History

Marvelman was purchased in 2009 by Marvel Comics, with a view to getting the comic back in print for the first time in 15 years. The series, known by many under the lawyer-placating title of Miracleman, has had a convoluted and complex history that still hasn't been resolved. Bah.


An issue of L. Miller & Sons' Captain Marvel Jr,The series' legal problems are particularly ironic as it was a lawsuit that spawned the thing in the first place. L. Miller & Sons were a British publisher who reprinted American pulp comics for the British market from the 1940s onwards, later including Fawcett's Captain Marvel and Captain Marvel Jr. series. These sold very well, but in 1953 National Comics (now DC) eventually won, via an out-of-court agreement, a trial against Fawcett , with the accusation that Captain Marvel was a clone of National's Superman (whatever happened to him anyway?). Part of the settlement was that Fawcett would cease publication of their superhero titles, and thus Miller & Sons would run out of material to reprint.

The Marvel Family books were one of the company's biggest sellers, so instead of cancelling the titles, the British publisher decided to simply alter the characters. Mick Anglo's Gower Street Studios were hired for the task, with Captain Marvel becoming Marvelman, and Captain Marvel Jr. morphing into Young Marvelman. The costumes were redesigned, and new human personas were devised. The December 23rd 1953 edition (#19) of both comics announced that the title heroes were retiring, but they would be replaced by new heroes and the comic would continue. For #24 of each the titles were revised slightly, to Captain Marvel - The Marvelman and Captain Marvel Jr - The Young Marvelman respectively. The following issue of each, on February 3rd, 1954, Marvelman and Young Marvelman would debut in eponymous comics, with the numbering continued from their forerunners.


Marvelman's first appearance, in Marvelman #25Aside from the aesthetic changes, much remained the same. Billy Batson, radio news reporter, became Micky Moran, Daily Bugle news reporter, with the 'magic word' changing from "Shazam!" to "Kimota!" (see if you can guess where that comes from). Freddy Freeman, newsboy, became Dicky Dauntless, delivery boy, with his 'magic word' now "Marvelman!" instead of "Captain Marvel". Recurring villain Dr. Sivana became Dr. Gargunza, and his son became Gargunza Jr.

Other details were changed, but it was largely the same sort of storylines. The whole thing came off very well for Miller, with the new material selling even more strongly than the Fawcett reprints. The stories, devised by Anglo himself, Don Lawrence and Ron Embleton amongst others, were simple, usually only lasting five or six pages, and were always self-contained. The strips were in black-and-white, and the 24-page comic was filled out with other features, including back-up strips from the L. Miller archives, puzzles, club pages and the like. The titles were popular enough to warrant an annual each, and soon the indigenous content of the weekly issues would grow to a couple of strips per issue.


The 1963 Marvelman Family AnnualThe success inspired magic painting books and toys, while Marvelman #101 saw a new character introduced - Kid Marvelman, a replacement for Mary Marvel from the Fawcett comics. He would then be restricted to a new monthly series, Marvelman Family (which featured a 'team' strip, and a solo back-up - though only Marvelman or Young Marvelman would feature in the latter), which started in October 1956.

However, this was not such a success, and was cancelled in November 1959 after just 30 issues. Within a couple of years, the cheap-and-cheerful Marvelman comics had largely had their day, as British interest in superheroes largely waned, and the Marvelman group were looking like an anachronism compared to the likes of Valiant and Lion (with the relaxing of a ban on importing American comics also bringing in the likes of Superman, Batman and The Flash over to compete, in full colour and with longer stories). In 1960, both Marvelman and Young Marvelman switched to monthly publication with #336, with an ever-larger portion of the comic being made up of reprints. War stories were also added to the mix to help it complete against the home-grown Fleetway titles. Anglo's company were no longer contracted to create new material for Miller by this time, with Anglo responding by redrawing and re-lettering some stories, and printing them as the short-lived Captain Miracle on his own Anglo Comics the following year; the same process would later produce Miracleman. 1961 saw the final Marvelman and Young Marvelman annuals, though a Marvelman Family annual would appear in 1962. February 1963 would see both titles end with #370.


