Disney's $4 billion acquisition of Marvel spurred a flurry of Internet jokes—X-Men: Mutant High School Musical, among them—but jokes aside, this is a union of two publishing and licensing powerhouses.
Disney is the world's biggest licensing company, with more than $30 billion a year in licensing revenue. Disney owns Hyperion, a major trade book house, and Disney Worldwide Publishing is the world's largest children's and comics publisher, with 441 children's magazines published and 120 million children's books sold each year.
Marvel (#4 in licensing) is the #1 comics publisher in the U.S., claiming a little over 45% of last year's comics market in units. But it's Marvel's recent movie successes that make it most attractive: Sony's record-smashing Spider-Man franchise and Fox's multititle X-Men series. Recently, Marvel has also started making its own movies, and Iron Man took in $318 million domestically and $570 million worldwide. Together, Marvel characters fill Disney's perpetual gap in boys' entertainment—Disney attracts girls in droves—and they are already a staple on the boy-centric Disney XD cable channel.
While much speculation has focused on the impact Disney will have on Marvel's wisecracking superheroes, the future of some of Disney's own comics programs is also unclear. Disney has shown a renewed interest in comics, with such projects as the kids' graphic novel series based on Artemis Fowl and a future Prince of Persia graphic novel tie-in with the film. Disney also has a graphic novel development arm called Kingdom Comics, run by Ahmet Zappa and Christian Beranek, who issued a “no comment” when queried about the project's future.
Although hugely popular in Europe, Disney's periodical comics have struggled in the U.S. recently. Disney recently ended its license with Gemstone, a division of Diamond, which published paperback reprints of classic Donald Duck comics. Indie comics publisher Slave Labor Graphics has also been publishing well-received Gargoyles comics.
More recently, indie comics house Boom! Studios started publishing comics based on Pixar films and the Muppets. The line has been a surprise hit, and Boom! has even picked up some titles left homeless by the end of the Gemstone deal. While Boom!'s agreement has a while to go, it's expected that eventually Disney/Marvel will reclaim these titles.
Marvel could definitely benefit from Disney's vast European infrastructure, but is currently distributed by the Italian company Panini, an archrival of Disney's own Italian branch.