Lessons from Great Comebacks: Marvel Comics – the superhero of the Comeback world

April 22, 2021


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Every great superhero story features a ‘darkest hour’, and for Marvel Comics, that came in the Winter of 1996.

The company had grown throughout the 60s, 70s and 80s – with heroes like The Amazing Spiderman and The Fantastic Four as prized possessions in many homes. But more and more, the comics were becoming collector’s items, traded at high value as opposed to flying from shelves in their thousands.

Between 1993 and 1996, revenues from comics and trading cards began to collapse. Suddenly, Marvel, which at one point seemed invincible as it grew in size, now looked vulnerable.

“When the business turned,” observed then-chariman and CEO of Marvel Scott Sassa, “it was like everything that could go wrong did go wrong.” The company’s share price plummeted, and what followed was a number of years of boardroom unrest and failing projects.  

A new direction

The company’s fortune began to change with a number of film successes, X-men and Blade, though Marvel saw little of this, taking just £25k from £700m box office sales due to poorly negotiated rights.

A big vision

In 2003, a talent agent named David Maisel came to Marvel with a proposal. Why not produce their own films under their own banner, and reap the profits for themselves? If Marvel made their own films, with their own stories – then the films could interconnect, like they did in the original comics.

It was an idea that could, in theory, be worth untold millions: while Marvel’s stock had bounced back since 1996, Maisel argued that going into movie production could see it soar still further.

Taking a risk

In 2005 Marvel negotiated a finance deal with Merrill Lynch. It was a high-risk deal – Marvel was essentially offering up the jewels in its crown – characters like Thor and Captain America – as collateral. If the films didn’t make money, those superheroes would suddenly belong to the bank.

The universe was born

Iron Man kickstarted the success, with X-men, Avengers and Spiderman all grossing millions. A new generation of cult followers was created, along with many of the old ones returning to see their favourite characters on the big screen. The Marvel universe went from strength to strength, with the Avengers alone ranking as the third most successful firm of all time.

In 2009 Disney purchased Marvel for a whopping $4.3bn and today Marvel is a billion-dollar franchise… a testament to the fact that everyone loves a good comeback story!