The character was largely forgotten for 20 years. One man who remembered, though, was a young Alan Moore: -

"[On finding an old Marvelman annual in 1968]... I wondered what Marvelman was doing these days. I was struck by the image of the eternally-youthful and exuberant hero as a middle-aged man, trudging the streets and trying fruitlessly to remember his magic word."

[M*****: Full Story and Pics, Miracleman #2]

The cover of Warrior #2, with art by Garry LeachBy 1981, Moore was a professional comics writer, and was headhunted by ex-Marvel UK editor Dez Skinn to write for his new anthology title, Warrior , produced by Skinn's own Quality Communications . Skinn had also been thinking of reviving Marvelman for the title, and had met Moore at a party where the latter had expressed an interest in any prospective revival. Moore began working on the revival with artist Garry Leach, and they began a modernisation, with Mike Moran a married freelance journalist unable to remember his past as Marvelman. The black-and-white first strip appeared in Warrior #1, dated 1st March 1982.

It featured Moran rediscovering his secret identity, but also revealed that his cohorts were dead. As the story unfolded, it was revealed that Kid Marvelman was alive, but had gone bad, and that the Marvelman family had been developed as weapons by the British Government in the 1950s. Their original adventures were all dream scenarios fed to them by the project's head, one Doctor Emil Gargunza. From Warrior #8, Alan Davis took over as artist. Moore envisioned the series as a number of Books, with each Warrior episode constituting a Chapter. Warrior was a creator-driven project, and thus Moore and Leach had been allocated a portion of Marvelman's rights, with Leach's share transferring to Davis when he took over. The first book was completed to considerable acclaim in Warrior #11, and the series won a number of Eagle Awards . Warrior then featured a solo Young Marvelman story, a silent strip illustrated by John Ridgway, before Book 2 commenced in #13.


Cover art from Warrior #7, by Mick AustinThe rights issue was already a little muddy by this stage. Some accounts state that Skinn was in collaboration with Mick Anglo, designer of Marvelman, from the start, and others state Skinn assumed the character was public domain, and Anglo only got in touch when the Warrior material hit the stands. Either way, Skinn's eventual agreement with Anglo was that, should there be demand for it, the L. Miller & Sons material would be reprinted, with Anglo receiving the royalties. To this end, Moore and Davis created a short framing sequence for four older stories, set between the first and second Books of the new Marvelman, showcasing them as Gargunza-induced dream scenarios, also throwing in a story on Skinn's own Big Ben - The Man With No Time for Crime (a minor Warrior feature already worked into Marvelman continuity as an abortive British super soldier who appeared in Book 1; Skinn had originally envisioned the Warrior strips as sharing a universe, though in actuality the amount of crossing-over was minimal) for good measure. This emerged as the Marvelman Special in the summer of 1984, proudly trumpeting that the 'Mightiest Family in the Universe' were finally back in their own title after 20 years. However, the special brought trouble.

Marvel Comics were prepared to leave Marvelman in Warrior alone, but felt the appearance of a book with their company name in the title was undesirable, and threatened legal action. Book 2 continued initially, taking a breather for Warrior #17 (where Ridgway returned to illustrate a 'flashback' Marvelman Family story), but Marvel's legal muscle was too much for Quality to consider taking them on. After seven Chapters of Book 2, the series would appear for the last time in Warrior #21, dated August 1984. Warrior, despite huge acclaim, was struggling for sales (not helped by frequent publishing delays), and the loss of its' most popular character proved a heavy blow, the title ending after 26 issues. On top of this, Moore and Davis were at loggerheads, disagreeing about the direction of the series, and also clashing because Moore was blocking a lucrative projected reprint of the pair's Captain Britain run (which famously featured an alternate universe analogue of Marvelman, called Miracleman...) in America due to his dissatisfaction with Marvel. Fed up, Davis eventually washed his hands of Marvelman, returning his share of the rights to Leach.


Miracleman #1 cover, with art by Garry LeachHowever, this time Marvelman was to be in limbo for considerably less time. Skinn cast around for a new distributor for the series. DC rejected it on the grounds that they had enough trouble with the original Captain Marvel; Marvel felt a character with the company name in the title had to be a role model, not a revisionist work (besides which, Moore was in no mood to work with them). American company Pacific Comics came to an agreement with Dez Skinn to reprint and continue the material, buying out the shares of Skinn and Leach (though the latter never received full payment). However, Pacific folded before the series was ready, and was taken over by Eclipse. The latter honoured the agreement, and Quality would continue to package the material for Eclipse.

