Friday, September 4, 2009

Disney buys Marvel: Is this good for Marvel

Bart Simpson's favorite hangout. In real life, you're more likely to find middle-aged men than 10-year-old boys at comic book stores.

Watching Bart Simpson makes me nostalgic. In so many ways, I was Bart when I was 10 years-old.

One way in particular is that we are both comic book collectors and fans. From my childhood through my mid-teens, a great deal of my allowance, and money from other sources, like birthday and Christmas gifts, went to comics.

As soon as I had it, I’d be off to the Acme Mall Bookstore,
Sleeping Giant Books or The Paperback Trader, getting the latest issues of X-Men, The Fantastic Four or Captain America. Or, in the case of the Paperback Trader, back issues as well.

I identify so much whenever Bart is found hanging out at The Android’s Dungeon, home of John Anderson, aka Comic Book Guy. (If you’re a Simpsons fan and didn’t know his real name, shame on you!)

Trouble is, in real life, you won’t see 10-year-olds hanging out at comic book stores. When I was 11 years-old, my $1 allowance would be enough for three comics. Today, my son’s $2 allowance would buy him about half a Marvel or DC comic.

Comics have been priced out of most kids’ budgets. Plus, they are competing with so many other forms of entertainment - video games, DVD’s, hundreds of cable channels - that we couldn’t even imagine back in the 70’s.

Kids today still love their superheroes. My son’s superheroes are many of the same ones I had when I was his age. He likes them just as much as I did. But he doesn’t get his heroes from comics anymore. He gets them from movies, TV, DVD and videogames.

Two days ago, I wrote in this space about the cons of Disney's purchase of Marvel Comics. Today, I wish to talk about how Disney can help Marvel, especially in these interactive, multi-media times.

Marvel Comics has a long history of failures when it comes to bringing their heroes to TV or the movies. A 1960’s TV show, “Marvel Superheroes”, which featured the Hulk, Iron Man, Captain America and Thor, was so horribly animated that its only value is for the cheese factor.

Several animated TV shows for “Spider-Man” and “The Fantastic Four” had mixed success.

In the 1970’s, Marvel tried bringing several of it’s characters to live action on the small screen. Spider-Man, Dr. Strange and Captain America all bombed. The live action version of The Hulk, with bodybuilder Lou Ferrigno, enjoyed some success and lasted for almost four years.

Marvel's live-action version of The Hulk (above) was a moderate success on TV that lasted for almost four seasons (1977-1981). The same could not be said for Captain America (below) which bombed after two made-for-TV movies.

However, attempts to introduce Daredevil and Thor in TV movies with The Hulk were horrible, horrible embarrassments in the late 1980’s. Movies based on The Punisher and Captain America in the early 1990’s went straight to video.

Matt Salinger (son of author J.D.) in a Captain America movie that went straight to video in 1990.

It wasn’t until a relatively minor character, Blade the Vampire Slayer, was brought to life by Wesley Snipes in 1998 did Marvel enjoy any major success on the big screen. The “X-Men” in 2000, as well as its sequels in 2003 and 2006, were also extremely successful.

Wesley Snipes version of a minor Marvel Comics character, Blade, The Vampire Slayer (above) in 1998, singled handedly turned around Marvel's poor track record at the box office. That success was repeated with the X-Men (below) two years later.

Several movies with Spider-Man followed, as well as Iron Man in 2008. Both of those characters were quite successful.

Sadly, the success could not be replicated with “The Incredible Hulk”, “Daredevil” or “Elektra.” The first Fantastic Four movie was pretty good, despite some liberties taken with the characters and their back stories. The second sucked, despite the introduction of the Silver Surfer.

“Ghost Rider” had some great special effects, but personally, Nicolas Cage was not my first choice for the lead role.

The fact is, comics are a dying art form. The only people who still read them are middle-aged to seniors, with the occasional college kid or serviceman. Just go to a comic store on the day the new comics arrive. Those 30 and 40-somethings with the suits and ties stopping in after work are not buying for their kids. Those books they buy will be bagged and boarded and stashed away where the kids can’t read them as soon as the buyer gets home.

If we are going to keep those characters and their stories alive, film, TV and animation are the ways to go. And Disney dominates in all three mediums. Disney gave us the first full-length animated movie with “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves” in 1938. Disney owns the ABC television network, several theme parks, several cable channels and a shitload of downtown Orlando, FL.

Disney is synonymous with feature animations and for good reason - their movies are some of the best animated films ever made. And their live-action movies are very good, too.

As a corporation, Disney employs thousands of writers, actors, stuntmen, animators, special effects technicians, cameramen, editors, musicians and computer experts. In fact, they pretty much have everyone they need on their staff in any facet of the entertainment industry.

With Disney’s vast financial resources, coupled with their vast human resources, they could turn around Marvel Comics’ mixed success with bringing their characters to the large or small screen. Whether with live actors or animation, they have what it takes to make great movies, DVD’s and TV shows.

As long as they stay faithful and respectful to the spirit of the characters, as long as they realize that Wolverine is not Mickey Mouse and that the Punisher is not Goofy, I see no reason why this partnership can’t be successful.

But for now, the only thing we can do is wait and see how Disney and Marvel handle this great entertainment opportunity.

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