In a podcast chat with James Viscardi’s Let’s Talk Comics, Rob Liefeld talked about a time when Marvel were planning to give Jim Lee control of Marvel Comics. Viscardi’s ComicBook.com seems to have interpreted that as Jim Lee buying Marvel but that’s not what Liefeld said. Twelve minutes in, Rob says “They almost gave all of Marvel to Jim Lee… Marvel relocated to San Diego, and run everything out of Wildstorm.”
Firstly, Lee didn’t have the funds to do such a thing, even then. But in 1996, as Lee’s Heroes Reborn titles were launched at Marvel, initially Fantastic Four and Iron Man, then gaining Captain America and Avengers, Ron Perelman visited Lee’s Wildstorm offices in La Jolla, as Liefeld mentions. Let’s step back a bit.
Vulture capitalist and Marvel owner since 1989, Perelman saddled the publisher with the debt he had used to buy it. Increasing prices and amounts of comic book published, he floated the company at the height of the boom and made a very large profit. But promises of increasing sales to investors faltered. Marvel’s major comic creators left to start Image Comics. As the comics boom stopped booming, distribution was blamed, leading Marvel to buy Heroes World and, disastrously, began to self-distribute. As stores began to fold under pressure, Marvel started buying the likes of Toy Biz, Fleer, SkyBox, Panini, Simpsons publisher Welsh Publishing and Malibu Comics. Later in 1996, Perelman would put Marvel into bankruptcy protection, and Toy Biz’ Isaac Permutter would seize control of Marvel where Perelman and venture competitor Carl Icahn failed.
But back in La Jolla in 1996. Marvel had rehired Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld from Image Comics to recreate a number of their less-well selling, but still high profile comics. But Ron Perelman had bigger plans for this.
The plan was to make Jim Lee the EIC of Marvel, place him as as head of all operations and move that operation to Lee’s Wilstorm Studios in La Jolla, California.
Which would have been a dramatic shift in many ways. Discussions took place including Rob Liefeld, Jeph Loeb, Scott Lobdell and Larry Marder.
However, according to Rob on the pocast the deal was killed at the last minute by… then-Fleer publisher Bill Jemas and Marvel’s Dan Buckley. Buckley is now publisher of Marvel. Jemas, after becoming publisher at Marvel, now works for game publisher Take Two’s comic book line Double Take. Though he appears to distance himself from this role these days…
So, for all the moaning about DC Comics moving west, Marvel almost made the move themselves twenty years ago… at least according to Rob, and others I’ve talked to.
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