Monday, August 31, 2009

The House of Mouse Acquires the House of Ideas: But What Does It Mean?

Geeks across the globe collectively gasped on the morning of August 31 when it was announced that Disney would be acquiring Marvel Entertainment—and its 5,000 characters—for approximately $4 billion. The Twitterverse and the blogosphere were soon set ablaze with speculation that with Marvel now under the Disney corporate umbrella, fan-favorite characters and comic book titles would be watered down in keeping with Disney’s kid-friendly image. Some fans even began worrying that the acquisition may result in outlandish character crossovers. Can we expect Deadpool/Mickey: Merc with a Mouse or Hannah Montana: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. to be hitting comic book stands or movie theaters in the near future?

While the news is a shock, I don’t think there’s any reason for Marvel fans to worry. At least not yet, anyway. After all, it’s not like corporate ownership of comic book publishers is anything new. DC Comics has been a subsidiary of Warner Bros. Entertainment since 1969.

“This transaction combines Marvel’s strong global brand and world-renowned library of characters including Iron Man, Spider-Man, X-Men, Captain America, Fantastic Four and Thor with Disney’s creative skills, unparalleled global portfolio of entertainment properties and a business structure that maximizes the value of creative properties across multiple platforms and territories," Robert A. Iger, president and CEO of The Walt Disney Company, said in a statement. “[Marvel CEO] Ike Perlmutter and his team have done an impressive job of nurturing these properties and have created significant value. We are pleased to bring this talent and these great assets to Disney.”

On the surface, it doesn’t seem as though Disney has any intention of interfering in Marvel’s creative operations . On his Twitter page, Marvel editor-in-chief Joe Quesada assured fans that their “favorite comics remain unchanged.” He added in a later post, “If you're familiar with the Disney/Pixar relationship, then you'll understand why this is a new dawn for Marvel and the comics industry.”

He refers to Disney’s 2006 acquisition of Pixar Animation Studios. Under that deal, Pixar—the studio behind WALL-E, The Incredibles and the Toy Story films—remains a separate creative entity. It does, however, benefit from Disney’s marketing strength. Under the Disney/Marvel agreement, both parties could benefit in a similar way. Marvel will have the resources to cross-promote its characters through multiple channels—including Disney theme parks, retail outlets, films and television programs—while Disney will finally have a brand it can market to male teens and young adults.

As long as Disney maintains a hands-off approach to how Marvel comic books and films are made, this could be a long and fruitful relationship. If Disney tries to pacify the Punisher, declaw Wolverine or tell the Hulk to calm down, then fans have every right to get angry. And Disney, you wouldn’t like us when we’re angry.

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