Monday, August 31, 2009

Disney buys Marvel

I considered giving this blog a somewhat clever or inventive title, but when it comes down to it, I think the news is staggering enough. Early this morning Disney bought Marvel Entertainment for about the sum of 4 Billion dollars. While major news outlets focus on the buy, and what it mean for Disney shareholders, I can't help wondering what it means for Marvel Entertainment.

It's ironic that the buy should happen at the same time Marvel is celebrating its seventieth anniversary. The characters in Marvel Comics are American Icons; perhaps not to the degree of those at DC, but its difficult to doubt the notoriety of the likes of Spider-man, or Wolverine. Disney, in fact, is only about as old as Marvel itself; their first feature film (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs) hitting theaters the same year Marvel's, then Timely, first comic hit the shelves. This is perhaps the biggest reason the news is difficult to comprehend; both companies seem equally indestructible so the notion that one old fish has swallowed another is perplexing.

This aside, I think the buy means trouble for the Marvel stable. Disney is now notorious for its franchise buy outs: The company now own the rights not only to their own properties, but also to those of the Pixar Properties, the Jim Henson properties, and now those at Marvel. Not to be a negative Nancy, but consider the entertainment presence the Jim Henson characters since the buy out in 2002. The characters, it seems to me, have been exploited for merchandising purposes but have been used for little else. I could be wrong but nothing comes to mind aside from some DVD releases, and some toys.

The major reason I'm concerned is that I believe Marvel understood the success of their properties was dependant on comic sales. While they're not the most economically successful, they're what continues to generate fans, and keeps fans enthusiastic about other media releases. Of course Marvel itself has been doing a thoroughly disgusting job exploiting its material for toys, TV shows, and movies with the intent to move beyond the comics, so perhaps a de-emphasis is inevitable. I'm concerned because Disney-- a company that booted out hand drawn animation because it wasn't selling despite it being the backbone of the company, and that it wasn't selling largely because of the poor artistic decisions being made-- has a strong fiscal focus. You may say, "Well, yeah, they're a cooperation" but what I mean is that their decisions don't seems to be effected by artistic, traditional, or social influences. I wouldn't doubt for a second that their return to 2D animation musicals has been driven by the mixed success of their own (non-Pixar) 3D movies, and the ever building nostalgia for the Disney Renaissance. I think I'm just now waiting for the news that the company that remorselessly threw out their drafting tables will be doing the same to the printing press.

The other concern-- should Disney spare the printed page-- is artistic. Disney of course makes some wonderful material, but it's hard to ignore that even the darkest of material at Disney isn't that dark. Marvel, by contrast, is a very adult in its material. Captain America shot dead, Norman Osborn's usurpation of control, and others are just some of the examples of artistic decisions that would potentially have been hampered with by Disney Execs at the top. While I'm sure control won't be hands on, there is bound to be company mandates. I expect Marvel will very quickly become the "safe" comic company. Remember Disney is a company whose darker properties include Pirates of the Caribbean. Disney won't be interested in older comic readers, but young kids who favor the television shows. The movie properties are likely to suffer this as well: More like Spider-man, less Dark Knight or Iron Man.
I'm hardly trying to "sound the alarm" here-- I'm actually fairly indifferent at present. If and when what I expect to happen does, I imagine the feelings will be different; I grew up on these comics, but the fact is in the face of Marvel's radical story choices and commercialization, I've been moving to DC naturally, anyway.

DC is in fact now more accurately comparable to Marvel. DC is of course owned by Warner Brothers who have-- astoundingly-- been fairly hands off except in the way of movie production. However, I feel Disney has too much of its own agenda and is more focused on lining up a commercially successful pendant for boys to their Princess line for girls. The biggest threat to the Marvel Universe is no longer Dr. Doom; it's Mickey Mouse.

What do you think the acquisition means? Is this what Marvel meant what they told us to accept change? Are the Disney executives, in fact, skrulls?


Kiriska said...

I'm largely indifferent to this, mostly because I don't read many Marvel comics to begin with. Of course Disney is going to market and merchandise the hell out of Marvel's properties (this Times article mentions a few immediate options), but I don't really see that hurting Marvel's integrity as long as the comics remain as they are. And like Pixar, I don't really see Disney having too direct a hand in Marvel's artistic aspirations.

The flurry of tweets on Twitter this morning by Marvel editors has been mostly positive anyway.

Joe said...

LOL-- Of course the tweets from Marvel Editors are going to be positive. They have to be.

I'm not particularly bothered by it at all, I simply don't think it'll be good for Marvel in the long run. I only read two Marvel titles and I wouldn't be terribly upset if I ended up having to drop them.

CC44 said...

I'd be curious to know what the writers think about it. Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Millar are known for their incredibly frank discourse, and I think they would be able to give us a more accurate idea than the Marvel Editors.

Having said that, I don't expect Disney to do much more than increase the marketing budget of Marvel. Disney as a company are focused on the bottom line, of course, but they aren't stupid; They purchased a comic book company that is known and loved for its comic books. I don't expect them to start messing with the Marvel comics line any more than I'd expect Disney to force Pixar to include Mouse ears in every one of their films. We'll see, of course, but Disney are smarter, most of the time, than most.