BY MATT TUCK
The hottest gossip in comics is that DC is on the verge of being scooped up by the Disney empire. With the New York Times reporting that very scenario nearly happened five years ago, it bolsters speculation that a deal is imminent. So the big question: are the rumors true?
The short answer is no...but it could be possible if the pieces were to fall into place.
DISNEY MADE A BID FOR TIME WARNER IN 2016
That’s right: Marvel and DC Comics could have been under the same banner had a reported phone call taken place only a few weeks earlier.
According to a new story from the NYT, former Walt Disney Company CEO Bob Iger reportedly made a call to Time Warner about a merger of the two media giants. The talks did not progress past that phone call as AT&T had already begun negotiations to buy Time Warner. That is when Iger’s next call was to Fox CEO Rupert Murdoch, which paved the way for Disney to purchase Twenty-First Century Fox.
What does that have to do with the latest rumors of Disney buying up WarnerMedia, thus owning DC Comics?
THE WARNERMEDIA/DISCOVERY DEAL
For starters, let's dial back the clock a week to another mega-deal when AT&T announced that it was merging the former Time Warner, now WarnerMedia, with Discovery. Pending all the legal hurdles that could take until sometime in 2022, that would combine the Discovery Channel’s content with WarnerMedia’s extensive properties, including HBO Max and DC Entertainment, more specifically, DC Comics. CNBC reported that the deal was meant to help Discovery and HBO Max better compete with streaming giants Netflix and, ironically, Disney+, considering that intriguing 2016 phone call.
When it comes to Disney, Marvel, and DC, there have been long-standing rumors of the House of Mouse buying DC Entertainment. Nothing has ever been confirmed on the matter, but there were whispers that the Walt Disney Company was interested in purchasing DC all the way back in 2014. In light of the NYT report, it paints that bit of gossip in a new light.
Around that time, Time Warner was up for sale, and even Fox, whom Disney later purchased, made a bid of $80 billion. That provoked the question, who has the obscene amount of money to buy Time Warner? Naturally, the answer was Disney. That led comic fans to theorize that Disney would, in fact, buy Time Warner, placing the two biggest comic publishers in the world under one roof.
THE DARK CLOUDS OVER DC COMICS
Since AT&T’s overhaul of DC Comics and the numerous job cuts that ensued, there was plenty of speculation that DC Comics was on the chopping block. The rumors began circulating that DC was in dire straits and that either it would be sold off or shut down in the near future. Once the Discovery-WarnerMedia is legally approved, it will form a publicly traded company with Discovery shareholders owning 29% of the company. If DC is truly bleeding money, it would not be unreasonable for Discovery and AT&T to cut ties with the publisher.
Here’s where we get into the latest scuttlebutt that Disney could be looking to finally get its cartoon-gloved hands on WarnerMedia. While experts are saying the Warner-Discovery deal is meant to combine resources and help AT&T better compete in the streaming market, theories abound that it is actually meant to make a WarnerMedia sale to a larger corporation slightly easier.
These sorts of deals to fortify the streaming libraries are becoming more commonplace. First, there was AT&T buying Time Warner, which took years of legal hurdles before it was finalized. Then Disney bought Fox and gained its properties. Only days ago, Amazon spent $8.5 billion to buy MGM Studios and all its intellectual properties. Like the Disney-Fox deal, it was mostly meant to add content to Amazon Prime Video so that the streaming service could try and become the new king of the digital mountain.
By no means is it out of the question that, in a year or two, one of the media corporations could make an enormous bid for WarnerMedia-Discovery. With the history of Disney wanting to own WarnerMedia, it is not too fantastic to think that Disney would make a play for the newly formed company, which would give the House of Mouse ownership of DC Entertainment and all its film and television rights.
Unlike Marvel, DC/Warner did not farm out its film and television rights for its properties. Gaining all those rights to the most famous comic characters in history would be bigger than the Fox deal from a comic standpoint. That would put every major mainstream superhero and their many movies and television series, as well as any future projects, all under one roof at Disney+. Rest assured, the executives at Disney have already thought about the profits they could make from owning that.
THE COMIC PUBLISHING LANDSCAPE
I can only imagine that Marvel chief Kevin Feige would love to get his hands on the legacy of DC Comics’ characters and their film and television rights. That would almost guarantee that we would see an MCU/DCEU crossover on the big screen. How fun would it be to see the Justice League take on the Avengers in epic-CGI fashion?
In the long run, it would be bad for fans, and I would imagine the federal government would view that as a monopoly. Outside of Marvel and DC, there are no major publishers in the game. As much as I love Image Comics, Todd McFarlane and company are a distant third and closer to an independent publisher compared to the big two. In the event of a Disney takeover, that would probably lead to DC being shut down and folded into Marvel Comics. That would leave just one option for mainstream comics, and that is not good for anyone, especially fans.
It’s not like either Disney or Marvel needs DC Comics. Thanks to the MCU, Marvel dominates the comic front both on the big screen and the publishing industry. More than likely, if Marvel and DC were to merge, Feige and company would cherry pick specific characters to promote - like Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, etc. - and the rest would fade away in much the same way as most of the Charlton Comics properties did when, ironically, DC bought those rights. Over the long haul, it would make for a very monochromatic comic landscape.
A lack of competition would eventually lead to a boring slate of comics that would slowly kill the industry. Sure, combining the DC Universe with the Marvel Universe could make for some legendary storylines and generate huge interest in comics, possibly even drawing in those elusive new readers. However, years down the road, once the novelty wears off, the absence of DC Comics would create a black hole in the industry that cannot be repaired.
Matt Tuck is the author of the novel, Lost Bones of the Dead. He is also a teacher, freelance writer, comic collector, and an international man of mystery. You can follow him on his Facebook page, The Comic Blog.