So, if you were online at all yesterday, you most likely already know that the Walt Disney Company acquired Marvel Entertainment for $4 billion, to the almost universal horror of the geek world. Our inner cynics kicked in pretty much immediately, and the reaction ranged from sardonic to out and out vitriolic.
Now – we here at GeekDad pretty much live for the occasions where our geeky tendencies and obsessions collide cross over into family-friendly territory. This one, though – we’re having a hard time not being skeptical. I mean, is this the evil empire sweeping up our values? If we embrace this, are we still, as Stan Lee called us, true believers?
I’ve been thinking about this, and well – I’m an optimist. Please bear in mind I’m not speaking for all the GeekDads here (in fact some of them may be horrified by what I’m about to say), but I have found a few reasons why this may not be as bad as we’re all thinking.
Miramax Films, Disney’s “independent” and arthouse film wing is not without its faults – accusations of savage recuts and buying properties and then not doing anything with them have always been rife, even in the relatively fast and loose Weinstein years. But if you look at the films released under the Miramax marquee since being taken over by Disney in 1993 – the first five years of that deal alone represent a phenomenal contribution to cinema. There’s absolutely no reason why there couldn’t be a similar relationship with Marvel.
Okay, if you want to be a cynic, you can say that Pixar has done little more than “film about a talking noun who finds his noun.” But I have two things to say to that. 1) – to heck with you, I loved ‘The Incredibles’ and I’m excited for ‘Toy Story 3′ and 2), there’s a buttload of technology and the expertise to tell stories with that technology that now has the Marvel Universe to draw on. Okay, lets remember that we’re still talking Disney. We’re not going to get a faithful rendering of the ‘Weapon X’ mythology from the folks who brought us Woody and Buzz – I don’t think they’re going to get that dark. But couldn’t we get a decent ‘World War Hulk’ direct-to-DVD out of this?
Fast Track Movies and TV
How many times did we hear about ‘Spider Man’ before we finally got a movie? How about ‘Iron Man’? Or ‘Hulk’, or even settled for bootlegs of that godawful Italian-made ‘Fantastic Four’ movie? The movie business is complicated. There are deals after deals that can be done and undone from the time someone says “I want to make a movie based on…” to you trying to decide between popcorn or a Ben & Jerry’s. Disney still sticks remarkably close to the ‘old’ studio system, for better or worse controlling the acquisition, development, production, release and distribution of their movies and TV shows. Now that Marvel comes under the Disney umbrella, the path to getting a comic character on screen just became a lot shorter and a lot less bumpy. Okay, this does lend itself to the possibility that Joe Jonas will now be Captain America, but if that doesn’t work, there are always…
Reboots and Revisions
Disney has never seemed all that concerned about canon. Oh, sure – a self-referential hint at their long and eminent past here and there (the first example that springs to mind is the occasional appearance of Mortimer Mouse as an elderly Mickey in ‘Mickey Mouse Clubhouse’) shows that they’re not completely oblivious to their history outside the boardroom. But for the most part, if something isn’t working they’re not afraid to rip it up and start again. Imagine if the bad taste of that first ‘Hulk’ movie hadn’t had to linger for so long. Imagine if you didn’t have to argue if a ‘Spider Man’ series should be ‘Amazing…’ or ‘Ultimate…’ or any of the dozens of other incarnations, because they’ve all been done somewhere on the Disney network. It’s unlikely, I’ll give you that – but under Disney it’s at least possible. I can’t see Playhouse Disney getting in on the action, but you never know – maybe the Imagination Movers can be the next Fantastic Four.
Disney is Not Evil!
Are we that far removed from Disney being a clever, witty and occasionally subversive company that we can’t remember just how dark and brooding ‘The Lion King’ was (even if we all really loved it for Timon and Pumbaa) or how hard we laughed at Robin Williams’ Genie in ‘Aladdin’? As a company they’re not exactly batting 1.000 these days, I’ll give you that. But we’re still watching ‘Lost’ and ESPN and ‘Handy Manny’ and ‘Phineas and Ferb’. Give Disney the right material and they don’t screw it up. The plan is to be ‘hands off’ with Marvel’s material – they don’t plan to interfere with tone or content and have said “the deal was attractive not just because they’re buying great characters, stories and brand, but about working with people who know these characters best and how best to work with them in other media.” I’m taking the good side of this – the creative side of Marvel with the might of Disney behind them. Although…
Since When Was Marvel an ‘Indie’ Anyway?
Seriously, at what point during all this did we start believing that Marvel was the plucky little comic book company that could? Don’t get me wrong, I love ’em – but to paint Disney as some kind of evil empire taking over a helpless little publisher is unfair to both parties. Marvel have been a very big company for a very long time – they’re clearly doing something big, business-wise, if they’re being valued at US$4 billion – and are big and ugly enough to look out for their own interests in this deal. If you’re looking for independents or less accountable imprints, then you have Vertigo (yes, I know they’re DC), Wildstorm, Image, Dark Horse, Oni and countless other independent and local publishers.
Disney = Bigger Audience
At time of writing, Disney XD has been on air in the UK for about 18 hours. According to the article about the merger on Comic Book Resources, XD currently shows about twenty hours a week of Marvel programming in the US, and from a quick check of the program guide I’d say that the numbers are similar here. So as an advocate of the geek lifestyle, I have to ask – what’s wrong with suddenly having an enormous library of comic book material and an outlet to provide it to teenage and pre-teen boys? Shouldn’t we see it as a good thing that these things of which we’ve been extolling the virtues can suddenly, in theory at least, be a part of many more adolescences? This isn’t a hostile takeover, it’s a geek training program.
Nothing Changes at Marvel – Yet.
Maybe most importantly is the revelation – backed up by head Marvel guy Joe Quesada himself – is that there are no plans to change Marvel’s current operations, at least not in terms of reducing or altering comic output. They’re not moving the writers and artists to Disneyland. “Tom Brevoort remains grouchy,” as he tweeted. There are so many opportunities for Marvel here, so much they can do in terms of getting a new generation to love Spidey, and Hulk, and X-Men and all the others that it’s hard not to be excited at some level.
A little nervous, I’ll give you that. But still, excited.