In a quest to find meaning in the action figures piled neatly in the closet, it's inevitable that you come across details you did not expect. For example, here's a question that held little meaning until a few days ago:
Although obviously not literal, that distinction was at the heart of a landmark trade case pitting former toy manufacturer Toy Biz (now Marvel Toys) against the United States for reparation of import taxes. Without boring you with too many details (click here to read them), here's a brief summary of both Toy Biz and the case itself:
The comic book explosion and speculative market of the early 90s made anything superhero-related a hot commodity. Issues of X-men, Spiderman, Superman and Batman were being printed and collected by the millions, and publishers were quick to license their properties to other media. Toy Biz, a former subsidiary of Canadian licensor Charan Industries, managed to secure royalty-free license rights to Marvel's stable of characters in exchange for a large chunk of their equity. Investor Isaac Pearlmutter then restructured the company, bringing in spend-thrift CEO Joseph Ahern to outsource manufacturing to China and cut costs to improve margins. Avid Arad (who was busy overseeing Marvel's animation division at the time) came onboard to form an unholy marketing juggernaut: the popular Saturday morning cartoons become vehicles to market new Marvel characters (and their action figure counterparts). Profits skyrocket as a result, opening the door to additional properties (owned by former board chairmen Ron Perelman) including Hercules/Xena, NASCAR and even candy and learning aids.
Not surprisingly, the good times came to an end when the comic book bubble burst. Oversaturation coupled with waning public interest forced Marvel to file for bankruptcy in 1996. Various attempts at investor takeovers were thwarted as Toy Biz merged with Marvel Entertainment to force Marvel Enterprises. Avi Arad took the reins of the newly minted Marvel Studios, and was given the go ahead to pursue film opportunities. Their first licensed film, Blade, became a sleeper hit in 1998, and the rest is history.