Tuesday, September 20, 2005


Comic Wars: How Two Tycoons Battled Over the Marvel Comics Empire…And Both Lost!!!

Comic Wars: How Two Tycoons Battled Over the Marvel Comics Empire…And Both Lost!!!
by Dan Raviv

I picked this up out of the bargain books section of Chapters just before I left Canada. If it had cost me more then $5 I doubt I would have picked it up and I’m glad I didn’t pay more then that.

What’s contained in Comic Wars is in the title, it’s what happened during Marvel’s bankruptcy in the nineties and how various people tried to take over the company, only to have their way blocked by someone else. I didn’t really know that much about Marvel’s bankruptcy other then the fact that it happened, so I thought this book could tell me something about it (and I was right!).

The primary players in the book are the two tycoons mentioned in the title (Ron Perelman and Carl Icahn) plus the owner of Toybiz (Ike Perlmutter) and that company’s chief toy designer (Avi Arad). Plus a bunch of lawyers. (Actually, what’s the name for a group of lawyers? A colony of vultures? That’s not amusing at all…). There are lots and lots of lawyers in this book.

Perelman bought Marvel in the 80’s and proceeded to make a fortune by selling junk bonds based on the value of it’s stock. Then ran the company into the ground by buying loads of other companies (the purchase of Malibu Comics made an amount of sense, buying two different trading card companies?) and fueling the speculator’s market. The company files for bankruptcy and Perelman wonders if it’s better to just shut down the company and sell the assets.

Enter Carl Icahn, who’s bought up loads of the now worthless bonds in an attempt to use the small print to get a lot of shares in Marvel. Icahn also basically wants to shut the company down and sell off the assets. Clearly these are people you want in charge of Marvel.

However, based on the title of the book you can tell they both lost. Who won? Toybiz (previously a smaller, related company) merged with Marvel creating a new company. Avi Arad is the only character in the book who actually read comic books, and he wants Marvel to keep publishing comics. And to get into the movie business (which eventually worked out well). He and Perlmutter eventually manage to strike a deal with the banks (who are owed $700 million dollars by Marvel) and are able to take over the company.

Perlmutter isn’t the nicest guy either though. In fact he seems like a bit of a jerk. He wanted to put all the employees in the bullpen at Marvel on the clock and have them punch in and out. And do random drug testing. And he actually got rid of the office coffee machine. And didn’t want to pay for a Christmas party. And cut Stan Lee’s contract down to two years (it was later changed back to lifetime, and it’s not really like Stan Lee does much, but fuck! He’s Stan Lee! He created your company!). Anyway, old Ike is crazy.

The book starts off fairly well, but gets boring and repetitive after a while. I guess if you’re really into law or something you will like it, but yeah. I guess this is what law is really like “Oooh, we’ve almost got a deal! Yes this will save the company! Perfect! Hang on a second…. No it’s not going to happen after all. Please give us several more months.” I’m also not sure what lawyers do. They seem to spend a lot of time staying up all night writing documents due in the morning. They sound like university students. Except lawyers get paid disgusting amounts of money.

While there are interesting parts of it, I think the amount of legalese could have been cut down considerably. It also would have been neat if there was more input from actual comics creators and what it was like trying to publish comics during Marvel’s bankruptcy. When Raviv talks about actually comic stuff he doesn’t always get it right (ie. Image is not just Todd McFarlane’s company; Heroes Reborn was a financial success). The previous examples aren’t even that obscure, they’re things that could have been caught.

However I can’t say this is the most boring book ever. I didn’t fall asleep reading it. I managed to read it all. I didn’t hate it. It was just boring in some places. It’s worth picking up if you can get it cheap and are really into law (or alternatively, just skim it).


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