I tried playing a mental game last week, where charted the companies that own DC Comics upwards to the top. It went DC Comics, DC Entertainment, Warner Brothers, Time Warner, and possibly AT&T in the future. Of course I got all this wrong without the help of the internet, but I did it to illustrate how hard its become to track where our media is coming from. That becomes important because increasingly, its changing in absurd ways and everyone wants your web cookies so they can predict what you will buy next week or even next month. Take that same game that I started with, and do it with Marvel Entertainment/Lucas Films/Pixar/ and Disney. Now add 21st Century Fox to that list. It’s not a linear thread, its a spider web. One which is about to become twice as big…
Marvel Comics published an imprint in the early 1990’s, where it placed many of its classic characters in the distant future in the year 2099. The heroes details stayed relatively the same, but with significant tweaks. Miguel O’Hara gained spider powers from the conglomerate where he worked, Alchemax, then had to fight them as they were a pervasive poison on the world. Ghost Rider was a Japanese hacker named Kenshiro “Zero” Cochrane who placed his consciousness into a cyborg body. The imprint carried many Sci-Fi tropes such as technology both saving and condemning us, large corporations running the world, tyrannical institutions supplanting democracy, etc. The imprint lasted about six years before it collapsed under dwindling sales.
The future presented is a dark one, and in the tail end of 2017, only seems more plausible than ever before.
But, this is about comic books and TV shows. I’ve written before about the Disney corporation’s power plays to compete with Netflix, which I hoped would be the last such piece I would have to write about this year. Instead, now we’re very close to a world where Disney owns 21st Century Fox and its scripted TV outlets including: FX, FXX, Planet of the Apes, The Simpsons and finally, the X-Men franchise and Fantastic Four. That is a huge swath of IP for Disney to acquire, considering what they already have nets them one hundred- billion in film and merchandise.
What may be most salient for comic fans is the possible reality that Disney will finally bring the X-Men and the Fantastic Four into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. There is a supreme irony that instead of Fox Studios selling the movie rights back to Marvel (as fans demanded), Disney simply brought the studio outright. Others have written very enlightening and persuasive arguments, with many highlighting the logistic hurdles of immediately folding two new properties into the MCU. The Fantastic Four, it doesn’t really matter. The X-Men are an a whole other level.
In many ways, the X-franchise is the proto-cinematic universe that Marvel perfected after The Avengers. It contains sequels, prequels, and now even spinoffs with Deadpool and The New Mutants. A merger would have to negate almost all of that, unless Disney were to allow the X-Men to exist in a separate space which is highly unlikely. Look at how fast Kevin Feige and company pivoted to include Tom Holland’s Spider-Man in the MCU.
Aside from the concern that Disney yet again grows bigger and controls more creative content than it likely should, there is the possibility that the manager at my local comic shop poised to me: that the MCU will be rebooted.
This was unprecedented to my mind, considering Marvel Studios announced slate of twenty more films, but as he explained it to me, Marvel will need to recast some people. Which isn’t a question of why but when. People age, despite what comic editors and cosmetic companies tell you, and actors in particular are not immune to this. How much longer can Bruce Willis, a sixty-two year old man, play an action hero? Maybe a little longer, even though by now, its already past awkward. Compared to Chris Evans and Robert Downey Jr, Mark Ruffalo looks old and all three of them are supposed to be playing men in their late twenties and early thirties. Add to that the reality that playing a name brand Marvel hero necessitates being in prime shape and/or on call for years to come, and even job security doesn’t make up for it. Rebooting events would let Marvel/Disney keep the Avengers young and vibrant, while also making room for the existence of a new race of human beings with special powers. Of course, Marvel is no stranger to recasting, firing both Terrence Howard and Edward Norton and replacing them with Don Chedle and Mark Ruffalo as War Machine and Hulk. Recasting the entire Avengers would be a tougher magic trick.
Rebooting things would be a logical step, however its not one I think mainstream audiences will fall for. Comics do it all the time, with diminishing results, and Marvel unironically has taken the biggest blow from treating its continuity so causally that readers quit buying their books. Rebooting would be to wipe away over a decade of emotional investment and storytelling that audiences payed for, and might not do again.
While its a smaller payoff, I say the X-Men should remain on the small screen when Disney acquires them. The movies are a mixed bag, some good, some great, a few terrible ones, but TV could allow Marvel to finally nail the character dynamics that so far have been shallow and unimportant. Another bonus might be getting someone aside from Bryan Singer to direct the X-Men, which if recent events are any indication will be a immediate issue to be resolved.
Then again, putting the X-Men and FF as the headliners of the MCU after Phase 4/5 ends would give Marvel some clues of where to go to next. The FF bring Galactus with them, along with the Negative Zone and Doctor Doom. The X-Men have long been a more popular team than the FF and Avengers combined before the movies, which would give Marvel dozens of brand names to portray and market to audiences. Of course, the Spider-Man:Homecoming problem rears its head: people have already seen the X-Men do they’re thing multiple times by now, and it needs to be fresh if a “new and better” approach is intended.
If anyone can pull all this off, its Disney. They have to, they spent over Fifty Billion dollars buying 21st Century Fox to compete with Netflix and expand the MCU. Disney has just grown exponentially larger, and time will tell if they’re now too big to fail or just too big period.