Thursday, August 6, 2009

Marvel acquires Marvelman: Has anything like this ever worked out well before? Part 1

Here's my take on this: no, nothing like this has ever really worked out perfectly in the past. There is a long history of the two biggest comics publishers acquiring the rights to other company's characters and failing to fully exploit the potential of those properties. Once acquired, the characters never manage to regain the heights of popularity they enjoyed at the peak of their success at other publishers.

The one possible exception I can think of is the 1944 merger of Detective Comics and All-American Publications which united Detective's characters like Batman and Superman with All-American's properties such as Green Lantern, Flash and Wonder Woman to form National Comics (which eventually changed its name to DC). That merger has obviously been an unqualified success for both companies' characters. I'm not sure that it really qualifies for what I'm talking about here though, as it wasn't technically an acquisition and both companies had never really been separate entities anyway.

Probably the biggest and most successful acquisition of the type I'm talking about has been the sale of the Fawcett Comics library (basically the "Captain Marvel/Shazam" characters) to DC Comics. DC has probably made their initial investment back many times over since they bought those characters in the 1970s. There have been numerous comic series, a TV show, an animated series and even plans for a big screen movie featuring the characters.

However, whatever success the property has had at DC pales in comparison to the popularity that the various Captain Marvel series enjoyed in their heyday in the 1940s, when the character was the most popular superhero in America, outselling even Superman, who was also at his peak at the time. At DC, Captain Marvel has never been more than a mediocre success, a property given a third rate priority by the company.

Since then DC has acquired lots of other libraries of characters including the Quality, Charlton and Wildstorm Comics heroes. Though these concepts have had periodic upsurges in visibility, all these acquisitions have followed the same pattern of fading popularity post-sale, as DC focuses its resources on promoting the Detective/All-American stable of characters.

Marvel has been down the same road, buying Malibu Comics in 1994 and then being so derelict in managing their "Ultraverse" characters that they are now unusable, victims of arcane rights issues that were triggered by Marvel's negligence in not producing new material featuring the concepts.

So if never works out, why do comics companies keep doing it? what are DC thinking in acquiring the rights to the MLJ, Milestone and THUNDER Agents characters - all in the space of the last year? and why do I think that Marvelman could be an exception to all this?

In the next few days I hope to post part two where I explain some of my theories!

1 comment:

  1. I'd argue that DC's integration of the Charlton characters has been pretty successful. Blue Beetle, for example, features prominently on the Brave and the Bold TV series and just finished a three-year run of his latest title (along with the Ted Kord version having been a mainstay for about 20 years). The same could be said for Captain Atom.

    The whole DC/Milestone thing is kind of muddled; Static Shock crossed-over with Justice League multiple times in animation, for example...since DC effectively had everything except outright ownership of the characters, they were, for most purposes, DC characters.

    But overall, you're right...this almost NEVER ends well. I didn't even know Marvel had access to the Ultraverse characters (though I'm not sure that's a boon, anyhow). Moreover, getting minor characters from a lesser imprint is different from getting a high profile and dare I say 'art house' character like Marvelman. His cache is different and has been for some time.