero shows. Then, in the wake of the critical failure and financial underperformance of 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Johns was given a shot at the big leagues: He was named co-chief of DC’s movie output alongside Berg. However, his tenure in that role was ultimately lukewarm. Suicide Squad and Justice League — two films that, to be fair, began their gestation before Johns was installed — were met with derogatory reviews and, in the case of Justice League, abysmal box-office receipts. What’s more, he was writing a Batman solo flick with Ben Affleck, then got unceremoniously tossed off the project. The sole bright spot was Wonder Woman, a film Johns worked closely on, but the overall DC brand is just as tainted as it was when Johns got the call two years ago.
So it’s not entirely surprising that Johns would, willingly or not, move out of the C-suite. Same goes for Nelson, who was similarly associated with success in comics and TV, but not so much on the big screen. The question now is: What comes next? On some fronts, we have a decent sense of what’s ahead. Johns’s comics fans have much to cheer about, given that this move will apparently open up his schedule enough to make a big splash in that medium: He’s writing a new series about the soon-to-be-movie-ized character Shazam, writing another one called Three Jokers (the continuation of a plot point Johns teased years ago and has never followed up on), and he’s setting up and writing for a “pop-up label” for underused characters called the Killing Zone. (Perhaps this will also allow him to speed up production on his much-delayed Watchmen sequel/crossover, Doomsday Clock.) TV is still in his wheelhouse, too, as he’s heavily involved in the flagship show for DC’s upcoming streaming service, Titans.
But movies? That’s a more uncertain story. The Conjuring producer Walter Hamada was named the head of DC’s movie output in January — a move that signaled a reduced role for DC Entertainment in film production — so there’s continuity in that realm. However, we still don’t really know what Hamada’s philosophy is and how it’ll differ from that of Johns and Berg. Johns’s fingerprints will still be all over DC’s films: In addition to the aforementioned Green Lantern reboot (currently titled Green Lantern Corps), he has writing credits for this December’s Aquaman and next year’s Wonder Woman sequel. And he’s establishing a new company, Mad Ghost Productions, which will work on projects across a variety of mediums, including film.
What one has to wonder is whether Johns was, in some way, holding the movies back during his run as an exec. Hamada is a producer on next year’s Shazam!, and it’ll be interesting to see what his touch brought to the film. Lee, the new CCO, lacks Johns’s film and television experience, so it’s anyone’s guess how he’ll operate in his new role, but he certainly has a passion for and deep knowledge of these characters. Could it be that Johns has finally found his rightful place, that Lee will rise to the occasion, and that DC can finally match its comics and TV success on the big screen? Not even Batman has the answer just yet.