According to the company's blog, graphic publisher Dark Horse Entertainment has closed a "first look" deal with Netflix.
"Following the success of [Netflix series] The Umbrella Academy, we’re excited to extend our relationship with Dark Horse Comics,” said Cindy Holland, Vice President, Original Content for Netflix. “The Netflix teams are already working in deep collaboration with Dark Horse to identify projects beyond the world of traditional superheroes - branching into horror, fantasy and family entertainment - that we think our members will love."
"We are very excited about this new arrangement with the talented people at Netflix," said Mike Richardson, Dark Horse Entertainment’s President and Founder. “We have strong creative relationships as well as a large content library to work with and, as we have seen with our recent projects, Netflix is the perfect partner to bring our stories to fans around the world."
Dark Horse further states that under the new agreement, it will "give Netflix a first look at its IP for both film and TV, and has started exploring future projects." The importance of such a relationship should not be underestimated. To understand the ramifications, it's necessary to consider the history of Dark Horse, and what it represents in the publishing world.
Dark Horse is the most successful ‘indie' publisher of comics and graphic novels, and virtually the only survivor of a 1980s wave of independent challengers to the entrenched Marvel and DC superhero factories. Today, with Marvel tied to Disney and DC to Warner Bros., Dark Horse is one of the last bastions of alternative graphics publishing.
Amazingly, Dark Horse has survived in this market without ever descending into the traditional cape-and-cowl superhero genre. Instead, it has built a reputation for working with brilliant, genre-busing creators like Frank Miller, Paul Chadwick, and Mike Mignola. Even its numerous movie and TV adaptations, such as Aliens and Predator, have featured a darker, more serious approach, bolstered by innovative art and writing.
After over 30 years in business, Dark Horse has an enviable collection of top-notch fiction properties in its stable - and plenty of successful screen adaptations to its credit. Apart from the quirky superhero series The Umbrella Academy (now renewed for a second season), Dark Horse and Netflix also got together on the action film Polar. But the full list of Dark Horse screen credits stretches much further, to include such critical and commercial hits as Sin City, The Mask, Hellboy, Mystery Men, 30 Days of Night and the series Dark Matter.
And yet, a lot of the best Dark Horse material remains untapped. For example, the thoughtful, often tragic black-and-white series Concrete. Or the brilliantly imaginative space opera Nexus. Or the Hellboy spin-off, BPRD.
All this makes Dark Horse a perfect fit for Netflix, which pioneered darker, grittier interpretations of Marvel's comic-book characters, including Daredevil, Punisher and Jessica Jones.
The Dark Horse/Netflix partnership also seems like a perfect move at this particular time.
In the wake of the two record-breaking Avengers releases, Disney seems bent on turning the Marvel franchise into a series of vacuous billion-dollar computer-generated carnival rides. At the same time, it's having trouble managing the Star Wars franchise, alternately irritating fans with sharp but less-canonical films like Solo or The Last Jedi, and shamelessly pandering to them with tepid regurgitations of Lucas, like The Force Awakens. (Disney's recent cancellation of numerous planned films may help.)
CBS Interactive has similarly wavered in its management of the Star Trek franchise. Star Trek Discovery interspersed classic Roddenberry moments with endless stretches of incoherent JJ Abrams-style CG spectacle, almost as if to deliberately irritate both casual viewers and die-hard fans. It remains to be seen whether the upcoming Jean-Luc Picard and Section 31 series will be more consistent.
HBO, of course, has built a reputation for solid dramatic productions - but is now facing the expiry of its blockbuster Game of Thrones fantasy franchise. Will the public respond to the planned spin-offs? Hard to know. Meanwhile, Apple launched its own streaming service with no eye-catching franchise deals at all. (Is the Internet generation really going to pay to see Oprah interview authors?)
Amazon Prime Video has perhaps done better than the rest, slowly building a limited roster of top-notch genre shows: Bosch, Goliath, The Man in the High Castle, Alpha House, not to mention its upcoming Lord of the Rings series.
Nonetheless, while Netflix is taking a hit with the departure of its high-profile Marvel shows, it remains in a strong position as far as content. Rather than reaching for expensive spectacular, Netflix has architected an incredibly broad base of solid niche favorites: House of Cards, Orange is the New Black, Altered Carbon, Grace and Frankie, Trailer Park Boys, Bojack Horseman, plus seemingly endless high-quality co-productions such as Lilyhammer or Dirk Gently.
An infusion of Dark Horse material will fit perfectly into this mix. It should allow Netflix to maintain its appeal to fans of sci-fi and superhero action genres, while bolstering its position as more daring, more off-beat and more cerebral than competitors like Disney and CBS. As the streaming video market gets more crowded, it's exactly these kinds of strategic decisions that will determine the winners and losers.
They say that 'content is king.' But, clearly, no one content deal will swing the increasingly ponderous streaming market. Nonetheless, the Dark Horse + Netflix pact has the feel of a notable ‘keystone' event - one that gives us some valuable insight into how the next phase of visual entertainment is going to shape up.
[Image: Matt Wagner's Grendel, yet another highly-regarded property being published by Dark Horse.]