Another new Spider-Man? Isn't it a bit soon? Nope, the man behind The Amazing Spider-Man assures
TARA BRADY, after all it's a comic book and comic books come out every Wednesday
IN 1996, as DC executives were toasting the success of yet another hit Batman movie, rival imprint and one-time publishing nemesis Marvel was preparing to file for bankruptcy. The home of Spider-Man, The Avengers, Thor, Hulk, Captain America, Fantastic Four, X-Men, and Silver Surfer; the workshop of Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, was doomed. Unless . . .
Fast-forward 17-odd years, and the same “floundering” imprint had been snapped up by Walt Disney for a cool $4 billion in a headline-grabbing 2009 deal. Marvel’s The Avengers, at the time of going to press, has sailed past $1,436,325,442 in box office earnings, to become the third biggest movie of all time.
Curiouser and curiouser. What changed between the disastrous 1990 attempt to bring Captain America to the big screen and last year’s $368,608,363-grossing Captain America: The First Avenger? How did Marvel Comics get out of the geek ghetto and become part of the white-bread mainstream?
Enter Avi Arad, the superhero behind the superheroes.
“I find comics to be literature of great depth,” says Arad. “People who are not familiar with them are surprised when I say that. But comic books find all kinds of characters in all kinds of distress and then assign them powers to see if they will use those powers for good or evil. That’s what makes Spider-Man and Avengers and X-men so intellectually interesting. Look at the themes of discrimination and self-worth in X-men. Look at the psychological profiles provided within the pages of a comic book.”
In 1996, Arad and Toy Biz co-owner Isaac Perlmutter wrestled control of Marvel Comics away from Carl Icahn and Ron Perelman, and immediately steadied the ship. By the turn of the millennium they had refashioned the modern superhero film by drafting in Bryan Singer to realise X-Men and by assigning Spider-Man to Sam Raimi.
“I put my money where my mouth was,” says Arad. “For some people it was a huge risk, for me it was natural. I knew we had to extend beyond publishing in order to make the company a viable business entity. And I really believed we could make good animation and good movies. The storyboards were already there.”
A CEO with a penchant for biker jackets and baseball caps and a boardroom history in toys and comics, Arad looks more like Tom Hanks in Big than your average suited and booted executive.