5 Truly WTF Moments In Marvel History
Today, Marvel Entertainment can afford to throw millions of dollars at Vin Diesel so he'll grunt like a baby tree (the ultimate sign that you've made it in life). But that wasn't always the case. For most of the company's existence, they were just trying to keep the lights on. This led to some baffling and hilariously undignified moments. Like when ...
They Almost Sold All Of Their Movie Rights To Sony For Only $25 Million
In the '90s, Marvel was so strapped for cash that they went into "Sell your babies" mode -- or "Sell your babies' cinematic licenses," to be more accurate. That's how Sony Pictures ended up getting Spider-Man on the cheap, in a deal that's still causing Marvel Studios headaches. But it could have been a lot worse. When Sony came asking for Spidey's movie rights in 1998, Marvel made them a better offer: Why not take every single character except the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, and the Hulk (they'd already sold those) for a mere $25 million? (Remember, Disney ended up paying $4 billion for those guys.)
Had Sony said yes, we'd probably be on our fourth Captain America and 12th Thor reboot by now. We're not sure who comes off worse, though -- Marvel for almost selling their entire universe for the budget of The Waterboy, or Sony for turning them down because "Nobody gives a shit about any of the other Marvel characters."
But then again, nobody did give a shit about those characters back then. Iron Man had gone through Universal, Fox, and New Line Cinema, but nobody cared enough to actually make a movie about him, so the rights reverted to Marvel. The same thing happened with Black Panther, who almost had the honor of being portrayed by Wesley Snipes in a Columbia Pictures movie before they let the rights expire and end up with the studio that made The Blair Witch Project. Meanwhile, Captain America was almost sold to Warner Bros., which means we were dangerously close to having a Batman v. Superman v. Captain America movie. (It'd just be two hours of Supes and Bats giving Cap wedgies.)
Marvel's thinking back then was that the more movies that got made, the more merchandise they could move, and everyone knows the real money is in the lunchboxes and Pez dispensers. In fact, the whole reason they went with Iron Man as Marvel Studios' first hero was that they thought he'd make the best action figure. Of course, when we say "they," we're usually talking about the one guy who made the most baffling decisions ...
They Were Saved By Donald Trump's Weirdest Billionaire Pal
Marvel Comics wasn't just close to bankruptcy in the '90s; they straight up went broke. They filed for Chapter 11 protection in 1996, and presumably all the editors had to start wearing barrels held up by suspenders and nothing else. Marvel failed to recover from the comic book market crash of 1993, which happened due to speculators buying too many copies of shit like Godzilla vs. Charles Barkley, thinking they were getting the next Action Comics #1 (they weren't).
Point is, Marvel was in deep trouble, and the hero who saved them was ... Ike Perlmutter, a weird-ass rich guy. He gives no interviews, had like one photo on the internet until a few years ago, and like all billionaires, is involved in a long-running feud with another rich guy who tried to steal his DNA.
In recent years, Perlmutter and his wife have donated millions to Donald Trump, and in an unrelated development, Trump gave him and two other Mar-a-Lago pals control of the Department of Veteran Affairs. Just one of those nice gestures you occasionally do for your unqualified buddies.
So how did this guy end up getting involved with Marvel? Perlmutter was one of the owners of Toy Biz, which made all your favorite Aunt May and scuba-diving Wolverine action figures. When Marvel went bankrupt, Perlmutter and his partner Avi Arad saved the company by merging it with Toy Biz. Perlmutter later took over as CEO and began cutting costs by, for instance, salvaging paper clips from the trash or wanting to only serve potato chips at the Iron Man premiere -- which he reportedly attended in glasses and a fake mustache. (Maybe he was cosplaying as Stan Lee?)
Perlmutter is also the one who decided to sideline the X-Men and the Fantastic Four from the comics because Fox had their movie rights, since to him, the comics are nothing but ads for the movies (which are ads for action figures). And speaking of the MCU, Perlmutter butted heads with Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige by trying to stop Black Panther, Captain Marvel, and basically any movie not about a white man from getting made. Feige almost quit over this. Anyway, we're glad they've never given Perlmutter any cameos. The supervillains are ridiculous enough as it is.
They Had A Chance To Buy DC's Characters In The '80s, But Chickened Out
DC and Marvel characters living in the same universe would lead to all sorts of crazy scenarios, like Batman buying Stark Industries, Wonder Woman fucking Thor, DC having a movie universe that doesn't suck with every other entry, and so on. And all of that could have happened, if only Marvel's lawyers weren't giant wusses.
According to former Marvel EiC Jim Shooter, in the early '80s, he was approached by a Warner Bros. executive about WB licensing DC's characters to Marvel. As in, WB would still own the intellectual property, but Marvel would handle the actual comics. Why would he propose that? Because, with some notable exceptions, DC's own creators weren't doing a very good job of that, and the sales figures of the time reflected this. Marvel had 70% of the market share, and DC only 18%.
Shooter went to Marvel President Jim Galton, who initially turned down the offer, figuring that DC's characters couldn't be "any good" if the sales were so bad. But Shooter, a former DC writer himself, kept insisting, and put together a plan that involved relaunching DC's biggest characters with Marvel creators. Writer/artist John Byrne, famous for his work on X-Men and Fantastic Four (and his precognitive powers), got wind of this and whipped up a cover and plot synopsis for Marvel's first Superman comic, The Splendorous Superman or whatever.
Shooter says he managed to get the higher-ups excited about the plan (particularly his projection that they could make $3.5 million over the first two years). But then everyone got spooked when an independent publisher called First Comics sued Marvel over antitrust allegations. It would have been a bit harder for Marvel to argue they didn't have a monopoly if they suddenly had every superhero ever, so the lawyers and execs put the kibosh on the deal.
