Editorial: NuMarvel becomes Disney Marvel: Pros, Cons and Questions…


On the morning of August 31st 2009 the comics industry was shocked by the out-of-nowhere news that the Walt Disney Company and Marvel Entertainment had approved an acquisition deal in the neighborhood of $4 billion dollars.  Marvel’s shared surged 26% on the news, which doubtless thrilled the shareholders that will have to approve the deal before the end of the year.  The deal also depends on an antitrust review that it should be able to pass without incident.

This news brought a lot of reaction from comics fandom – some positive, some nervous and some downright scared.  Many  fans are terrified that this will bring some sort of creative doom down on the comics.  While ‘Deadpool & Donald’ isn’t yet-another-Deadpool title we’re likely to see anytime soon changes may in fact occur.  I’m going to examine some of the potential positives and negatives if Disney decides to take an active role in Marvel’s publishing division as well as positives and negatives surrounding the deal in general.  In other words why some should be happy and why some should hold a candlelight vigil for certain current elements of Marvel Comics.

Before I get into it, let me say this up front: I do not think Disney’s going to force Marvel to do much, at least not right off the bat (i.e. next year).  I can’t guarantee that for you; hard though it may be to believe I am wrong every few years or so.

THE POSITIVES…

The Walt Disney Company is a massive media giant worth roughly $50 billion or so with assets totaling somewhere around $60 billion.  It owns several theme parks around the world showcasing its stable of character properties and with plans on opening up future attractions as well.  They also own several movie studios, including Miramax, Touchstone, Hollywood Pictures and part of Dreamworks (not the animated Dreamworks movies).  It owns the Disney Channel, ABC, Lifetime, A&E, SoapNet and ESPN.  It owns a music company, radio stations – and oh yes, its own cruise line.  And it’s been around since 1923.  It knows a thing or two about longevity, especially in times of tough business.

Disney has in place a massive global distribution system.  Soon, that very distribution system will be pushing Marvel characters.  Consider millions of kids watching any number of networks and seeing commercials for Marvel characters.  Disney’s CEO Bob Iger said in a CNBC interview yesterday that Disney is ready to go after the boy’s market, and they’re likely to do that aggressively.   To bottom line it for you: Marvel’s characters now have access to a far, far bigger distribution system than they have ever dreamt of and larger than they ever would have had being their own company.

What could that mean?  Likely it will mean more Marvel cartoon series.  Many fans have pined for an extended, joined Marvel cartoon universe similar to what Time Warner did with the DC animated universe.  With the Disney deal for Marvel, that just got closer to becoming a reality at some point in our lifetimes.

It could also mean Marvel movies done by Pixar.  Let that sink in a moment.  Think of how much ‘Iron Man’ made – over $500 million.  Now think about how much Pixar’s biggest movie ever made.  Worldwide, ‘Finding Nemo’ brought home over $800 million.  The synergy is obvious .  There are many other avenues in the Marvel Universe for Disney to explore and expand.  Things like ‘Franklin Richards: Son of a Genius.’  Or Chris Giarrusso’s ‘Mini Marvels.’  Even Power Pack.  And that’s not to mention the possibility for live action movies and series.

What of the deals with Sony and Fox for ‘Spider-Man’ and ‘X-Men?’  While there are existing deals in place that will probably remain they will, as soon as those deals expire, move to Marvel so Disney can ‘vertically integrate’ them, as Bob Iger pointed out.  For those of you who don’t remember your economics classes that means Disney will want to produce and distribute those movies with no third parties involved.  Cause that means way more money.

Actually I didn’t remember ‘vertical integration’ from economics class.  I learned that in an upper level history class last year when the class focused on John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil and Andrew Carnegie’s Carnegie Steel Company.

A lot of Spider-Man fans like to point out the weak and decreasing direct market sales of ‘Amazing Spider-Man’ since the eternally controversial and always contentious ‘One More Day’ storyline.  For Marvel’s publishing division this might become a lot less of a headache in the wake of the Disney acquisition.  By being part of a media giant whose main focus is on licensing their stable of characters, Marvel can dodge some of the pressure of the decreasing sales market.  Disney knows that Marvel’s worth isn’t in its comics – it’s in its characters.  This is exactly what Time Warner knows about DC Comics as well.  Time Warner couldn’t care less about publishing, for the most part and with rare exception, other than that it gives them ownership of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, etc. etc.  Publishing makes peanuts compared to what film & merchandising pull in.  So from a publishing standpoint this gives Marvel some breathing room.

