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Disney to Acquire Comic Book Giant Marvel

The Walt Disney Company has announced an agreement to acquire Marvel Entertainment in a $4 billion cash and stock deal. The surprise agreement means the company that owns Mickey Mouse, could soon own the rights to Spiderman, Iron Man and thousands of other Marvel comic strip characters.

The company that introduced the world to Mickey Mouse, Cinderella and Snow White - is adding thousands of new characters to its roster of heroes.

The $4 billion-deal to acquire Marvel Entertainment will mean popular superheroes such as Ironman, the Incredible Hulk and the web-slinging Spiderman could soon become part of Disney's media universe.

Disney CEO Robert Iger predicts an action-packed future for both. "We plan to use all of Disney's global distribution and marketing resources to extend and increase the popularity of the Marvel brand and its treasure trove of over 5,000 characters, and in doing that, we think we can significantly build both businesses and make the sum of our parts even stronger," he said.

The surprise cash-and-stock deal could lead to new rides, movies and action figures for the successful comic book franchise. Stan Lee, the 86-year-old creator of Marvel's best-known characters, says he is thrilled. "We started out as humble comic book characters, then we went on to animation, toys and games and little hats and picnic boxes and lunch boxes and so forth, and finally major motion pictures," he says. "We are so lucky."

The deal is still subject to an antitrust review and approval from Marvel shareholders. There are also questions about what will happen to Marvel's long-term movie deals and its agreement with Disney rival Universal Studios and its Superhero Island in Orlando, Florida.

Rick Foglesong has written extensively about the Disney empire. "If Disney is taking them away, in effect, from Universal, wow! What a shrewd move on their part!" he said.

Industry experts say the acquisition should help improve Disney's standing among comic book readers, who tend to be predominantly male.

Disney admits it has lost some of its footing in that demographic after pouring its resources into female favorites such as Hannah Montana.

Disney hopes the deal will add new energy to its lineup of famous characters.

It also marks Disney's biggest acquisition since purchasing Pixar Animations for more than $7 billion in 2006.