Examining "Rebirth's" Treatment of Legacy & Promise of a Less "Grimdark" DC Universe
Students of DC Comics’ publishing history can probably rattle off at least a few editors from the company’s first few decades. Whitney Ellsworth edited the Batman and Superman books in the 1940s and ‘50s before becoming a producer on the Adventures of Superman television series. In the Silver Age, Mort Weisinger presided over an exponential expansion of Superman’s mythology, including all those varieties of Kryptonite, the introductions of Supergirl, Krypto and the Legion of Super-Heroes, and ongoing series focused on Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen. Similarly, as editor of the Batman titles, Jack Schiff supervised one of the character’s most recognizable periods, filled with colorful mysteries and giant-sized props.
Of course, the phrase “Silver Age DC” is virtually synonymous with Julius Schwartz, who worked with writers Gardner Fox and John Broome and artists Carmine Infantino, Mike Sekowsky and Gil Kane on rebuilding DC’s superhero line. One could argue fairly reasonably that without them DC Comics as we know it today might not exist (and neither would today’s Marvel).
However, while Ellsworth became DC’s editorial director in 1948, Schwartz Schiff, and Weisinger weren’t in similarly lofty positions. Today we readers hear a lot about “editorial control” and the dreaded “editorial interference,” charges aimed largely at the men at the top: Editor-in-Chief Bob Harras, Co-Publishers Dan DiDio and Jim Lee and Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns. We hear a lot from them (illuminating and otherwise) about the general direction of the company. We also hear a good bit from various writers and artists, including Johns and Lee, regarding specific titles.
Nevertheless, on the management tier in between are the books’ editors themselves; and that’s the area about which I’ve become rather hazy. Therefore, I started looking through New 52 credits boxes, and supplementing this research through the Grand Comics Database, to see who was editing what.
Before getting into that, though, every DC publication lists the upper-management folks. In issues from the superhero line, these can be found in small print at the bottom of the “All Access” editorial page. In case you don’t have an issue handy, here’s the top of the list in order:
Beyond them are 14 vice presidents, from John Rood (executive vice president-sales, marketing and business development) to Bob Wayne (senior vice president-sales). While these folks may have some influence in the various creative processes — and here I am thinking especially of Wayne, who actually has to sell to retailers that one issue with the Shocking Development everyone will hate — for purposes of this post their roles are a bit harder to nail down.
Not listed on this masthead is Editorial Director Bobbie Chase. After many years as a Marvel editor, Chase joined DC in 2011, where (according to GCD) she was briefly the editor of the previous year’s Green Arrow relaunch. Subsequently, she became editor for several New 52 books (Batgirl, Birds of Prey, Grifter, Nightwing, Red Hood, Teen Titans and Voodoo) in the relaunch’s first year, before being promoted to editorial director in April 2012. Since the end of her and Harras’ “B&B” question-and-answer column on CBR in April 2013, she appears to have kept a relatively low profile in the comics press. The one mention of her I could find was as a panelist on the “DC Essentials” panel at Comic-Con International, alongside Harras and Vice President of Marketing John Cunningham.
In any event, below Nelson, Harras, DiDio, Lee and Johns (and probably Chase) are the people whose primary responsibilities include producing the issues themselves. Within this group there are three tiers: group editors, editors, and associate and assistant editors. Associate editors seem to rank higher than assistant editors, as many of them also have editor duties of their own.
Among the 50 New 52 books I researched, there were four group editors: Eddie Berganza, Brian Cunningham (who’s referred to mostly as “senior editor,” a distinction that doesn’t appear to matter), Matt Idelson and Mike Marts. Collectively they edit all but one New 52 title, but the groupings of those titles don’t necessarily correspond to character “franchises.” Each of the group editors is also listed as plain-old-editor on some books.
Confused? Here’s what I’m talking about:
Veteran DC editor Eddie Berganza is responsible for eleven New-52 books, and is listed as Group Editor on nine: Batman/Superman, Red Hood, Superboy, Supergirl, All Star Western, Teen Titans, Earth 2, Worlds’ Finest and the canceled Legion of Super-Heroes. He also apparently has regular editorial duties on the first four of those, as well as being the regular editor of Action Comics and Superman (where he is not listed as group editor).
Brian Cunningham also has editorial duties on a total of 12 New 52 books, including Flash, Green Arrow, Vibe, Katana, Stormwatch, Pandora, Phantom Stranger, Suicide Squad and the three Justice League books. As far as I can tell, on Constantine he’s just plain-old-editor. As with Eddie Berganza, this plain-old-editor designation may be purely semantic.
