10 QUESTIONS the Marvel/Disney Acquisition Raises

10 Questions About Marvel/Disney

The sheer magnitude of Monday morning’s news that Disney purchased Marvel for $4 billion in cash & stock is enough to knock Galactus on his giant purple keister.

This is very likely the biggest shockwave to hit the comic book industry since Todd McFarlane, Jim Lee, and Rob Liefeld jumped ship and started Image Comics in the early 90's. Maybe even since the King, Jack Kirby, left Marvel for DC in the early 70s.

As with any deal of this size and with two iconic companies involved, there are oodles of questions demanding to be answered.

So as fans everywhere ponder the philosophical conflict caused by having Frank Castle and Geppetto under the same corporate roof, and when the Dazzler musical movie will debut on the Disney Channel, here are 10 big questions regarding the new Disney/Marvel behemoth:

1) What does being a cog in the Disney machine mean for Kevin Feige and the Marvel Studios team?

The autonomy that Feige and the team behind “Iron Man,” “The Incredible Hulk” and the upcoming “Thor” and “Captain America” movies have enjoyed is often singled out as a key reason for Marvel Studios’ immediate success. By financing their own films, Marvel has basically been its own boss. Paramount and Universal just distributed and marketed those movies. They had no say in production, which meant Jon Favreau didn’t have to navigate a gauntlet of studio lackeys to make “Iron Man.” Such a streamlined approach to making tent pole pictures is unusual in Hollywood, and it’s why an onscreen Marvel Universe, that Fanboy Utopia where Tony Stark pops up in the Hulk’s film, heroes and villains can meet for a drink at the Bar With No Name and everything builds up to a big "Avengers" cinematic clam-bake, is happening.

Will that all change now? Or will Disney take the same hands-off approach it does with Pixar? Initial comments from Disney execs suggest the hands-off approach is their intention, but let’s be serious. Pixar is Pixar. Early success aside, Marvel Studios has a long way to go before it can command the same kind of respect that John Lasseter’s group does. Either way, the Disney folks would be well served to look at the struggles DC and corporate sibling Warner Bros. have had in forming a consistent film strategy, as they lay out future plans. In other words, if it ain’t broke, don’t call the handyman.

2) How soon can Marvel’s film division take advantage of having Disney’s marketing and publicity support?

When it comes to pitching and promoting its characters and brand name, no media company can hold a Tinker Bell to the House That Walt Built. But when the time does come for them to start marketing Marvel, it won’t be a slam-dunk.

The same pitch that works for “High School Musical” won’t work for “Luke Cage Noir.” We’re talking an entirely new set of promotional skills.

Every Wall Street analyst quoted on the Disney/Marvel deal keeps citing the fact that Disney needed this deal to reconnect with young, impressionable boys that the company has lost step with in recent years. That makes perfect sense, except for the fact that the comics buying crowd skews older and older each year and Marvel, like every other comics publisher, has struggled to attract new young male readers for years. Finding a way to reverse that trend, which is actually more of an unfortunate fact of life in the comics world, could be the biggest challenge of the entire deal.

A more immediate problem is that it will be years before Disney can help plug Marvel movies. Marvel’s next half-dozen films are already spoken for in terms of distribution & marketing. Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Hulk, the big Avengers team-up, are all tied up with Paramount and Universal. So it will be some time before Disney can flex its marketing muscle for its new corporate sibling.

3) What happens to characters such as Spider-Man, the X-Men, Daredevil and the Fantastic Four, which are licensed out to other studios?

These characters offer up one of the biggest problems for Disney, because rival studios maintain creative control as well as distribution rights. Disney chief Robert Iger indicates that all current deals with other studios will be honored, but the goal is to bring all the Marvel characters back in-house at some point. But again, that’s easier said than done.

Sony’s committed to making 3 more Spidey movies. The first 3 earned nearly $3 billion, so it could be a decade before the theatrical destiny of Marvel’s flagship character is back in house. The same goes for the X-Men. Fox is already moving forward with a second Wolverine film, and has plans for numerous X-spinoffs (such as Deadpool). Fox also has the rights to Daredevil and Fantastic Four, two properties currently in limbo which seem ripe for rebooting. Disney may have to pay up to get those back in the family. But considering the importance of those characters to the Marvel Universe, it may be worth it.

4) Will this help or hurt Marvel Comics?

Again, looking at the relationship with DC and Time-Warner provides some clues as to the answer to this question. Being part of a huge, multi-billion dollar conglomerate could ultimately pay off for Marvel Comics. Losses of a few million don’t look as bad on a spreadsheet filled with 10 figures. Considering the comics arm is now viewed as Marvel’s R&D unit for film, TV and games, in all likelihood this could be hugely beneficial. Disney’s deep pockets can absorb any losses from publishing without weighing too much on the company’s overall bottom line.

