In August 2009 the Walt Disney Company bought Marvel Entertainment for $4 billion, and now is set to add to it at the end of the month by acquiring Dark Horse Comics and its film production group Dark Horse Entertainment in a deal worth nearly $1 billion.
Dark Horse, established in 1986 by Mike Richardson, has consistently been seen as the leading independent comic book publisher. However, in recent years it has shelved several creator-owned titles and its own “universe” of superpowered characters in favour of higher-profile licensed titles based on film and television projects. Amongst these are Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Aliens, Predator, Serenity and Avatar: The Last Airbender.
The move comes after several years of hit-and-miss projects and lost opportunities for Dark Horse, including poor returns on their recent comic book-based films R.I.P.D. and Sin City: A Dame To Kill For. Other factors include the loss of the Star Wars and Indiana Jones licenses, which are now owned by Disney and were moved to Marvel after the entertainment giant bought them out.
“It’s been a rough few years,” Richardson confessed in a statement yesterday. “The online comics market has made a dent in our physical sales, and if we want to keep moving forward then it’s something that has to be done. This isn’t the end, it’s a whole new beginning.”
He went on to add that the independent tone of the comics would remain. “I know our loyal fans are going to fear the worst, but we’re going to make sure that doesn’t happen. When Disney bought out Marvel, fans drew pictures of Wolverine with Mickey Mouse ears and feared that the comics would go down in quality. Today, Marvel’s better than ever and it’ll be the same here. Joss (Whedon – creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and director of Marvel’s The Avengers film) has already been in touch and we’ve been spinning out some new ideas.”
However, not everyone in the Dark Horse stable has been on board with the buyout. Frank Miller, writer and artist of Dark Horse’s popular Sin City series, has been outspoken in the past regarding the lack of creator’s rights at DC and Marvel and critical of independent creators “selling out”.
“I’m sad about it, it’s like the end of an era,” he commented. “Actually, I’m more than sad. I’m pissed off. For nearly thirty years, myself and other creators have made that company what it is today. It’s always been a refuge for creativity, putting out some fine work. I hate to see it cheapened in any way. I’m not saying I’m out for good, because I love it. I’m just saying I need time to see how it’s all going to play out in the end.”
Since many of the titles are creator-owned, it remains up to Disney to strike deals with each contributor. Despite this, the back-catalogue and licenses alone are extensive. Along with Miller’s Sin City and 300, other titles Disney will be acquiring in the deal will be Mike Mignola’s Hellboy and its spin-offs, Mike Allred’s Madman, Paul Chadwick’s Concrete and more. Included in the deal are a merchandise line including Tim Burton’s Tragic Toys For Girls And Boys, a novel line and an extensive list of Japanese manga adaptations.
While this may spell the end for some titles, the opportunity for Disney-owned Dark Horse and Marvel crossovers has already been mentioned. Some titles being brought up are B.P.R.D./Thor: Gods And Monsters, Ghost/Doctor Strange: Astral Vengeance, and Deadpool vs. Madman: It Happened One Crazy April Fool’s Day.