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What the Marvel/Disney Merger Really Means

There is one story today, and only one story: Disney is buying Marvel for $4 billion. While the two companies were suing each other as recently as 5 years ago, the biggest publisher in comics is becoming a part of the entertainment giant, and everyone is freaking out.

The reaction from fans has been mixed, with many afraid that their comics will be ruined by the heavy hand of a family-friendly corporation — a fear that amusingly spawned a Marvel/Disney mash-up meme. (My personal favorite? “Face it, Tigger, you just hit the jackpot!”) As the new reality of Marvel/Disney dawns across the comics industry, most people have been left wondering exactly what this means. Is it a good thing? A bad thing? Or as Don Draper said in a recent episode of “Mad Men,” neither — that “change is neither good nor bad; it simply is”?

Here’s what we know so far:

1. Disney is not planning to destroy your comics.

Again, the biggest concern for most fans is that their favorite comics will be watered down or “Disneyfied,” particularly since Disney is known for its family friendly cartoons, and most Marvel titles outside of the “Marvel Adventures” line are often gritty PG-13 fare aimed at adults.

Sure, corporations aren’t always known for defense of artistic integrity, but don’t expect any contrived Mickey Mouse cameos in your “X-Men” issues; Disney has been emphatic about the fact that it plans to let Marvel run “as is,” and stay hands off when it comes to producing the actual comics, much as they did when they acquired Pixar.

Consider: DC Comics is owned by the very corporate Warner Bros, and when did they ever care what DC did in their comics? Hell, DC just “killed” Batman in the comics despite a wildly successful ongoing Batman movie franchise, and no one cared because the two are basically unrelated. And let’s be honest: Disney didn’t really acquire Marvel for its comics, it acquired it for its franchises and all the money they will make in film and merchandising. The greatest defense against the idea of Disney getting its cooks in the comic book kitchen is that comics don’t make much money. And for once, that actually works in their favor.2. Disney (and Pixar!) have a lot to offer Marvel when it comes to movies.

While Marvel is currently in the middle of a five-picture deal with Paramount Studios involving “Iron Man 2″ and “The Avengers,” it is straight up impossible to imagine that Disney isn’t going to bring Marvel films in house the moment they can. And when they do, they’ve got plenty they can bring to the table. The deal may mean there’s the potential for Marvel films to involve Disney’s 3D technology or even to work with Pixar, which produced the excellent superhero CGI film “The Incredibles.” As Disney mentioned in their conference call this morning, Marvel execs recently met with Pixar’s Chief Creative Officer John Lasseter, so who knows what films may come.

3. Get ready for Marvel World and Iron Man: The Ride at Disneyland.

Marvel currently has a deal with Universal’s Adventure Island, but the New York Times said this morning that Marvel characters are indeed headed for Disney theme parks as well, a smart move given their sagging ticket sales. While they haven’t announced any specifics, anyone with a small degree of imagination can envision how this is going to play out, and you know what? It’s probably going to be really fun. I can only hope that it involves a Marvel specific “world” akin to Tomorrowland and Frontierland.


4. Marvel brings the guys, while Disney brings the kids — and the rest of the world.

Everybody seems to be getting access to new consumers in this deal: Disney may have the pretty pretty princesses on lockdown, and thus the young girls, but Marvel’s superheroes will give them powerful franchises with much more appeal to young boys. Conversely, Disney is going to offer Marvel distribution on a much more international level, because they’re freaking Disney.

You may have also noticed that Disney is kind of popular with children, and that they are very good at marketing to them, which is important because while kids may love the “Spider-Man” movies and “X-Men”-themed birthday party sets, not many of them are actually reading the comics. Granted, most Marvel comics aren’t actually made for young readers, but the kid cache of Disney may offer Marvel an opportunity to reach them in a way they haven’t in a very long time — if they’re prepared to capitalize it.

5. This doesn’t mean Marvel is going to sell more comics.

Thanks to the success of huge superhero movies like “Iron Man,” Marvel and its properties have become not only more profitable, but more visible in the mainstream. The merger also means that Marvel will be moving in further in this direction, and gives the company — and perhaps comics itself — a chance to take another huge step out of the niche ghetto.

There’s already something like 20 hours of Marvel animated content a week on their Disney XD cable channel, and this only opens the door for more exposure. Disney also has relationships with chain stores that will allow them to offer shelf space to Marvel products, and yes, that is the sound of a thousand dollar signs springing up in Marvel’s collective eyes at once.

But while this may be the merger that launched a thousand licensing deals, whether Marvel can translate it into comics sales is completely different story. After all, they weren’t able to significantly increase their reading audience despite numerous blockbuster movies, so whether the merger alone can do more for comic book sales remains to be seen.

We’ll have more info as the story unfolds, but for now, what d
o you think? Are you still worried about the merger’s impact on your comics, or are you ready to embrace your new mouse overlords?

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