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Friday, August 26, 2016

The Marvelous History of Miracleman: A Bizarre Publishing Tale - Comic Book Spotlight

         
            Well everyone, once again I am back on The Nerd Hub and me once again find myself talking about something Alan Moore related.  Today, however, we’re going to be talking about a character that helped shape Moore’s career into what it eventually became and explore the downright insane publication history of this character.  In the late fifties and early sixties, he inspired an entire generation of future comic book writers and artists to take up the pen. In the 80s he became one of the earliest and best examples of a pure deconstruction of a superhero by a writer.  And by the 90s and 2000s, he played a major part in the legal problems between two of the 90s heaviest comic book hitters.  I am of course referring to the British superhero, Miracleman, a.k.a. Marvelman; a character with a publication history so dense and so mired by the legal trouble that I had to write an entire article just to cover it.  Hopefully, you will find it as interesting as I did as it goes to show that sometimes reality is stranger than fiction.
Considering what would follow in later decades, it seems appropriate that the character’s creation was caused by legal problems here in the United States in the 1940s and early 50s.  At the time the comic industry had far more publishers and creative teams then they do today and they weren’t always civil with one another.  One thing that more or less remained constant, however, was the popularity of Superman.  That was until the creation of the character Captain Marvel, (better known today as SHAZAM), whose popularity managed to surpass that of Superman, largely because the character represented a more literal power fantasy for the children that were more likely to be reading the stories.  Unfortunately, a company known as National Allied Publications, (the company that would go on to become DC Comics), didn’t like this and sued Captain Marvel’s publishers for being a Superman rip-off.  The end result of this was a long series of court cases that ended in 1953 with the publisher agreeing to never print the character again and would eventually be absorbed by DC comics and introduced into its main universe later on.  Across the Atlantic Ocean, however, British publisher L. Miller and Son, Ltd. had a different idea for what would become the character.
            Around the time of the cancellation of Captain Marvel the popularity of comics had all but disappeared in the United States but reprints of the character’s books sold very well in Britain and their publisher didn’t want to lose out on the money.  To that end, L. Miller and Son brought in writer/artist Mick Anglo to create an “original” character who would have pretty much the same power set and backstory but change just enough to avoid violating copyright laws.  The character that Anglo came up with was Marvelman, debuting in Marvelman #25 in 1954 and his books sold very well throughout the 50s.  He was so popular in fact that eventually the publisher even began producing spinoff characters like Young Marvelman and Kid Marvelman who joined him in his battles against evil.  Unfortunately, as in America, the popularity of comics began to wane in Britain and the series was sadly canceled in 1963 due to poor sales.  The character would remain dormant until 1982 when the rights to the character were picked up by Quality Communications and revived the character under the penmanship of a then young and relatively unknown Alan Moore.
            Along with some of Moore’s other early works like V for Vendetta, the comic was published in a black and white anthology book known as Warrior and his run on the book lasted for six issues.  During this period, he used the opportunity to turn the character into a deconstruction of the entire superhero genre and the stories contained some of the darkest material anyone had ever seen in a book featuring a super-powered being in spandex.  Unfortunately, two complications were occurring behind the scenes that led to the series being canceled after those six issues.  The first problem was Marvel Comics.  Despite the fact that the character’s creation predated the actual forming of the company, (or at least its name change), Marvel Comics had a habit of taking aggressive steps towards anyone and anything in the entertainment industry with the word “marvel” used in its marketing.  For example, this is the reason why Captain Marvel can’t use his original name in his marketing and why the character’s name has more or less been changed to Shazam in recent years.  But while they never took it the same extreme in their dealings with Quality Communications, the company made a habit of harassing the publishers over Marvelman’s name, claiming that they were trying to cash in on Marvel’s brand name.  The bigger reason of the two, however, was a falling out between Moore and Warrior editor Dez Skinn.  It was primarily a money issue between the two but it none the less resulted in Skinn canceling the Marvelman story within the book and eventually selling the character rights to the American publisher, Pacific Comics and ultimately resulted in the end of the Warrior book as well.
            Not long after the acquisition by Pacific Comics, the company went under and the rights were shifted to Eclipse Comics and this was where the series began to fulfill its own potential.  Upon acquiring the rights, the publisher made the decision to change the name to Miracleman in order to avoid further scrapes with Marvel, reprinted and colored the Warrior issues and brought Moore back on for another 10 issues, who would continue the character on its deconstructive path.  He would ultimately leave the book in 1989 after Issue 16 and handed the reigns to a then young Neil Gaiman.  While at Eclipse, Gaiman began an epic three-part story that continued the tale of the Miracleman Family but was unable to finish it due to Eclipse filing for bankruptcy in 1994.  The rights to the character were subsequently divided into percentages among the various creators that had worked on the character while the remaining rights remained in the hands of the now defunct Eclipse.  As the years went on, however, the various percentages found their way into Gaiman’s hands and the remaining percentages in the Eclipse holdings were sold at auction to Spawn creator and 90s artist superstar, Todd MacFarlane.
            Now, this is where things get really complicated and in order to properly understand it, you need to understand comics in the early 90s and especially Image comics.  You should also keep in mind that this is just a summary of events that were, in reality, hashed out in multiple court cases and various legal preceding between the parties involved.  You see, in the late 80s and early 90s, comics became a much bigger business than they ever had been before, reaching all-time high sales numbers that wouldn’t be seen again until the D.C. Rebirth/Marvel Civil War II events that happened earlier this summer.  This led to a number of artists feeling underappreciated at their respective companies and found themselves clashing with the editors and publishers, primarily over money and creative control of the books.  This would cause many of the big name artists of the time to leave their companies and form Image Comics; a company that was built on the idea of creators having rights to whatever they wrote or drew and were entitled to a percentage of whatever the book made, as well as any additional profits the work might enjoy.  This eventually drew the attention of the industry’s more talented writers that included Frank Millar, Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore who all did an issue of Spawn for MacFarlane.  Gaiman, in particular, wrote Spawn #9 and created the characters Angela, Medieval Spawn, and Cogliostro.  Unfortunately, this is where the problems began between the creators, particularly over the rights to Angela.
           
