I’ve chosen some heavy issues to fill this column space in recent weeks, but now I’ve got a real meaty topic for you: The ownership of our favourite comic-book superheroes.
Rumours are running rampant that Marvel – the House That Stan Lee Built and the home of several characters currently raking in billions in worldwide box-office revenue – could soon snatch up DC, which boasts nearly a century’s worth of its own heavily-merchandisable, garishly-dressed crime-fighters.
To put this into perspective, consider Coke buying out Pepsi, CTV taking over CBC, or Peter MacKay merging his Progressive Conservatives with another right-leaning political movement to create a new party that would one day welcome him as a leadership candidate. (What? Oops. My bad.)
So how did we arrive at a scenario that could see Superman joining the Avengers, Captain Marvel battling Harley Quinn, or Aquaman patrolling the seas with the Sub-Mariner?
It all started last month, when DC’s parent company, AT&T, unceremoniously fired the comic company’s long-time co-publisher, Dan DiDio. According to various sources, DiDio caught flack for his attempt to launch the 5G (alias “Fifth Generation”) line of comics that would haul veteran characters into the contemporary world. Chief among DiDio’s detractors were Batman head writer Scott Snyder, who allegedly refused to allow the Caped Crusader to participate in the 5G strategy.
Now that DiDio is out, even some DC contributors are speculating that the future of DC Comics depends entirely on the success or failure of the 5G experiment. Former Green Lantern artist Ethan Van Scriver recently went live on YouTube to announce that “comic books are dead, and they are going to close up the publishing house soon.” He also cited a “professional” that claimed to have spoken to “one of the higher-ups at DC Comics” who in turn declared that AT&T would shut down its publishing arm if DC’s 5G titles flopped.
Enter Marvel. Only 25 years ago, the company’s film wing was a laughingstock. Today, with Disney money pumping into the Avenger-verse, Marvel Studios not only packs the multiplexes but has the financial clout to make its characters front and centre in every aspect of our lives, anywhere in the world. Keeping this in mind, it’s not outside the realm of possibility that the characters seen as rivals for over half a century could soon wind up working together in a theatre (or comic-book) near you.
If this seems a bit far-fetched, remember that Marvel Studios nearly caused rioting in the streets when it initially failed to reach a deal to contract out Spider-Man to Sony Pictures last summer, before the two sides patched up their differences and ensured Tom Holland would be crawling the walls for at least another five years.
Now, at the risk of inciting a riot on my own, I should point out that I’ve always favoured Marvel over DC. Spider-Man has been my go-to superhero since my childhood. The only Batman film in my personal top-10 list of superhero flicks is The LEGO Batman Movie. Cathy and I got into the modern TV versions of Supergirl and The Flash over the past five years, but neither of us are running out to buy their comic-books.
So why would I care about who gets hired and fired at DC, or the fate of its various characters and publications?
Two words: MAD Magazine.
See, DC has run MAD since 1992, when the magazine’s parent company Warner Communications moved it to DC Entertainment following the death of original MAD published William M. Gaines. The satirical juggernaut outlived all of its competitors and survived several changes, including the introduction of colour and advertising in 2001, the reduction of its publication schedule from monthly to bi-monthly in 2009, and the movement of MAD’s operations from New York City to California – and an accompanying editorial-staff overhaul – in 2018.
However, last summer, DiDio and his DC co-publisher Jim Lee confirmed that MAD would leave newsstands and severely cut back on original material beginning with its December 2020 issue. In addition to reducing overhead costs, DiDio and Lee hoped that the reprinting of older MAD material would bring back older readers who had fallen away from MAD in recent years. (The current issue’s cover boasts that it contains “21.4285% New Material!”)
At the time, DiDio declared that DC would re-assess the new MAD strategy after its first year. Just one problem: The guy who launched that rebranding is now gone, and DC itself appears to be twisting in the wind.
So I’m begging AT&T, as well as anybody considering a DC purchase: If you find a new home for Bruce Wayne, Clark Kent and Diana Prince, I insist that you also provide shelter for Alfred E. Neuman.
Hey, Disney now owns The Simpsons, The Muppets and Star Wars – anything’s possible.