They must have felt pretty dumb when DC relaunched their characters on their own, using poached Marvel creators like Frank Miller and Byrne himself (on Superman, thus confirming his mind powers), and went on to beat Marvel in the market share for the first time since the '60s. A decade later, the two companies considered trading two characters for a year at the end of the nutty Marvel vs. DC crossover, but again, the legal department didn't like that. Man, how could Marvel's lawyers not see how cool that would have been? Were they blind or some- oh, right.
They Got Extremely Desperate In The Early 2000s
After coming back from bankruptcy, there was a distinct "Oh hell no, I ain't going back there" vibe at Marvel. This air of desperation was palpable in the comics they started approving, which went out of their way to be shocking so that someone, anyone, would pay attention. Like the one about Nick Fury having sex with multiple prostitutes and choking someone to death with his own intestines, which reportedly caused George Clooney to "nope" out of playing Fury in a movie when he saw it.
Marvel's edgy new approach did produce some quality stuff, but it was also responsible for some of the worst shit they've ever printed. Like Trouble, which seemed to be an average non-superhero comic about horny teenagers doin' it ... with the plot twist that those teens were Spider-Man's Aunt May, Uncle Ben, and his parents.
In the final issue, we find out that Aunt May is actually Mommy May. That is, she had sex with Spider-Man's dad while dating his brother Ben, had a baby named Peter, and let the other couple raise it. This was intended to be Spider-Man's new origin if the readers liked it. They very much did not.
But the weirdest stunt Marvel pulled during this period was U-DECIDE, which was entirely born out of the company's president, Bill Jemas, getting into a pissing match with one of his employees. Jemas bet writer Peter David that he could come up with a comic that sold more than David's cult Captain Marvel, and since he was president and could do whatever the hell he wanted, he went ahead and greenlit a new series written by himself. He'd never written a comic before, and you could tell.
And so the U-DECIDE stunt asked readers to pick between Captain Marvel, Jemas' Marville, and a third series created by Marvel's editor-in-chief Joe Quesada and written by a Howard Stern regular, because why not. The idea was that only the best-selling series would survive, while the worst-seller's writer would face some sort of public humiliation at a convention. That last part never happened, but Jemas' writing was humiliating enough on its own.
Marville's "story" starts with Ted Turner and Jane Fonda living in the year 5002 and sending their son Kal-AOL to the present, then gets stupider with every page. One issue was literally just the script superimposed on some images, and another was a catalog for a new line of comics ... which also sucked. Despite trying to ensure his victory by using non-sequitur cheesecake covers on every issue, Marville sold horribly. Jemas was fired the same year, and is probably reading this article. Hi Bill!
They Tried To Blame Poor Sales On "Diversity" (While Diverse Movies Smashed Records)
If you've assumed that Marvel Comics must have their shit together by now, haha, nope. Marvel Studios is making a lot of money, but the comics are a much messier and less satisfactory story. The superhero comics market has been shrinking, as publishers find out that targeting more expensive comics at fewer and fewer people isn't a sustainable business model. 2017 was a particularly bad year for Marvel, and VP of sales David Gabriel preemptively offered an explanation: They had too much diversity!
OK, if that's what the sales say, that's what the sales say. But that's not what the sales say. When Gabriel made that statement in early 2017, the top 10 comics of the previous year included Civil War II (prominently featuring Captain Marvel), Harley Quinn, Champions (starring Miles Morales and Ms. Marvel Kamala Khan), Black Panther, and Suicide Squad (prominently and annoyingly featuring Harley Quinn). The drop in sales probably had more to do with Marvel flooding the market with #1s to get quick sales boosts, which confuses and puts off new readers. Some series had two #1s in one year. We're nearing the comic book revamp event horizon, when multiple series will be rebooted within their own #1 issues.
Marvel revamped 24 fucking series in 2015 through the Secret Wars crossover event, which replaced every comic with a parallel universe version for several months. When those series came back at the end of the crossover, average sales went from 38,000 to 23,000. Marvel was hoping to use the mass revamp as a jumping-on point for new readers, but they took it as an invitation to fuck off instead. And the overwhelming majority of those comics centered on default white dude superheroes, so "diversity" has nothing to do with this, despite what some impassioned 45-minute YouTube rants might assert.
Although Gabriel walked back his comments, they became sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy, as Marvel scrambled to reassure readers that white men did still exist in this universe and sales suffered anyway. Now, Gabriel may be correct when he says that anti-diversity stuff was simply what retailers were hearing. To a point, it's understandable for older fans to see a bunch of new heroes popping up at once and feel distrustful. But there's no sinister conspiracy behind it. Such comics are "suddenly" coming out now because they weren't possible before. Some '60s readers threw a shit-fit when Silver Surfer talked to a black guy. An Afro-Latino Spider-Man could have caused riots in the streets.
Marvel is only doing the bare minimum by acknowledging that other races and genders exist and can be heroic. Basing editorial decisions on the dwindling minority that thinks doing so is too radical is a dumbass, nearsighted move. At least it doesn't look like Marvel Studios is too concerned with the issue now that Perlmutter has no influence there, since we're getting new movies and shows about Black Panther, Captain Marvel, Ms. Marvel, the Jane Foster Thor, Black Widow, and Scarlet Witch, each of which will be seen by millions of people who have never stepped into a comics store (and possibly don't even know they exist).
Maxwell Yezpitelok used to impersonate Bill Jemas in message boards twenty years ago. Check out his '90s Superman blog!
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