Marvel's long history now part of Disney

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NEW YORK — Iron Man, Captain America and Thor may be nearly invincible, but they can also be bought.

In acquiring Marvel Entertainment Inc. for about $4 billion, Walt Disney Co. inherits a bevy of comic book characters whose history is almost dramatic enough to deserve a prequel of its own. And what could be a better ending than Hulk moving in with Donald Duck?

Marvel Comics, now a subsidiary of Marvel Entertainment Inc., was founded in 1939, a year after Disney released one of its biggest hits: "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs."

Even Stan Lee, who would become an integral figure in Marvel's history and arguably its most public face, was a fan.

"The first expensive book I bought by saving my pennies was called `The Art of Walt Disney,'" Lee said in an interview Monday. "I loved their cartoons: `Pinocchio' and `Bambi' and `Snow White' — all of them."

The first issue of Marvel Comics, released by Timely Publications, was published in October 1939 and included a now-classic character, the Human Torch. The issue sold for 10 cents.

The company's founder was Martin Goodman, a former salesman. A few years later, he hired a young office assistant named Stanley Lieber, who would eventually write under the name Stan Lee.

World War II changed the comic business as Lee and others were sent to battle. Afterward, superheroes weren't as in demand. Humor and romance replaced tales of good vs. evil. Captain America was out; Archie was in.

But the '60s were a creative heyday for Marvel. It published hundreds of comic books with superhero stories, including the introduction of the Fantastic Four. Lee created many of the characters, along with designers such as Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko.

Among them: Spider-Man, Iron Man, the X-Men, the Hulk and Thor. And, of course, there were the villains, too: the Green Goblin, Doctor Doom, Magneto and others.

With more serious, detailed storytelling, Marvel seized the comic book energy from DC Comics, which over the years has birthed Batman, Superman and many others. (DC has its own corporate owner: Warner Bros., since 1969.)

Marvel was sold in 1986 to New World Entertainment, and soon thereafter, was sold again to investor Ronald Perelman. He took it public in 1991, but bankruptcy followed. Marvel's current chief executive, Isaac "Ike" Perlmutter, snatched Marvel assets out of bankruptcy in 1998, outmaneuvering Perelman and investor Carl Icahn...

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