Thursday, June 7, 2007

Is Stan still the Man?

The headline caught my attention: “STAN LEE SIGNS DEAL WITH DISNEY.” After all, this is Stan Lee, father of Spiderman, X-Men, Hulk, and countless other iconic Marvel comic superheroes. Superheroes, I should mention, that have ultimately defined modern comics and summer blockbusters, making a lot of sweet moola in the process. Indeed, aside from Bob Kane, Joe Shuster, and Jerry Siegel, nobody has left their footprint on the superhero world like Stan Lee. But then I wonder, If Stan’s most notable characters are owned by Marvel and the media companies, what is he bringing to Disney (I’m also asking, Disney, of all places?). So, by this point very curious, I read the article (see link below).

Turns out Stan won’t be bringing any of his Marvel characters to Disney, but a bunch of new characters he has been concocting at his company Pow! Entertainment. Obviously, Disney is trying to compensate for the foolish mistake they made when they let billion-dollar money machine Spiderman go to Sony Pictures, or blockbusting X-Men and Fantastic Four franchises to Fox, or even the Hulk to Universal. A little slow on the uptake (“Hey, maybe there is something to this comic-book-superhero-movie thing?”), Disney is willing to settle for characters that have not been tested and, therefore, have no core fan base. They’re probably saying something like, “Well, they’re superheroes, aren’t they? Made by that same Stanley guy, right? Well, just throw ‘em out there. The money will come rolling in, right?” Wrong, Disney.

Not all of Marvel’s superheroes have turned into successful franchises. Even those with sizeable fan bases (i.e. Daredevil, Captain America, Punisher), have had a tough go at it. Those that have been successful had a few ingredients in common: massive (and I mean, massive) fan bases, competent directors who respected the material and the fans, and a genuinely solid end product, from script to acting to FX to marketing. Apparently, when it comes to superhero films, fans fuel the movie; the larger majority will buy in if it has the best quality. So, this then begs the question: will Stan’s relatively obscure characters make bank without the necessary fan base?

I stopped by Stan’s Pow! Entertainment website to check out some of his new characters. One character is a warrior with a Cable-like cybernetic arm from the future named “The Drifter.” Another called “Stripperella” (“stripper by night, superhero by later at night”) will probably not make the Disney cut but already has her own show on Spike TV. One superhero named Lightspeed, an agent with superpowers, apparently has a Sci-Fi Channel movie in development. I recommend going to the Pow! website to take a look at some of the others. Most of them are still in development and don’t have much information provided.

If you couldn’t tell, I am skeptical that these characters will reap any real rewards for Disney. I doubt they will result in anything more than a few straight-to-DVD features or Sci-Fi miniseries, maybe a Disney Channel original movie. You’ve gotta admire Stan’s creativity, the gifts he gave us in the X-Men, Hulk, and Spiderman. But let’s face it: these franchises have grown beyond him, fueled by a long legacy of gifted writers and artists and loyal fans. You can’t just toss a product into the market with the Stan Lee name on it and expect the same return. Not going to happen.

What do you think? Anyone think that this is just the most spectacularly brilliant strategy Disney has ever devised? How will Stan’s new characters fare in the marketplace? Chime in.

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