Back in October, pop-culture addicts everywhere got an early Halloween treat when George Lucas sold Star Wars to Disney. The Mercury's Erik Henriksen noted that the delicious candy dropped into our Star Wars pillowcase might be laced with a little bit of poison, in that independent comics powerhouse Dark Horse comics could lose their rights to make Star Wars comic books.
Well, it looks like the Milwaukie, Oregon-based publisher is going to get an early chunk of Christmas coal in their stocking; according to the Disney-focused blog Blue Sky Disney, once the current licensing contracts with Dark Horse are up, they will not be offered again. In 2013, all new projects will be handled internally by Marvel, and their return to the days of publishing Star Wars comics will begin in 2015.
This isn't entirely shocking. The announcement of the deal seemed to have caught the world by surprise, and if Disney had intended to let any aspect of their property stand outside their corporate umbrella, you'd think they'd have let someone know. Made a call. Texted. Something. Plus, when Disney merged with Pixar, and later bought the Muppets, bot those publishing deals reverted to Disney control, even if not much has been done with those licenses. So it wasn't too hard to see this coming.
The question is what will Dark Horse do with the time they have left? Right now, they make a large chunk of their money off licensed (Buffy, Serenity) properties, but they rose to prominence by letting creators do their thing, leading to titles such as Paul Chadwick's Concrete, Frank Miller's Sin City, Mike Mignola's Hellboy, Eric Powell's The Goon, and more. Dark Horse was where youngbucks went chasing after a come-up, right alongside more established writers/artists going for theirs after toiling in the bullpens at the Big Two. How much of that identity is still there, and can they make it as prominent as it once was? Or do they open up the wallets and try to find a group of licensed properties that, joined together like Voltron, might fill the Star Wars-sized hole in their publishing schedules?
And what to do with all this Star Wars stuff now wearing a big, bold expiration date on it? Would they be allowed to do something that almost never gets done in comics, and end things? It would be a unique opportunity to provide an entire wing of the Star Wars universe a conclusion, a chance to wrap up arcs in a satisfying manner, to put their final stamp on two decades of storytelling, with a multitude of tales that often far outstripped the quality found in the novels.
But the chances of that happening are pretty small. Ongoing comics aren't much for letting things proceed to a natural, satisfying conclusion, and as the last 35 years have shown us, neither is Star Wars. As we get closer to 2015, we'll find out how many writers, artists, storylines and characters will end up merging with Marvel's vision for Star Wars, and whether Dark Horse's shepherding of that universe will be respected, rewritten, or ignored.