Of course, downsizing and streamlining is one of the realities of any corporate merger. So there is always the possibility the comics' line is trimmed. And let’s not forget Disney is synonymous with family entertainment. While they owned the Weinstein’s horror imprint film label Dimension and they underwrite Jerry Bruckheimer’s action movies, now it owns the deed to the home of the Punisher and Wolverine. Will they remain hands off with the comics publishing unit that publishes several books that don’t exactly fit in with "The Happiest Place on Earth?" EIC Joe Quesada doesn’t seem worried. He posted on his Twitter feed that this is a new dawn for Marvel and the comics industry.

5) How many variant covers will the first issue of the new Hannah Montana comic series have?

Given that 'tween girl programming is the backbone of Disney’s operation these days, it seems to be a matter of "when," not "if," Miley Cyrus’s famous alter ego gets a Marvel series. A comic book series could be a lucrative, if short-term, licensing venture for its most popular cash cows. And it’s not like Marvel hasn’t had success with books based on licensed properties before. The “Star Wars” series in the 70's basically saved the company from bankruptcy and “G.I. Joe” was one of its bestselling books in the 80's. Like those comics, new Disney books could attract new readers. There is also the possibility that Disney could use the comics division as an incubator, soft-launching new female characters to see which one has the potential to be their next multi-media 'tween star. Which leads to our next question.

6) Will comic books be part of the Disney brand plan?

Disney builds its homegrown brands for quad-domination: film, TV, music and merchandising. High School Musical, Hannah Montana, Lizzie Maguire, the Jonas Brothers, all are platformed across these four areas. Comic books could be used to turn them into five-tool earners. Given how rabid fans of the above-mentioned shows are, it doesn’t seem likely Disney’s bean counters will pass up the chance to siphon off more $$ from parents of young girls. So expect a Bendis-written Ultimate Jonas Bros. fairly soon.

7) How soon can we expect M.O.D.O.K. bedsheets and Vision lamps?

While Marvel is no slouch in the licensing department (in fact, their post-Chapter 11 recovery has been on the back of licensing), anyone who has ever visited Orlando or Anaheim knows there isn’t a product made that Disney won’t put their characters’ likeness on. Don’t expect Marvel characters to avoid the fate of Mickey, Donald and Woody. In fact, given the vast range of heroes and villain in the Marvel camp, fanboys could see an avalanche of merchandise heading their way. Look on the bright side. Disney products tend to be high quality, so at least you know that $40 Captain America t-shirt you get at the Magic Kingdom gift shop won’t shrink two sizes the first time you wash it.

8) What happens to Universal’s Islands of Adventure theme park?

Today’s press release did not mention Disney’s theme parks, so one would guess that Universal, which licenses Marvel characters for its Orlando and Osaka, Japan attractions, has long-term deals in place. But this has the potential to be the most contentious battle to rise from this merger. Nikki Finke’s www.deadlinehollywooddaily.com has a statement from Universal regarding the Disney/Marvel deal and how it could impact Universal’s Orlando theme park that says, "Marvel Super Hero Island at Universal’s Islands of Adventure and the Marvel characters are a beloved and important part of the Universal Orlando experience…We believe our agreement with Marvel stands and that the Disney/Marvel deal will have no impact on our guest experience."

From that statement, it would appear that for the foreseeable future, if people want to check out the Spider-Man 3D adventure or the Dr. Doom ride, they will have to visit Universal’s park. But considering how important Disney’s theme parks are to the company, it’s doubtful the company’s lawyers aren’t looking at any possible ways to figure out a solution. The Marvel rides at Universal could also help Disney address a long-standing problem at their parks: providing ‘cool’ rides for people over the age of 10. Let’s face it. After riding the Hulk rollercoaster, Space Mountain doesn’t really cut it.

9) How deep into Marvel’s library of characters will Disney dig?

Marvel’s 5,000+ character library has been cited by nearly every business analyst as one of the big positives of the deal. And while no one should hold their breath for a Tigra movie, Disney can leverage Marvel’s 2nd and 3rd teamers across many other platforms. One can envision a scenario where a Luke Cage series runs on ABC, while a Power Pack serial airs on Disney Channel. A New Mutants show for ABC Family doesn’t seem too far-fetched, either. Disney XD already runs about 20 hours of Marvel programming, with plenty of room for more animated adventures. So the opportunities are theoretically endless.

10) Can we expect a Pixar/Marvel Team-Up?

One of the most exciting scenarios conjured up by the Dream Team corporate merger is the possibility of seeing a Pixar film with Marvel characters (although some would say we’ve already seen that happen with “The Incredibles”). Today’s press release mentioned that Pixar’s Lasseter has already met with key Marvel honchos. About what we have no idea, though it was said both sides were "very excited." This seems like one of the surest bets of the entire transaction. It makes too much sense for Pixar and Marvel to not Hero Up! on some project. Then again, it’s Hollywood. When does sense ever figure into anything?

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