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Ages of Heroes, Eras of Men: Thinking about the Marvel/Disney Union

The four billion dollar acquisition of Marvel Entertainment Group by Disney naturally has me thinking about comics in a new light. I can see a Marvel Team-Up with Steamboat Willie and Spider-Man looming in my future....not. Seriously, for academics and comic fans alike, there is something to be said about the mighty merger of brands. Disney got a lot out of this deal. If you have kids, sign your house over to Disney now, soon they will have your little boy just like they have your little girl (cue evil villain laugh:)

That may be extreme, but the merger of corporate culture will be key to the success of this deal and that will create unique opportunities for both companies. I doubt many people remember Disney's decision to license characters for the Playstation 2 game Kingdom Hearts. Produced by Square Enix, the creator of the Final Fantasy franchise, the game was a crazy blend of Final Fantasy game play and Disney characters and worlds. The result was surprisingly playable. This is one, but probably not best example of what could come from a Disney-Marvel merger. We don't know what we will get, indeed the chairman of Disney was clear that Disney did not intend to "interfere" with Marvel's business. Let's hope not. After years of failure, Marvel has finally done a great job marketing it products. With the announcement of the new Spider-Woman motion comic for sale on I-Tunes, a slate of iconic character movies building toward a Avenger film, and solid monthly sales Marvel has everything it needs to be successful. Despite this (or perhaps because of it), Marvel recognizes it has a problem. The direct sale comic market (the comic shop) is frozen. This explains at some level the push for graphic novels for every monthly (for resale in bookstores like Borders) and the push to get comics on the new media platforms like video games and cellphones.

Indeed, Marvel's upside in this deal has everything to do with Disney's global marketing muscle. Combining Marvel's 5,000+ character library with Disney product channels can only make money. It will also mean that Marvel character will have greater media exposure. With Ages of Heroes, Eras of Men sitting on another book acquisition editor's desk, this works for me:) With that in mind, I asked the contributors to sound off on the Mighty Marvel-Disney team-up:

Lance Eaton, author of, "Superman’s True Enemy: Injustice and Oppression in the Late 1930’s"examines the audience of comic book readers in the late 1930s and considers the question of who made up the majority of Superman fans when he first appeared on the scene and what can we deduce from this demographic make-up offer this observation:

To some degree, I think it's a non-event. Or rather, it's not something
that I foresee effecting the comic industry or Marvel Comics mainstream
continuity all that much. Disney is interested in the money potential; so
fears of a Disneyized Wolverine or Punisher are highly unlike events (Maybe
visited in the "What If" series at best).

But what will be most striking is how Disney's power might propel product
awareness of Marvel characters. If DC Comics blesses Six Flags, I bet
within 5 years, we'll see X-Men, Avengers and the like as regulars at Disney
World/Land etc. Disney's overall marketing and introduction of characters
into (albeit children) mainstream could easily be applied with the Disney
magnitude and might. Think about characters like Pocahontas and Mulan.
There were nobody kids knew in the 1980s but now, they're part of the Disney
princess line-up that many kids know.

When the dust settles, I think it will be much like DC Comics as a property
of TimeWarner. A useful line of licensing for TimeWarner but still an
entity that enjoys some sense of autonomy

Next up, Joe Sommers author of, “From ‘Excelsior!’ to Emocore and Back: On the Cyclical Evolution of Marvel’s Flagship Comics from Dime-Store Fantasies to Multi-Billion Dollar Motion Pictures,” explore the tension between Marvel's fan and the depiction of Marvel characters in film offer this insight:

Mostly a move of convenience for Marvel: it puts them on par, now, with DCs arrangement with Warner Bros. (Even though their revitalization of their franchises has been, thus far, more cohesive and successful n the grand vision.)

Ultimately, this puts Marvel in the excellent position of being able to utilize the Disney marketing arm to really offset costs while, like Pixar, not having their overall vision messed with. Per the conference, call: Disney will not be messing with any of the existing licensing... so the next Spider-Man trilogy will go off at Paramount, and all plans for existing franchises will stay the same. The interesting news is that Disney, eventually, will want to control pretty much the bulk of the 5000+ character stable. (So, Universal's use or the Marvel Universe at their parks may be limited or shorter than expected.)

But, the day to day biz in the comic, the movies, games, toys etc. SHOULD be business as usual... Pixar is the real analogue here. Disney loves that partnership, and I foresee them working Marvel Studios remarkably seriously after the Sony, Paramount etc movie deals expire. But, they're not gonna mess with what already works! Quesada will still likely remain EIC, and his vision, for better or worse, will hold!

But... for all of us watching the 3D revolution unfold, we could see alot of the new Avenger tentpole pics being released in Disney's 3D tech. Likewise, with the new funding, we could see a lot of those off discussed characters finding their way into the theaters! Kinda exciting. Of course, I'll be particularly interested to see if there is fanboy backlash. I'd certainly hope not as this should just all equal incredibly solid movies. (I can really see Branaugh's Thor benefiting from a bit of Disney gravitas!) It SHOULD cement the studio and even fast track more TV projects like the Spec Spider-Man and thd new Iron Man on some of Disney's sub-channels!

The Marvel Revolution just got mouse housed! I just hope they don't take Cap's wings and replace them with Mickey's ears :)

One of the editors, Thomas C. Donaldson, who contribution to the Ages of Heroes, Eras of Men, "Ineffectual Girl Among the Legions of Superheroes: The Marginalization and Domestication of Female Superheroes, 1955-1970” examines gender in Silver age comics offers this insight:

I do not foresee radical changes for Marvel in the near future. Disent has a reputation for "wholesome family values uber alles" but that does not neceassilly jibe with corporate realities. Disney owns ABC (Wife Swap, Grey's Anatomy, Desperate Housewives); Miramax (producers of many edgy/indy films, including Tarantino's Kill Bill films) and Dimension Films (producer of a whole host of churn-'em-out, beaten-to-death formula, B-movie fare). Marvel will simply be another piece of the media pie in this regard.

In the long term, I think Disney will hold on to Marvel's catalog of characters from now to the end of time. Disney will exploit any proven piece of intellectual property as much as possible. Marvel characters will become regular fare at Disneyland/world, meaning Universal's park will either lose its licence at some point, or Disney will take it over. Marvel's brand identity might erode in a manner similar to that of Hanna-Barbera's. I am confident that Marvel's days of drifting from parent company to parent company that have marked its past corporate history will be over.

Next, John Donovan author of “Clobberin' Commies During the Cold War: Superheroes and Nationalism,” offers this cautionary observation for Disney fans:

It should be interesting. Some readers may be wary of the Disneyification of Marvel, but maybe they should be more concerned about Marvel's influence on Disney. I can see it now:

Dark Mickey
Goofy goes Psycho
Donald Duck and his Quacking Commandos
The Little Mermaid's Revenge
Beast vs. Beast: The Smackdown
The Disney Divas with Minnie Mouse and Daisy Duck
Obama vs. the Disney Zombies

As Stan Lee would say: 'Nuff Said


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