LOS ANGELES (AdAge.com) To most moviegoers, "Iron Man" means little more than Tony Stark, Robert Downey Jr. and a pair of blockbuster films that have collectively grossed more than $630 million in the U.S. alone. But to comic book fans, "Iron Man" is just a small piece of a much larger puzzle called "The Avengers" that Marvel Entertainment is about to capitalize on in an even bigger way over the next three years.
"The Avengers" is a comic-world mainstay that only recently became a part of the pop-culture mainstream. And Marvel has been turning to a combination of publishing, consumer products, animated TV series and live-action films to keep the franchises alive and thriving.
Josh Silverman, Marvel's senior VP-global business affairs and strategy, said the biggest priority since Walt Disney acquired Marvel in 2009 has been teaming up with its new corporate parent's global retail and distribution partners to create a U.S.-centric global franchise-management strategy.
"Having people on the ground gives us a better understanding in the marketplace of what the local cultures are and, in real-time, allows us to adjust portfolios to satisfy the masses in any country," Mr. Silverman said.
It also helps set the tone for a blitzkrieg of toys, comic books and other brand extensions leading up to Marvel's busy theatrical slate. Summer 2011 brings two more films, "Thor" and "Captain America: The First Avenger" (distributed by Paramount Pictures). And in 2012, "The Avengers," a superhero all-star film of sorts, will compile the title characters of those two films as well as "Iron Man" and a few other legendary Marvel characters.
Dan Buckley, Marvel Worldwide's president and publisher of the company's print, animation and digital division, is hoping that having familiar faces such as The Hulk and Tony Stark alongside "Avengers" characters such as Captain America and Thor will equal more than the sum of their parts to moviegoers and more casual fans who may see the movies, watch coming animated series on Cartoon Network or Disney Junior or purchase products from partners Hasbro, Crayola and Fruit of the Loom.
The renewed interest in legacy Marvel characters has also kept business at the company's flagship publishing division flat in recent years, no small achievement given a punishing recession for all kinds of book sales.
"We look at publishing as an incubator -- a very profitable incubator," Mr. Buckley said. "It's a place for us to constantly reinvent franchises that we're responsible for developing new stories or new characters around and developing talent to bring voices to."