Monday, August 10, 2009

Marvel acquires Marvelman: Has anything like this ever worked out well before? Part 2

Go here for Part 1.

So if they never really work out for the characters how do I explain the fact that these acquisitions continue to happen?

In a few of these cases there have been obvious reasons for these sales that have little to do with getting access to the intellectual property involved. It's well known that the main motivation for Marvel's acquisition of Malibu and, to a lesser extent, DC's of Wildstorm was to the acquire the sophisticated coloring departments both companies possessed.

Wildstorm also had exclusive contracts with arguably the two biggest creators in the business - Jim Lee and Alan Moore - and DC hoped to make use of those relationships. The other big benefit for Marvel and DC in buying Malibu and Wildstorm was that it immediately increased their market share by taking a potential competitor out of the marketplace.

It is this second, somewhat controversial motivation that I think explains why so many other properties have been bought up by the big two. Buying these characters removes the possibility that another competitor will figure out a way to utilise and disrupt the marketplace.

Valiant is an example of just that happening. Jim Shooter set-up this company in the early 1990s using a bunch of nearly-forgotten characters from 1960s Western/Gold Key Comics to launch his new line of comics. With solid production values and the full resources of a talented editorial and promotional team behind them, the company took off and quickly became one of the biggest comics publishers in the country.

Their success was brief, and in part based on peculiar market conditions of the time, but the example is as stark reminder of the potential disruptive power of new comic company using old concepts in a focused and well promoted manner. If Valiant had only been an imprint of a larger company I don't think it would have been anywhere near as successful, just remember Shooter's earlier attempt to a launch a new superhero line - his failed "New Universe" project at Marvel.

It is for this "spoiler" reason of wanting to block potential competition that I think DC may be kicking itself now that it didn't actively pursue Marvelman. The character probably wouldn't add a huge amount to DC, but he has the potential to help Marvel enormously in areas that DC traditionally dominates.

In part 3 I'll go into the opportunity costs inherent in buying and promoting these new acquisitions and explore the most obvious benefit these companies see in buying the rights to old properties - the idea that these new characters will add value to their pre-existing catalogues -and explain why I think that, except in rare cases (like Marvelman), this is usually a mistake.


  1. I'm really enjoying this series of comments. I just wanted to chip in to say that the failure of Shooter's New Universe seems to have been as much about internal politics at Marvel than anything else, so it could be argued that it was Shooter's association with the project, not Marvel's that was the death-knell of that enterprise.

  2. I didn't know that about the color departments. That's very interesting. I doubt highly that DC really believed they could leverage their agreement with Wildstorm to get Moore back in their fold...unless they were borderline delusional about it.

    New Universe was a great idea with weak execution. It still has kind of a nostalgic appeal to me...even though I know it wasn't actually that good.

  3. This deal did mean that DC had Moore "back in their fold" though - they got to publish all his ABC work and they continue to sell the trades.

    Maybe they hoped that by establishing a new relationship with him, Moore might reconsider working on their own properties, but I'd guess that was a remote consideration to them.

    He is one (of if not THE) best-selling authors the publisher has ever had, so getting access to any new material from him was very valuable to them.