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September 20, 2005

Marvel Working on Borrowed Time?

imageIs it my imagination, or do the folks at Motley Fool spend more time talking about Marvel Entertainment than I do? This latest article is a kind of a march of slightly skeptical conventional wisdom, suggesting that licensing doesn't last forever and that the Marvel cupboard past a certain point is bare or at least holds cans of thinner gruel.

I'm more impressed with the analysis that publishing may be in a period of declining profits than I am about the asserted licensing/publishing dichotomy. There's something odd to me about the presumption that Marvel should be judged according to standards set during this period when it's in the midst of leveraging its greatest and most popular creations. I'm also skeptical of the idea that companies can make choices to better ensure this kind of runaway success. There's no solution a company can embrace that yields another Spider-Man. You need great creators and some luck to do that.

In fact, although this is only an endorsement of the practice as much as you value big, goofy, movies that connect with lots of people, you can make a very strong case that it's work for hire that allowed the Spider-Man property to flourish by moving past the idiosyncratic Lee/Ditko version and into the more accessible Lee/Romita. (The Punisher, Daredevil and X-Men movies were also made by drawing on iterations made possible by work for hire). Additionally, it's probably too early to predict the moderately successful (by Spider-Man standards) Sin City and Hellboy franchises (the article's counter-examples) won't be matched by their equivalents among the Marvel properties. I don't think each of those movies was approximately as profitable as the first Blade.

I don't know, I'm not interested in this stuff at all so I probably have an ass-backwards grasp of it, but I always just kind of figured at some point Marvel Entertainment would settle into a less crazy groove like most companies do. How many viable mainstream properties does any one company need? How long as a giant hit-movie machine does any one company get? I figured "not long." It's not like the creators are sharing in on this, so I can't work up a lot of concern for stockholders who stick around for too long, or for board members who see a bonus reduced by a few hundred grand.

In other Marvel news, the company signs another specific licensing deal, and sketches out the rough parameters of its 2006 publishing slate. This includes Neil Gaiman doing something with the Eternals. Who doesn't love Karkas?
posted 9:19 am PST | Permalink

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