Marvel Comics, iStockphoto.com
Marvel is the golden egg, and Disney is the cake company, and if you keep reading, it will all make sense, really.
On Monday, the news came down. The analyses began. Jokes were joked. Freakouts were well and truly freaked.
The news: Disney acquired Marvel Comics for $4 billion. ("Acquired," which makes it sound like Marvel's a tube of Pink Glitter lip gloss that somehow ended up in Disney's purse as it sauntered out of Hot Topic. "How'd THAT get there?")
If you need a taste of what folks in the comics industry are saying about it, you can't beat The Beat,
or Journalista! The transcript of the Disney/Marvel call to investors is worth checking out, if only to remind yourself that there are people in the world who actually say things like "vertical integration," "the wheelhouse of this distribution channel" and who - willfully! repeatedly! - use "impact" as a verb.
Meanwhile, over at the Comichron, as their name suggests, they're taking the long historical view.
Conventional wisdom soon congealed along these lines: Good for Disney, because Marvel's stable of heroes can help them reach boys age 8-18, a demographic that has thus far proven stoically resistant to the charms of Hannah Montana and High School Musical — with, um, some exceptions (Hi, Jason! Stay fabulous, kiddo!). Good for Marvel, because Disney's got more distribution channels in their wheelhouse (sigh) than Cruella's got Dalmatian handmuffs.
After the jump: It's not about the comics. And yes, the Tastykake Analogy.
The jokes, such as they were, were plenteous, and typified by the formula "Can't wait for [obscure Marvel character] to show up in [Disney tween franchise/theme park ride]." The phrase "On Ice" also figured prominently. This was one of the better forays, by comics artist/Canuck blogger Chip Zdarsky.
There were also legitimate concerns about the megamerging of the entertainment industry and the resulting lack of competition. But the real freakouts — from Marvel fans (mostly) and reeking of entitlement (predictably) — were triggered by a fear that Disney would for some reason feel compelled to tamper with the comics, bowdlerizing them into safe, twee little tales for babies.
... On Ice.
Which would, let's agree, be terrible. But this purchase wasn't about the comics, and the endlessly intersecting, internecine struggles depicted therein. From Disney's perspective, the storylines that set so many fanboy hearts and message boards aflutter don't particularly matter. It's the properties (read: characters) they contain, and what Disney can do with those properties, that count.
Because Disney's real business is the business of Doing Things With Properties. This deal is about what will get made from the raw material those characters represent, through licensing: toys, TV, movies, games, sleepwear and thrill rides.
Put it another way: think of Disney as Tastykake, the venerable Philadelphia-based makers of snack foods — snack foods like your Peanut Butter Kandy Kakes, with their light fluffy spongecake slathered in peanut butter and wrapped in a rich chocolate coating. Your Butterscotch Krimpets, with their moist golden cakey goodness topped with sweet, buttery icing. Your Chocolate Cup Cakes with Cream Filling. Your Fruit Pies ... it's possible my blood sugar's a little low.
Anyway: Disney = Tastykake. Marvel? Is an egg farm.
No, wait, follow me, here: Disney/Tastykake needs eggs to make their delicious snack cakes. And they've already got their own egg farm, and the Muppet egg farm, and the Pixar egg farm. So why spend 4 bil on the Mighty Marvel egg farm?
They need the eggs. Or more specifically: They need to get eggs, as many as they can, to their factory and turn them tout suite into fluffy sweet rich chocolatey packets o'deliciousness. Buying the Marvel egg farm means that they can now get Marvel's eggs into those giant vats of batter on their factory floor more quickly and easily — and, yes, exert a degree of quality control while they do it.
But at the end of the day, eggs aren't their business. Making something out of the eggs (and sugar, and milk, and flour, and a periodic table's worth of delicious preservatives) is their business. They certainly could send an efficiency expert over to the Marvel egg farm to increase productivity a scosh, but it's not the best use of their time or money. After all, a big reason they've spent so much money on the farm is that the Marvel folks can be counted upon to produce good eggs. Besides, they've got Kandy Kakes to make, dammit, and stores all across the Delaware Valley to ship them to.
Now, there are those diehard Marvel fans out there who complain that turning Marvel eggs into Disney Tastykakes is a terrible misuse of perfectly good chicken ova. These people would argue that Tastykakes are cloyingly sweet, heavily processed junk food made for infantile palates, and that the purchase of the Marvel egg farm by Tastykake is akin to a mass salmonella outbreak that's somehow retroactively poisoned every one of the Marvel omelets they enjoyed so much in their childhoods.
The thing is, though: The eggs? The Marvel eggs? They're still there. They're still getting churned out. They're just as good as they ever were. The fact that so many Marvel eggs are now getting turned into mouth-wateringly delicious Peanut Butter Kandy Kakes doesn't mean you can't still enjoy them by themselves, in their original form, however you like them prepared.
And: word of advice? Don't disparage the Tastykake, people. It reflects poorly on you.