House of the Dragon, The Sandman and Harley Quinn will be showcased in a big way as Warner Bros. Discovery, still fresh from its merger, hits its first ever San Diego Comic-Con next month.
Yet the company, headed by CEO David Zaslav, is making big changes to its approach to Comic-Con as its various divisions make their first appearances at the annual pop culture celebration in three years, due to the pandemic. For the first time, Warners, including DC, will have no presence on the convention floor, a move that breaks with decades of precedent. The company had one of the bigger presences on the floor, with movie and TV costumes on display. In some years, A-list stars such as the cast of Justice League or Watchmen appeared for signings.
Another big change: Several CW series, including Flash, Superman & Lois and the upcoming Supernatural prequel, will be absent as the network is facing a possible sale and had canceled many of its shows.
Warner Bros. Discovery’s presence at Comic-Con is intended to reassure fans that the company still has them top of mind, even as the merger remakes executive ranks and aligns the company’s divisions — including HBO Max, Warner Bros. Pictures and DC — in a new direction.
As for what Warners’ theatrical division will bring, those plans are still being hashed out, according to multiple insiders. The studio has a number of DC films due out later this year, including DC League of Super-Pets, Black Adam and Shazam! Fury of the Gods, which open in July, October and December respectively. These could all make appearances. Movies that are to open in 2023, such as The Flash and Blue Beetle, will not have panels, regardless of the presence, as they are considered too far out for any panel to have a meaningful impact.
But why focus on what’s not there when we can look at what will be:
House of the Dragon is one of HBO’s biggest bets and seeks to extend and reset the Game of Thrones franchise, which was the biggest show in HBO’s history. It will have a Hall H panel ahead of the series launch on Aug. 21.
Netflix’s Sandman is the most expensive DC show that Warner Bros. Television has ever made, and it’s getting the Hall H treatment with a special video presentation followed by a Q&A with series stars and producers.
Riverdale will also land in Hall H as the series makes its final Comic-Con appearance ahead of its sixth and final season on The CW.
DC publishing, despite not having a booth (which always attracted a crowd and had talent milling about), will still have a presence via a smattering of panels.
DC publisher and CCO Jim Lee will headline a showcase of upcoming DC books, with sneak peeks and creators. There will be a panel stacked with Batman-centric comic writers and artists, while superstar writers Tom Taylor and Tom King will have a conversation about their work, past, present and future. Also in the lineup is a panel on DC’s current event miniseries, Dark Crisis, among others.
Animation, for both young and older audiences, will also get presentations.
There will be panels on Gremlins: Secrets of the Mogwai with the new series’ voice stars and exec producers. Meanwhile, Cartoon Network will have a multishow panel touting Craig of the Creek, Teen Titans Go! and We Baby Bears, among several other animation panels.
Mature content animation will be spotlighted with panels on Adult Swim shows Smiling Friends, Genndy Tartakovsky’s Primal (season two will be the focus for animation director Genndy Tartokovsky and art director Scott Willis), Rick and Morty: The Vindicators (a screening plus a Q&A) and Tuca & Bertie. And there will be a special screening of the first two episodes of surprise HBO Max hit Harley Quinn, as well as the premiere of animated feature Green Lantern: Beware My Power, followed by a Q&A.
Warner Bros. Games will have two panels, A Look Inside the Making of the Gotham Knights Game and Making a Mash-Up: MultiVersus.
And Warners’ wrestling unit, AEW, which has shows AEW: Dynamite and AEW: Rampage on TBS, will have two presentations that will see wrestlers descend on San Diego for the first time.
Insiders say the Comic-Con revamp is designed to make the company more strategic in its approach, but it also comes as Zaslav has been focusing on the bottom line, reportedly seeking $3 billion in savings for the new company. In past years, Comic-Con has cost Warners $25 million-plus — factoring in the floor installation, travel for its talent and tech costs for its high-level presentations. Still, Comic-Con, which runs July 21-24, remains a great marketing opportunity for a company whose content from its many divisions traffics in geek and genre fare.
Hollywood studios seem to be taking a cautious approach in returning to Comic-Con. The pandemic is still impacting plans – not all actors and filmmakers are eager to put themselves into a room with dozens or thousands of people — and companies such as Universal are sitting this year out. Marvel, on the other hand, is making a heralded return, a surprise move as the company will also have a big presence at D23, the Disney convention being held in early September.
It remains to be seen if Warners’ new plan will be the blueprint going forward or if it will reassess its steps yearly.