Matt Idelson is listed as group editor for 13 titles: Aquaman, the five Green Lantern titles, The Movement, Animal Man, Swamp Thing, Superman Unchained, Wonder Woman and the canceled Demon Knights and Threshold. This apparently includes routine editing duties on Aquaman, Green Lantern, Unchained, Swamp Thing and Wonder Woman.
Finally, Mike Marts is the Batman Group editor, with a total of 12 Bat-titles: Batman, Detective Comics, Batman: The Dark Knight, Batman and Robin, Batgirl, Batwoman, Nightwing, Batwing, Catwoman, Birds of Prey, Talon and the now-concluded Batman Incorporated.
From here we can see some clear “fiefdoms.” Besides Marts and the Bat-books, Berganza has most of the Superman titles and the “teen” books (Red Hood, Teen Titans and Legion); Cunningham has the three Justice League books (plus Leaguers Flash, Green Arrow, Katana and Vibe); and Idelson has all the Green Lantern books (plus the GL-related Threshold and the complementary Animal Man and Swamp Thing). Still, Superman Unchained isn’t under Berganza, and some books with ties to the larger Bat-universe (like Red Hood and Suicide Squad) aren’t currently under Marts — although Suicide Squad was, through Issue 19.
There are only two New 52 titles that aren’t edited by any of the above. Until recently, Will Dennis was the editor and Gregory Lockard was the associate editor of Dial H. (Lockard was Dial H’s final editor, not counting the Villains’ Month tie-in issue, which I expect he’ll be editing.) This was apparently Dennis’ only New 52 title, as he had also been editing various Vertigo books and Before Watchmen miniseries. As for the other title, Green Team may well fall under Idelson’s group, because its editor Chris Conroy is Idelson’s associate editor on several titles.
Therefore, every book has at least one editor, and most have at least one associate editor or assistant editor. Berganza, Cunningham, Idelson and Marts are listed as editors on 22 of these 50 New 52 books. The balance (not including Dial H) are divided among eight people: Joey Cavalieri, Chris Conroy, Mike Cotton, Rachel Gluckstern, Katie Kubert, Wil Moss, Rickey Purdin and Harvey Richards.
Having worked off and on for DC and Marvel for almost 30 years, Joey Cavalieri’s name should be familiar to many longtime superhero readers. He headed Marvel’s “2099″ line in the early 1990s (working for Bob Harras) and edited the Superman titles in the late ‘90s and early 2000s. In the New 52 he is the editor of five titles: Animal Man, Demon Knights, Larfleeze, The Movement and Threshold. His assistant editor on all those titles is Kyle Andrukiewicz.
In addition to editing Green Team, Chris Conroy is listed as editor of GL: New Guardians and Red Lanterns. He apparently has no assistant on those titles. He is also associate editor (under Idelson) on Aquaman, Green Lantern, GL Corps, Superman Unchained, Swamp Thing and Wonder Woman.
Mike Cotton edits four titles: All Star Western, Earth 2, Teen Titans and Worlds’ Finest. His assistant editor is Anthony Marques.
Rachel Gluckstern edits five Bat-books: Batman and Robin, Batwing, Birds of Prey, Nightwing and Catwoman. Her assistant editor on all four is Darren Shan.
Katie Kubert is the editor of Batgirl and Talon (with no assistant or associate), and the associate editor of Batman, Detective Comics and Nightwing.
Wil Moss is the editor of The Flash, Green Arrow, Pandora, Phantom Stranger, and Suicide Squad. His Associate Editor is Harvey Richards, who edits Katana and Stormwatch.
Rickey Purdin was the editor of Legion of Super-Heroes, and is the associate editor of Action Comics, Batman/Superman, Red Hood, Superboy and Supergirl.
Kate Stewart is Brian Cunningham’s Assistant Editor on the three Justice League books, Constantine and Vibe.
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To be sure, this is all subject to change. Heck, it may be out-of-date already. (Compare the above roster with the initial New 52 scorecard here.) More important to me is the division of labor among not just the group editors, editors, associates and assistants, but also the higher-ups. Again, for most of the time I’ve been reading comics, I’ve had at least an awareness of each book’s editor. Julius Schwartz was still editing books like Detective Comics and Justice League when I started reading superhero comics in the mid-‘70s, and seeing the occasional footnote from “Julie” made me curious about just how these things were put together. Hearing from an editor (or assistant) via letter column also provided some insight.
