HAWKEYE’s KB Toys nods to key Marvel Comics story
Hawk Eye delivered Christmas cheer, awesome action, and a ton of fun nods to the comics that inspired him. Episode three was no different. Besides many references to the series it is based on — Matt Fraction and David Aja’s Hawk Eye– we also gave a nod to one of the most dramatic eras in Marvel Comics history. It was revealed this week that Clint and Kate are trapped in a former KB Toys. It works on many levels, as the old toy store inspires nostalgia in children of the 90s. KB is also the initials of the heroine of the series, Kate Bishop. But there is something more. You see, KB Toys was instrumental in the attempt to relaunch and eventual bankruptcy of Marvel Comics. This curvy and intricate story sets the stage for the creation of Marvel Studios. Let’s get into it.
What is KB Toys?
KB Toys started as a wholesale candy store in the early 1920s opened by brothers Harry and Joseph Kaufman. Two decades later, the couple acquired a wholesale toy store as part of a debt owed to them. They soon realized that toys were much more profitable than candy. In 1948, therefore, they focused solely on the toy trade. Calling itself Kay-Bee Toy & Hobby (after Kaufman Bros.), the abbreviation KB Toys was born. Acting as both a retail and wholesale business, the business continued as such until 1973 when it became a retail-only business. By the early 1980s, it was a thriving toy store chain of over 200 stores and Melville Corporation soon bought the business. KB stores have become mainstays in most malls in America and the second largest toy store behind Toys “R” Us.
Around the same time, a new toy business in the United States was also booming, signing a “Exclusive, perpetual and royalty-free license” to make toys for Marvel Comics. Many of them would be released exclusively at KB Toys. This company was called Toy Biz and it too would become a major player in the battle to save Marvel Comics.
Wait, what is Toy Biz?
Toy Biz has its roots in Canada; However, the company was born in the United States in the late 1980s and acquired by Issac Perlmutter in 1990. The acquisition of Perlmutter brought about a regime change with a focus on reducing overhead costs and increased licensing efforts. The Marvel toys license, acquired the same year as the Perlmutter takeover, was different from the standard royalty-based toy deal. Instead, Perlmutter gave Marvel a 46% stake in Toy Biz, making the two companies trading partners in the truest sense of the word.
Toy designer and distributor Avi Arad was accompanied on the ride. Win 10% of Toy Biz in 1993, Arad even became an executive producer on X-Men: The Animated Series. This is not surprising given the great success of Toy Biz’s X-Men line of toys – $ 30 million in sales – in the early ’90s. In addition to national outlets like Walmart, K-Mart and Toys “R” Us, KB Toys has stocked action figures of famous Marvel heroes like the X-Men, Iron Man and Spider Man.
Bankruptcy and birth of Marvel Studios
While the early 90s saw superheroes, led by Marvel Comics’ X Men # 1 — selling millions of comics and toys, the boom was quickly followed by a collapse. The upward trend has been driven by speculation, the process of buying or even hoarding comics to simply resell them at a higher value. This was fueled by the Marvel publishing line, which released a glut of anniversary issues and gadget covers. Ronald Perelman, who bought Marvel in 1989 for $ 82.5 million, was responsible for Strategies which led to speculation and set the comic delivered high risk retailers.
While sales of collectibles such as comics and trading cards began to plunge in the mid-90s, the toy industry fared much better with KB Toys and Toy Biz cashing in on the characters’ money. Marvel. So in 1993, Perelman proposed a plan to create the Marvel Films studio to license and make Marvel films. Arad from Toy Biz became the president and CEO of the burgeoning studio that same year. Marvel Films‘ first foray into animation with Arad’s involvement in the aforementioned X-Men cartoons, which ultimately led to him making a deal for the future. Fox X Men series of films.
However, it was not quite enough. It would take a bankruptcy in 1996 (the same year as KB Toys $ 1.1 billion in sales) and a takeover for the fledgling studio to take off. In the same year, Marvel Films Animation was sold to Fox with a license agreement of certain characters for different animated series. Arad (alongside Jerry Calabrese) started packing and firing Marvel characters at big studios like New Line Cinema, including a seven-year deal with Fox for the Marvel films. It was a wise business decision for a recently bankrupt company. But that, unfortunately, meant Marvel no longer had the film rights to many of its characters. Nevertheless, tThrough a complicated series of corporate maneuvers and stock offerings, Marvel Films was incorporated as Marvel Studios in 1996.
The battle for control of Marvel
As recounted in the brilliant Comic wars By Dan Raviv, the corporate struggle to take control of Marvel during this era of bankruptcy was nasty. Perelman’s ownership has been contested by Carl Icahn, a high yield investor. He didn’t think the movie studio was a good idea. Icahn even managed to briefly take control of Marvel in 1997 before a surprise winner was released the same year: Toy Biz.
The two men behind Toy Biz, Isaac Perlmutter and Avi Arad, bought Marvel and installed KB Toys CEO Alan Fine as CEO of the company’s Toy Biz division. Over the next several years, the thrifty ways of Toy Biz, the powerful marketing of Arad, the installation of the new Marvel EIC Joe Quesada (who co-created Hawk Eye character Echo!), and Perelman’s film studio would create something that would be a game-changer.
Marvel Studios takes off
In 1998, the very first Marvel Studios film Blade hitting screens. Taking a lesser-known character and bringing him to the forefront of a Hollywood blockbuster made the film a huge success. Blade became the spark, with the Fox X Men films (2000-2006) confirming that superhero movies could make money.
In 2003, Arad and Perlmutter met a producer called David Maisel. He pitched the idea of Marvel making more money with their own films. Of course, his pitch led him to take on a leadership role at the studio. The following year, Maisel staged a now infamous deal with Merrill Lynch. The bank would pay the money for any Marvel movie up to “$ 165 million as long as it was rated PG-13.”
Marvel Studios would not have to pay money, but the rights of its characters were the guarantee. And that would pay off massively. In 2005, Marvel reclaimed the rights to Iron Man from the New Line cinema. They also got the chance to make Universal’s Hulk movies in 2006. The rest, as they say, is history. In 2008, Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk would come out, starting the Hollywood juggernaut known as the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
What happened to KB Toys and Toy Biz?
Meanwhile, KB Toys’ fortunes had turned. The once-mighty toy juggernaut in shopping malls across the country had been gutted by a Bain Capital takeover. KB Toys has submitted a request bankruptcy in 2008, that same year, Marvel Studios had two huge hits with its first two films. Former KB Toys CEO Alan Fine had of course long since moved to higher positions at Marvel.
While the man who owned Toy Biz now owned Marvel, Toy Biz was no longer producing Marvel toys at this point, with Hasbro now being the official licensor of Marvel toys. The Toy Biz brand officially ended in 2006 with the division being renamed Marvel Toys and closed shortly thereafter. Perlmutter is still with Marvel as president while Arad continues to produce Marvel films, including Sony’s. Spider Man movie theater. Marvel Studios, of course, lives on.
So yeah, what seemed like a nostalgic little Easter egg actually ties into one of the most tumultuous but game-changing times in Marvel history. Isn’t that cool?
Featured Image: Marvel Studios