Comic Books As R&D: How Hasbro Is Road-Testing Its Cinematic Universe In Print

What if we’re all just living in a big, shared cinematic universe, man?

Comic Books As R&D: How Hasbro Is Road-Testing Its Cinematic Universe In Print

That the success of the Marvel movies has led every Hollywood studio to dream of a shared cinematic universe of its own isn’t news these days. Warner Bros tried to shoehorn one together by putting Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman into the disappointing Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice earlier this year, while the success of Fox’s Deadpool has reaffirmed the studio’s interest in not just the core, Wolverine-based X-Men franchise, but also connected films like Gambit, X-Force, and The New Mutants. Heck, this year, even Ice Cube’s Barbershop franchise ended up part of a shared cinematic universe.

The interest in taking a bunch of different intellectual property and smooshing them together is high, and that even includes properties that, historically, have had little to do with each other. Earlier this year, Paramount and Hasbro assembled an A-list writer’s room for the shared universe they’re looking to develop for various properties that were successful toy brands in the 80’s–G.I. Joe, Micronauts, ROM, M.A.S.K., and more. They tapped Pulitzer Prize winner Michael Chabon, 11-time Eisner Award winner Brian K. Vaughan, Guardians of the Galaxy screenwriter Nicole Perlman, and a host of others to develop the ideas that would lead to all of these various properties, we dunno, probably fighting each other over a misunderstanding before teaming up to take on the real threat.

Today, Hasbro and comics publisher IDW also released a teaser image for Revolution, a five-part crossover that’s bringing the bulk of those cinematic properties together under one banner. The series brings together G.I. Joe, M.A.S.K., Micronauts, Action Man, and Transformers (who are not currently expected to be part of the Hasbro Cinematic Universe) for a giant crossover–pre-saging what’s likely to come in movies in the next few years.

Comics sales are low these days, but comics-based properties are extremely successful–and comics publishing, at this point, tends to double as low-cost R&D and advance marketing for Hollywood. While none of the Hasbro properties are inherently rooted in comics–they’re toy brands, first and foremost–they’ve all got at least some tradition on the page. The fact that Hasbro and IDW are forging ahead to develop something that’s likely to resemble what Paramount will be putting on movie screens in the years to come reflects both that Hasbro seems to be taking franchise-building seriously, and laying groundwork that’ll give its all-star writers some additional material to work with–while simultaneously testing the market for what they’re putting out there. It costs the same amount of money to draw the G.I. Joes, a bunch of Transformers, a host of M.A.S.K. vehicles, and ROM all engaged in a spectacular fight over the skyline of a futuristic city as it does to draw two people having a quiet conversation, anyway, so comics are a cheap way to play with ideas that could turn out to be very valuable later on. In an age where “comic book movie” is the most popular genre in the world, comic books themselves seem to be occupying a low-risk/high-reward creative space in the developing media landscape.

About the author

Dan Solomon lives in Austin with his wife and his dog. He's written about music for MTV and Spin, sports for Sports Illustrated, and pop culture for Vulture and the AV Club.