Do you like a mystery? I thought so! Here’s a good one. If you ask anyone around the Hollywood water cooler about who is the envy of tinsel town, most people would say it’s Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige. His handling of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been little short of genius from a box office perspective, taking obscure properties like Guardians of the Galaxy and making them household names, and boosting even mediocre material like Ant-Man to “Hey that was really fun!” reactions.
Although incredibly secretive, Feige has a pretty benign public persona, but of course, you don’t get to the top of the mountain without breaking some heads along the way. One of the scalps that Feige seems to have claimed is that of Ike Perlmutter, the even more secretive and much feared president of Marvel. As reported everywhere last fall,after a series of behind the scenes battles, Feige got Disney CEO Bob Iger to separate Marvel Studios from Ike’s meddling, while leaving Marvel TV and publishing behind under Ike’s control. This news was mostly met with joy as Perlmutter is seen as, at best, a vindictive and charmless exec, and at worst, a racist, homophobic, sexist jerk.
That narrative continued for a while after the split. I was pretty certain that Marvel Studios would prosper directly under Disney, but wondered what would become of Marvel publishing, where a “Wait until Ike leaves” strategy has kept hope alive for generations of executives.
However, that gloved hand with poison seems to have emerged from the curtains yet again with shocking truths! It turns out that far from being a charmless homophobe, Ike is actually a kindly old guy who invited people over to his house to rap about their beef. Meanwhile Kevin Feige is little more than a credit stealing egotist, if these stories are to be believed.
The drum beat for the “I like Ike!” campaign has been coming from Bleeding Cool oddly enough, a site that’s run plenty of anti-Ike scuttlebutt in its day, including what some theorize is a rumour that would destroy comics from the inside if ever revealed. But the anti-Feige chatter started immediately after Feige’s coup last fall, with a piece two days later stating that he had been ignoring the desperate pleas of the Marvel Creative Committee — a story-editing group consisting of mainly Alan Fine, Dan Buckley, Joe Quesada and Brian Michael Bendis — and this ended up costing a lot of money on reshoots, a big no-no for frugal Disney:
Full disclosure, I heard rumours long before the release of Avengers: Age Of Ultron, that extensive and expensive re-shoots on the movie could have been avoided if Feige had been receptive to notes. I couldn’t get verification at the time, but, in retrospect, the tea leaves seem to have fallen into place.
Could it be that Feige doesn’t want visible second guessing used by the powers that be at Disney – especially when it’s right?
Could those notes have saved millions of dollars?
Oh shame on you, spendy Feige! But ONE story on this topic at BC was not enough and a few days later we saw another one, once again opining that if only Feige would listen to the Marvel Creative Committee an era of peace and love would dawn over the world:
I’ve been told that Isaac Perlmutter, while very hands on when it comes to the business, steps away when creative decisions are made, only returning for business matters. This is where the disbanding of the MCC becomes interesting and also precarious. As Feige doesn’t want anyone on any front telling him what to do. preferring a Disney with looser reign and looser pockets.
This could very well be a good thing, but neither approach has been proven to make successful movies, especially where Disney is concerned. Remember the likes of Tomorrowland, Prince Of Persia, Tron, John Carter or Lone Ranger?
In case you didn’t figure this out, mentioning the costly write-down, career-killing John Carter of Mars is about the cruelest blow anyone could make to a studio. During this same period the studio made Alice in Wonderland, Maleficent and Into the Woods, but who’s counting.
When all this started coming out, I was mildly amused. Rich Johnston at Bleeding Cool clearly has some good Marvel sources, and he broke a lot of stories about Ike’s business decisions, including the Fantastic Four and X-men being removed from lunchboxes and comics at Ike’s behest because he didn’t want to promote film franchises that weren’t controlled by Marvel.
But the minute Marvel Publishing got cut loose from the studio…a whole new narrative was being promoted, or planted, one about how autocratic Kevin Feige was, and how Ike was only a poor old man trying to keep costs down.