The series was retitled Miracleman to avoid any further litigation, resized for the American comic format, relettered, and recoloured. Ironically the name had been used twice before for related characters - firstly by Anglo for redrawn Miller adventures in the 1960s (this version would, much later, turn up in Grant Morrison's Zenith serial, along with the similarly-sourced Captain Miracle); secondly, as a copyright-dodging alternate universe character in the aforementioned Captain Britain strips. Each US edition would contain several Chapters due to the short length of each Warrior segment, with Moore due to continue the story when the reprints ran out. Miracleman #1 was dated August 1985, and the book was a critical success. It also sold well for a series from a minor company. The issue began with an edited vintage Marvelman Family strip reworked as a prologue (the original Marvelman having never made it to America; the same strip had been reprinted in the Marvelman Special, without the altered dialogue and art), and the reprinting of Book 1 was complete by the third issue (without the consent of Alan Davis, who was never asked whether his work could be reprinted and refused a belated attempt by Eclipse to pay him). In order to attract readers, Eclipse had a policy of hiring star artists to draw the covers including Jim Starlin (who included an image of Thanos - possibly because he has to put Thanos in every picture he draws), Howard Chaykin, Timothy Truman and John Totleben.


A Chuck Beckum pin-up from Miracleman #6In October 1985, Eclipse used their stereoscopic technology (which they tended to inflict on everything) on the Marvelman Special, which was issued as Miracleman 3D #1 (omitting the story printed in Miracleman #1, and the Big Ben story). Miracleman #4 & #5 were padded out by the Warrior Marvelman Family story, split into two parts. Miracleman #6 saw Book 2 Chapter 7 reprinted, followed the first appearance of new material in the title, with Chuck Beckum (a.k.a. Chuck Austen . Seriously.) drawing an eight-page chapter. The issue was rounded out by the reprinting of the Young Marvelman story from Warrior #12. Only one Warrior story, "The Yesterday Gambit" from Warrior #4, went unpublished by Eclipse. This strip was set in Marvelman's future, and was shelved due to Moore's ideas for the title having changed. Two more Chapters in Miracleman #7 rounded out the second book. Beckum was initially slated to draw Miracleman #8, which would eschew the Warrior-length Chapters in favour of a single 16-page strip, but the work he completed was destroyed when Eclipse's premises were flooded. Miracleman #8 instead comprised of two old L. Miller & Sons strips, relettered and coloured, and with a humorous (well, she probably meant it to be) framing sequence staring Eclipse CEO and raging egomaniac Cat Yronwode. Beckum, whose work had attracted criticism from fans used to Leach and Davis anyway, was paid off.

Miracleman #9 finally arrived three months after #7, with Rick Veitch handling the art. The issue showed the birth of Miracleman's child with Liz Moran in graphic detail, and caused a bit of controversy, which Eclipse lapped up. Five months later, Miracleman #10 finally tied up Book 2, two years after it began. Gargunza was dead, Miracleman and Liz had a superpowered baby named Winter, and strange beings were observing them all.


Miracleman #15, with cover art by John TotlebenFor Book 3, Moore decided he wanted a single artist, and chose John Totleben. However, Totleben's retinitis pigmentosa caused the book to run very late, with the six issues (the first five containing 16 pages of story, and the last part 34 pages) taking four years to complete (with three issues appearing in 1987, two in 1988, and one in 1989). Totleben's condition meant at times he spent months unable to draw, but reader response to his work and Moore's desire for him to stay onboard were so strong Eclipse retained him regardless of the delays.

Book 3, told largely in flashback, really saw Miracleman accelerate, with the introduction of the alien Qys and Warpsmiths (actually another old Warrior creation, by Garry Leach) species, the 'suicide' of Mike Moran after the disintegration of his family, the introduction of Miraclewoman, the return of Kid Miracleman to do final battle with Miracleman, and the creation of a utopia on Earth. The series received enormous acclaim and decent sales, despite the publishing delays. During the publication of Book 3, Eclipse released a stopgap two-issue mini-series, The Miracleman Family, collecting more relettered and coloured L. Miller & Sons strips (similar material had been deployed as back-ups during Book 3's run), in 1988, and also released Book 1 ('A Dream of Flying', October 1988) as a trade paperback.


