Marvel Team-Up: Disney Pt. 1

Well, think of it less like a team up, and more like if Iron Fist and Luke Cage had been crime fighting partners two or three hundred years earlier, and Iron Fist owned…

Eh. I don’t even want to see where that metaphor is going.

First, some links:

Initial announcements can be found here[NPR] , here[CNN], and here [Newsarama]. And here's Disney's official announcement.

Newsarama meanwhile brings us the Marvel's company's timeline, a few acquisition details, a breakdown of some of the questions Disney's acquisition raises, and a look at what it all might mean through the eyes of industry insiders.

And finally, for giggles: Stan Lee[MTV].

For those of you who don’t know by now [where have you been? Under a rock?], Disney is about to “acquire” Marvel Entertainment Group AKA Marvel Comics. What this basically means is that Disney, one of the largest entertainment conglomerates in the world will own one of the industry’s top two comic book publishers, with complete access to their entire library of stories and the deep bullpen of iconic characters. To simplify [and avoid the already tired jokes], this is a real-life crossover of epic proportions, which puts Marvel mainstays like Spider-Man, Captain America, and Wolverine in the domain of Mickey, Minnie, and Goofy. And while who knows how long it will be before Disney gets around to having Donald and Howard duke it out in a spirited battle of Quack-Fu, the significance of this purchase will be remembered in entertainment history for a while to come.

The upsides are numerous for both companies. Marvel has been struggling [supposedly] somewhat in what many people consider a niche market – 18 to 35 year olds who’ve grown up with the characters and the brand, and made the rough transition from fan boys to fan men while recruiting very few new readers along the way. Add this to the fact that, while comics are no longer stigmatized like they once were, Marvel’s major presence is less in retail bookstores and more in specialty shops, and it is no wonder that the numbers for Marvel’s top-selling books are far lower than what they have been in the company’s past. By becoming a part of the Disney family, one of these problems are immediately solved, as Disney’s expansive shelf space in retail outlets is now available to the company. Don’t expect Marvel trade paperbacks and digests to be shoved in some half row in the corner of your local chain bookstore any more. Marvel’s sales will likely soar with this increased presence alone.

Disney’s interest in Marvel is simpler, but no less lucrative. Despite the wide-reaching arms of the Mouse, Disney has always had trouble in one particular demographic: yes, you guessed it, 18 to 35 year old males. By adding Marvel Entertainment to the Walt Disney company’s portfolio, the company immediately comes into possession to this elusive demographic, and not to sell them comic books, mind you, but rather to exploit Marvel’s already fledgling movie business, bringing licenses like Iron Man, the X-Men, and the Avengers to big screens, and giving older brothers and fathers movie tickets to buy while their wives, daughters, and sisters go check out the newest “High School Musical.”

Many have even theorized that Disney might look to reinvigorate the Marvel brand and characters for the next generation of fans – fans whose attendance in theaters and patronage at the newsstands and comic shops even Marvel had come to doubt. While this is a possibility, I do not believe it to be the case. Disney’s goal in this purchase seems to be cornering a present-day market they are currently missing. There’s little reason to believe that Disney would actively pursue new fans for Marvel’s content, as after all, they already control a hefty share of the tween and pre-teen demographics. I wouldn’t be surprised if Marvel occasionally used popular Disney characters – like “Hannah Montana” or the Jonas Brothers – to boost sales considerably. Though these books won’t have much staying power, they’ll likely serve the same purpose licensed properties such as Transformers, GI Joe, and Star Wars have in the past with Marvel, as fast, big, company-sustaining paychecks.

Other good news involves the possibilities this “pairing” [which many are calling it, which already seems to be disingenuous. Disney owns Marvel, no two ways about it] opens up. We mentioned before the relatively pat, laughable crossovers that the internet has already done to death since news of the acquisition broke. But the more exciting “crossovers” are far more likely to happen behind the scenes – such as setting Marvel up with one of the other innovative companies Disney owns, Pixar. Imagine, if you will, an “Incredibles”-like Fantastic Four movie, or a computer animated, 3D “X-Men: First Class.”

Even outside of Pixar, Disney has its own version of “3D” [which I believe is eponymously called Disney 3D], which could be integrated into any number of Marvel’s slated movie projects [It is, of course, important to note that these buy-outs sometimes cause problems when it comes to getting movies made. As of this writing, there’s no indication any Marvel blockbusters such as the Iron Man or Wolverine franchises, or “Captain America: The First Avenger,” etc, will be impeded by this purchase. Instead, it seems more likely Disney will wait out the current, in-place deals with companies like Sony, while working towards moving all Marvel movies in-house]. One can also assume that Disney will look to integrate the Marvel Universe into their various theme parks as well – effectively turning Marvel Entertainment into the multimedia juggernaut it always wished to be.