In recent months, a series of interviews with MCU filmmakers has given them the room to let their hair down a bit over the Ike Era. Shane Black hinted that Ike had shot down a female villain for Iron Man for not being toyetic enough, and The Russo Brothers saying that it was story points in the massive global hit Captain America Civil War that tipped the Disney balance over to Feige and away from Ike.
Whoever is the Bleeding Cool source quickly moved to counter these narratives. In the most amusing one to me, Johnson revealed that he had discovered a searing truth no one else had uncovered that totally negated Black’s claim: there are only a handful of toys based on Iron Man 3’s villain! The whole thing had to be poppycock. Johnston’s sources denied there had ever been a memo about toys:
Checking in with East Coast sources, I have received denials that any such memo or instruction regarding gender-switching an Iron Man 3 villain existed. I can see why it might have been believable, Bleeding Cool broke the story last year about Marvel CEO Ike Perlmutter‘s list of female-focused superhero films that we inferred expressed his displeasure with the box office potential. But it’s also worth remembering that he also pushed the Spider-Gwen character at Marvel, personally green lighting the comic book ahead pushing a Spider-Gwen movie at Sony.
But in this case, as far as I can ascertain there was no memo from Marvel. Possibly from toy manufacturers Hasbro, as they had just re-upped their master toy license with Marvel at the time. But I have also been told repeatedly that when Kevin Feige gave actors, producers, directors some bad news, but didn’t want to be personally associated with the decision, he would always say it came from the comic book side of Marvel, based in New York. Whether it did or didn’t, it was a handy scapegoat. And Marvel Comics was happy to play that role if necessary. Sometimes you need a good cop and bad cop.
So there’s your East Coast narrative essentially: Ike has just been a long standing scape goat for any bad news Feige wanted to deliver to the creatives. Just who has put the kibosh on female toys is a longer story than we have time for today, but it could indeed have been Hasbro and not Ike personally.
That said, the fact that there aren’t many toys based on Aldrich Killian has literally ZERO to do with whether there was ever a memo about the ban on girl toys. The memo, had it ever existed, would have gone out long before any licensing details were locked down. A guy in a suit was never going to be a popular toy either, but the prejudice against female toys AND Marvel’s past history based on Toy Biz AND Ike’s interest in consumer products make the story plausible, if nothing else. The no actual toys refutation is misdirection.
BUT ANYHOO, so devastating were these ongoing attacks on Perlmutter that Bleeding Cool’s park bench meetings with the masked sources have gone into hyperdrive, with a story last week entitledCivil War Did Not Cause The Big Split At Marvel Comics – The Rot Set In With Iron Man 2 which once again warned of the terrible dangers of a rampaging Kevin Feige overruling the kindly elders of the Marvel Creative Committee who were trying to save Krypton from destruction. It seems that Feige wanted more scenes of drunk Tony Stark in IM2, and only the MCC prevented this! But it gets worse: It turns out that Feige isn’t even responsible for the whole Marvel Phase One thing!
This rift was deepened when Feige seemed to start taking credit for the conceptualising of the Avengers movie, a series of Marvel films that would lead up to that coming together of the characters and the strategy behind that. But when that was being decided, by the likes of high-level executives Isaac Perlmutter, Alan Fine, Avi Arad, David Meisel and others, Kevin Feige wasn’t in the room.
Then in 2012 Alan Horn joined Disney as the Head Of Studios. In this role, he did nothing to smooth out the issues at Marvel, or bring the two slowly fracturing parts of Marvel together. Indeed, he seems to have fostered that split.
And who was around to try to get everyone working together? You’ll never guess!!!!
But before that split was official, a little over a year ago, Isaac Perlmutter played peace maker – he invited the entire Marvel team to a meeting in Florida in an attempt to clear the air and get back to the business working better together.
It was that meeting when Feige stated his desire to be a part of Disney and not Marvel. This was the point of no return, and when Alan Horn and the rest of Disney learnt of this, they were happy to let the inevitable happen.
