THQ Plays the Hero

For Marvel Entertainment (NYSE: MVL  ) , the weekend buzz surrounds Iron Man's ongoing assault on box-office rivals. The big-screen origin story of Marvel's ironclad hero is a gold-plated hit, with $177 million in domestic ticket sales in its first 11 days of release, compared to the mere $20.2 million Speed Racer eked out in its opening weekend.

Nice job, Shellhead. Now get ready for a curtain call. Marvel and THQ (Nasdaq: THQI  ) just booked a deal to bring you and your fellow heroes to a new kid-friendly game series called Marvel Super Hero Squad. Aimed at children ages 4-10, the target audience fits with THQ's Disney (NYSE: DIS  ) -themed games, such as the video game version of Pixar's Cars.

Of course, a look at THQ's recent financial results makes me wonder whether Marvel will make much, if anything, from this deal. Fair enough. But I wouldn't undersell it, either. Marvel's licensing business is already underrated.

Chief Financial Officer Ken West told me in an interview recently that Marvel has been booking 80-100 new licensing contracts per quarter. More of them are more like the deal Marvel inked with Crocs (Nasdaq: CROX  ) than the $200 million blockbuster it forged with Hasbro (NYSE: HAS  ) in 2006. Likewise, this deal is likely relatively small.

Even so, Marvel has produced nearly $220 million in cash flow over the trailing 12 months on the strength of these small arrangements. Penny by penny, Marvel has built the world's sixth-largest licensing business, according to the latest survey by LICENSE magazine.

Today, it has a few more of those pennies for the bank.

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