All sounds pretty good, right? So why are there so many Marvel fans on the internet, shitting bricks?

There is certainly an argument to be made that internet fans just love to bitch. That the outcry we’re hearing now is just a bunch of whiny, depressive nerd-losers who are going to complain about everything, and think everything is terrible, no matter what happens. They’re afraid of change. These people should do things like “grow up,” “get over it” or “let it go and wait and see.” And if you’re fine seeing this situation like that, then don’t read any more. But if you’re actually interested in understanding why someone might respond negatively to this news, I’m going to talk about it here, from my own perspective. Hopefully this will also address some of the overall criticism, and without speaking for my peers, look a little about why some have come out so strongly against it.

On a personal level, my hang up with the Disney/Marvel deal came from intense feelings of loyalty to the brand. For as long as I’ve been reading comics, I’ve been reading Marvel’s Comics [note the capitols], and even though I’ve read less of their books in recent years, I’ve always felt like a “Marvel guy”. There is a connection there, partly to the brand, like one person might have a favorite soda, but more to an aspect of my life, like how many people have attachments to certainly literary characters or movies. The same is true for me – there are so many things I’ve taken from Marvel’s comics, so many lessons and so many benchmarks of times in my life, this change shocked and scared me. As though a part of me was now in the hands of someone I didn’t trust.

But there was also something a little deeper, a level of betrayal. Not real betrayal, but definitely something I could actively feel about this change. The largest part of it has to do with the time period when I was one of their biggest fans – the mid to late 1990’s. Though it was not so long ago, few talk about this period, but after a rash of bad business decisions, and the over-all bust of the collector’s bubble, Marvel filed for bankruptcy. Though at my age I couldn’t fully grasp what that meant, as a reader it felt like a dark period for the company, a storm to be weathered not just by Marvel, but by Marvel’s fans. And I was there, and this was during the period where I spent more money than ever on comic books, and almost entirely on Marvel’s comic books [remember, it was my Dad who bought DC’s comics]. And I also remember, just before the new Millennium, that big newspaper article which proclaimed “SPIDER-MAN LIVES!” and ushered in the feature film while pushing out of bankruptcy.

We made it. We got through the worst of it, and yes, it felt very much like a “we.” And in a way, that’s why this merger struck me like it did, why I took it so hard, and was against it right away. I felt let down, that after all of that, the Evil Empire had swooped in and took over.

I think a lot of the negative sentiments come from something like this. Maybe not because they bought from Marvel during the dark days, maybe just because they’ve grown up with the brand, and feel a loyalty to it, not unlike a parent or a sibling. It seems silly, but if you think about it, there’s a lot that feels like Mom’s getting remarried.

People care about Marvel, and it’s “library of 5,000+ characters”, and in all fairness Disney is a big enough company [literally the biggest entertainment and media conglomerate in the world] that it’s no surprise the publisher’s fan base is concerned about its properties being mistreated. Though Disney has certainly proved itself capable of doing extraordinary things, it has also a long history of following its bottom line and homogenizing its products to great lengths. Many of the Marvel fans, perhaps, are also Muppet fans, who watched the characters they loved as children purchased outright and then poorly capitalized on it with underwhelming made-for-TV movies featuring tween idols and storylines that lacked the pop and intelligence of the property’s glory days. These mistakes by Disney don’t inspire confidence with the carry-over fans, and they shouldn’t. The closest thing we have to be reassured by is their knowledge that they want the attention of our demographic – but that could change, or cease completely, if Disney decides it we’re no longer important to its bottom line, or more-likely, that Marvel’s properties are better served by catering to a different audience instead.

Something else I worry about, on a professional level, is what this pairing will mean for Marvel’s hiring practices. Even though the type of comics I write are a far cry from what Marvel publishes, and I hope even a little more artistic than their typical super-hero-centric books, there’s a part of me that hoped to work in mainstreams comics. Sentimentally, I grew up reading them, so I have an attachment, and pragmatically, I have trouble believing that unless I become hugely successful, that I’d be able to make a full-time job of comic writing without taking on more monthly, work-for-hire gigs in the industry.

Warner’s ownership of DC always made it seem a little impenetrable, and cold. There never seemed to be a lot of “new blood” writers or artists coming into DC comics, and rarely was new talent ever making their name there. Marvel seemed somehow more attainable – it wasn’t a cog in a corporate machine, it was the machine, and that machine churned out comic books. If you applied to Marvel, your contract said so – while your DC job was found a Warner Brother’s hiring board. Even Marvel’s public submission policy, largely a joke and discontinued this year, made the company feel like an actually comic book safe house. Now, it’s a part of Disney, and it takes the same status of DC. Just one more asset, one more office in a worldwide business. Add to this Disney’s pretty common practice and hiring people in the family – creative persons Disney trained in a particular field and my dream of one day writing Spider-Man or X-Men seems somehow farther away.

