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Clash of the Titans

  Comic Wars: How Two Tycoons Battled over the Marvel Comics Empire -- And Both Lost
Dan Raviv
Broadway Books, 2002
Rating: 3.7
 

Posted: August 29, 2002

By Kevin Forest Moreau

Over-the-top action has always been the stuff of great Marvel comics. But in this gripping behind-the-scenes account of boardroom warfare, back-room deal-making (and breaking) and bankruptcy court proceedings, CBS News correspondent Dan Raviv recounts a serpentine saga more extreme, more gripping and more frightening than anything the House of Ideas has published in ages.

With an omniscient, you-are-there P.O.V. worthy of Bob Woodward, Raviv recounts the details of Marvel Comics' long late-1990s bankruptcy, and the interminable tug-of-war between Revlon tycoon Ron Perelman, corporate raider Carl Icahn and toy concern Toy Biz for control of the company. History is written by the winners, and Comic Wars loses a couple of objectivity points due to its obvious sympathy for ultimately triumphant Toy Biz executives Ike Perlmutter and Avi Arad; the duo is depicted as continually plotting ways to wrest the company out of the control of cold, wealthy men who care little for the value of Marvel's great intellectual property. (One of the book's delicious bon mots is Arad's tireless cheerleading for the vast movie potential of Marvel's characters and his oft-stated desire to move into motion picture production, which has of course since been realized; he's listed as an executive producer for every Marvel-based movie in development, as well as hits like Spider-Man, Blade and X-Men.)

But it's hard for the reader to walk away with much sympathy for anyone, except perhaps the innocent Marvel employees and fans forced to endure endless months of uncertainty regarding the company's future -and Larry Mittman, the Toy Biz attorney who bounces like a ping-pong ball through the book's Byzantine proceedings. Not surprisingly, Perelman and especially junk-bond titan Icahn are portrayed as villainous megalomaniacs on par with Magneto or Dr. Doom, although Perlmutter gets tarred a couple of times as well as a duplicitous exec all too willing to jump ship or switch allegiances at the drop of a superhero mask. In this department, however, special mention must go to the brilliantly named Chaim Fortgang, a hard-ass attorney for the banks unfortunate enough to be Marvel's creditors.

If it's perhaps too eager to paint super-wealthy businessmen as evildoers, and its sympathies for Perlmutter and Arad are too obvious, it's nonetheless hard to fault Comic Wars' slanted approach. The decision to focus the story through the eyes of the Toy Biz team proves a smart one; as every story needs a protagonist, after all, and although these two rich men are acting out of self-interest (Toy Biz is fighting, as much as anything, to keep a lucrative royalty-free arrangement by which it pays no fees for the rights to make action figures of Marvel characters), the pair -especially Marvel fan Arad - does seem the one entity most concerned with keeping Marvel Comics alive. Although the twists and turns are very often hard to keep straight for anyone not possessed of an M.B.A., it's to Raviv's credit that Comic Wars remains a fascinating and suspenseful read -- a feat made all the more remarkable by the fact that informed readers already know how the book will end before they even pick it up.

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 Ratings Key:
 5.0: A masterwork
 4.0-4.9: Great read
 3.0-3.9: Well done
 2.0-2.9: Ordinary
 1.1-1.9: Sub par
 0.0-1.0: Horrendous

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