Folks, there was a time over ten years ago when Marvel was facing the prospect of defaulting to a bank and having their characters sold off piece by piece to the highest bidders in an auction.  That will now be something Marvel fans will never have to worry about again.

Marvel’s tone may change for the better as well.  Before the days of Bill Jemas Marvel was a warm and welcoming clubhouse.  The ‘You Belong!’ attitude of the Stan Lee’s ‘Merry Marvel Marching Society’ and ‘Friends of Ol’ Marvel’ gave way in the 2000’s to more of a ‘Hey, up yours!’ attitude provided by Marvel’s former publisher Bill Jemas.  Jemas has been gone for several years now but the attitude is still largely in place.  The new ‘Shut the @#*% up and give me your money!’ mentality may give way to a far more friendly and welcoming voice.  Especially if Disney’s serious about trying to bring the young boy market into Marvel. 

In the last year I’ve had to tell two mothers who have kids getting interested in Spidey not to buy ‘Amazing Spider-Man’ for their kids.  That could possibly change over the next couple of years.

Joe Quesada has said Marvel would like to lay off the unending, ginormous events they’ve been doing forever and a day now.   The new Marvel deal could even possibly help that become a permanent vacation if, possibly, Marvel doesn’t feel the same pressure to sell high numbers of something.  Heck, this might even mean they won’t feel the need for gimmick incentives in trying to boost the poor direct market sales on ‘Amazing Spider-Man’ – bye bye variants and Obama covers?  Probably not, but folks can dream.

In that CNBC interview with Bob Iger I mentioned earlier he also mentioned the theme parks and eluded to Marvel’s current deal with Universal’s theme parks.  If you watch the interview Iger makes it clear that he’s keen on getting Marvel’s characters into their theme parks while not conflicting with any current deals.  Translated?  Expect to see Marvel characters trying to boost interest in Disney’s theme parks outside the United States, which haven’t been doing so great over the last several years.  Will the Spidey’s Wild Web ride go in at Disneyland?  Probably not.  But at EuroDisney or Tokyo Disney?  Maybe!  And I’d expect that after Universal’s theme park deal ends Disney will find ways to work Marvel’s characters into their U.S. theme parks.  And honestly, as someone who is a colossal fan of Disney theme parks… the idea that we might get an animatronic Marvel ride at some point in the U.S. makes me tingly.  And those rides and attractions will empty out into gift shops packed to the roof with Marvel heroes merchandise and, we hope, comics that parents wouldn’t mind buying for their kids.  Ones that don’t cost four-freaking-dollars per issue.

THE NEGATIVES…

If Disney does decide to take an active hand in Marvel’s publishing division this might mean some changes in the way Marvel makes comics.  Gimmicks like 2003’s ‘Rawhide Kid’ might be a thing of the past (which I guess should technically be filed under ‘positives?’) and I wouldn’t want to place any bets on the MAX line continuing to draw breath much longer.

If you’re a fan of Peter Parker’s drunken one-night-stand or of him walking in on Aunt May in bed with Jonah’s dad, then yeah – this might be a dark time for you.  Though not initially, not right off the bat, it’s possible that Marvel could decide to start cleaning up its own backyard before Disney does, thereby furthering the potential for job security should Disney decide some changes need to be made.

Does this mean the end of the Punisher, Ghost Rider or Deadpool?  Probably not.  These and other violent Marvel heroes still have a ton of film and marketing potential, and Disney will realize that.  Keep in mind, Disney owns the company that released the ‘Kill Bill’ movies.  But if Disney decides to get handsy with publishing?  Yeah there might be some watering down on the violent books.  Probably taking them back to the late 80’s or early 90’s.  Probably less Garth Ennis, more Steven Grant/Mike Baron.  I actually think of that more positively than most of you will, and because most of you will see it negatively I am putting it under ‘The Negatives.’  On the upswing to that?  Disney might take a ‘Miramax’ approach to Frank Castle or Deadpool.  We’ll have to wait and see.

