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Review: Color 'Comic Wars' Marvel-ous

Review: Color 'Comic Wars' Marvel-ous

By L.D. Meagher

"Comic Wars"
By Dan Raviv
Broadway Books

(CNN) -- Before "Spider-Man" could spin his web across thousands of movie screens, before "X-Men" could attract stars like Ian McKellan, Patrick Stewart and Halle Berry, the creative wellspring known as Marvel Comics had to fight for its life.

Its ultimate fate was determined, not by some spandex-clad hero, but by a bunch of guys in suits, most of whom couldn't tell Wolverine from the Incredible Hulk.

"Comic Wars" by Dan Raviv, a CBS News correspondent, chronicles the battle that raged on Wall Street with Marvel as the prize.

During the course of the fighting, the company itself became all but worthless. That didn't stop two of the world's leading corporate raiders from launching the financial equivalent of nuclear strikes at each other as they vied to gain control of the comic book empire.

Perfect villains

Ronald Perelman and Carl Icahn are both billionaires. They are both schooled in the art of cutthroat finances. Either one would be an appropriate villain for a Marvel-style comic book adventure.

And at one time or another, both claimed to own Marvel. Neither does now. The story of the war they fought is as complex as any dreamed up by the Marvel creative staff.

To his credit, Raviv resists the temptation to tell it in comic book terms. Instead, he provides a lively account of the financial machinations of the combatants.

And there were many people involved -- bankers, investors, toy makers and lawyers.

Lots of lawyers.


Much of the struggle for Marvel was fought in the Federal Bankruptcy Court in Wilmington, Delaware.

The nearby Hotel DuPont was the staging area for the various factions. At one point in the proceedings, Raviv writes, "almost the entire cast of characters in the Marvel saga circulated around the lobby, the two bars and the Brandywine Room restaurant. It was like 'Casablanca,' with everyone in tight quarters offering deals behind everyone else's back."

The most interesting personality to emerge in "Comic Wars" is Isaac Perlmutter, a mere millionaire. Through his controlling interest in the manufacturer Toy Biz, he wangled a sweetheart deal to make Marvel action figures.

As the comic book company's fortunes soured, it threatened to drag Toy Biz down with it. Skillfully playing the other combatants against each other, the Israeli-born Perlmutter comes through as the unlikely hero of the tale.

"Comic Wars" is briskly and breezily written. Raviv keeps the focus of the story squarely on the people involved, not the money. He has produced a rare business book that is as interesting to read and as easy to comprehend as an adventure of "The Amazing Spider-Man."


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