Marvel Studios has been enjoying a successful run of movies, an explosion in comic sales, and an ever-growing fan base for quite some time now - but things weren't always this easy. Two decades back, the beloved comic publisher turned geek industry giant was at it's lowest point, filing for bankruptcy and losing properties that would take years of hard work to even make a compromise on.
As we approach a year where nerves are centered on [Ant-Man](movie:9048) and the Avengers are getting ready to assemble once more in [The Avengers: Age Of Ultron](movie:293035), it's worth looking back at how [Marvel](channel:932254) became the entertainment machine it is today, and what we can learn from that journey.
Getting Priorities Straight
Crashing and burning isn't easy, but for a lot of people, it's an inevitable moment in life. Many of us hit rock bottom, and Marvel found themselves doing just that in early 1996. After a tense battle and some awkward situations between Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, the company's financial crisis in the 90's was far from a positive step forward. Financial complications and the (at the time) failing comic book industry put Marvel in the throes of bankruptcy, as two wall street superpowers played tug-of-war with the company's future.
Relying solely on an industry built on collectible value, Marvel found itself sinking when the "bubble" of comics burst. When the company filed for bankruptcy, everything looked bleak - and then, realizing that centering around collectible covers and cards was just one of the many venues they could profit on, the company launched their first real in-house film production studio; something Stan Lee had dreamt of for decades.
Marvel's logo would pop up on every film featuring their heroes, and while beloved characters such as Spider-Man were under the control of other studios, Marvel's Golden Age heroes made a hard-hitting comeback, riding the high of the critically acclaimed Civil War crossover series (by one of this week's featured comic book pros, Mark Millar). Ramping up their team-up and standalone comics, Marvel took the Avengers and made them in to high-profile big screen superheroes. Captain America covered the shelves of toy stores months ahead of his standalone film, and by that time, Iron Man was once again a household name, as he had been decades before.
Assemble The Right Team
If things aren't working out, rearrange. The lineup at Marvel has changed so much over the years, and still today, key players are being brought in to the company to make it even better.
Among the big game changers was Avi Arad, who proposed some of the earliest titles that quickly became our new-age "classic" superhero movies, such as Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk. Pitching eagerly alongside Arad was Stan Lee, who's wish for an Ant-Man movie dated back to the 80's, where Ant-Man was originally planned to compete with Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.
It was Arad's work, alongside a new team shaping Marvel's non-cinematic divisions, that captured the hearts and wallets of Disney executives, and soon enough the once modestly sized comic book publisher has blown in to one of the most well-known creative houses in entertainment.
Cutting out power players who had driven the company down - and everyone tied to them - Marvel moved forward with new creative minds, including new company president Kevin Feige. Feige, of course, has not disappointed: crafting the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been a massive endeavor, and the company's president was up for the task. The heavy hitting social media team, helmed by Agent M (a.k.a. Ryan Penagos) has made Marvel in to an outward-facing, fan-centric company, encouraging new comic readers and creating titles that appeal to all sorts of fans.
Don't Be Afraid Of The Crazy Ideas
DC had enjoyed quite a lot of success on the big screen, and an aspiring Marvel decided to try their hand at putting a billionaire playboy philanthropist in movies. Before that, of course, there were complications with several of their films. As Den of Geek writes:
Things began to change in the late '90s, when Marvel began to find its feet again: Blade was a hit, and X-Men began to finally move ahead at Fox. The pickings for Marvel, however, were slim: Blade made $70m at the box office, but the reward for Marvel, according to a Slate article, was a measly $25,000. The X-Men and Spider-Man movies were huge hits, but Marvel only saw a small percentage of the profits. "We were giving away the best part of our business," Arad mourned.
In 2003, a talent agent named David Maisel came to Marvel's Isaac Perlmutter with a proposal. Why not produce the movies under your own banner, and reap the profits for yourself? And if you're producing your own movies, why can't the stories cross over with each other, just like they do in the comics?
So began Marvel's Cinematic Universe, a formula for action films that had only been lightly explored before by franchises such as Star Wars and Indiana Jones. This idea would go on to create a bluckbuster industry for Marvel in less than ten years, and gave credit to the very idea of a larger, expanded universe with multiple storylines in film format.
With DC following suit, the new Ghostbusters franchise launching GhostCorp, and the team at Lucasfilm beginning a grand-scale, multimedia expansion of their cinematic storyline (for real, this time) it holds evident that Marvel's ability to perfect these daredevil tactics has had a major impact on how many films are made.
If You Can't Win The Game, Change It
Alongside their cinematic universe being a grand-slam for profits, Marvel's publishing arm has gone above and beyond to do something that comics didn't necessarily have to do back in the day: finding new readers.
What was once the valiant duty of indie comic houses soon became Marvel's primary objective on the publishing side: characters became more diverse, new heroes and heroines filled the pages, and sidekicks became team leaders. Old favorites, such as NOVA and the Guardians of the Galaxy, were brought back and given a grand stage to win over new fans. Lovers of Marvel's cinematic universe curiously dove in to comics to find complex, slightly different, but just as memorable versions of their favorite film characters.
Marvel's expansion in to more diverse titles has worked out extremely well for them: Sam Wilson's debut as the All-New Captain America beat out my personal DC favorite, Batman, on release week; countless female-led titles broke records upon pre-order; Ms. Marvel has won the hearts of thousands of readers; and all-new Thor has taken her predecessor for a ride in sales, too.
Keep Moving Forward
But opening the door wasn't enough: Marvel has taken to hiring fans directly off of sites likes tumblr, and hires writers that grew up as die-hard fans to deliver incredible, gorgeous stories that keep these newly hooked fans coming back. Kicking the old rules to the curb, Marvel's open, inclusive approach to publishing mainstream comics has been highly successful, and the company has set countless records within the past few years of success.
Inventive, risk-taking and invested in their fan-base, Marvel is currently prepping for a massive multiverse event in comics, and more movies than I can count on one hand through 2019. If they continue to deliver quality content that appeals to the massive audience that they want, we're due to see great things from them.