With Comic-Con fast approaching (July 24-27) and all the Hollywood studios getting ready, I understand that Warner Bros has been nervously monitoring the deteriorating situation at its subsidiary DC Comics. There could be a major shake-up — especially if Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes keeps cleaning house inside the Big Media corp. There’s a lot of chatter, from comic book circles like io9.com to trade media like Publishers Weekly, that DC Comics Senior VP and Executive Editor Dan DiDio, who oversees the DC Universe line of superheroes, is in major trouble. I don’t pretend to know all the ins and outs of the comic book culture. But my own reporting, and others’ coverage, show the following:

The problem isn’t just that, under DiDio’s leadership, fanboys are disappointed with the directions of Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman and other characters. (How dopey of DiDio to come out with a new series Decisions this September where the superheroes take political stands timed to the election.) Little wonder that fanboys are selling “Dan DiDio Must Die” t-shirts. But also average sales of the DCU line are down more than 20% from a year ago, and DiDio has lost a big chunk of existing readers in a year while deliberately failing to reach out to new ones.

But the biggest bad news is that DC’s much hyped Summer 2008 release Final Crisis, the 7-issue miniseries, isn’t the huge hit it was supposed to be. Comic Book Resources reviewed, “This isn’t a disaster just yet, but six more issues of this caliber and this could spell the end of the sales power for a company event at DC Comics. Final Crisis, indeed.” Not to mention those misleading full-page DC Comics ads promoting Final Crisis by referring to an upcoming “Batman R.I.P.” storyline. That could have unleashed a box office backlash against Warner Bros’ all-important The Dark Knight release next month. (“We can’t kill him during a big movie year,” DiDio finally made clear.)

With DC Universe so much a part of Warner Bros’ bottom line, getting DC Comics back on track has to be a top priority. For one thing, the movie studio’s biggest DC characters remain in development limbo — Superman, Wonder Woman, the Justice League. Only Batman has an ongoing live action franchise. But whose fault is that? Warner Bros Pictures Group prez Jeff Robinov and Warner Bros prez/COO Alan Horn (who still retains greenlight authority and therefore has to share the blame for this) remain paralyzed by indecision, chaotically starting and stopping work on scripts for the biggest DC characters. Meanwhile, Marvel is about to exploit the hell out of its characters, primo or not. Right after Iron Man‘s success, Marvel Studios announced an ultra-ambitious film development slate through 2011, culminating in an “Avengers-Themed Summer”, introducing a Captain America film and then uniting heroes Iron Man, Hulk, Captain America and Thor in a single film. Heck, if I were Bewkes, I’d shake up Warner Bros as well as DC Comics. 

To add insult to injury, Marvel’s Secret Invasion comic book was #1 in May, while DC’s Final Crisis was only #2. Worst of all, DC had only three comics in that month’s top 10 best-sellers. As one Internet commenter opined on io9.com: “DC needs to make this move just to show that they do in fact care about their product, and appease fan boy rage. Even if the higher-ups at TW really like Mr. DiDio’s work, the sales numbers and overall editorial inconsistancies under his recent tenure has caused public perception to view him as being incompetent.” DiDio, who took over in 2004, can’t be happy his current contract expires soon. Or that Jimmy Palmiotti is being handicapped as his replacement. (Palmiotta is currently an exclusive writer for DC Comics and formerly the co-founder of Event Comics and co-head of Marvel’s Marvel Knights imprint with friend and current Marvel Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada. Fanboys also suggest Joey Cavalieri, a veteran of both comics companies, should be considered.) Now the question is whether DiDio will exit before Comic-Con, or after, or at all — and how much of a distraction this will be at the confab.