Friday, September 4, 2009

So Spider-Man, Rogue and Minnie Mouse walk into a bar...

This week the Internets were ablaze with furious anger over the announcement of Disney's $4B acquisition of Marvel Comics--which just happened to celebrate it's 70th year making you believe a man who has spider-powers can shoot webs out of something other then his ass.

Immediately mom's basements everywhere erupted in outrage at the prospect that beloved and edgy characters such as the aforementioned Spider-Man, Wolverine and the Hulk would somehow be pussified and slotted alongside characters such as Mickey, Dopey and Scrooge McDuck.

Now, if Michael Eisner was still running the company into the ground, I would say yes. The man was a blight on the Disney company and it took nothing short of a revolt to remove him. But, regardless of his involvement, Disney has had to a degree a fairly hands-off approach to it's distributed ownings. Disney owns Miramax, and their portfolio does not show any kowtowing to narrow family values-based requirements for their films. Pixar for the most part celebrates a nearly perfect autonomy in terms of creative control over their films, and much like George Lucas did with 20th Century Fox, was able to keep things pretty much under his belt, or simply told them to go fuck themselves while he swam laps through his Pool-Full-O-Money.

Consider too that comics are not the business they were 30, even 20 years ago. The model has changed, the customer base has changed, the industry it ties into the most (namely film) has made it a cottage property which, done right, gives them one big cash register to play around with. The upcoming Avengers and Iron Man movies are just a taste of the potential Disney has to make ginormous profits without (hopefully) compromising quality.

I'm still somewhat torn as to my allegiance between DC and Marvel. Last year, I loved Marvel's Secret Invasion storyline, but felt Final Crisis (aside from the Legion of 3 Worlds mini-series) sucked the big one. The difficulty is in the business plan of the Crossover Series. In short, you have a main series of books--many with alternate (and rare) variant covers. However, to get the FULL storyline they spread it into anywhere from 5-10 other titles. Luckily if they are already on your monthly reading list it's easy, but enough of the backstory was spread out that you pick up books you don't normally read to fill in the gaps. I understand the reasoning: Put bits of a story into a book a customer doesn't regularly read, and they may pick it up.

Marvel just seems to spread itself too thin. Do we really need six different X-Men books, all with basically the same content, mythos and structure? I am one of those rare geeks who isn't all salivating over snikty-snikt Logan, and aside from the all-too-brief Old Man Logan series this year, I don't need five other Wolverine books. In the aftermath of Secret Invasion came Dark Reign, and again all the popular books are taking a snippet of existing stories and putting them into the crisis mode, and a few new books (Mr. Negative, The Hood) are being popped out with little popularity. The only good thing to come out of Marvel this year was more Deadpool books, but even that started getting fan crosstalk about putting out something, anything about the Merc-With-A-Mouth to kick up sales.

My distributor told me one interesting fact: If they order say, 20 copies of a DC book and only sell 15, eventually they can return them to DC to reclaim a percentage of their cost. If you buy 20 Marvel books and sell 15, you're stuck with 15 copies. These may eventually sell on the back table boxes, but more often than not are simply stuck in lost profits. This is reason one why a comic store may carry more of DC than Marvel. This year my only popular DC books are the Green Lantern series and Superman, with a bit of Batman thrown in for flavor. These titles have rarely if ever let me down, and I'm more likely to bite into a series with just enough issues to fill an index card of crossovers vs. a Marvel title that takes a full double-sided page of "issues to get".

Regardless I think Disney will have it's hands full, notably if they choose to keep Marvel's management structure intact. Lots of fans do not like Quesada and his ideas, but having been through a corporate merger or two, I can say that the powers-that-be will usually keep things together until they've had enough time to evaluate them into justifying a reorganization. I for one don't see this as the Dark Day some of the fanboys picture (I for one would love to see a bit of fourth wall breakage with a Disney character showing up in a Deadpool book), but as with anything of this nature when nerd culture intersects with Big Business, there will likely to be some fallout.

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