BIFF! Kra-aaaaa-kkk! Zowee!
That was the sound of Disney crashing through a window, breaking down a wall and scooping up Marvel Comics while the 70-year-old company went limp and batted its eyelashes. The giant entertainment conglomerate only had to laugh maniacally and dangle a $4 billion paycheque for the formerly feisty Marvel to become putty in its hands.
Egads! What’s the imaginary world coming to? The Disney-Marvel story isn’t the only rip in comicdom’s space-time continuum. Why, just last month, after 67 years of dithering, Archie Andrews decided to make an honest woman out of socialite Veronica Lodge, dooming himself to a life of henpeckery and endless discussions of what’s on sale at Pottery Barn. As we continued to weep for the Archie Comics’ runner-up -- poor, sweet, humble Betty Cooper -- we learned that the once dark, questing forces over at Marvel had been taken over by the folks who gave the world Jonas Brothers: The 3D Concert Experience.
Could this be the apocalypse?
Stan Lee, co-creator of Marvel’s Spider-Man, Iron Man and other glowering superheroes, sounded pleased. One could only conclude that a manipulating supervillain had coerced his public endorsement.
“I couldn’t be happier with this agreement,” Lee said in a statement published in the Globe and Mail. He remarked that the move gave Disney “a library of literally hundreds of unique and colourful characters that have the potential to make great, high-concept movies and long-lasting franchises -- and nobody knows how to play in that ball park better than Disney.”
Marvel’s characters, the Globe suggested, appeal to the biggest fans of superhero comics -- boys. Disney’s already got girls covered with Hannah Montana and other squeaky clean fare. With a fresh roster of muscular do-gooders on the order of the Fantastic Four at its disposal, along with the creative genius of Pixar Animation Studios, Disney’s move toward world domination is virtually assured.
But for shame, Marvel. Have you forgotten the knotty bravado of your most compelling characters? Captain America, one of Marvel’s earliest pen-and-ink gods, was an anti-Axis crusader during World War Two. He was once depicted punching out Adolph Hitler. Comic artists like Alberto Silva had a field day last week, inserting lisping Donald Duck into Captain America’s stars’n’stripes costume. Inspired by the takeover, blog commentators were suggesting other humiliating possibilities, like “Winnie the Poohnisher.” (For amusing mash-ups like “Beauty and The Thing,” see superpunch.blogspot.com)
This alliance of light and dark seems a little like putting the chickens in charge of the fox den. The best superheroes have axes to grind, and angst is Marvel’s stock-in-trade. Iron Man Tony Stark, a rich weapons manufacturer, made his debut during the Cold War in 1963, because co-creator Lee thought he would represent everything Americans hated at the time. It would be an engrossing challenge to get them to like him, Lee felt. To add another flaw to his quiver, Stark’s an alcoholic. Lee was editor and scripter, too, for 1962’s Peter Parker/Spider-Man -- an orphan who’s caught between heroic deeds, self-loathing, and the urge for a normal life.
Neither of these distressed protagonists bears much resemblance to Disney’s Snow White, flitting about, singing cheerfully and straightening blankets, or the deluded American White Shepherd “super-dog” Bolt. If you’re looking for a source of genuinely tortured characters, Marvel is to Disney as Daniel Day-Lewis is to Arnold Schwarzenegger.
I have nothing against Disney, apart from the spooky fact that real birds never appear to land on Disneyland’s grounds while recorded birdsong twitters from hidden speakers. But its slickness, relentless good cheer and happy endings philosophy seem antithetical to the unruly world of Marvel, where haunted young men with nasty pasts fight on from Issue #1 to Issue #648, always disappointing their demanding hometown public, and never able to really get the girl.
Honouring the essence of other people’s creations doesn’t seem to be a “core value” at Disney, either. Look what it did to Winnie-the-Pooh. The A.A. Milne books about Pooh are especially dear to our own hearts because the original bear that inspired the books was taken to Europe during the First World War by Canadian army veterinarian Harry Colebourn. He named Winnie after his hometown, Winnipeg. Author Milne’s son Christopher named his own teddy bear after Winnie, throwing in “the Pooh” because he’d also met and liked a swan named Pooh. (We’ll just leave that one alone.)
Milne’s books featuring Winnie were as English as English could be, and what was wrong with that? In the stories, perfectly illustrated in pen and ink by E.H. Shepard, Winnie was a gentle, philosophical fellow who was hooked on honey and ambled through his adventures like a proper little Englishman. When Disney bought the rights to W-the-P in the 1960s, the plump ursine simultaneously lost his accent and his subtlety. Eventually he got pimped out as a lecturer in videos like Winnie the Pooh: Sharing and Caring.
So what will become of The Avengers -- “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes,” as they call themselves -- under Disney’s reign? Will Wolverine’s long talons make him super-popular at sleepovers because he can roast an entire bag of marshmallows in one go?
Picture, if you will, Jessica Drew/Spider-Woman, whose pheremones “produce a strong sexual attraction from men and repulsion from women,” according to Wikipedia. (I hate it when that happens.) Disney won’t want to introduce that sort of divisive and lascivious concept to its malleable young audiences. Spider-Woman, then, will probably have to learn something about being a good friend by wearing baggier clothes.
On Tuesday, the Globe and Mail’s editorial cartoon showed Spider-Man slinging his way through the skyscrapers wearing Mickey Mouse ears while a guy in an office read a newspaper bearing the headline Disney Buys Marvel. Talk about your castration scenarios.
But courage, friends! Without his trademark angst, Spider-Man will finally be able to pursue an ordinary existence -- earning a regular gig in pest control, perhaps, with Tuesday evenings reserved for bowling league. In his new, rosy-cheeked life, Peter Parker’s beloved Mary Jane will wait for him nightly, a hot apple pie slowly cooling on her windowsill.
And with Marvel Disney-fied, Archie Comics will be free to plumb its characters’ previously unperceived depths. With Archie in rehab, Veronica battling obesity, and Betty a regular at the Riverdale Bar’s Cougar Night, that ailing franchise is sure to regain its footing.