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Sunday, October 04, 2015 

Lessons may be learned about Marvel's success of yesteryear, but not from Riskology's coverage

A website called Riskology wrote a small history piece about Marvel's business of the past. Unfortunately, there's some flaws in here, such as this one about the Human Torch:
If they called him crazy, it wasn’t for long. Martin [Goodman] worked hard to develop his leadership and intuition for products that could go big, and he knew he had a hit when his writers delivered the star character in his new magazine: The Human Torch.

If this story is starting to sound familiar but you can’t quite place it, The Human Torch went on to become a founding member of The Fantastic Four—one of the longest lasting and most recognizable comic brands in history. It’s owned by Marvel Comics which, you guessed it, is the name Martin traded for Timely Publications in 1961.
Pardon me, but the original Human Torch of the Golden Age was a robot named Jim Hammond, built by a scientist named Phineas Horton, who could later be seen as a co-star in The Invaders, Roy Thomas' WW2-based title of the late 70s. The name was later used by Stan Lee as the codename for entirely new, different hero Johnny Storm, when he and Jack Kirby created the FF in 1961. And even then, they still kept the original Human Torch around. So this is one of apparently many so-called history items written by somebody who couldn't be bothered to do the research that's quite possible to do, and would've shown just what their story development history was like in better times.

They don't do much better when they bring up the business angle of Marvel:
In 2009, Disney bought Marvel Comics for $4 billion. Yes, billion with a b. And if that’s not impressive enough, Marvel had lost its way and gone bankrupt just a decade earlier.

In a way, the Marvel story is a perfect reflection of every great comic book. Good has been defeated and it seems evil prevailing is a foregone conclusion. Just as the scene is about to go dark, a hero appears. They’re unwilling to go down without a fight. Time is short so the hero springs to action. They quickly ready themselves for battle, they rally the townspeople around them and then, against all odds, they defeat the evil intruder and happiness is restored.
I'm afraid that's only so from a business perspective. Their storytelling quality declined in the 1990s, and continued on a bad path before and after Disney bought them. Just what has Disney done to turn that around? Nothing. The publishing arm is clearly expendable to them; only the movies and merchandise they can adapt from their library matters to them. And that has to be the real reason they were bought out. Bob Layton once said he believes it's only a matter of time before they decide to just drop the original comics altogether, since it's not like they would need newer material to conceive a movie screenplay anyway. That's the sad reality about comics - they're not considered great reading material. They're only considered great movie wellsprings.

So to say it's a perfect reflection of every great comic is merely a joke. Real life doesn't function the same way.

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Best learning lesson
toronto magician

In 1988, when Batman's sidekick Robin was killed off, some articles in the MSM seemed to think it was the same character who had been in the comics since 1940, and who had been in the 1966-68 TV show and the Super Friends cartoons. They obviously had never heard of Jason Todd/Robin II. They probably saw no need to do even minimal research for such an unimportant story.

And Layton is right. The comics exist only as IP, to be mined for movies, TV, games, and toys. Disney and Time Warner could shut down the publishing companies and still retain copyrights and trademarks by using the characters in other (more profitable) media. And if they want to publish a magazine/comic book to tie in with the latest movie, they could outsource or subcontract the job to some other publisher.

For years, the comics based on Disney cartoon characters (Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck) were published by other companies (Western/Gold Key/Whitman in the !960's and 1970's, Gladstone/Gemstone in the 1980's and 1990's, and, now, IDW), under license. The parent companies could do the same with the superheroes.

They (Disney and Warner) could license the characters out to IDW or whoever, or they could simply tell Marvel Comics (and DC), "We're a big corporation and we expect our subsidiaries to make a profit. We're cancelling everything except the properties that tie in with the movies and other media. And from now on, the comics will be suitable for all ages, and will be accessible and understandable to preteen kids and casual readers, not just collectors. Any employee (including any writer, artist, or editor) who does not cooperate is fired."

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  • I'm Avi Green
  • From Jerusalem, Israel
  • I was born in Pennsylvania in 1974, and moved to Israel in 1983. I also enjoyed reading a lot of comics when I was young, the first being Fantastic Four. I maintain a strong belief in the public's right to knowledge and accuracy in facts. I like to think of myself as a conservative-style version of Clark Kent. I don't expect to be perfect at the job, but I do my best.
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