Disney might also want the X-Men universe to become more accessible to a new generation of younger fans.  The positives and negatives on this are huge but I’ll let someone else cover that elsewhere.  I said ‘Adios!’ to the X-Men universe right before Grant Morrison took over and I haven’t ever been back.  So I have no idea of what a hands-on Disney approach might be to the X-Universe.

Things like ‘Civil War,’ where we saw many of the Marvel characters acting completely out of character and fighting like street gangs… yeah that might come to an end.  If Disney decides to oversee publishing then it’s possible they might want a more positive approach on the superhero genre rather than having them act out ‘Streets of Fire’ or ‘The Outsiders.’  Again though, consider that this might come internally from Marvel before Disney turns their eye towards it, just as a cautionary measure.  This is another thing I see as a positive though I also realize I am probably in the minority on – so again I’m listing it under ‘The Negatives.’

THE UNKNOWNS…

What does this mean for comics distribution as it currently stands?  No telling at this point.  Disney may decide the current system sucks and take a serious look at it.  That could prompt Time Warner to do the same with DC.  I doubt Disney and Time Warner would look into it together but then I wouldn’t be shocked if it happened.  The end of the direct market?  Of course not.  The eventual end of Diamond?  Probably not but I’d be surprised if things didn’t change distribution-wise.

Will Quesada’s “Smoking is BAD! But deals with the Devil are A-OK?” policy still stand?  I wouldn’t expect Disney to suddenly give the thumbs-up on lighting up, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Marvel’s resident devil Mephisto gets a long vacation from trying to get heroes to sign on the dotted line the way he got Spider-Man in 2007.

What about the lateness issue that Marvel’s actually gotten better with?  I don’t expect Disney’d do much towards that, unless it was a comic with Disney’s  stable of characters (Mickey, Goofy, etc.) in it.  And Marvel might very well end up producing those if that’s a route Disney wants to take.

And GOD, what will this mean for the Marvelman/Miracleman/What-the-Hell-ever deal?  Enh… do enough of us even care?  No.  Besides, that deal’s done.  But remember that Marvel’s money will be Disney’s money by the end of this year, and Disney’s probably not as likely as Marvel to make those kinds of obscure creator deals.

WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN, BERRYMAN?

Friends it’s still too early to tell.  Overall I see this acquisition as a good thing with the potential to be greatness.  It’s nothing but a pure win business-wise for Marvel.  Their stockholders might soon be dancing naked in the streets in glee and the company just got more stability then they have ever seen before.  Will it make me buy Spider-Man again?  No, not with the current regime still in place.

But this does signal opportunity for the entire industry and not just Marvel.  How long have comics been cynical and pessimistic now?  Is it so bad that things could turn in a direction where everything and its dog is not trying to recapture the lost glory of ‘Watchmen’ or ‘The Dark Knight Returns?’  Is it so bad that Disney will want to bring Marvel’s comics and characters to a new generation that Marvel forgot about many years ago… younger kids?  Did kids leave comics, or did comics leave kids?

A friend of mine who I don’t always agree with but respect very much, Alex Hamby, recently told me “Did Marvel need Disney?  No.  Disney WANTED Marvel” when this came up on a Facebook status.  It’s more or less true but that’s just not how the business world works.  The point of business is to make money and then try to make even more money – both Disney and Marvel stand to do just that from here on out.

And let me say again… the potential positives and negatives I listed above?  They’re possibilities but not necessarily probabilities.  All I wanted to do here was ponder the ponderables and give you good people some things to dwell on.  I still don’t think Disney’s going to take that much interest into what Marvel’s publishing division is doing. 

Or as fans of this site probably want to know… No, I don’t think Bob Iger’s going to swoop in on a pegasus covered in sequins with a magic anti-Mephisto sword and force Marvel and Quesada to undo the travesty & tragedy that is ‘One More Day/Brand New Day.’  My stance on that is the same as before – it’s here for as long as Quesada is, possibly longer.  So if you’re a ticked off former Spider-Man reader there’s not really much here in the way of giving one hope of anything changing.  But I do think the odds of something that bad happening again just got considerably slimmer.

But… for those of you intent on hating Disney, here’s something just for you!  Courtesy of SNL’s TV Funhouse.  Heh.

–George Berryman!

 

 

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