State of the franchise: Marvel
Marvel has been very busy. Everyone is familiar with the theatrical output: 2016’s “Doctor Strange,” 2017’s “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” and the upcoming “Thor: Ragnarok.” But Marvel’s been busy with its other outlets as well, aside from its traditional comic books. In Disney’s Burbank headquarters, Marvel movers shared their recent and coming activities.
Aside from the films, it’s Marvel’s television division that people know about. Jeph Leob, the award-winning comic book and screenwriter, heads Marvel TV. “When Disney bought Marvel, I was brought in to head the TV division,” he said. “We started from scratch, first with animation to live-action. We went from one show to 18 in 2018.”
Starting with ABC’s “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” Marvel had four shows on Netflix: “Daredevil,” “Jessica Jones,” “Luke Cage” and “Iron Fist.” “We made an unprecedented deal with Netflix three years ago,” he said. “We brought the street-level heroes, the Marvel Knights.” This August, those four reluctant heroes will be together in a new show, “The Defenders.” “I love how they don’t really like each other,” Leob explained. Marvel has, among others “The Inhumans” cooking at ABC, “Runaways” on Hulu, “The Punisher” on Netflix” and “The Gifted” on Fox. Leob speaks with affection about the in-development series “New Warriors” on Freeform in 2018, where we see what happens when six heroes live together and there are cameras everywhere. “Primarily we’ve been in the one-hour space doing drama. We haven’t done a straight ahead half-hour comedy,” Leob said. “It’s a lot of fun.”
One area that Marvel has gone into is games, of course. Bill Rosemann is executive director at Marvel Games. Formed three years ago, Marvel Games changed the way games were made at the company. “Let’s not copy the movie that’s coming out,” Rosemann said. “Let’s just make the best game we can. Let’s get the best partners. Let’s not rush it. Let every game tell its own story. We want every game to be a homerun.” At the recent E3 convention, Marvel Games unveiled three console games: “LEGO Marvel Super Heroes 2” (“a follow-up to the most successful LEGO game ever,” it features the time-traveling villain Kang the Conqureror and heroes from different time periods and realities), the fighting game “Marvel vs Capcom: Infinite” (“we merge the two worlds, with two villains merging—Ultron and Sigma becoming Ultron Sigma— with the heroes trying to do something about that.”), and “Spider-Man” (being done with Insomniac Studios). “It was not copy of any Spider-Man from any specific TV show or comic book,” Rosemann explained. “It’s a unique Spider-Man. We’re given the freedom to get all the available content and mix them together to make our own concept.”
A dynamic new division is Marvel Themed Entertainment. Former Disney theme park engineer Brian Crosby is creative director. “We take whatever these guys do in comic books or TV and try to create dimensional experiences using the Marvel characters in the real world,” Crosby said. “That’s a new thing.” So Crosby’s division opened their first attraction earlier this year, Hong Kong Disneyland’s “The Iron Man Experience.”
Their most recent attraction is the “Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout” at the Disney California Adventure park, a truly thrilling and terrifying adventure ride. Marvel Themed Entertainment also handles all the theme park attractions and moving exhibits.
“What you see at the comic conventions around the world and big arena shows, like ‘Marvel Universe Live,’ which is touring the states and soon internationally,” he said.
This step forward into different forms of franchise entertainment is typified by Steve Wacker, the excellent editor of many Marvel comic books and now vice president of development for TV and new media, which means handling migration of content to Snapchat and Facebook. Wacker is a big believer in the evolution of Marvel content.
He recalls the creation of one of Marvel’s signature new characters, the shape- and size-shifting Pakistani- American heroine Ms. Marvel. She was created by one of Wacker’s editors, Sama Amanat. “She said she didn’t read comics because there was no one there who looked like her,” Wacker said. “This was a chance to do something new. We had just started in the digital comic world and it was really tearing down walls for readers around the world. The next thing we knew we were doing a new comic book. It hit huge. She’s now even in animation. It’s opened the door to a new resurgence of youthful characters, but still classic marvel. It’s a classic Peter Parker story told through someone new and from a different part of the world.”
Animation is a huge part of the Marvel brand. Marsha Griffin is vice president for current TV and development at Marvel Animation Studios. She spoke about Marvel’s new campaign, “Marvel Rising.”
“‘Marvel Rising’ is an exciting new initiative for the company and it’s the next evolution of things we’ve already been doing like introducing fantastic yet authentic characters that represent the Marvel fans,” Griffin said. “Marvel stories are for everybody. It’s action and adventure with a lot of heart. It’s got a new unique visual style as well. We’re very excited to bring a new generation into the world through this also by creating a whole new legion of fan favorite characters they haven’t seen before in animation. That content will be delivered as a feature animated film and will evolve into something bigger.”
Wacker puts it this way: “That’s what ‘Marvel Rising’ is about. Something central to Marvel in general is the belief that there’s a hero in all of us, there’s a hero in each one of us.”—RUEL S. DE VERA
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