When Marvel Comics founding father Stan Lee created Daredevil in 1964, he tagged his blind superhero: "Man Without Fear." The nickname also applies to Avi Arad, head of Marvel Studios, Marvel Enterprises' film/television division. Israeli-born Arad rescued Marvel from Chapter 11 in the '90s, turning it into a major film provider with "Spider-Man" and now "Daredevil."
"Daredevil," starring Ben Affleck as Matt Murdock, the lawyer-turned-vigilante with heightened senses, symbolizes Marvel's catch-up to rival D.C. Comics, which for decades had the Hollywood edge with billion-dollar grossing franchises "Superman" and "Batman."
"Prior [Marvel] management was really afraid of the movie business," Arad said. "They were run by financial people who had no interest in entertainment."
That changed when Arad put Marvel on the Hollywood map. Marvel's first smash in 1998 came with only a minor character, Blade. "X-Men" followed in 2000, and "Spider-Man," which took in more than $403.7 million domestically, became the fifth-highest grossing film of all time.
Raised near Tel Aviv, Arad served in the Israeli army before moving to America, where a job driving a Nabisco truck connected him with a toy company.
"I got a job in research and development and found out I had a knack for inventing toys," said Arad, 55. "So I went on my own."
"If you had a successful toy," said Arad -- the creator of "My Pretty Ballerina" -- "you turned it into a cartoon. It was a natural transition for me to expand into animation."
Since coming aboard as Marvel Studios' chief in 1993, Arad played a key role in saving Marvel Enterprises from bankruptcy and untangled a nearly two-decade web of courtroom battles over "Spider-Man's" film rights, as detailed in Dan Raviv's 2002 book "Comic Wars." Over that time, movie special effects have come a long way.
"I don't know if we could've made the 'Spider-Man' that we have today even five years ago," Arad said.Â
After "Daredevil," 2003 will bring "X-Men 2," "Hulk" and the shooting of Sam Raimi's "Spider-Man" sequel -- with a Michael Chabon screenplay -- for 2004. "Ghost Rider" (starring Nicolas Cage) and "Fantastic Four" will follow.
"He really cares about these characters," Stan Lee said about Arad. "He gets the best writers and the best directors."
So, will "Daredevil" attract a mass audience on a "Spider-Man" level while placating some diehard fans who feel that the movie's casting choices and costumes stray too far from the comic?
As Arad told a reporter, "Ben Affleck looks good in even a paper bag."
"Daredevil" opens in theaters Feb. 14.
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