The Ballad Of Ike Perlmutter And Marvel Comics

320x486With the news about big changes at Marvel Studios, it’s just another example of Marvel CEO Isaac Perlmutter or “Ike” proving a source of fascination and controversy over the years.

An Israeli war veteran who came to the USA with nothing, started the toy company Toy Biz. Licensing many Marvel characters as action figures, it was bought by Marvel, putting Ike on the Marvel board. During the Marvel bankruptcy, he ended up as the largest Marvel shareholder and CEO. Pursuing his vision into movie making, he mortgaged Marvel’s film rights to its characters against their success, got Iron Man made with Robert Downey Jr. He then leveraged that success to kickstar the whole Marvel Studios slate of movies, controlling them with a heavy hand. He then sold to Disney while remaining Marvel CEO and Disney’s largest single shareholder. It hasn’t happened without breaking a lot of eggs.

There was the alleged statement to then-Marvel-editor-in-chief Bob Harras that if his children turned out to be gay (like Marvel exec Eric Ellenbogen) that he should kill them (it would later be alleged that he (possibly mock) attacked Eric in the offices after firing him, only for Eric to keep coming into the office, per his contract). There were the stories about shouting in the office about wasting money – from leaving on light bulbs, wasting paper clips, notepad paper and coffee pots, – but also this was done very publicly, to make a point. And carried over into his decision to restrict trade paperback stocks for the publisher and repeatedly fire people just to see if the company could continue without them, his battles with Bill Jemas that came to a head over the Rawhide Kid series, claiming that kind of project was akin to stealing from him, and a claim made to one person interviewing for a job that he had banned couches from the office to save people’s marriages, seemingly ignorant of what people can get up to on desks. As he moved into Disney, with similar cost-cutting zeal and belligerent bravado, he encountered some who would not put up with him, cue the legal suit launched against him by three female black Disney executives. There was also the cancellation of the Fantastic Four comic and licensing, and the reduction of the prominence of the X-Men due to his falling out with Fox Studios in negotiation over the film rights they owned, the Sony leak over female superhero discussion, and over his issues with Drew Goddard… but with all the controversy came the acknowledgement that, with his success the success of the publisher and studio, that Perlmutter had done something really right, and that it was hard to bet against him.

But that’s what Kevin Feige did. Last year, there were rumours of a split between Feige and Perlmutter, as Ike wanted to get rid of Robert Downey Jr from Marvel, after Downey made increased demands abut the size of his role, against Feige’s insistence that he stay.

Famously, Feige is a bombastic fellow on set, but the only phone call he would take in hushed, respectful tones, was from Ike. He really did rule the roost. And given the Drew Goddard and Robert Downey Jr situations, as well as the Fox negotiations, you can see why Feige might want a little breathing room, and manage to renegotiate his role and Marvel Studios away from Perlmutter at Disney.

So how will this affect the comics? Well, Perlmutter still stays in charge there, and he is hands on, recently personally greenlighting the ongoing Spider-Gwen series and expanding the prominence of the character, leading to rumours about a possible film with Sony. But with repeated reports over the studio is affecting the comic books, it’s possible that he won’t be involved in those decisions as much, though he is still in charge of the TV and games, and they are not without influence…

But for Kevin, at least Alan Horn doesn’t carry a gun.

There is still no public photograph of Perlmutter aside from this Mark Strong lookalike one from Forbes from decades ago. If anyone does have another, do please, get in touch. Even if it’s of him cosplaying as Charles Bronson…

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