Sorting out Marvel, Dark Horse and Star Wars

DarkHorse-MarvelIt’s been a week since the news went out that the Star Wars comics license will go to Marvel Comics for 2015, leaving Dark Horse Comics after a twenty-two year run. With the news on Tuesday that Dark Horse will be releasing a new series, adapting the unproduced The Clone Wars scripts for the finale of the Darth Maul storyline, we know that 2014 will still be a big Star Wars year for Dark Horse. Over the course of the past week, questions about the switch have started to get some answers, at least from Dark Horse:

  • Comics Alliance: After the switch, Dark Horse does not have reprint rights for material they originally published, meaning that it’s up to Marvel whether to pursue re-printing Dark Horse’s works. Also, editor and writer Randy Stradley is staying put. As we learned earlier from Big Shiny Robot, Disney would have to acquire the original art from Dark Horse in order to reprint it.
  • On the Dark Horse forums, Randy Stradley reiterates that Dark Horse can’t print anymore after 2014, and can only sell their existing stock for a short period after that and that they plan to clear out their entire inventory – so get it while you can.
  • Newsarama: Digital Star Wars comics from Dark Horse Digital will still exist for their owners after 2014, but will no longer be available for sale after 2014.

IGN has a couple of ideas of what Marvel can do with Star Wars: maintain a few of the existing series, go for more diversity in storytelling, and make sure they treat the license as good as Dark Horse has: with maintaining the same level or more in amount of product (which Marvel has not done with other Disney-related licenses it has absorbed from other comics publishers.)

My own thoughts
As a longtime reader of Star Wars comics, I was not surprised, only disappointed, by the switch to move Star Wars comics publishing in-house by Disney. Even as the Disney acquisition of Lucasfilm and announcement of the sequel trilogy was made, Dark Horse tinkered with their product line to better fit the changing tides: less prequel era material, and more original trilogy timeframe material that wouldn’t get crushed by a shifting EU: the ongoing Star Wars series, Agent of the Empire, a stronger focus on Darth Vader (even in the post-ROTS timeframe, he’s still the iconic OT character) and the beautifully drawn quasi-alternate universe of The Star Wars. Dark Horse was ready for that change and the possibility that they might not retain the license. Having the switch at a time when new Star Wars films are about to come out makes sense for Disney, as is giving a chance for Dark Horse to finish out their existing contract with some spectacular work. Randy Stradley himself has said that if this had to happen, this might be a good time for it, with the increased focus on fitting with a larger storyline set by the sequels, rather than continuing original storytelling. Even last summer at SDCC, Dark Horse held a panel that tried to bridge Star Wars with their upcoming Serenity franchise as a way to build up both licenses, and maybe foster greater cross-readership.

But I am concerned about how Marvel might handle Star Wars.

As others have pointed out, Marvel’s prime focus is their own superhero universe of titles, which comprise a big chunk of the entire comics market. Looking at how they’ve treated other licenses (such as various Disney titles brought in from other publishers), and you see vibrant properties getting reduced, because they don’t meet the same threshold for not getting the axe of cancellation. Dark Horse has been pretty consistent with five or six titles monthly, and managing to juggle some long series with short series so that there’s more than there’s usually a few more titles in a year than just monthly. Will Marvel match that? Recall that the Hollywood Reporter said that using Marvel’s cancellation level, only two of the five current SW titles would stay alive.

Dark Horse has done a lot of build up the entire timeline of Star Wars, launching the Tales of the Jedi era back in the nineties (which then came full circle with the return to it in the Knights of the Old Republic series), and Dawn of the Jedi, Legacy, Knight Errant, and more. These appealed to various readers who really took in these new takes on the Star Wars galaxy. The sequel trilogy and Rebels TV show will need lead-in and adaptation syngergy, and those are things that will take up time and space beyond original stories. Or would they just eat into the publishing schedule of original stories?

So even if they match the quantity of Star Wars comics, will they match the quality? Or will we get what some of the Marvel fans seem to want – crossovers with the Marvel universe. Judging from the comments on the post announcing the Marvel switch, it’s either a call for all kinds of crossover or “don’t screw up what Dark Horse has built!” Can Marvel keep a popular series going without having to reboot it or take it vastly off course from where casual fans would recognize it? (Looking at you, Doc Ock with Spider powers in a world where Peter Parker died.)

