August 31, 2009

Disney Buys Marvel: What The–?!

Category: Off-Topic — By @ 10:54 am

Marvel What The--?! #3 (1988)So, the Internet is abuzz with Disney’s purchase of Marvel Comics.

There seems to be a lot of freaking out along the lines of “OMG Disney will turn Marvel into kid stuff!” There’s also a lot of people having fun with mash-ups, as seen on #disneymarvel.

A little perspective, though:

Conglomerate

DC Comics has been owned by Warner Bros. (or rather its parent company, currently Time Warner) since the 1970s. From what I’ve heard, DC is more limited by merchandising at this point than by its corporate parent. Don’t change Superman into someone you can’t put on a kids’ beach towel.

Admittedly, Warner Bros. is less of a top-down hierarchy. When describing the fight to find Babylon 5 a new home when PTEN collapsed, JMS described Warner Bros. as “a series of competing and structurally independent fiefdoms.” (WB wouldn’t take Babylon 5 because it was a PTEN show.

Of course, this brings to mind images of Bugs Bunny-as-Superman vs. Mickey Mouse-as-Wolverine. Say, didn’t Duck Dodgers actually get a Green Lantern ring in one comic?

Disney isn’t just Disney. It’s also ESPN, ABC, Miramax, and Touchstone. It’s not just Mickey Mouse and Hannah Montana, it’s also Kill Bill, No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood. And while Disney has been known for strict corporate control, they managed not to break Pixar.

Movies

It may be that my lack of concern for Marvel’s comic books has to do with the fact that I’m not much of a Marvel reader. But I have seen a lot of their movies, and I do see a major potential pitfall there.

The big advantage Marvel has had over DC in terms of movie development is that until recently, they could shop around to different studios. So they could have X-Men in development at Fox, Spider-Man at Sony, and Hulk at Universal, while DC was stuck with Warner Bros. — a company that exudes caution in every move and seemed to want to make only one movie at a time.

Now Marvel’s tied to a single studio, just like DC, except for projects already in development like the current Spider-Man series and the X-Men spinoffs.

BOOM!

My main concern on reading the news was actually what might happen with BOOM! Studios’ Pixar and Muppet comics. Why would Disney want to keep hiring out to a third party when they own a comics company? BOOM! made a big splash last year with their Jim Henson and Disney deals, particularly Farscape, The Muppet Show and The Incredibles…and then Henson took the rest of their properties to Archaia, and now Disney’s buying Marvel.

The short term answer, according to this list at CBR, is that “Existing licensing and distribution deals should remain where they are.” So BOOM! gets to keep producing The Incredibles, Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, and so forth. When that contract is up, who knows? Maybe it’ll come down to whether Disney likes what they’ve been doing. Or maybe it’ll come down to whether someone in management wants to save a few bucks by staying inside the company.

Presumably the same would be true of the characters at Universal Studios theme parks: they’d stay in place until the contract runs out.

Update: Further analysis and discussion at Comics Worth Reading, The Beat, Robot 6, Comics Should Be Good, and The Weekly Crisis. And it looks like Bleeding Cool is melting down (bleeding out?) under the strain of the discussion.

15 responses to “Disney Buys Marvel: What The–?!”

  1. Who’s at Universal? Marvel characters I assume. Six Flags has Looney Tunes and DC characters.

    I not worried, but I am interested to see what will happen.

  2. ElfGrove says:

    Honestly, I had a complete lack of concern about this. I only look forward to the amusement of (at least fanart) crossover humor.
    .-= ElfGrove’s latest blog post: AX & Features =-.

  3. Katie says:

    Nononono, GOOFY is Wolverine!

  4. Ben says:

    I didn’t know ESPN was owned by disney. My main concern is creator rights and whether creators and editors payments will go down.
    .-= Ben’s latest blog post: =-.

  5. Margaret says:

    Honestly, my first reaction was the Warner/DC thing too. I imagine the powers that be will probably let Marvel remain largely autonomous.

  6. Demas says:

    The two biggest repercussions for DC fans are:

    1. DC characters will never go into the public domain now, as Disney will lobby to keep perpetual control over Marvel characters upon which Time/WB/DC can directly rely.

    2. In Disney/Marvel’s ideal scenario their IP grows in such a way that DC’s market share is decimated. Talent ultimately goes where the money and their childhoods are, the fans follow the talent, and it all snowballs unless the WB really steps up to grow DC.

    • Ben says:

      But we haven’t seen long term effects yet, especially payment effects.

      • Demas says:

        The long term effects are right there in the press release… their goal is to grow (and from Marvel’s perspective, with a parent/less-risk than going at it alone).

        Creator rights are irrelevant in the mainstream superhero genre. Superhero comics are business, not art. The creator-owned off-shoots of the 90s begged to differ, but corporations are better at business than artists and the only artists who survived were the ones who turned into businessmen. Marvel & DC properties are larger than talent- which helps in the snowball effect, but are far from necessary to push comics which have never really been high-art… there’s always going to be hungry writers and wannabe screenplay writers who’ll do a comic cheap and well-enough (see: Johns). To that extent, creators and creativity aren’t high value commodities (heck, look at how Decimation was a mutant clearing house). Disney bought established IP & corporate structure, not so much talent.

        Disney could probably gut Marvel Comics and still profit handsomely and grow the IP with Marvel Entertainment alone (but probably won’t), since the comics are convenient paid-for advertisement for merch.

        • Ben says:

          Press Releases are just positive advertising they do not make it written in stone that it will stay the same regarding royalty payments, creator credits and so on.

    • Kelson says:

      What difference would Marvel’s properties have on Disney’s copyright extension efforts. They already wield plenty of influence and have plenty of motivation with Mickey Mouse, whose creation date is the standard by which copyright extensions are made.

      • Demas says:

        The difference is how directly applicable the precedent or statute will be and the degree of retroactivity Disney pursues. Copyrights aren’t 100% fungible. Anything one can use to distinguish them will allow you to avoid infringement piecemeal (Superman’s unique timeframe and trademark interaction, for example). Especially with something as broad as “characters”, judges are going to look for ways to narrow the definition on derivative work. On paper, the Constitutional principle is that- remember, pulp fiction- characters like Tarzan & Sherlock Holmes should go to the public domain.

        Sure, Disney had impetus to continue to extend copyright, generally- BUT whether that trend persists in Congress or in courts is another question. With Marvel on board, you can bet there will be some directly on-point lobbying and cases which Marvel may not have had the will or funding to fight on their own and are directly applicable for DC.

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