Serving as an executive producer on all six “Batman” feature films for Warner Bros. over the last two decades, Michael Uslan is no stranger to bridging the worlds of comics and movies.
“In terms of importance, I put this on par with Disney’s acquisition of ABC Television Network,” Uslan told CBR News. “That’s how big I think this is.”
Struck in 1995, the $19 billion deal not only created the world’s largest entertainment company, but at the time, was the second-largest merger in U.S. history, behind the $30.6 billion buyout of RJR Nabisco Co. by Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co.
Uslan answered his own question, “Is it a smart deal?” with “I think it is. It’s a win-win for both sides but, it’s not a glove fit.”
The reason for the slight hesitation, explained Uslan, was the fact that Marvel Entertainment has already packaged a number of its key franchises off to other corporate entities like Sony’s “Spider-Man” deal and its “X-Men” arrangement with 20th Century Fox.
“For Disney, they’re picking up one of the greatest slates of intellectual property in the world. [These are] branded franchises that can play everywhere. For Marvel, not only are they getting access to great distribution and deep pockets but if you look at where they are at this moment, and with the understanding they have a 5,000 character library, they’re really facing now having to exploit second-tier characters and that creates a less stable, long-term picture.
“With ‘X-Men,’ ‘Fantastic Four,’ ‘Hulk’ and ‘Spider-Man’ already spoken for, they’re going to be turning to second and even third-tier characters and as you look through the library and you have Moon Knight and Quasar and Nova and Doctor Strange and Nick Fury and Vision and Giant Man and etc, etc., it’s not quite as slam dunk as it seems. But I think with them owned by Disney, it gives them a comfort zone as they head down the line with these second-tier characters.”
Uslan said for this deal to be a success, Disney needs to look at what Marvel did with “Iron Man” in 2008 – let a top notch director like Jon Favreau run wild with fanboy freedom and make sure he gets a lot of help from comic book heavyweights who know the source material inside and out like Joe Quesada, Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Millar.
“Iron Man was really a second-tier character. What [the movie’s success] proved is if you let great filmmakers, who have a passion for the material and understand the integrity of the characters, go forward and make great movies, you’re going to do fine. Disney will sell toys and they’ll sell Happy Meals if they just let them make great movies and I hope that, as they’ve learned with Pixar, they let the animators make great animation, they let the filmmakers make great films and they let the comic book creators make great comic books. That’s what I’m hoping they will do.”
And Jonathan Friedland, Disney’s VP of Strategic Communications, told CBR News that is what they’ll do.
“We like what they’ve done creatively,” explained Friedland. “We want Marvel to continue to serve its fanbase. It’s not about turning Marvel into Disney at all.”
Earlier in the day, Disney President and CEO Bob Iger shared a similar sentiment with investors during a conference call:
“We actually have had some conversations internally. In fact John Lasseter met with some of the key Marvel creative executives fairly recently and the group got very excited pretty fast. I almost felt like saying, ‘OK, guys, you’ve got to slow down, we haven’t done this deal yet.’ There’s definitely an opportunity, not to brand or co-brand anything Pixar-Marvel but John’s creative talents and enthusiasm and Marvel’s creative talents and enthusiasm will look very expansively at all the different opportunities. I think there’s some exciting product that ultimately can come from that.
“If you put a bunch of really creative, very enthusiastic people in a room who appreciate in such extraordinary ways the values of great characters and compelling stories in really interesting worlds, there’s an awful lot can happen… sort of ‘the sparks will fly,’ is the expression that comes to mind.”
Uslan noted the family history with the Iger name and hoped that history would be remembered (and considered) when the Disney CEO was making creative decisions in regards to Marvel properties.
“To me, it’s very interesting to the point of being almost cosmic, that Bob Iger, the head of Disney, is the nephew of Jerry Iger, one of the founding fathers of the comic book industry,” said Uslan, who also produced “The Spirit,” directed by Frank Miller.
Jerry Iger, who died in 1990, co-founded Eisner & Iger with Will Eisner in the 1930s. A comic book packaging house, Eisner & Iger employed future legends like Jack Kirby, Lou Fine, Bob Kane and Wallace Wood during the original Golden Age of Comic Books.
“I knew Jerry Iger. When you think about what he did and what they did in terms of the early packaging of superheroes and characters with their own stable or writers, artists, letterers and colorists delivering a complete and creative product to publishers, I’m hoping that Bob Iger respects and follows in the footsteps of his uncle in that regard. And that he recognizes what the comic book industry is doing,” said Uslan. “It’s in its Golden Age creatively, and I hope he lets Marvel continue to do it.”