          During the early Image days, one thing became abundantly clear about MacFarlane: He was far better at and more interested in merchandising Spawn then he was actually writing and drawing it and practically had a place set for Angela in the toy factory before her debut issue even hit shelves.  But when Gaiman came looking for his royalties for the character’s merchandising money, MacFarlane was less than eager to hand over the money, causing an ongoing conflict between the two that lasted for over fifteen years.  The problems initially arose because the contract between the two men over the rights to the characters was verbal and not put to paper.  Soon after buying the rights to the now-defunct Eclipse comics in 1996, MacFarlane filed a sole copyright trademark on the various comics and characters the two had created together without Gaiman’s consent or knowledge after Gaiman had demanded a written contract be forged between the two.  In order to satisfy Gaiman, he proposed a trade between the two, wherein he would keep the rights to the characters the two had created together in exchange for the Miracleman rights he had obtained.  Gaiman agreed but then MacFarlane apparently started dodging the deal, going so far as to file a trademark on the character for himself.  After a number of other failed meetings and negotiations, he eventually claimed that he owned all the rights to the Miracleman character and announced plans to put the character into the Spawn universe but was ultimately stopped by Gaiman through legal action in 2001.
            You see, in the years leading up to this, it was becoming apparent to everyone that MacFarlane didn’t actually have any interest in giving up the rights to any of the characters nor any of the money he was earning from the merchandising sales of said characters.  In response to this, Gaiman and Marvel Comics formed the company Marvels and Miracles LLC that’s sole purpose was to clear up all the litigation surrounding Miracleman and the other characters that he and MacFarlane shared ownership of.  The legal battles between two would continue until 2012, with Gaiman ultimately proving to be the victor and forcing MacFarlane to pay Gaiman his share of the characters he owned.  However, the Miracleman portion of it would end in 2009 when it was revealed that MacFarlane only owned two Miracleman logos and never actually owned any of the rights to the character itself.  So it begged the question, who actually owned the rights to Miracleman?
            As it turned out, somehow the rights to the character were still in the hands of its original creator, Mick Anglo.  That’s right.  After nearly fifty years of companies going under, rights purchases, creative struggles, money issues, and legal battles, somehow everyone overlooked, forgot about or ignored the fact the actual rights to the character had never left its original creator.  Ultimately Marvel Comics would purchase the rights to the character from Anglo not long after this was revealed and reprinted the various Marvelman stories of the character’s original run as well as Alan Moore’s career redefining run on the character in the 80s.  The story Gaiman original started over 20 years ago is finally seeing the light of day, with the original issues of his story being reprinted with the rest of the story currently in production over at Marvel Comics.  When he was asked about the big revival of his character Anglo said “I did not think that it would happen.  It’s such a wonderful thing to see my creation back.”  He died two years later at the age of 95.

            So that’s the insane publishing history of Marvelman/Miracleman and let me tell you, this was a fun article to research.  The story itself had drama, creative people fighting one another, petty jerks doing stupid and borderline evil things and a nice little happy ending that actually allowed the good guys to win for once.   I’m not really sure if there is any kind of lesson or moral to take away from this but it does go to show you that life sometimes has a way of being stranger than fiction.  Next time you see one of my articles here on Comic Book Spotlight I shall be reviewing the first volume of Moore’s works, Miracleman: A Dream of Flying.  Until then, please like my Facebook page, follow me on twitter, and check out more of my work on my personal blog, Trey’sTake On…Until then, let’s hope that more real life stories have endings like this one.


Written & Co-Edited by, Trey Griffeth
Co-Edited by, Jack Flowers


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