D.C. Comics ready to ride WildStorm

Acquisition would give TW co. the edge over Marvel

D.C. Comics, which owns Superman, Batman and other classic comics characters, has an agreement in principle to acquire WildStorm Prods., one of the larger of the small comic book houses.

Industry insiders speculate the acquisition would give Time Warner’s D.C. Comics market dominance over main rival Marvel. According to Diamond Comics, the largest distributor of comic books, Marvel and D.C. Comics currently hold similar market shares of approximately 28%; WildStorm holds approximately 4%.

Comment in a bubble

Paul Levitz, executive vice president and publisher of D.C. Comics, would only say, “We’re talking to (WildStorm creator) Jim Lee about some exciting ways we can work with him.”

WildStorm, which had no comment, has done partnership deals with both D.C. Comics and Marvel in the past. It is a privately held entity under the aegis of Image Comics, a cooperative formed by comic book artists who departed Marvel in 1992. WildStorm creator Lee worked on Marvel’s X-Men during its heyday.

Licensing and sales

People close to the companies expect the value of WildStorm will be determined by its comics book sales — it reportedly shipped 6.5 million units of comic books in 1997 — as well as its licensing potential.

WildStorm superhero team WildC.A.T.s were turned into a CBS morning cartoon for one season, and a direct-to-video featuring teen team Gen-13 is set to be released by Buena Vista next summer.

The deal is expected to be a hedge for both companies in a comic book market that, due to competition from other entertainment media and over-speculation in the comics collectibles market, has dropped from total sales of $1 billion in 1993 to approximately $400 million today.

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