Thursday, September 3, 2009

Disney has Bought Marvel: Don't leap off a bridge just yet

Ok, unless you live in a cave you have probably heard that Disney has bought Marvel Comics for about 4 BILLION DOLLARS American.

I'll spare you any more jokes about Spider and Mouse related team up and instead layout a few scenarios for what this COULD and SHOULD mean to fans of Marvel Comics.

I'll start by saying that almost from birth I've self identified as a DC Comics guy. Sure some of it had to so with DC having a monster presence in my youth via The Batman TV show, Super Friends and the 24 members of the Legion of Superheroes BUT I read plenty of Marvel Comics good and bad. The important part is that I, as a kid in the 70's and 80's really did read a LOT of Marvel Comics.

I read Frank Miller's Daredevil, The Avengers story when they fought Korvac, The Dark Phoenix Saga, the Death of Captain Marvel, and The Walt Simonson era of Thor.

I read Iron Man's Demon in a Bottle story, the X-Men's God Loves; Man Kills and That Avengers story where it's revealed that Hank Pym is a spousal abuser. I even read that damn Defenders series where they fight the Six Fingered hand (right before it became unreadable).

I mention this to say that between 1979 and 1984 I was between 10 and 15 years old and I loved the stories I got in my comics. It would be some time before I got to Nexus, Grendel and American Flagg but dammit, Marvel was writing comics aimed at my age group and were kicking four color ass with those stories pretty much on a monthly basis.

If I fast forward a bit, it wouldn't be long before it began to feel like a sort of dark mid life crisis began creeping into comics. We went from having a beloved character die of cancer in a truly moving story to having cannibalistic villains, a million gun toting foul mouthed mercenary heroes and rape scenes. (yeah I know some of that wasn't Marvel)

As I got older, it's a fact that comics got older with me. If you go to any comics shop in the land, you'll probably notice that there really aren't a lot of 10-15 year olds there. I can list any number of additional factors such as retailers inability to promote, non existent casual access to comics, the popularity of Manga and it's format and monthly comic book price points but the biggest reason for this is that there just isn't a lot out there in terms of accessible comics to kids 8+, until they hit damn near college age.

Yeah, I know that there is a rating system in comics. My own store has a well stocked kids/all ages section but I'm not going to destroy store layout by shelving Fantastic Four (Rated A for all ages) on my Kids shelf next to the Archies. I CAN shelve Iron Man and the Armor Wars there but I'm taking a chance that none of my regular customers would see it.

This Iron Man title is really kind of the crux of my post. The regular Iron Man title is rated T+ (Teen until you hit Parental Advisory). I'm really at a loss for why they really need to be rated all that differently. The Armor Wars books isn't exactly a kids book but It's not as dark as IM could be if there were a Parental Advisory attached to it so thank goodness for small favors there.

I really think Disney, who has proven to be very good at marketing to kids, could actually become responsible for helping Marvel right serious comics that even kids could read. Right now I think there really isn't a middle ground. At this point in time I'm not sure that I'd advise a parent to let their kids read any comic involving Spiderman EXCEPT the book that's already in the Kid's section (Marvel Adventures) and the recently started Ultimate Comics Spiderman title.

I know Disney is going to be fairly hands off as far as content goes and this is fine, but there is no way they haven't seen the sales numbers as they relate to demographics and even if you, the 40+ year old male fan are afraid that the Mouse is gonna come stomp all over your sand castle, you need to be aware that unless you procreate quick (and this could mean even more severe lifestyle changes for some comics fans) we are approaching a point in time where none of us know any kids who read comics. My line in the sand is in about 10 years.

Since we aren't using the Comic Code Authority to police, monitor, censor, whitewash our content anymore, can we just do away with what I believe to be the utterly USELESS, MAX line of Marvel Comics. The fact that MAX exists actually speaks to what I'm talking about. If Marvel were any good doing truly Mature Themed comics, DC's Vertigo would already be a thing of the past. The Punisher could stand to go back to only having 3 comics a month (2 too many IMO).

I'm hoping that Disney (while still being hands off) can help Marvel make the Avengers, Spiderman, the X-Men, Hulk, and any number of other titles good and challenging again without the crutch of just making stories dark. At that point, there will be another generation coming to comics and staying.

This may mean less Brian Bendis and Peter David but more Jeff Parker, Rick Remender, Jonathan Hickman, Matt Fraction, Terry Moore, Eric Shanower and Gail Simone but I can totally live with that.

And for those of you out there who just don't want to give the Mouse any of your money, my next post will have options for you.

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