LBO MAN
By

(FORTUNE Magazine) – Is this a comic book concept for the Nineties or what? Picture a cigar- chomping financier -- you know, a real socialite, a Bruce Wayne type. But at night this guy sneaks out to swoop down on unsuspecting companies, pruning off fat and pulling out fantastic profits. LBO Man! For Ronald Perelman, 48, life and pop art are about to converge. In 1989 the financier paid $83 million -- just $11 million in cash, the rest borrowed -- to buy Marvel Entertainment Group, the comic book publisher. Now he's selling 29% in an initial public offering. If he gets his anticipated price (about $15 a share), Perelman could clear $30 million and still hold stock worth $128 million. Whence cometh this marvel? Except for Spider-Man, Marvel's characters (Thor, X-Men, the Silver Surfer) aren't as well known to old fogies as rival DC Comics' pantheon (Superman and Batman). But the company dominates the industry with 49% of the market, vs. DC's 30%, and the five top-selling titles, according to major wholesaler Capital City Distribution. The scales could tip further: Retailers have already placed advance orders for 3.6 million of Marvel's new X-Force comic, making it the best seller ever. More than 90% will go to specialty stores, which can't return unsold copies. Perelman has lifted nonreturnables from 54% of revenues to 73%. That's partly why, as Marvel's sales climbed 18% last year to $81 million, earnings rose 123% to $5 million. Some of this profit comes out of the pockets of ''zombies,'' the trade's term for die-hard collectors who buy Marvel's entire lineup (monthly cost: $165). Hey, now there's a concept. The revenge of the zombies. Picture it. Hundreds of scruffy teens arise from their bedrooms and . . .