Walt Disney, long the undisputed champions of creating characters that appeal to young girls, is diving into the world of boys’ entertainment by purchasing Marvel Comics, which includes comic book icons Spider-Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man and The X-Men, among others, for $4 billion.
What Disney plans to do with the franchises hasn’t been revealed, but as Marvel already has numerous licensing arrangements in place, it will be some time before many of the popular Marvel characters are being promoted strictly in the Disney house. The movie rights in particular are held by various studios on most of Marvel’s main properties for many years to come. On the heels of the announcement, Sony Pictures announced plans to reboot the “Fantastic Four” franchise, which they hold the rights to in perpetuity. A fourth “Spider-Man” movie is already in development as well. Marvel is also the cornerstone of Universal’s “Islands of Adventure” theme parks, which operate in direct competition to Disney’s theme parks. It hasn’t been announced what plans are for the parks, other than that Disney has said they will honor licensing agreements that are in place.
Disney does not currently create any comic books in house, only licensing out titles such as “The Incredibles,” “Cars” and “The Muppets” to California-based Boom! Studios and licensing the traditional Disney characters to publishers in Europe. It is not known whether Disney plans to have Marvel produce comics featuring Disney characters, nor is it known how the sale will affect the agreement between Disney and Boom. There’s also been nothing said about whether Marvel Comics collections will begin appearing in Disney stores or whether Marvel characters will be part of the marketing strategies normally used on Disney properties like Hannah Montana and the Disney princesses.
Comparisons to the relationship between competitor Time Warner and DC Comics already are being drawn. Time Warner owns DC Comics, but allows the comic book publisher pretty much free reign to create new titles, as well as work on both mature reader titles and young reader titles, under the assumption that one of the goals is to create properties that can one day be exploited in other media. The actual comics division is seen in many ways as a loss leader for the eventual merchandising and movie tie-ins that a popular comic book franchise can generate. There’s been no word at all how Disney wants to handle the day-to-day operations of Marvel Comics. Marvel Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada was very positive about the announcement on Twitter saying it felt like “Christmas morning.” People have also compared the acquisition to Disney’s owning of Pixar Studios, which operates pretty much autonomously while under the Disney banner.
Some are questioning whether Disney will have an interest in creating mature reader comics or if they’ll want family-friendly comics more in line with the traditional Disney brand. While Disney has long been owned movie companies that produce a wide range and rating of material, none of that is produced under the Disney name and it isn’t known if they view the Marvel characters as strictly something to be marketed toward children. In general, Marvel for the past 10 years or so has presented the characters in more of a PG-13 light, focusing on slightly more adult and gritty storylines which are not necessarily appropriate or intended for younger readers.
At this point, there are only questions and very few answers. One thing’s for sure, Marvel hasn’t produced a cliffhanger like this one in their comics for quite some time.
This story was written by guest author John Popa.