It's all about the numbers. Maybe it should be about the comic books, or the "fan boys" who flock to conventions such as the amazing crowded Comic-Con in San Diego in late July. But Disney's purchase of Marvel Entertainment is about dollars.
Disney, subject to approval from Marvel shareholders who are sure to love this windfall, plans to pay $50 dollars per share for Marvel, which was at 38 last week.
Behind the scenes lies a tale of personal triumph by two determined immigrants from Israel who worked hard and negotiated even harder. Marvel was literally bankrupt in 1997 and 1998, when Ike Perlmutter and Avi Arad managed to have their company, Toy Biz, take full control of the legendary comic books creator. To do that, they defeated Ronald Perelman and Carl Icahn, two of New York's most powerful tycoons, whose tug of war over Marvel left a federal bankruptcy court in Wilmington tied up in knots.
Arad was a genius with toy designs, heroic characters, and movie concepts that profitably framed Spider-Man, the X-Men, and other Marvel legends. He walked away from the company in mid-2006, selling his stake when the stock was in the 20's. Arad continues to be a movie producer in Hollywood, and he is helping out with future movies starring Marvel characters – including Sony's "Spider-Man 4" set for 2011.
Perlmutter, a reclusive investor with an incredible gut instinct for spotting value, cutting costs, and constantly peppering his division chiefs with questions, continued on as CEO of Marvel. He led the risky shift in strategy that now has Marvel Studios making its own movies – handsomely paid off by the worldwide hit "Iron Man" last year and likely to be repeated by the sequel starring Robert Downey Jr. next year.
If, as reported, Perlmutter owns around 38% of Marvel's common stock, then his share of the $4 billion to be paid by Disney would border on $1.5 billion for the CEO himself: not bad for a man who arrived in America about forty years ago, with a few hundred dollars in his pocket!
I wanted to hear what Stan Lee thinks about the deal. Lee is, of course, the co-creator of Spider-Man and many other comic book superheroes that have earned billions for Marvel and the movie industry. Still active at age 86 at his company Pow! Entertainment in Los Angeles, Stan – who harbors no ill will after his lawsuit against Marvel that led to his getting a settlement of about $10 million – wishes Spidey and his other fictional children nothing but success.
"I could not be happier," Lee told me by phone. "It's a marriage made in heaven. This couldn't be a better deal. Disney does everything – and they do it well. And it's always good family entertainment, and that's what we always tried to make of Marvel."
CBS News correspondent Dan Raviv is host of radio's Weekend Roundup and author of "Comic Wars: How Two Tycoons Battled Over the Marvel Comics Empire – and Both Lost".