The Strange Business History of Marvel Comics
The news that Disney has purchased Marvel Entertainment for a whopping $4 billion understandably has some fans in a tizzy. But a look back at the history of Marvel shows that the company has changed ownership multiple times, often resulting in some odd business pairings. Here’s a look back at the strange business history of the House of Ideas, before it was snatched up by the House of Mouse:
Marvel had its first taste of corporate culture when founder Martin Goodman sold the publishing outfit that began life as Timely Comics to Perfect Film and Chemical– a company known for film processing and mail order drug sales–in 1968. Perfect grouped Marvel under the Magazine Management brand, a label which at one time (along with subsidiary Curtis Publishing) encompassed everything from “Ladies’ Home Journal” to “Deadly Hands of Kung Fu.”
1972 saw Stan Lee stepping in for Goodman as publisher, while parent company Perfect rebranded itself as Cadence Corporation the following year. The wonky Magazine Management Co. now officially became known as Marvel Comics Group.
In 1986, with Marvel enjoying unprecedented success under controversial editor-in-chief Jim “creator of the company-wide crossover” Shooter, New World Entertainment (founded by “Death Race 2000″ auteur Roger Corman) swooped in and purchased the company. Despite teaming on several “Incredible Hulk” TV movies, the pairing was short-lived, and the company that gave us B-movie gems like “C.H.U.D.” sold Marvel to financier Ronald Perelman in 1989. (Ironically, Shooter attempted to purchase Marvel himself that year, but instead ended up going on to form rival Valiant Comics.)
Perelman’s holdings included the cosmetic giant Revlon, and for a time Spider-Man and Max Factor shared the same home under the banner of MacAndrews & Forbes. The cigar-chomping investor would take Marvel public in 1991, and purchase everything from the Fleer Trading Card Company to the now-defunct Malibu Comics during the early ’90s comics boom.
As the bubble burst on the stunt-driven, hologram foil-encrusted comics market, Marvel was forced to declare bankruptcy in 1996. The following year, Perelman and fellow shareholder Carl Icahn were edged out by Isaac Perlmutter and Avi Arad, heads of Marvel subsidiary Toy Biz. Arad and Perlmutter — along with Bill Jemas, Joe Quesada, and others — brought Marvel back from financial ruin and helped transform the company into the media giant we know today.
Though it came as a surprise to many, sources say Disney chief Bob Iger has been angling to buy Marvel for some time. (No doubt to attract its core male audience to the typically young girl-skewing Disney.) How the company’s beloved characters will be affected remains to be seen. One thing’s for sure–it’s just another chapter in the long, strange journey of the “World’s Greatest Comics Publisher.”