Why Karen Berger left DC
But in the latter stretch of her 20 years running the show, relations with her employer turned sour. Their difference of opinion was simple and particularly of-the-moment: Berger felt like DC was abandoning its focus on weird comics in order to put all its resources toward developing superhero stories for film and television. Leaving the publisher in a relative blaze of glory, she bade farewell to the industry and all but disappeared.I certainly do think they screwed up by putting so many more eggs into the movie and TV business. Mainly because while they were at it, they made the comics otherwise unappealing to moviegoers with all the grisly darkness they shoved onto the books, which, along with the rising prices and limited locations for sales, only guaranteed nobody would want to buy them.
But turning attention away from "weird" tales is hardly the problem. It was their horrific maltreatment of their superhero line that's doomed them, ditto the blatant leftist politics (even the stories Berger edited may not have been immune to this).
As a new millennium dawned, Vertigo was more or less the gold standard for high-minded comics creation. But the late '00s brought a revolution in comics, one that left Berger frustrated and alienated. With superhero movies suddenly exploding at the box office, DC underwent a massive restructuring. In 2009, parent company Warner Bros. opted to orient DC Comics’ operations toward spandex-clad characters that could be leveraged for film and television. John Constantine, the foul-mouthed protagonist of core Vertigo series Hellblazer, was cleaned up and shoved into DC superhero continuity, as was Swamp Thing.If she found the poor commercialization of fantasy comics bad, she's right, it is. But I gotta take issue with the part about Constantine and Swamp Thing shoved into DC continuity (which all depends on one's POV, because what they've turned out for over 2 decades only passes for continuity), because they both began there. It's not like they were frequently involved with other members of the DCU; their series were pretty stand-alone with few guest appearances elsewhere. So what was done post-Flashpoint was just putting them back in what passed for the rest of a DCU. Their presence in the whole DCU proper was nothing new. All that matters was that Dan DiDio and company didn't know how to script any of them appealingly.
Berger chafed — first quietly, then publicly. In late 2012, it was announced that she’d be leaving DC. She stayed on to help with the transition, but made her dissatisfaction known in a May 2013 New York Times profile. In it, she called DC and its rival Marvel, “superhero companies owned by movie studios” — an increasingly true statement, but one tinged with obvious disdain. The next year, after she had left the company, she spoke to me for a feature about John Constantine and earned DC’s ire by being even more explicitly critical, saying, “They've taken the character and put him in a place that's Constantine-lite” and adding, “As far as I'm concerned, he's not the real Constantine."
She’s diplomatic about DC now, but still more than a little dismissive. “Listen, I had a great time at DC,” she said, “but the company changed and it was clear that the priorities had shifted, and creator-owned comics weren’t something that they were that interested in.” However, she sees comics, as a whole, moving in the right direction. “Superheroes obviously still fuel the industry,” she said, “but the whole independent-comics publishing scene, [with publishers like] Image, Dark Horse, IDW, BOOM!, is a phenomenal thing.” Creators at those companies walk the idiosyncratic path Berger cleared decades ago — and the fact that she's back to pick up where she left off is indeed something worth celebrating.If she thinks creator-owned products are a vital asset, sure, but what about talented writing for superhero comics with respect for the themes, angles and characterizations that made them work in the first place? They went downhill after they published Identity Crisis, and even now that they allegedly reversed much of the noxious directions they mandated, it's obvious that won't guarantee better storytelling. The company wide crossovers are another detractor, something else that went unmentioned here. If she sees independent productions as important, that's fine, but if she's not worried about the state of mainstream superhero books, that's sad and foolish.