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Marvel Wins, Even in Death

Batman is dead. Maybe.

At least it appears that way. A series of panels at the end of Batman No. 681 show the Caped Crusader engulfed in a fireball in a nasty helicopter crash. If readers can believe what they saw, Batman is finally done for.

And it would mark the end of an era for DC Comics' long-running hit series starring a character that, played by Christian Bale, lit up the silver screen in Time Warner's (NYSE: TWX  ) summer blockbuster, The Dark Knight.

But is he really gone? "He's not dead, though he'll definitely be gone for a while," DC Comics Executive Editor Dan DiDio told the New York Daily News recently. "Batman and (alter ego) Bruce Wayne have been here long before me and they'll be around long after me."

Fine, I'll say it: Lame.

Not only has this "event" been publicized in an eight-month story arc titled "Batman: R.I.P.," but now we're told it's a fake death of a fictional character we like to pretend could be real? Sheesh.

Contrast that with how Marvel Entertainment (NYSE: MVL  ) killed Captain America in the comics. Few saw it coming. Targeted press leaks made days before the issue hit newsstands led to massive buzz and, consequently, sellouts at comic stores across the country.

Marvel has since highlighted TV personality Stephen Colbert in its depiction of the 2008 presidential race. Colbert was even on the cover of a recent issue of Spider-Man. Gimmicky, you say? Of course it is. But few have a bigger megaphone than Colbert, star of Viacom's (NYSE: VIA  ) The Colbert Report. Each plug creates buzz, and buzz often creates sales.

Call it character marketing 101. Disney (NYSE: DIS  ) mastered it first with Mickey Mouse, who now has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Marvel has been a marketing machine since Spider-Man first appeared on TV's The Electric Company in the 1970s. DC and Time Warner? They'll get it someday. I hope.

Perhaps Batman No. 681 will sell as briskly as Captain America No. 25. But would you be surprised if it didn't? Not me. DiDio essentially told readers that it's not much of a moment in the character's history. Nothing more than an extended vacation, really.

Batman deserves better. So do Time Warner investors.

Face front, true believer! Related Foolishness awaits:

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Fool contributor Tim Beyers had stock and options positions in Marvel at the time of publication. The Motley Fool's disclosure policy will be a hero to your portfolio.

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