! In a deal that could unite Mickey Mouse and Spider-Man (at least in theme parks, if not in movies), the Walt Disney Co. has agreed to buy Marvel Entertainment for about $4 billion in cash and stock, the two companies said today (Monday). The deal would add more than 5,000 Marvel characters to the Disney populace, reports indicated. It would also give Disney a direct link to the audience that it has always had difficulty reaching -- boys. Currently Marvel has distribution deals with a number of studios, but once those are over, Disney is expected to take over distribution of the various Spider-Man, Ironman, X-Men, etc. franchises. In reporting the deal, MarketWatch.com observed that the deal "represents a pricey bet on the strength of the U.S. economy." The financial website added that the deal also represents a gamble for Disney chief Robert Iger. "So far in his tenure, he has been a darling of the investment community," it said. "With this decision, he expects that Wall Street will applaud his sense of adventure and willingness to take a risk."