But Howe covers more ground, combining descriptions of the comics themselves with a lively history of the heroes and schmucks who made them. The tale Howe tells begins in , when Timely Comics later to morph into Marvel was printing up to , copies of its hits — including Marvel Comics and Captain America.
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Jack Kirby, pioneered a pop art style of broad faces, muscled bodies and bounding heroes. The industry thrived, and Lee more than Kirby with it. But the magazine companies that owned these products lost interest.
The good artists took on weirder assignments; would-be-moguls, like Lee, assumed that they were watching a fad die out. Then, in , Lee and Kirby published Fantastic Four 1. Comics history, a fairly young genre, tends to approach its material with reverence. The men who created these characters worked themselves sick and watched the profits go to other people.
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Kirby eventually jumped to D. His successors would fight the same battles against critical disrespect and befuddled ownership.
The writers approached their work with wry pride. Lee had given Spider-Man a pretty co-ed girlfriend named Gwen Stacy.
They responded with a goofy story about a clone. Underpaid artists and office managers die young, rattled and riven by stress. But for the most part, the writers, artists and editors are portrayed as virtually interchangeable, as just manufacturers of the "product" that is comics. For just one example, considering that he was a very active editor-in-chief for much of the Perelman period, it's notable that Tom DeFalco isn't mentioned even once. Also, Raviv's take on content-related matters is shaped by what he's read in the public record, as are his impressions of the fan community.
While the Marvel characters -- Spider-Man , the Hulk, the X-Men -- are colorful and exotic, and the Tycoons of the title are certainly men of oversized personalities, much of their battle went on in courtrooms where the combatants were lawyers whose weapons were facts -- or at least, data -- and convoluted legal arguments that can, and do, make one's eyes glaze over. If you can get past the idea that you have to understand every twist and turn of the legalistic elements, then this is an enjoyable book. Raviv points out that "for Ronald Perelman, Marvel became a platform for selling junk bonds.
Apparently he did not appreciate that he was the custodian of a distinctive piece of American culture.
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This was what all Marvel's business decisions in the late s to mids were based on. Perelman's inclination was to pay whatever price was asked for something he wanted, especially if he thought he could convert it to junk bond money. This was an important part of the deal he made to buy a large non-majority share of Perlmutter and Arad's Toy Biz toy company, the major licensee of Marvel action figures. Perelman needed the toy company in order to shore up lagging profits at his over-leveraged Marvel, and Toy Biz got a "perpetual no-fee license to design, market and distribute action figures, other toys and games based on all the Marvel characters.
Oh, unless you owned Marvel stock. In any event, the Perelman organization's machinations left the company vulnerable to corporate raider Icahn to try to come in and take over. Perelman wouldn't let go without a fight. Both billionaires got their egos caught up in what was actually a pretty small change company for them, and Toy Biz was in danger of becoming a casualty of this battle of the titans. As one frustrated major investor in the companies wrote: "Egos have destroyed the market price of all the securities in this case.
First it was Ronnie Perelman, then the Icahn-Fortgang-Perlmutter Mid-East peace talks with a new deal every other month, I have been in too many bankruptcy cases where professional pride got in the way of making a deal fair to all. The professionals still get their fees and go on to the next case. Indeed, in Comic Wars , Perelman and Icahn act like comics speculators, each wanting to hold onto this mint condition collectible -- Marvel Comics itself --and determined that, if he can't have it, the other guy sure won't get it, either.
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As someone who was working at Marvel I was running the Spider-Man editorial line while all this was going on, and who resigned partly in response to many of the strange decisions that were handed down from higher, non-editorial corporate levels, I found it fascinating to read about what was causing many of the strange dicta that were handed down to us. While many of the Perelman organization's moves did indeed bring profit to the company and its employees, they were, even more than we then realized, short-term strategies designed to increase junk bond profits.
When these deals and moves went sour, it gave Icahn, who had bought many of those junk bonds, a chance to move in. Part of his moving in was to squeeze Toy Biz out. The banks that were owed the debt Perelman had run up became the pivotal players. By convincing them to align with Toy Biz, Perlmutter and Arad became the owners of Marvel, which they remain to this day.
Perelman didn't do too badly, either. There's one scary footnote, though.