The Bankruptcy of Marvel and the 5 Franchises They Gambled Away

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By Brian McCormick | More Articles Comic book geek and Magic: the Gathering player
August 14, 2015  06:36 PM

Comic book movies have been a hit in the new millennia since Spider-Man was released in 2002. Thanks to well-rendered CGI, once horrendously cheesy flicks are now awe-inspiring superhero films.

There was a time before The Avengers and Iron Man, when comic books weren’t doing so well. Marvel ended up putting up the film rights to their characters in the late 80s, and in 1996 they declared bankruptcy.

No doctor could stymie the early doom for the comic book industry that became apparent in the early '90's. Neil Gaiman, the legendary author and comic book writer, foreshadowed and explained the imminent comic book crash. He was scheduled to speak to a few thousand anxious businesspeople packed at the 1993 Retailers Seminar. When Neil took the stage, he presented his new piece, Gods & Tulips. His graphic novel described the bubble that was about to burst in everyone’s face. In his speech, Gaiman likened the state of comic-books to that of Tulip Mania from the 17th century.

Back in the 1600s, there was a huge demand for tulip bulbs. Everyone wanted one. Sellers got smart, and decided to start restricting sales and promised that the supply was limited. Buyers believed that tulips would skyrocket in value. Everyone began stockpiling the bulbs… after all, the price had been rising steadily, and it was only going up!

Eventually, the cost of a bulb sold for the same amount as a modern day mansion… but then it crashed. People realized that there was no reason for it to be so valuable. They could just buy a different flower, or grow it for themselves.

The problem in the comic book world is retailers had been selling first edition comics like tulip bulbs. They kept printing new editions, capitalizing on consumers buying multiple copies as an investment. In the news, people heard stories about Golden Age comics selling for tens of thousands of dollars, and they wanted a piece of the pie. Marvel fed into the craze, but it was not to last.

Gaiman said, "You can sell lots of comics to the same person, especially if you tell them that you are investing money for high guaranteed returns… but you're selling bubbles and tulips, and one day the bubble will burst, and the tulips will rot in the warehouse."

Eight years prior to Gaiman’s speech, Marvel decided to raise money and sell the film rights to their major characters. In their deals, they stipulated that buyers must make a movie for the characters they licensed within an estimated 7 to 10 years. If not, the rights would revert back to Marvel. Continue to list to see the 5 franchises Marvel gambled away.

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Brian McCormick is a Fantasy and Science Fiction enthusiast & Co Founder of