Tales of Folly (August 31, 2009)

In an otherwise slow news morning, many woke up to the big news of Disney's purchase of Marvel Entertainment, the home of such superheroes as Spider-Man, the Hulk, Captain America and the X-Men. The exact details of the purchase have not yet been released but the sale has been reported at $4 billion. Given Marvel Studios' recent fortunes with the popularity of Iron Man and the announcement of similar approaches to their stable of Avengers such as Thor and Captain America to come in the next few years, the purchase would appear to be largely influenced by the cinematic success of Marvel's character, not their print origins.

Still, most of Marvel's iconic characters were licensed to other film studios in deals made prior to the purchase. Spider-Man resides at Sony, where two sequels are reportedly being developed. The X-Men and Fantastic Four (as well as associated characters such as Wolverine, Deadpool, and the Silver Surfer) are under contract with 20th Century Fox. Marvel Studios self-produced Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk but did so through distribution deals with Paramount and Universal Studios, respectively. It's not likely that these studios would look to be bought out of their deals given the fiscal reward awaiting them in sequels. That could mean that Disney would have to wait until those deals run their course before the characters return to Walt Disney Pictures. (Though at that point, they would run the risk of superhero burnout.)

That being said, Marvel's characters still have an appeal in all aspects of licensing, including toys, video games, cartoons and various merchandising. (And theoretically they would still have a part of the profit from the movies made in those aforementioned deals.) But what of where it all started, the comic books?

The comic book community is responding with requisite worry and concern, mostly based on stereotypical response to Disney's oft-referenced values. Many fans seem to think that Disney is suddenly going to force its values into Marvel's fictional world, rendering a lot of the grit and edge moot. Many seem to forget that Disney has owned Miramax Pictures, home to Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill, among other R-rated fare. Still, the comic book industry has always fought a certain image problem as many still see it as a child's medium when in reality it is dominated by a fervent, adult fanbase. Would Disney risk alienating that core fanbase? Nobody really knows.

Like the aforementioned film deals, there is some buzz about what this means for Universal Studio's Islands of Adventure, where Marvel Super Hero Island has been wowing guests for years. There hasn't been any confirmation about how this will affect that deal, though I would imagine its most likely that the characters would stay there until the deal runs out. It may hurt Universal to essentially promote characters that are now owned by their rival theme park, but they would run the risk of losing some of their most popular attractions. Not to mention, Universal Studios has been home to franchises produced by rival film studios (most notably, Terminator and Harry Potter).

It can be anywhere from fun to frustrating to theorize what this means but it may be tough for anyone to really grasp the answer to that, even as noted Disney and Marvel executives start releasing statements and details.

As a fan of both companies, I do have some concern about too much corporate synergy. It worked for Pixar's characters because they were always created with Disney influence. However, I don't know that I'd want to see Spider-Man marching down Main Street, U.S.A. in a parade. And while my beliefs are this won't happen, I would have a lot of concern if Disney stuck their noses into Marvel Studios' business, especially given how hard Marvel has strived to free themselves from the type of studio interference that has undermined the quality of their franchises at other studios. (Marvel is trying to create a synergistic film world that mirrors the comic books allowing characters to intercross films.) I guess if nothing else it will be interesting to keep an eye on this new relationship.