Now there is one other complicated concern I have about the Disney/Marvel deal, but as this post has already gone long, and as a little bit of comic book history will be needed to explain it, I think I’ll separate it and put it up as its own entry in a couple of days. I don’t want to bog this post down, especially since it’s seemed to develop its own central theme.

Said theme being, I think, this: That while Marvel Comics is indeed a business, and while its library of stories and thousands of characters are most definitely assets, Marvel is more than just licensing and merchandise – there is a very real base, built around those stories, and intensely followed because of those characters. A strong, opinionated, and in many cases intelligent fan base has grown around Marvel. The fear of losing that in any capacity coupled with the possibility of seeing it change in a way that alters it spirit is going to cause some outrage, no matter how many great possibilities arise from the situation. I think, perhaps, the best way to understand is to look again at why Disney bought Marvel – for that 18 to 35 year old, male demographic; a demographic Disney has always self-admittedly been weak in. And now, the conglomerate who’s failed to give those fans what they want is running the company that always has.

2 comments :: Marvel Team-Up: Disney Pt. 1

  1. You've done a good job explaining why people are upset about this while remaining logical and collected, so I commend you for that.

    I personally don't feel like I know enough about Disney, comics, or business to analyze this properly, and I kinda feel like it's the same with most people whether they realize it or not. So from that end, I put myself very much in the "wait and see" camp. And I think that's the hardest part for people, the waiting. I think it would be easier if Disney just came out and said "We're going to make Spidey more kid friendly, kill the Hulk, and Wolverine is now a stay at home dad." At least then everybody would have something solid to rage about (which lets face it, us nerds like to do) but instead we just have to wait, in some cases many years (after movie deals have expired) to see what the future of these properties will be. And I think it's justifiable to not be happy about that.

    But I also get what you're saying about your sense of betrayal being immediate; I understand where you're coming from there.

    One thing I think for sure is that Disney will be the scapegoat from here on out whenever something bad comes from Marvel, whether Disney meddled in it or not. I mean the popular consensus is that "Spider-man 3" and "X-men Origins: Wolverine" weren't all that great, right? So Marvel can screw things up without Dinsey's help, but rather just whatever studio they've farmed a property out to (or their own studio, and by themselves in the comics too, I'm sure.) but any of those mistakes now will be blamed on Disney. I'm not saying Disney doesn't deserve to be brought down a few pegs now and again, but it should be for their own mistakes.

    The only thing you mentioned that really scares me was actually in your list of positives. If Pixar makes a Marvel movie I would be deeply hurt. Pixar does original stories that they believe in fully, and they have a great list of specifications that an idea has to meet before they make a film. The most noteworthy being that a bad story cannot be saved by any amount of impressive visuals, celebrity voices, etc. To me Marvel handles their movies like "we'll, what franchise haven't we made a film about yet?" which I mean can be good after they decide "hey, lets make an Iron Man movie," and then they put creative, competent people in charge who do a good job, but a Pixar-Marvel movie would just be taking too much away from what makes Pixar great and unique. I think that's where I would finally feel like I needed to put the gloves on and enter the nerd rage side of this whole deal. I really don't think it will happen though, because part of the deal for Disney buying Pixar was that Pixar's head honcho took over all aspects of Disney's animation, hence why they've gone back to producing 2D animated films now. He cares about the medium enough to not want that part of it to die out.

    But again, I don't know anything about business really. Though sometimes it seems like the people running these companies don't either.

    The funniest thing I've read about this acquisition so far was an article saying that Disney should have just bought the 30 or so interesting Marvel characters instead of all 5,000. That would have been a better deal.

  2. All the news I've read has said the Pixar and the Marvel people have already met, and that there was a lot of excitement coming out of that meeting. Can't tell you anything else, but rumors say both sides want to work together. I listed it as a problem only because because most fans are looking at it that way, and when Marvel has their shit together [Iron Man] and when Pixar has their shit together [everything but Cars], the end result is usually cool. Its only naturally people will want to see them get together, but I'm with you in believing it's not necessarily a match made in heaven.

    As for the scapegoats, right now Marvel fans tend to prefer blaming editorial -- CB Cebulski, Joe Quesada, the higher-ups in the company. I think if they're kept around [all sources indicate they will be for the time being], they'll probably continue to shoulder some blame, as we're used to them, and when they screw up its usually in pretty obvious ways. That said, if it's a problem that particularly reeks of Disney [which is... I don't know. Something ridiculous like the Jonas Brothers joining the X-Men], then I think that blame might shift.

    In the long term, you're absolutely right though. After these guys [eventually] are shown the door, Disney will probably become the shoulders on which to rest all of Marvel's ills. It might even happen sooner, if a "yeah, we hate what these guys did, but we hate what you're doing more [even though we don't know who's doing it]" kind of thing comes into play.