With Disney's big buy of Marvel, America suddenly finds much of its entire animated universe — from Spider-Man to Pluto — in the hands of one media conglomerate. How many cartoon characters must a company own before the FTC acts?
For decades, young MBA's have stepped off the Greyhound with little more than an attaché case and a dream — a dream of making their fortunes by turning a moribund 1960's comic book character into a gazillion-dollar international film franchise. Today that dream just fell out of reach for many young dreamers.
The news that Disney has shelled out $4 billion to buy Marvel comics means, for all purposes, the ownership of America's beloved cartoon characters is now in the hands of two companies — Disney and Warner Bros.
Of all the issues facing Washington now, superhero rights no doubt fall low on the list, but what will it take for the government to step in with anti-trush legislation and let these animated citizens enjoy the full pleasures of the free market?
Facing off each other across from opposite ends of Burbank now, America's cartoon titans stand amassed in two armies like The Legion of Doom and The Teen Titans.
Serving now on Disney's payroll:
The classic Disney characters; Mickey, Minnie and the Country Bears
The Pixar Universe - from Buzz Lightyear to Up's formidable Carl Fredricksen
And now Marvel's Spiderman, the Moon Knight, Kingpin, Captain America and the Human Torch.
Here's what's in the Warners camp:
The DC Universe from Batman right on down to Mr. Mxyzptlk
The hangdog but never to be counted out Hanna-Barbera world — including Scooby Doo, a Tom and Jerry film in production, and the perpetually unquenchable demand for updated versions of the Jetsons and Flintstones, not to mention a little outlet known as the Smurfs.
And how could we forget Bugs Bunny and the Warner Brothers cartoon empire
Which leaves very very little for the other studios to pick over.
In fact, if one looks at Empire Magazine's list of the Greatest Comic Characters of All Time, Art Seigelman's holocaust allegory Maus stands as the lone member of the Top 20 not now in the Disney or Warners camps. Of the complete Top 50, the ten remaining free agents are a fairly motley collection of satirical characters (The Tick), untranslatable imports (Astro Boy) and edgy "alternative" characters (Harvey Pekar). When Steven Spielberg's work-in-progress Tin Tin finallys hits the screens, it may be a brave last stand for independent comic book characters, free from the iron chains of the Disney/Warners duopoly.
But ultimately, the greatest losers on this historic day are certainly the other studios whose coming summer slates are heavily dependent on help from their Marvel friends. Sony's Spiderman franchise, Paramount's Iron Man films and Fox plans for a thousand year reign of Avengers origins and team up films are now dependent to some degree on the good will of their friends at Disney.
And all that assumes the winds don't pick up and the fires raging in the hills don't consume us all in flames sometime before tea time today.