Miracleman Book 2 - The Red King Syndrome TPB, with cover art by John BoltonMoore decided he had done all he wanted with the character, and hand-picked Neil Gaiman to take over. Gaiman brought along Mark Buckingham as artist, and they planned three more books - 'The Golden Age', 'The Silver Age' and 'The Dark Age'. The Golden Age was made up of several episodic stories taking place in Miracleman's brave new world, featuring the title character only briefly, concentrating more on examining the repercussions of the third book. Gaiman's work first appeared in the Eclipse crossover Total Eclipse (which also featured a role for Miracleman in the diabolical main narrative, written by Marv Wolfman) in a back-up strip titled "Screaming" (later printed in Miracleman #21). The series continued to run late, Book 4 began in June 1990 and was completed in August 1991 after six issues, but sales continued to increase, even if critical reception was a little more mixed.

During this period Books 2 ('The Red King Syndrome') and 3 ('Olympus') were also issued as trades, while a limited series, Miracleman Apocrypha, ran from November 1991 to February 1992. This series featured framing sequences by Gaiman and Buckingham, covering the contents of comic books found in the library at Olympus, and utilised a wide variety of writers and artists, including Steve Moore, James Robinson, Kurt Busiek, Alex Ross and Stephen Grant. By now Miracleman was by far and away Eclipse's biggest selling title, but an 11-month gap followed #22. The title was relaunched with a TPB of 'The Golden Age' in May 1992, and the first issue of the six-part Book 5 followed the next month, with Barry Windsor-Smith providing covers.


Miracleman #24 cover, with art by Barry Windsor-SmithYoung Miracleman had been revived (during a story printed across Book 4's issues), but only served to highlight that all was not well in Miracleman's utopian world. The second chapter arrived considerably later, but reassurances were given that the series would keep to a better schedule. The plan was to keep Miracleman on a bimonthly schedule, with a Gaiman-approved spin-off series, Miracleman Triumphant either running monthly or alternating with Miracleman itself. This series, to be written by the largely unknown Fred Burke and pencilled by Mike Deodato Jr., would take place in the ten-year narrative gap between Books 4 and 5. Miracleman #25 was at a completed pencils stage when Eclipse went into bankruptcy, while Miracleman Triumphant #1 was ready to print (and #2 fully scripted).

Cat Yronwode was able to return Buckingham's work to him before the company folded (quite what happened to the Triumphant material is unknown), but it left Miracleman without a home. Eclipse's assets were purchased by Todd McFarlane in 1996, for around $40,000, largely to acquire Miracleman. However, it soon became clear that the ownership of the character was incredibly muddy. McFarlane certainly acquired the negatives for all the Miracleman material published by Eclipse, but whether he had the rights to use the character or reprint material was unclear.


The character thus spent 15 years in limbo, with only half-arsed speculation by idiots with no idea what exactly was going on to sustain him. Then, in July 2009, Marvel editor Joe Quesada (who had previously indicated that should the rights issue ever be sorted, the character would be welcome at the Marvel stable, and also commissioned Neil Gaiman to write Marvel 1602 so the fee could be used to fight McFarlane in court) sensationally announced that the company had purchased the rights to Miracleman, under the original Marvelman name, at the San Diego Comic Con. Marvel purchased the rights directly from Mick Anglo, and have presumably gambled that the other claimants will fall into two categories - those who are perfectly happy with this arrangement (Gaiman, Buckingham and whoever else has a hand in the creative side), and those who simply can't afford to take them on (McFarlane, Dez Skinn). It's a bit of a force majeur move, but then we needed something like that to shake out the rights, and the creator of the character, and the writers/artists who made him worth bothering about, will get something out of it. It's hard to feel sorry for Todd McFarlane, certainly, though it'd be nice to think Dez Skinn will get some sort of trickle-down payment (maybe for the inclusion of Big Ben?) for getting Warrior off the ground in the first place.

However, since then there has been little published news. Marvel issued limited series and collections comprised entirely of Miller material with flash new covers (a rather cynical attempt to part people from their money) under the Marvelman name, but are unable to reproduce the 1980/90s material, or seemingly any new material - the stuff people actually want.