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Stan “The Man” Lee to become Disney's front man for Marvel

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Stan “The Man” Lee to become Disney's front man for Marvel

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Well, it’s official. Provided – of course – that the Securities and Exchange Commission actually signs off on this merger, Marvel Entertainment, Inc. is now a wholly owned subsidiary of The Walt Disney Company. Marvel shareholders voted last Thursday to approve this $4.24 billion acquisition, which will add the 80-year-old comic brand and its library of 5000 characters to Disney’s stable of franchises.

Now it’s important to understand here that Marvel Chief Executive Isaac "Ike" Perlmutter will still be calling the shots creatively at that company. Marvel will still be Marvel, home to numerous emotionally complex superheroes who often wisecrack their way through inner turmoil. Disney’s job will be to take these well-known characters and – through its theme parks, movie studios, cable channels, the Disney Store, Disney.com and other distribution channels – just sell the hell out of them .

“And how exactly does Disney plan on selling the Marvel characters?,” you ask. Well, a big clue to their corporate strategy also came on Thursday. Which is when Disney revealed that it would expanding its 2007 first-look deal with Stan Lee’s POW! Entertainment. That – by paying $2.5 million for a 10% share of this comic legend’s company – the Mouse would now have additional rights when it came to Lee’s consulting services and creative output.

Stan Lee, owner of POW!
Copyright 2008 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

As Bob Chapek – president of worldwide distribution of Walt Disney Studios – put it, it makes perfect sense for Mickey to expand his relationship with Stan, given his "… knowledge and familiarity of the Marvel Universe."

Translation: Look for Lee to now become the Marvel equivalent of Frank Thomas or Ollie Johnston. That entertaining storyteller / learned sage who can then speak knowledgably to the press or whomever about this comic book publisher’s past, present and future. Mickey’s marketeers hope that Stan’s new very public role will make it that much easier for members of the Merry Marvel Marching Society to embrace the idea that Spidey & Wall-E are now pals.

To his credit, Lee was among the first to voice his enthusiasm for this acquisition back in August. Saying that “… Nobody can produce and market franchises better than Disney, and nobody has the extensive library of characters that would make great franchises that Marvel has … I think it's a terrific deal which will be extremely beneficial to both companies. The synergy between them is perfect.”

Stan Lee
Copyright 2010 Marvel Characters, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Mind you, the folks at Marvel aren’t entirely enthused when they learned about this new role that Disney has envisioned for Lee. Sure, Stan has been Chairman Emeritus of Marvel Entertainment, Inc. for a number of years now. But truth be told, he has had nothing to do with day-to-day operations.

And then there’s the matter of that lawsuit that Lee filed against the Company back in 2002, claiming that he was owed a portion of the profits from all those Marvel-based movies that Hollywood had begun making. Lee reportedly eventually received a settlement of more than $10 million in 2005. But this maneuver didn’t exactly endear Stan to Marvel Entertainment, Inc.’s current management team.

But now that Mickey’s marketers are calling the shots and want Stan to be front-and-center when it comes to promoting Marvel Entertainment, Inc.’s upcoming efforts, everyone’s decided to play nice. Though one wonders if Disney really knows what it’s doing by positioning Lee as the official grand old man of Marvel.

Stan Lee at a microphine in front of his creation Spiderman
Copyright 2008 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

“And what’s the problem with doing that?,” you query. Well, as one longtime Marvel employee told me last month:

“Stan’s a great guy and a terrific storyteller. But – inhouse at Marvel – he’s infamous for his terrible memory. You’ll actually go into a meeting with the guy and he’ll then say ‘And you are?’ Which is when you have to remind him of all the times you’ve previously worked together, all the projects that you’ve already done for the Company. After that, he’s fine. But given that Stan can’t seem to remember anybody’s names these days, that makes him a pretty interesting choice to serve as Disney’s front man for Marvel.”

You should expect to see a lot of Stan in the coming months, as the Mouse reveals how it plans to make use of Marvel properties on Disney XD. Or – for that matter – the important role that these comic book characters will play in the Company’s Shanghai Disneyland project.

But what do you folks think? Will Stan’s involvement will make Disney’s acquisition of Marvel that much easier for comic book fans to swallow?

Your thoughts?

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  • Makes sense - for a lot of people, Stan Lee IS the face of Marvel, and as long as Stan's out there telling stories and chaeerleading for Disney at fan events, things should be fine. It's a shame to hear about Stan's memory problems,  but it's not something that they can't work around.

    Wonder if Stan will make an appearance at D23 Expo?  Hmm...

  • I fully agree with pschnebs...Stan Lee is definitely seen as the face Marvel...nobody else even comes close so having him aboard is key.  As for the memory problems having one story from one guy does not mean that is true...I am sure Stan Lee has worked with many many many many people over the years and it 's likely he does not remember all of them.

  • I still can't rest easy about Disney buying Marvel. I realize they were having difficulty with the male audience, but going out and buying the ultimate superhero franchise is something out of Citizen Kane. It's crude and would be like Unca Walt buying Termite Terrace from Warner to bolster his theatrical shorts with wacky stuff.

    I guess my real problem is that Disney Co. is really just another media multinational, which is at odds with the small town theme of Walt's life.  

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