So while Ike Perlmutter and Kevin Feige have been seen as Tony Stark and Steve Rogers, Alan Horn is seen as playing at Baron Zemo, pulling the strings of the Civil War, pitting Marvel against itself and putting them on a self-destructive path.
WOW! This article also blames Alan Horn for killing Vertigo when he was at WB, so if you’re looking for a sinister gloved hand, he could be just your suspect.
But just in case this story didn’t do the trick, a few days later Bleeding Cool ran yet another one called What’s The Worst That Could Happen Over Marvel Studios/Comics Split? that adds a new level of fretting: the Feige/Ike spilt could mean the end of Marvel Comics itself when Feige moves on:
But Marvel Studios move away from Marvel and towards Disney has guaranteed that when he does move on, that Marvel Studios will continue to be run by Disney, and not by Marvel. The very thing they promised, that Marvel wouldn’t lose control of its characters when Disney bought them out, will be gone.
It was what fans feared back then. People remember when people who didn’t like the comics, know the comics understood the comics ran Marvel. It was the very thing Joe Quesada said wouldn’t happen when Disney bought the publisher.
And now it has.
Uh oh! And just in case you needed all this spelled out for you YET AGAIN, today’s BC piece has it right in the headline: “Feige Couldn’t Shine Ike’s Shoes” – Marvel Board Members Talk Marvel Studios
which quotes one past and one current Marvel board member on who is really responsible for the MCU’s success. And here comes another name from the past, the rather shadowy David Maisel:
But he credited David Maisel as being instrumental in the movies existence. “He was the one who conceived them as a slate of movies and was able to finance them successfully, negotiating the deal, raising a $500 million line with no impact on Marvel’s balance.” Checking the figures, it was even higher, 525 million.
Halpin described Mort as the grandfather of Marvel, who would talk to Ike every day, and that he was one of the three board members with offices at Marvel, played an active management role on the board, counseling, mentoring and managing talent.
However, Halpin was also rather more abrasive comparing Kevin Feige and Ike Perlmutter, saying “Feige couldn’t shine Ike’s shoes” and that “it’s all gone to his head, Feige is a legend in his own mind.”
For those whose perceptive powers are not up to picking up the subtle hints offered by the above stories, let me spell it out for you: maybe Kevin Feige isn’t the genius he’s painted out to be and other people contributed to the MCU’s success.
AND here’s another news outlet heard from on that score! Last month the Angry Birds movie opened with Maisel one of the producers, and this resulted in a profile by the great Kim Maters entitled Marvel Studios’ Origin Secrets Revealed by Mysterious Founder: History Was “Rewritten” which suggests that Maisel was the real architect of the MCU:
Even the most ardent fans of Marvel and its heroes probably haven’t heard of David Maisel. But he is one of the key architects of the studio that turned Iron Man, Thor and Ant-Man into a multibillion-dollar movie universe.
No, he is not Kevin Feige, who has become known as the key creative force behind Marvel’s stunning run of success — including Captain America: Civil War, headed for a massive U.S. opening May 6 — and the issue of who deserves credit for Marvel is a highly contentious one. But Maisel was an essential player in conceiving and executing a plan to transform Marvel Studios from a shop that licensed characters to other studios into a true production company that financed and took creative control of its own films. When he joined Marvel in 2003, the company was valued at about $400 million. Six years later, Disney bought it for $4 billion.
If you’re not sick and tired of all this by now, the entire piece is a must read, with the three way dance between Maisel, former Marvel head Avi Arad and Feige laid out. Maisel was unquestionably in charge when Marvel Studios crafted their deal with Merrill Lynch to finance its own movies (Iron Man and The Hulk would be the fruits of this) and it’s that success that led to Disney acquiring Marvel:
As Maisel pressed for Marvel to own its live-action movies, Perlmutter and the board told him to give it a shot as long as Marvel wouldn’t have to put up a dime. For the next year, Maisel says he worked on a way to execute. In April 2005, Marvel announced Merrill Lynch would provide $525 million and allow Marvel to greenlight any movie up to $165 million as long as it was rated PG-13. Marvel would put up no cash and assume no risk. “Too good to be true,” boasts Maisel.
