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Tuesday, September 1

When Marvel Met Disney

When Marvel Met Disney

This is what bothers me about the Disney Marvel deal is this: authenticity.

As a preamble, I refer to a lecture given by Robert Sawyer as broadcast on TV Ontario's Big Ideas in February of 2008. Marvel Comics is, without a doubt in my mind, one of the greatest running commentaries on the contemporary world as achieved by science fiction. Our fiction; print, TV, film, and otherwise; must more often remind us of what is happening in fact. It should challenge us to confront the present in a way that shapes a future representative of our ideals. When Disney buys Marvel, a key voice will be lost the maelstrom, drowned in the echo chamber of positive American interests.

Since 1963, "mutant" X-men are cast distinctly as the "other," children and adults in a world that fear their potential. This role as "other" applied immediately to the civil rights movement with Professor Charles Xavier cast as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Eric Magnus "Magneto" Lensherr, a holocaust survivor and arch-villain to the X-Men, highlighted the presence of anti-Semitism in America in compelling twist on third Reich policy with his claim that "mutant-kind" are Homo superior. LGBT rights are also approached as many "mutants" live "in the closet," unless they are "outed" and, consequently, endangered.

The parallels do not stop there. The Marvel universe includes both real and fictional settings; Spider-man and the X-Men are New York super-heroes. As a result, the commentaries are immediate and poignant.

The 2006 Civil War story line, which ran across all of the Marvel Universe, casts all "powered" beings as threats or weapons to national security. Hence, every "powered" being — all heroes, all villains — were required to register their identities and powers with the government. Some heroes, including Reed Richards, Iron Man, and Spider-Man acquiesced and supported the movement. Others, including Captain America, fought against registration. This war story pitted friends and brothers, husbands and wives, against one another. In the end, it is left to the reader to decide what is right and wrong, and to deal with the consequences of those decisions.

Disney, too, can be held in high regard for storytelling. They manage to put together some of the best stories ever told. In one respect, however, there is a distinct difference between Disney and Marvel. Disney deals in absolutes. There are no gray regions. Much like Star Wars in the aforementioned lecture by Robert Sawyer, in Disney movies the bad guys wear black hats and the good guys always win. In the Marvel Universe, the lives of our heroes are pitted with Pyrrhic victories and heroes often die. Just ask Jean Grey.

Could Disney tell the Civil War story? Captain America goes against his own government; he fights against an enacted law, all on a matter of principle. Could Disney allow their characters to explore the gray regions of the human heart? A Wolverine bound to the pillars of amnesia and berserker fury. A Professor Xavier who loses the ability to control his power, creates Onslaught, and kills scores of innocents. Consider the following: Mom and Pop fight the influence of evil in their own teenage children in the sequel to the Incredibles. Further, with all of his powers, Jack-Jack, a toddler, is taken away by the government as too great a threat. Could Disney tackle the issues of contemporary America? Radical religious groups, private military security contracts for U.S. interests, and equal rights for all divisions of humanity are all hot-potatoes handled by Marvel and remain untouched by Disney.

Marvel is not just a plethora of "cool" characters with "awesome" powers that can be engineered to squeeze dollars out of a demographic that Disney has missed, 7 – 17 year-old boys. Marvel challenges us to confront our prejudices. Recent super-hero film adventures aside, this is what Marvel stands for and what Disney doesn't.

One last question. Could Disney give Jean Grey better death scenes than the two bungled by FOX?

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