Romancing the Geeks: Disney Buys Marvel, Warner Brothers Validates DC
Posted September 10, 2009on:
The comics industry clearly wants to give me a heart attack. First, Mickey buys Marvel and the fanboys freak. Last Monday when the news broke, one of my buddies panicked and said:
“With Disney calling the shots, I can see Marvel becoming a lot more watered-down. Well, I guess that takes care of [Marvel] being too ‘moody’, huh?”
Simmer down, boys. Marvel Publishing makes up, what? 17% of Marvel’s total revenue? Disney didn’t buy Marvel because y’all like Punisher MAX, ok? The Mouse bought Marvel because after 2008’s Iron Man, everyone and their mother wants to either do Robert Downey Jr or be Robert Downey Jr. (Or in the case of High Five! Rob, both. ) Disney bought Marvel because they’ve already cornered the market on squealing pre-teen girls, so now they’re going after the 12+ boys, a market that’s eluded them for some years now. Disney bought Marvel because most dudes between the ages of 12 and 24 couldn’t care less about anything the Mouse does anymore; but let’s face it – the vast majority of that market is buying movie tickets, not funny books.
Disney’s CEO, Bob Iger, has insisted more than once over the course of the past week or so that Disney has no intention of meddling in the business of Marvel Publishing. Iger, by the way, is the great-nephew of Jerry Iger, who at one point owned a comic studio with Will Eisner (no relation to former Disney CEO Micheal Eisner, if you’re wondering.) More than one media outlet has pointed out that because Iger has comics “in his blood,” the man knows better than to mess with the creative & editorial teams at Marvel Publishing. Since 2005, Disney has become considerably less evil under Iger’s leadership when it comes to controlling their acquisitions (and existing properties) compared to the Eisner years, which saw every beloved Disney classic ever bent over and screwed without lube in sequel form.
The shoddy Toy Story 3 was reportedly scrapped after the folks at Disney-owned Pixar took two glances at it and decided the story didn’t really need to be told again, unless the plot was out-fucking-standing. Which it wasn’t. Disney’s control of Marvel is likely to look something like the Disney-Pixar relationship; Pixar is basically autonomous. Of course, Disney already held the rights to distribution and marketing of Pixar characters, so the transition was less clunky than others have been and are likely to be. The Muppets, acquired by Disney in 2004, are another widely recognized property; but because the Henson Company had already sold distribution & merchandising licenses to several different outlets prior to the acquisition, only recently has Disney truly begun to bring the Muppets in-house. Disney is in a similar situation with Marvel now.
Marvel has movie distribution licenses with Sony, Fox, and a few other studios. Disney’s Pixar and Muppet comic books are currently housed at BOOM! Studios, which holds that license. Universal holds the rights to walkaround Marvel characters in theme parks east of the Mississippi River. Then there are the t-shirts and the beach towels and the toys and the toothbrushes and so on. It’s going to be a good long time before Marvel & Disney fully consummate this relationship.
But the deal is a sweet one for both companies. Disney gets control of 5000 some-odd characters which will give them a chance to stake out some territory in the young dudes demographic; Marvel gets the financial backing and distribution power of Disney. Which brings us to this week’s DC bombshell.
With fans and the industry still reeling from the Marvel/Disney announcement, Warner Brothers pops up a week later to tell us that they’re restructuring the DC Comics arm of the business. DC Comics will now fall under the umbrella of “DC Entertainment,” which will include in-house film development in the vein of Marvel Studios. In the past, movies from the DCU have been produced and distributed through Warner Brothers, which has owned DC for decades. Marvel of course, formed Marvel Studios a few years back, after watching some of their properties *cough*hack*angleehulk*cough* completely mistreated by outside production companies.
Bob Wayne (VP of Sales and an old hat at DC) has said that when Tim Burton’s Batman was released in 1989, no one thought it would be a hit. Obviously, it was. But DC Comics and the silver screen have had a rocky relationship over the years. DC characters were inspiring big-money blockbusters long before Marvel properties were. Marvel’s first major financial success with a movie was the first X-Men movie in the late nineties, a good 20 years after the first Superman movie in 1978. But DC’s earlier superhero franchise successes devolved into Superman IV (bam!) and Batman & Robin (pow!) – you get the feeling that Warner Brothers just gave the fuck up.
Many have incorrectly assumed that the DC/Warner restructure came about in reaction to the Disney/Marvel merger. Not really. Warner may have pushed the announcement up, but corporate shakeups like this aren’t conjured in a week. In fact, the plans have been in motion for a while according to writer Warren Ellis. The restructuring (as well as the reboots of both the Superman & Batman movie franchises) was a reaction to Marvel’s box office success; which is what made Marvel worth $4 billion to the House of Mouse in the first place.
But Marvel’s success at the box office has hinged greatly upon the relate-abilty of their characters, which brings us back to one of the oldest Marvel vs. DC talking points. Audiences identify with Marvel’s “moody” everyman heroes in a way they never quite can with DC’s pantheon of legendary, iconic archetypes; Batman being the notable exception. DC Entertainment’s biggest challenge will be making their cosmically powered heroes accessible and interesting to wider audiences. Hopefully bringing the movie production & comic publishing aspects closer together will help DC achieve that.
Either way, I don’t think either of these announcements will change much of anything for hardcore comic book fans. The Marvel buyout and the DC restructure are largely meant to handle movie production, distribution, and merchandising; so it’s unlikely we’ll see any big shakeups at the comic shop on Wednesday. With Disney’s financial backing, Marvel Publishing may be able to take a few risks they couldn’t before; such as offering more non-serialized straight-to-graphic novel books, but Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada has been a vocal opponent of such releases in the past. Maybe we’ll see an uptick in comic book sales, and perhaps wider acceptance of fanactical comic lovers, but by and large the publishing side of the business will be unaffected content-wise. For those worried about the fate of Marvel’s adult-oriented MAX imprint, keep in mind that Disney also owns Miramax, home of the Kevin Smith & Quentin Tarantino flicks.
The only thing left to ask is this: Should we start a betting pool on how long FOX will take to make Image Comics an offer they can’t refuse?