The collateral was the movie rights to 10 characters: Captain America and something vaguely called the Avengers at the high end, dwindling to Shang-Chi and Power Pack. The plan was to make four movies. Marvel would collect a 5 percent producing fee on each before the banks could recoup, and keep rights to merchandise and video games. “We would have been no worse off in failure than if we just licensed those deals,” says Maisel. Marvel had to find a studio to distribute the films and commit to spending hundreds of millions on marketing, but the past performance of the Marvel movies made that seem reasonable. (The distributor would receive a percentage of box office and be first in line to recoup its costs.) Marvel’s first stop was Universal, but as talks dragged, the deal went to Paramount.
By now you may have surmised that most of this comes down to “success has a thousand fathers.”
If you want to look at contemporaneous reporting on all of this, you can see my coverage here, here and here. Basically, Arad left in 2006 under circumstances still mired in mystery, Feige assumed “creative control” of Marvel in 2007 when Kevin Helfant was forced out, and Maisel left the studio after the Disney deal was announced but before it became final in 2009. So the Feige era definitely begins in 2009 with the Disney era, although what kind of input he had before that is open to interpretation.
WHEW. So what to make of all this? I think we can safely eliminate Avi Arad as the genius behind the MCU. He might have been around when it was hatched, but the Spider-Man films, where he’s called more of the shots, have been a series of diminishing returns, and the movies made under his watch — Daredevil and the like — are not among the most loved of the canon.
The Angry Birds film was a bit of a surprise success seeing as how the franchise has declined since its height, but Maisel gets some of the credit for that and certainly he also had the original vision for Phase One and the Disney acquisition.
As for Feige vs the Marvel Creative Committee….well, it’s not hard to see how the “success has gone to his head” narrative could have some merit but on the other hand, he’s been running the ship since 2009, and I doubt decisions like hiring James Gunn to make Guardians or setting up the ending to Captain America Civil War go back much farther than that.
The MCC could very well have had a powerful influence on the films that were made, (all the good ones, again according to BC) so I guess we’ll just have to see how Phase Three plays out before we decide who’s the hero and who’s the villain here. When Disney bought Marvel the only MCU films that existed were Iron Man 1 and The Incredible Hulk. Iron Man 2 was in production and Captain America was on the schedule, and all of the Phase One films were planned as part of the original Merrill Lynch-financed deal. You can give credit for Phase Two-through-Phase Three to the Feige/MCC team-up, but when Phase Four is locked down, it should have more of the Feige stamp.
As for the overall mystery…it seems clear to me from all of this that someone is trying to cut down Kevin Feige a bit, possibly the cabal that has been planting all the stories at Bleeding Cool.
Certainly setting up interview with two Marvel board member who think Feige puts his pants on one leg at a time is a strong piece of propaganda. The sheer number of stories at BC on this topic is puzzling until you realize that, unlike stories about how Ike wanted to cut Iron Man out of Captain America 3 (meaning there would have been no Civil War movie), the BC narrative about kindly old Ike and his team building barbecues hasn’t really been picked up by other film sites.
While usually a rumour dropped at BC gets immediate coverage everywhere (including his scoop that Marvel wouldn’t be making an Inhumans movie as scheduled), today’s Marvel board members exposé hasn’t gotten much traction and neither has the rest of the story presented. Maybe it’s because Feige controls the rest of the film media, or maybe it’s because BC did such a great job of painting Ike as the ultimate bad guy previously that no one takes this version seriously.
Or maybe its just clear this is some kind of internecine pissing contest that is aimed at settling old scores. I don’t pretend to know who is playing what game here. I just see the game. As others have suggested, we’ll probably never know the truth about all of this until everyone is old and making some kind of tell all documentary from the veranda at their rest home. But if you want to drop a few hints before that, my email is comicsbeat at gmail.com!
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.