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Comic Wars:
How Two Tycoons Battled over the Marvel Comics Empire -- And Both Lost

Comic Wars by Dan Raviv

Marvel Comics have been a staple of the American psyche for over forty years, even though the entity that is Marvel has existed since before World War 2. Through its life, Marvel has had a variety of colorful leaders and owners, though recently what was once the top dog in comics filed for bankruptcy. That court battle was full of intrigue and greed - this is that story.

Bankruptcy doesn't sound like an especially exciting topic, unless it involves something that is important to you (or you happen to be a bankruptcy attorney). The object of that affection is Marvel Comics with its stable of iconic characters, and the entire case evolved out of (and is resolved with) greed.

The cover (in true comics style) has two tycoons locked in battle over the fate of Marvel as some of the well-known characters that inhabit the Marvel Universe look on while proclaiming the story of 'how two tycoons battled over Marvel, and both lost'. The two tycoons are Ron Perelman and Carl Icahn, both billionaires due to their ruthless pursuit of profits on Wall Street.

Briefly, Perelman had purchased Marvel cheaply (at around $80 million) and was able to parley this into ownership of Fleer, Skybox, Panini sticker company and partial ownership of Toy Biz. Along this ride, Marvel Comics had a market capitalization of over $3 billion at one time, and was the darling of the NY Stock Market. The collapse of the comics and card markets took a heavy toll on Marvel, resulting in massive debts (that were inflamed by Perelman's managerial style) and bankruptcy.

And that's where it gets interesting. This case took over 18 months to settle, with the outcome finally being that Toy Biz would merge with Marvel to create a new company. The fight over Marvel became a battle of egos between Perelman and Carl Icahn, with Toy Biz wading in to protect their no-royalty license with Marvel.

What Dan Raviv has done in Comic Wars is to bring the many twists and turns that make up the battle for Marvel Comics to vivid life. Even though the outcome is well known, as you read the book it is far from obvious due to the nature of the people involved. This is due to the inherent strangeness of reality and the style of this work, which is fun to read and just as exciting as the comics that Marvel has published.

This book is well worth the read just for the writing even if you have no interest in Marvel, but it's the people who make it interesting. From billionaires Perelman and Icahn, to multi-millionaires Avi Arad (creative director at Toy Biz) and Ike Perlmutter (the largest shareholder at Toy Biz), there are colorful personalities that often clash.

Before you get the feeling this was a battle between merciless, rich men trying to milk Marvel for every penny from the poor little guy, think again. The real victims of the entire battle were the fans, as none of the major players have any worry over their next meal. It's more a case of big business beating bigger business.

This book also seems very sad for anyone who actually cares about Marvel, because of the four big men - Perelman, Icahn, Permutter and Arad, only Avi Arad has any love for Marvel Comics (the other three never even read a single comic). The battle is over money, plain and simple. Perelman is trying to get out of a bad situation, Icahn wants to buy Marvel to beat Perelman and then to squeeze Marvel for whatever he could, while Permutter simply wants to keep his royalty-free license with Marvel to keep Toy Biz in business. Avi Arad was the creative man in the mix, and he wanted Marvel to make movies, saying almost as an oracle that "Spider-Man is worth a billion dollars" after a movie and more exposure. Arad also sees a merged Toy Biz and Marvel as his chance to follow his dreams into movie-making.

The book is well worth reading, just for the interesting story and an inside look at some of the people involved. The book is being marketed as some sort of a morality tale, but the moral isn't clear. It isn't a tale of big business versus the little guy who really cares, but of the rich fighting the richer over an object that is little more than a commodity in most of their eyes. The winners are clearly the lawyers in this case (to the tune of over $30 million) and prior Toy Biz owners, even though the merger is arguably not the only path to settling the bankruptcy of Marvel Comics. The losers were Marvel bondholders, the banks and the fans who had to suffer through this case.

If there is any real moral to this story, perhaps it is that if you create something and truly love it, never sell it to the money men.

Book's official web site: Comic Wars - read an excerpt
Publisher:  Broadway Books
ISBN:  0767908309
Suggested retail price: $24.95 USD

Buy Comic Wars at Amazon.com

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