Many have pointed out that Star Wars was one of the key jewels of the Dark Horse crown, and was treated as such, while as part of a Marvel portfolio, it will have to compete with much bigger moneymakers in the comics industry, leaving us to wonder if it get the attention that it had under Mike Richardson’s company. While now is probably too early to start making announcements of titles or comic teams to be heading up Star Wars projects, I’m hoping we start to see some news during the summer con season for the direction that Marvel will be going. Will they do what’s best for Star Wars and its potential & existing comic reader base, or what’s best for Marvel? Right now probably the best thing Marvel can do is simply listen to fans and figure out what is expected: do no less than what Dark Horse has delivered. They don’t have to do the same types of stories, but dropping quality or quantity just won’t do. Demonstrate that Marvel will be a steward of this pocket of the Star Wars content universe and not just a peddler of licensed product.

One easy bellweather for 2015: Will Marvel put out a Star Wars story for Free Comic Book Day? Dark Horse published Star Wars stories in 8 out of 12 total Free Comic Book Days, including four of the past five years.

While Star Wars may not be Marvel’s child, it is now their niece by marriage. Time to not treat it like a stepchild, but as the Disney princess she is.

One Reply to “Sorting out Marvel, Dark Horse and Star Wars”

  1. The original comments:

    1 Han Jones // Jan 10, 2014 at 1:13 pm

    I think the difference between Star Wars and other Marvel acquired licenses (even of other Disney properties) is Star Wars is the big boy on the block. It was a $4 billion acquisition by Disney and Disney being Marvel’s parent company will insist that it be given the level of respect due to it.

    I don’t believe that you will see crossovers from the rest of the Marvel universe, especially with Lucasfilm’s new commitment to a unified canon across all platforms including comics.

    Plus you could also argue that Star Wars is actually Marvel’s prodigal son, returning to the home that first begot it.

    2 Doyle // Jan 10, 2014 at 1:53 pm

    And now it’s time to start hunting for all of the Dark Horse titles that I’ve been putting off buying…

    3 jawajames // Jan 10, 2014 at 2:21 pm

    >>Disney being Marvel’s parent company will insist that it be given the level of respect due to it.

    There’s “will insist” and there’s what happens when’s mom’s out of the room.

    >>Plus you could also argue that Star Wars is actually Marvel’s prodigal son, returning to the home that first begot it.

    and while Marvel was saved by Star Wars back then, Marvel’s now got a lot of other children that it needs to pay attention to, like Agents of SHIELD.

    4 Shadadukal // Jan 10, 2014 at 3:08 pm

    Right now, I’m more interested about hearing Marvel will reprint the DH comics than wondering about what new comics are to come, though it’d be great if they kept some current series.

    For the SW fan I am, the sell to Disney has brought nothing but heartache with cancellations of just about everything I was interested in from TCW to novels to comics. And I’m getting things I didn’t particularly want and nothing about them we’ve learned so far has been enough to get me excited.

    So, yes, I’d better still be able to get my hands on DH comics in years to come. Because I’m just not rich enough to get them all now.

    5 taikwan // Jan 10, 2014 at 3:17 pm

    Shadadukal speaks the truth – I certainly agree with everything written there.

    6 Aaron // Jan 11, 2014 at 5:25 am

    Well, for The Clone Wars we’re about to get Rebels (and a little more of The Clone Wars, of course), LucasArts was dead anyway, so it’s not that Disney gutted 1313, but rather that they turned everything over to studios who have been known to actually complete a game every once in while, and the EU… Well…

    As far as the novels are concerned, it’s been an underwhelming decade anyway (with a few notable exceptions). I appreciate what Del Rey has been trying to do, but in my opinion Traviss, Karpyshyn and the like pretty much massacred the novel EU, and the few good books that came out in spite of them didn’t do too much good on their own.

    The one thing I am going to miss are the comic books, although even there I’m not a big fan of some of Dark Horse’s major decisions over the past couple of years:

    Shutting down KotOR, doing all those repetitive Vader stories, starting Dawn of the Jedi (which has yet to deliver anything major and just dribbles along), gutting Invasion (yes, I really liked Invasion), never letting Agent of the Empire roam free (yes, I liked that series, too), never getting anywhere with Dark Times (I had high hopes for that series, but compared to the Republic stories before, it fell dramatically short of my expectations), killing Knight Errant, etc…

    On the plus side, they started Star Wars (I’ve only read the first TPB but it was the most fun I’ve had with a comic book in ages), they are doing The Star Wars (I read the first issue, and it was great to finally see Aquilae and the like), Legacy II is surprisingly good, and a couple of years back they published a mini-comic called Luke Skywalker and the Treasure of the Dragonsnakes which simply blew me away as one of the most fantasy-oriented and adventurous story in a Star Wars comic I’ve ever read.

    So I will miss Dark Horse, but I’m quite pleased by the other decisions Disney has made so far.

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