Indeed, Denny O’Neil’s 1986 return to DC (succeeding Len Wein as editor of the Bat-books, among other assignments) came with no small fanfare. Not only was one of Batman’s most influential writers going to be in charge of the titles that helped build his reputation, he had just spent several years writing and editing Daredevil — where incidentally he worked with guys like Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli, and they were going to be doing some Bat-work too. Other editors were similarly associated with their titles, like Andy Helfer on Justice League International, Mike Gold (at the time, late of American Flagg!) and then Brian Augustyn on Flash, Mike Carlin (another ex-Marvelite) on the ‘90s Superman titles, and Karen Berger on Swamp Thing and Wonder Woman. These days, Steven Wacker and Tom Brevoort have built up their own “editorial brands” at Marvel.
Faced with the hierarchy described above, then, the question is still who’s doing what? Well, as I’ve always understood it, an editor has both creative and logistical duties. At a 2004 convention I complimented Mark Waid on a Fantastic Four character moment; and he demurred, saying it was Brevoort’s idea. Likewise, at a 2001 convention, Greg Rucka and Devin Grayson told me how O’Neil felt about Batman having sex. It’s not all that glamorous, though, as editors have to make sure the issues are actually produced. Not to be too basic, but this means getting scripts to artists, artwork to colorists and letterers, and the finished product to the printer.
From this we can presume, with some confidence, that the group editors are most responsible for the creative side of things, coordinating with other group editors (and perhaps those higher up) on crossovers and team-ups, and making sure generally that all the books under their umbrellas maintain a proper and/or consistent tone. Because A-list books like Batman and Wonder Woman have group editors and associate editors, it follows that the group editor most likely takes the lead creatively. However, as many associate editors have their own books, one would hope that those associates have more of a creative role on the books the group editors edit. In any event, it seems possible that the associate editors are frequently pulled in different directions by their various responsibilities. (I suspect the assistant editors, as the lowest on the totem pole, are just pulled down …)
These various “offices” are no doubt germane only to corporately-run comics, but in a way they can be somewhat reassuring. In theory, an editor’s perspective can keep a writer or artist on the right track, encouraging the good impulses and managing the rest. (As much as I love Marv Wolfman and George Pérez, New Teen Titans and Crisis on Infinite Earths both suffered when they became their own editors.) I suppose the best editing is that which isn’t especially noticeable, as with the Brevoort story I mentioned above.
Still, where does that leave Bobbie Chase? (Does her title overstate her influence?) Similarly, what editorial functions might Geoff Johns have? Between the two, it’s easier to see how Johns divides his time. Nevertheless, Johns may be so visible as a writer — and additionally as a writer/consultant on things like Arrow, Smallville and other DC multimedia ventures — that he doesn’t have time to be a sort of “super-editor” or “executive producer” for the comics themselves. That leaves Harras, DiDio and Lee; and if Harras is concerned mostly with the big picture and Lee with the art direction, then (much to the delight of conspiracy theorists everywhere) DiDio would be ideally placed to exert maximum influence over the superhero line.
Now, this is mostly speculation based on assumptions grounded in educated guesses. It’s entirely possible that DiDio, Lee, Johns, Harras and Chase have regular conversations with the group editors, who in turn are largely respectful of their associates, and nobody overworks their assistants. However, dramatic changes in creative teams, like Kevin Maguire’s departure from Justice League 3000, the recent Action Comics shuffle, and Gail Simone’s firing-and-rehiring, don’t seem consistent with an orderly editorial process. The treatment of certain Characters Who Must Not Be Named — to the point of teasing them in interviews and then having their appearances quashed — also smacks of capricious decisions made by people able to act unilaterally. To be sure, the New 52 has seen its share of creator-and-editor conflict, like on Static Shock and with Rob Liefeld’s handful of titles, so those relationships don’t always run smoothly, to say the least.
Regardless, when dealing with so many distinct moving parts, and particularly so much coordination among individuals, surely it’s better for those individuals to know that once a decision has been made, it’s not going to be reversed. Corporately managed superhero comics risk having the originality eroded out of them by all these different handlers; but if those handlers each feel like they have some distinct role in making each issue better — even if it’s just “stay out of Freelancer X’s way” — maybe it’ll actually end up being better.
Nobody wants to think of DC’s editors as meddling in the creative process, giving “helpful suggestions” (or worse) merely to justify their own jobs. By the same token, though, why have all these editorial ranks if the entire superhero line ends up governed by, at most, two or three guys? Now that I’ve charted the people of DC editorial, I’ll be paying more attention when I see their names, and learning to appreciate their contributions.