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MARVEL ENTERTAINMENT BUYS UP MALIBU COMICS

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The No. 1 comic book company, Marvel Entertainment Group, has purchased the No. 4 company, Malibu Comics, in a surprising deal that made the front page of the Wall Street Journal.

Stephan LaFreniere, owner of Salt Lake's Comics Utah stores, said he's bewildered by the merger because it's DC Comics, not Marvel, that Malibu Comics recently did several "Star Trek: Next Generation" and "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" crossover comics with. It's DC you'd expect to buy Malibu.He also said Marvel Comics accounts for almost 50 percent of all Comics Utah sales, while DC grabs 25 percent, Image has 20 percent and Malibu only has 5 percent.

LaFreniere said while Malibu, with its Ultraverse Super Hero Group and "Mortal Combat," isn't a big seller in Utah, it is doing much better nationally. He said Utah has seemed slow to catch onto this alternative comic company, geared more an older-than-average comic book audience.

Marvel is famous for its "Spider-Man" and "X-Men" comics. It also owns companies that make related toys, trading cards and stickers.

Terms of the Marvel-Malibu deal weren't disclosed, but the acquisition is expected to further expand Marvel's lead in the comics industry. Some fear this purchase marks the beginning of a trend that could lead to the swallowing up of alternative comics so that only the largest of comic companies will survive.

At least for the time being, Malibu's current comic offerings will remain unchanged.

Malibu was founded in 1986 by Scott Rosenberg, now president. He'll become a senior executive vice president with Marvel.

Annual retail sales of comic books are expected to hit 1 billion later this year.