A Web of Rights: the latest Sony-Marvel agreement

This past week, it was announced that Marvel and Sony had finally reached a new deal over the rights to Spider-Man. Instead of each approaching this deal with the plan of completely buying back the franchise, Marvel and Sony agreed to a mutually beneficial partnership, which basically gives both production studios the ability to use Spider-Man. Sony will produce the solo films and receive the entire profit from those films, but Marvel will be able to include Spider-Man in their Marvel Comic Universe (MCU). Although both studios benefit from the partnership, Marvel is getting the most benefit because it will no longer hold reservations over merchandise sales, or the inclusion of the character in future comic-book storylines.

Spider-Man is already an important character in the Marvel Universe due to his involvement in key crossover storylines such as Civil War, Secret Wars, Infinity War, Avengers v X-Men, and House of M. He has also been a member of most New York based superhero teams including The Avenger, the new Avengers, Fantastic Four, The Secret Avengers, and the Jean Grey School of X-Men. In essence, Spider-Man is one of the most versatile characters for Marvel right now because he has been able to blend in successfully with many different teams. Finally, by bringing in Spider-Man, Marvel is also able to bring in many characters and elements of the franchise that it wouldn’t have been able to: primarily Norman Osborne and the Dark Avengers storyline, as well as Spider-Woman and her link to the Avengers.

The direct implication of the partnership is the drastic change of schedule for the next two phases in the MCU. Comic book nerds and fans of the universe have been clamoring for the inclusion of non-male non-white superheroes, Marvel is pushing the releases of Black Panther and Captain Marvel to 2018 in order to make room for a Spider-Man film in 2017.

That being said, with the addition of Spider-Man to the MCU, Marvel is looking at the possibility of re-casting the role and using one of the later iterations of the superhero. In other words, Marvel is definitely making a Spider-Man movie, but Peter Parker might not be involved at all, instead they might opt for a young Spider-Man that debuted in 2011, Miles Morales. Marvel could still potentially cast whomever they want as their new Spider-Man, but a lot of media attention has been given to the possibility of Donald Glover taking the role of Your Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man.

Another interesting implication of this partnership is that Sony has inadvertently given Marvel the power it needs to finally re-acquire all of its characters. Marvel will now be adamant about ensuring that the X-Men and the Fantastic Four return home. Marvel stopped selling merchandise for both in order to hurt promotion of the movies coming from 20th Century Fox. Marvel has not been afraid to diminish certain characters’ roles in the crossovers, and it recently announced that it would cancel the Fantastic Four comic book series in order to place an even larger burden on Fox. 20th Century Fox has lost a few recent battles in the war over rights, namely the loss of Fantastic Four solo storylines, and the loss of exclusivity over certain characters from the X-Men franchise (Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver).
Marvel played its cards extremely well in both of these instances. The Fantastic Four comic book franchise was not profitable, so they do not see any real loss from eliminating that series from their shelves since the characters can still interact in the overall Marvel Universe without having their solo series. The Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver exceptions to the agreement that Fox and Marvel made are key to Marvel, since they found a loophole to the agreement that allows them to have mutant members of the Avengers as long as they never mention the fact that they are mutants.

Theoretically, this could allow them to use many of the X-Men characters that have done double-duty as members of the Avengers, including Rogue, Wolverine, and Havok. More likely, however, is that Marvel continues to exploit new X-Men storylines that depend on other characters Fox doesn’t own in order to stop them from using them as potential movies. This could drive Fox to re-visit the agreement with Marvel and establish another partnership. Of course, this would occur only after the X-Men movie franchise dips back to the quality of X-Men: The Last Stand. Until then, Storm and the Black Panther won’t ever find love.