Will Kevin Feige Rethink Marvel's Comic Books?

Kevin Feige took part today in the Disney+ Showcase at Disney’s D23 EXPO 2019 - Getty-H 2019
Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images
It's tempting to imagine a sea change could be headed for the company en masse following the executive's new promotion, but the reality may be somewhat more complicated.

The news that Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige has added a new title — chief creative officer of Marvel — to his already packed résumé is one that is full of intrigue.

Audiences have had a chance to see what he can do with Marvel Studios — and, notably, what he can do with Marvel Studios once he was freed in 2015 from reporting to CEO and chairman Ike Perlmutter, a confidant of President Donald Trump who is known for keeping a tight grip on the purse strings. Perlmutter famously did not want to let Feige make Black Panther and Captain Marvel, and only put them into development on Disney CEO Bob Iger's order.

Now that Feige been placed in charge of creative decisions across all of Marvel’s divisions — in the process, giving divisions like the comic book publishing arm, Marvel TV and Marvel Family Entertainment the freedom from Perlmutter that Feige received four years ago — it’s tempting to imagine a sea change could be headed for Marvel en masse. But the reality may be somewhat more complicated.

For one thing, while the man at the top of the food chain might have changed, the systems — and personnel — put in place under Perlmutter remain. Marvel’s comic book publishing division, for example, will retain the chain of command that runs individual editors — to editor-in-chief C.B. Cebulski — to Marvel Entertainment president Dan Buckley, with Buckley now reporting to Feige, instead of Perlmutter.

Indeed, former Marvel editor-in-chief Joe Quesada will continue as both executive vp, creative director and creative lead for Marvel Entertainment, reporting to Buckley in the new corporate reality, meaning that it’s unlikely to expect a drastic shift in the output of Marvel’s publishing arm, at least in the short-to-medium term. Considering that Marvel is at something of a marketplace high currently, at least in terms of the comic book store market, this might not be seen as a bad thing by Disney execs.

It should also be noted that, despite Feige’s new placement, Buckley will continue to report to Perlmutter for a number of areas, including games, licensing and sales. Perlmutter is not necessarily as out of the picture as some may think from this news, and remains Marvel Entertainment chairman and CEO — meaning that he continues to make decisions regarding the money side of things, traditionally the area where Marvel has found itself the subject of both rumor-mongering and criticism under his control.

So, is this a case of much ado about nothing while the status keeps being quo, then? It depends how such things as measured. More likely than the sudden cancellation of Marvel’s entire comic book line before a reboot called The Feigeverse is a slow and, in likelihood, subtle shift towards Feige’s vision, in multiple ways, matching the movement of Marvel Studios post-Perlmutter emancipation. After Feige's break from Perlmutter, it took a few years for projects like Captain Marvel and Black Panther to come to fruition. However, since movies take much longer to develop than comics, theoretically if Feige ordered a change in the comic book status quo today, we could see that reflected on stands in a matter of three months.

Given Marvel publishing's success — in cultural, if not always financial, terms, at least — with characters such as Miles Morales, Kamala Khan and Lunella Lafayette in recent years, it doesn’t seem like too much of a leap to imagine more focus on creating new characters with a more diverse background than, simply, “white guy who’s probably blonde.” Not only will it keep Marvel culturally relevant, it also will create more material for Marvel Studios to pull from in future projects.

Along similar lines, the idea that Marvel’s comic book and animation projects could prove key in testing concepts and stories for future movies and live-action shows — long assumed by fans to be a reality, even if the truth may have been less concrete — might become a formalized strategy, leading to guidelines impacting creators on the former projects in a manner different to, but not necessarily worse than, those than already exist in each division.

The attempt to centralize Marvel’s creative output under one authority might have an entirely separate outcome that is at once more abstract and more impactful in the real world than simply shifting creative duties on any given project. It’s not outside of the realm of possibility that Marvel Entertainment could end up following DC in leaving New York and moving west, to join Marvel Studios in Los Angeles, allowing Feige to have easier access to all divisions he’s overseeing. Remember, DC’s move west was the result of similar thinking six years ago; then-president Diane Nelson told The Hollywood Reporter, “it was never optimal to run any business, but certainly not a creative business, on two coasts." Would Feige agree?

Such a move — actually the subject of much speculation earlier this year, although nothing came of it — would be a significant one not just for Marvel, which has long purposefully identified itself as specifically a New York-based entity, but also comic culture as a whole. The industry started in New York, but a Marvel move would finalize the impression that the West Coast is where it’s at, with DC, Image Comics, Dark Horse, IDW, Oni Press, Viz Media and Fantagraphics already in residence. (Sorry, New York Comic Con.)

All of this, of course, is speculation. For now, all that’s known for sure is that Feige has even more on his overfilled plate, and a number of decisions lie ahead for him — with whatever his eventual choices turn out to be primed to impact pop culture drastically going forward. No pressure.