Disney buys Marvel: A geek’s take
So the big news this week is that Disney is buying Marvel for $4 billion (I’m still sort of wrapping my head around it), and considering the one medium I love more than film is comics, I feel almost duty-bound to comment on the deal. When I read comics growing up, I always preferred Marvel to rival DC (which isn’t to say I didn’t read plenty of DC books as well, but Marvel has most of the characters that helped get me through adolescence, like Spider-Man, the X-Men and the Avengers), so I have more interest than a lot of moviegoers in the future of Marvel’s cinematic universe. One of the things that was so exciting about the bulk of Marvel’s upcoming movies was that Marvel was producing them essentially as a big indie, with major Hollywood studios (like Universal for The Incredible Hulk and Paramount for Iron Man and several other upcoming projects like Thor, Captain America and The Avengers) essentially acting as the distributors. That meant no studio suits who don’t understand the comics or characters mucking with things, so my first instinct when I read that Disney, the studio that’s quite literally synonymous with “kiddie entertainment,” was buying Marvel, my heart sank a little bit. Would this mean Wolverine would stop gutting people with his claws, or the Punisher would start dealing with criminals with stern lectures instead of hollowpoint ammunition?
But after doing some reading (and thinking, always with the thinking) it seems pretty clear that Disney was primarily looking to gain a foothold in the lucrative young-male demographic that’s eluded them for so long. It doesn’t appear likely that Disney folks will actually involve themselves too heavily in Marvel’s business (though that’s what everyone always says when deals like this go down; we won’t really know for sure for months or even years after the deal is done how the companies are fitting together); I read a recap of the conference call that took place shortly after Monday’s announcement, and one Disney exec basically said the folks at Marvel seem to know what they’re doing with these movies.
And make no mistake, this deal was about movies and other related media and merchandise, and had didn’t have much (if anything) to do with what was once Marvel’s core business: comics. To say the modern North American comics industry is a speck compared to the movie business is a laughable understatement, so I’d be pretty astounded to find out Disney ownership gives that part of Marvel more than a cursory glance. Time Warner is the parent company of DC Comics, and Warner almost never concerns itself with what DC is doing in terms of comics publishing (though one time a few years back Warner brass apparently got all worked up when they learned that DC was publishing a comic featuring Superman and Batman analogues who were gay lovers), and I assume Disney will take a similar approach to Marvel’s publishing line. It’s about the movies, and about having characters like Spider-Man, Iron Man and the Hulk in the same stable as Mickey Mouse, Goofy and WALL-E.
Which brings up another strange part of the Marvel movie landscape: the fact that some of Marvel’s best-known characters aren’t even owned by Marvel in the medium of film. Many years before the comic book movie bonanza, Marvel sold the film rights to several of its biggest characters in deals it would never agree to now, and as a result, 20th Century Fox technically owns anything to do with the X-Men (and all related characters, which easily number in the hundreds and include many of Marvel’s most popular characters, including Wolverine), the Fantastic Four (the book that quite literally launched Marvel as we know it in 1963) and Daredevil, and Sony owns the film rights to Marvel’s unofficial mascot, Spider-Man. I’m sure not a day goes by that someone at the Marvel Films offices doesn’t wish they had a time machine to undo those deals – Fox owns those characters in perpetuity as long as they continue to produce films based on them, which is why Fox has been making noise about rebooting its aggressively mediocre Fantastic Four franchise lately, and plans to crank out lackluster X-Men-related movies for the foreseeable future – so as much as my nerd-heart fills with joy when I think about, say, a Pixar-crafted Fantastic Four movie (I just bit the inside of my mouth I got so excited for a second there), it’s probably not going to happen.
The other thing that bears mentioning is that the Disney deal has no impact on existing agreements between Marvel and other studios, so Iron Man 2 will still come from Paramount, as will the little Avengers universe they’re establishing; the upcoming Thor and Captain America movies will apparently all tie into an Avengers movie in which those characters will all have to team up to fight off a massive threat (smart money on the Internet seems to be either a rampaging Hulk or an alien invasion…either one, if done right, could be amazing). All this really means is that after those movies (and possibly a comedic take on Ant Man, which has been talked about for a few years as a project for Shaun of the Dead director Edgar Wright), Disney will be the home for the bulk of Marvel’s movies. Which, if nothing else, will probably mean the movies will have a bit more big-studio cash behind them. In the mean time, there’s a wealth of lesser-known Marvel characters that would make for some cool movies (and TV shows and cartoons), and I’m looking forward to finding out more about Disney’s plans for the House of Ideas.
Labels: comics, Movie news, superheroes