Walt Disney Animation has premiered an adorable two-minute clip from Big Hero 6 that highlights the relationship between young Hiro and his robot Baymax, and has me looking forward to the Nov. 7 release of the film.
Even from the limited glimpses we've gotten of them, the characters are already appealing. I sure would be down for reading more stories about them. However, Marvel has no plans to release any comic books in conjunction with the premiere of Big Hero 6 -- no reprints of the original stories that inspired from the movie, no new comics ... nothing.
As the first Disney animated movie to take advantage of the House of Mouse's $4 billion purchase of the House of Ideas, you'd think this would be pretty exciting for Marvel, and something it would want to promote. And yet, Marvel is surprisingly quiet about Big Hero 6.
There are no plans to reprint the 1998 original Sunfire & Big Hero 6 miniseries by Scott Lobdell and Gus Vazquez, or the 2006 follow-up Big Hero 6 by Chris Claremont and David Nakayama . Asked about that last week by Comic Book Resources, Marvel Editor-in-Chief Axel Alonso explained, "The characters and stories that have appeared in our comics are very different from what they are in the film. Releasing material that would be viewed as movie tie-in product would be a disservice to filmgoers. We wanted the Disney folks to be able to create their own unique style and story, unencumbered by those older stories."
In isolation, that sounds reasonable. Marvel doesn't want to confuse readers with different versions of characters have made a few comic-book appearances, and it doesn't want to give potential fans of the movie watered-down versions of the characters. That's a perfectly justifiable strategy to take. However, it would also be the first time we've ever seen this strategy from Marvel.
It's not like the company has never published tie-in comics; such material has been released for virtually every movie and TV version of its characters. Tie-in comics set within the Marvel Cinematic Universe have been released like clockwork since 2010's Iron Man 2. Even the few that never received an official comic tie-in had a tidal wave of reissued and reprinted stories hit shelves just in time for their theatrical premiere. At this point, shops expect it. A dozen or more stories that haven't seen the light of day for decades get their own special treatment angled for both the book market and specialty shops.
Heck, comics set within the Marvel Universe have been used as informal tie-ins. Matt Fraction and Salvador Larroca's Invincible Iron Man was marketed as the essential post-Robert Downey Jr. Iron Man comic. Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley's Avengers Assemble was modeled after Marvel's The Avengers, which in turn inspired the Avengers Assemble animated series, which consequently has its own comic. Yes, it gets confusing -- kind of like how there's a comic based on the Ultimate Spider-Man animated series starring a young Peter Parker being published concurrently with the Ultimate Spider-Man comic starring Miles Morales in the Ultimate Comics universe. So it seems strange for the decision not to publish any Big Hero 6 stories to hinge on concerns about distracting from Disney's animated version or confusing new readers, when that's never appeared to be an issue before.
You can go all the way back to the '90s Spider-Man and X-Men animated series on Fox Kids and find comics published by Marvel right alongside the standard titles. Sometimes they were straight adaptations of episodes, and sometimes they would tell their own stories set in the same world. So why the sudden about-face?
Fortunately Disney being Disney, we won't be completely devoid of Big Hero 6. A manga adaptation by Haruki Ueno is appearing in the Japanese anthology Magazine Special, with an English translation from Yen Press to follow. Chronicle Books is releasing The Art of Big Hero 6 in October. RH Disney has a slate of Little Golden Books and other picture books for young readers, including a "junior novelization" by Irene Trimble.
Is this an instance of Disney taking more control? Is this the start of a new, more reserved strategy at Marvel in how they use its publishing to promote its movies? Or is Marvel letting Disney handle all ancillary products because its a Disney movie? It's likely we'll never fully know the big picture in such corporate arrangements. And we don't really need to know. While I'm intrigued by the manga adaptation, and hope it leads to additional Big Hero 6 manga, it's still somewhat perplexing and disappointing to see Marvel sit back on what looks like a really fun and exciting release.