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Disney buys Marvel: who benefits?

Unless you were dead this morning, you’ve heard the news – Disney has bought Marvel Comicsfor four billion dollars. Cue the speculation machines and “lolz Spaderman vs Mickey moose” arguments, right?

Rather than tread that well-worn territory, we’re going to attempt to divide this mega-deal into the pros and cons for both Disney and Marvel. As you might imagine, there are widespread repercussions for gamers, moviegoers, comics fans, animation geeks, just about anyone who follows anything, honestly. So then, let’s get to it.

Contributing editors: Chris Antista and Brett Elston

Marvel Comics: Pros

Immediate animation benefits – As dear as the ‘90s X-Men and Spider-Man cartoons are to an entire generation (including most GR editors), they pale when compared to DC’s animated offerings. Even recent series like Wolverine and the X-Men don’t stand up to DC classics like Batman: The Animated Series. However, now that Marvel’s treasure chest of 5000-ish characters belongs to Disney, expect to see a surge of high-quality superhero animation, be it in the form of daily shows or, in our wildest dreams, a full-on Pixar film starring Marvel’s best characters. Wrangling different heroes into one movie is difficult enough, but when they each have special-effects-heavy powers that drive up budgets in a matter of seconds, animated alternatives start making a lot more financial sense.

An industry expert to guide their franchises - Nothing soothes our fears more than knowing John Lasseter, the producer or director of every Pixar and Disney movie you’ve cared about in the past 10 years, has near-complete control over Disney’s creative output. Now that Marvel is included in that umbrella of production, Lasseter will undoubtedly be roped into meetings regarding Marvel’s next big thing.

A single home for their films – Marvel’s heroes have been loaned out to various companies over the years, including Fox (X-Men, Fantastic Four), Sony (Spider-Man, Ghost Rider) and Universal (Hulk). As any reader of comics knows, the real treat is when these heroes meet, fight or team up, and with so many studios arguing over who should be paid for what, the possibility of Spidey teaming up with Wolverine was exceedingly unlikely. After the Marvel/Disney deal finalizes and all these prior deals dissolve (assuming Disney doesn’t allow them to be renewed), all Marvel properties could exist under one roof, with no petty squabbling over who owns what.

Paramount and Marvel Studios still have five films to burn through, Sony still has the rights to a few more Spider-Man movies and Fox already has three X-Men-related flicks in the works too, so it could very well be 10 years before this fantasy scenario becomes reality.

Kingdom Hearts?- It’s no secret that the Final Fantasy aspect of Kingdom Hearts has dissipated with each new entry. The newest game, 358/2 Days, barely has any mention of Square’s eminent property at all. Is it possible that we could one day see the Kingdom Hearts crew visit the Marvel Universe? Could we play a team that’s Donald, Goofy and the Hulk? As silly as it sounds, our geek boners are ridiculously into the idea.

Above: Remember, everyone thought Disney meeting Final Fantasy was stupid too

What happens to the games? – Disney Interactive is not large enough to fully handle the myriad Marvel games that release each year, from Ultimate Alliance to the numerous movie tie-ins. Will Disney wrench the franchises back from Activision, THQ and Sega, or will it allow these well-known and beloved series to continue with some kind of Disney payoff? We want to think that Disney’s a savvy company and won’t fiddle too much with Marvel’s goings on (Warner Bros owning DC Comics hasn’t altered a great deal, after all), but the prospect of piles of cash is enough to make anyone behave like a giant corporate dick.

According to an earlier conference call, Disney will reevaluate existing license deals as they expire. Those prior arrangements won’t be completely void until 2019 though, so it appears the near future of Marvel games is unchanged. That said, this quotefrom Disney’s CFO doesn’t bode well: “As the current agreements in place sunset we will look to exploit the library of characters more broadly.” Uh oh.

Wait… what about Marvel vs Capcom 3?- There’s been no official announcement regarding our most anticipated fighter of the new millennium, but after witnessing the fervor over MvC2’s recent XBLA and PSN release, not to mention Marvel and Capcom’s individual successes at the moment, it’s absurd to think there isn’t a deal in the works. However, now Capcom has to contend with Disney regarding any future use of Marvel’s characters, so this once-likely dream match may never happen. That, or it becomes Marvel vs Disney vs Capcom… which we’re cool with too.

Oh right, the comics- Disney Comics (the company) has had arough-ass timein the US the past 20 years or so. Seems that no one really wants to read comics based around Donald Duck or Mickey Mouse, or even High School Musical, which adorned the very last issue of Disney Adventures, a Disney propaganda magazine that ran for 17 years and died in 2007. Knowing that Disney can’t manage its own shit properly, will it hover over Marvel EIC Joe Quesada and run the comics into the ground too? Or will it alter Marvel’s deal with the near-monopolistic Diamond Comics Distributors? We think not, but there’s always the chance that some muckity muck will have a “better way” to run a comics company that’s survived for 70 years on its own steam. Well, barring that bit of bankruptcy in 1998.

On the plus side, maybe this will give Marvel a better shot in the global comics market, as Disney’s worldwide presence is significantly more pronounced.

Next page – what it all means for Disney, and who the real winner of this deal is