This may be the biggest pop culture business story of the decade: The Walt Disney Company is buying Marvel Entertainment for $4 billion.
Already, the fanboys — and, to be fair, the occasional fangirl — are burning up the ‘Net with their prediction of what will happen when the House of Ideas collides with the House of Mouse.
The truth is simple: We’ll see.
Disney is now, and pretty much has been throughout recent memory, all about licensing. There’s no question that the reason they want Marvel isn’t because they crave a niche in the rapidly shrinking world of comics publishing. Heck, Disney can’t be bothered to publish comic books starring the characters they already own — they summarily dumped the last vestige of this connection, the hugely popular Disney Adventures magazine, a while back, with hardly a fare-thee-well — much less floppies about people running around in brightly colored underwear.
What intrigues Disney’s beancounters is the tremendous stable of familiar characters that Marvel represents — characters ripe for exploitation on toys, T-shirts, and oodles of memorabilia. A quick stroll around Anaheim’s Disneyland Resort will clue you in to how thoroughly and aggressively the Mouse House has co-opted the characters from their last mega-acquisition, Pixar Animation Studios. The mind boggles at the fun Disney will have — and the kajillions they’ll profit — marketing Spidey, Wolverine, and the rest of the Merry Marvel Marching Society.
What does it all mean for Marvel in terms of its comics line? Who knows? Comics are a dying industry. Movies and video games, on the other hand, have never been hotter, and Marvel offers a veritable cornucopia of product to churn through. I don’t know how much longer comics will last, regardless of who holds the reigns. With Disney pulling the strings, however, it seems likely that Marvel’s signature superheroes will plow ahead in one form or another for the foreseeable future, and perhaps beyond.
As for the worriers who believe that suddenly Marvel’s going to get all family-friendly because Disney takes over: (a) I’m not sure that would be an awful thing if it happened, and (b) remember, this is the company whose ABC Television Network brings you Desperate Housewives and Grey’s Anatomy.
In the words of the immortal Stan Lee…