It’s the announcement that rocked the con — Marvelman has returned.
And he belongs to Marvel.
But despite the myth that’s swirled around this British superhero, what’s the reality? Indeed, most comics fans under the age of 30 probably haven’t ever read a Marvelman comic. Well fasten your seatbelts, readers, because we’re gonna Dial H — for History!
Despite the name, Marvelman was never created as a Marvel Comics character. Created in 1958, Marvelman was initially devised as, well, a legal loophole — a humble beginning that is only made more ironic for the years of legal limbo in which the character would fall. For you see, Marvelman’s first alter ego was none other than… Captain Marvel.
Let’s rewind. You might know something about Captain Marvel. Created by Fawcett Comics in 1939, Billy Batson, young boy, meets the wizard Shazam, and is given strength, invulnerability, speed, and flight. He also looked exceedingly similar to Superman — and you better believe the fledgling DC Comics didn’t like it. Lawsuits were filed, and Fawcett eventually capitulated to the leaner, tougher company.
Enter Len Miller. Owner of L. Miller & Sons, Limited, Miller reprinted all of Fawcett’s comics in the U.K. And needless to say, he saw an opportunity here. The deal was that Captain Marvel, believe it or not, was definitely raking in the money, even horning in on Superman at the top spot in the 1940s. So when Fawcett couldn’t print Captain Marvel, Miller instead sidestepped the issue by hiring creator Mick Anglo, who created the character of Marvelman under their own individual imprint in the U.K. — a character stylistically similar to Captain Marvel (a young reporter named Micky Moran gets atomic-based powers from an astrophysicist, requiring him to say “Kimota” rather than “Shazam”), but far enough (and blond enough) away geographically that the lawyers wouldn’t touch him.
And like all atomic weapons, Marvelman blew up. The Captain Marvel stand-in not only sold hundreds of issues, but launched spin-offs Young Marvelman and Marvelman Family — with Marvelman and Young Marvelman nearly hitting 350 issues each. But all good things must end: Anglo left the company in frustration in 1960, and Miller’s company eventually folded in 1963, as Marvel Comics and DC began dueling it out in the glory days of the Silver Age.
Flash forward to 1982. Nearly twenty years after Marvelman #370, a young writer had been making his name in the British comics world, writing for 2000 A.D. and Judge Dredd. That name was Alan Moore, one year before he was hired by editor Len Wein to write Swamp Thing. Writing for the magazine Warrior, Moore’s distinctively darker take on superheroes was in full effect: an adult Michael Moran has been suffering through his world, only remembering his adventures as Marvelman in his dreams. When terrorists attack a nuclear plant, he sees the word “atomic” reflected backwards, remembering his secret word and freeing himself.
But power corrupts — in this series, former sidekick Kid Marvelman had grown up to be a vicious killer that our hero had to battle. The cynicism didn’t stop there, however. Moore eventually delved into the sadistic past of Marvelman, as it turned out his memories of heroism were implanted, and that he was in fact a human augmented with alien technology. His memory had been wiped when scientists, fearing his power, sent he and Young Marvelman in front of a live nuclear weapon. But by 1984, the all-powerful hero suddenly ran into some problems. Namely, the fact that his name was “Marvel”man, when a company called “Marvel” already existed. Due to the growing pressure of the comics heavyweight, Warrior dropped the series.
One year later, however, Michael Moran was back. Eclipse began reprinting the old Marvelman issues, but adding in color and relettering it to give the hero a new name: Miracleman. Alan Moore was on board for the continuing adventures of Miracleman, joined by artists Chuck Beckum (who readers would later know as Uncanny X-Men writer Chuck Austen), Rick Veitch, and John Totleben, as Moore kicked up his violence factor to new levels.
Just on the verge of the series that would cement his legacy — Watchmen — Moore pushed the limits, instructing his artists to draw a graphic birth scene, as well as to have Kid Miracleman’s reign of slaughter begin with his alter ego being raped at a group home. Indeed, after an incredibly graphic fight, Miracleman finally gives in, killing Kid Miracleman’s alter ego. And to cap things off? Miracleman takes over the world, giving it utopia at the expense of its freedom. And all this? Done in nine issues, as the first six were reprints.
But the sun rises just after it sets. As Alan Moore left the book, with Watchmen redefining the comicsphere in its wake, he gave the writing chores — and his alleged portion of the rights to the character — to another new British writer: Neil Gaiman. Gaiman had planned for an 18-issue run broken into three parts: “The Golden Age,” focusing on the world post-takeover; “The Silver Age,” which resurrected Young Miracleman, and “The Dark Age,” which would have brought back Kid Miracleman, and ended the Miracleman series forevermore. Unfortunately, fate acted faster — Eclipse shut down before Miracleman reached its 25th issue, with Spawn creator and Image founder Todd McFarlane buying the property… ostensibly to get the rights to Miracleman.
Here’s where things got out of control.
While Todd McFarlane originally wrote and drew Spawn, early on he let Neil Gaiman do a fill-in issue for him. The problem is that Gaiman created three characters — Spawn’s quasi-mentor Cogliostro, his angelic nemesis Angela, and his Arthurian predecessor Medieval Spawn — which proved to be immensely popular as well as necessary to the overall story. The problem? This was apparently an oral contract, no paperwork. According to Gaiman, he said that he and McFarlane made a deal, with Gaiman getting royalties for the character of Angela, and giving his ownership rights to these Medieval Spawn and Cogliostro in exchange for McFarlane’s rights to Miracleman. After two years of Gaiman receiving royalties for Angela statuettes, McFarlane apparently rescinded the offer, saying that Medieval Spawn and Cogliostro was work for hire — eventually making a counteroffer in 1999 that would give Miracleman only in exchange for the rights for all three characters — after having apparently applied for a trademark for the Miracleman name in 1997.
And, thus the battle of the superpowers had begun.
In 2001, Todd McFarlane introduced the character of Mike Moran into his series Hellspawn, with the intent of bringing Miracleman back to comics. He had even created a statue of the character for the San Diego Comic Con. However, Neil Gaiman had already challenged him to a legal duel — he founded a company called Marvels and Miracles LLC, the proceeds of which would fuel his litigious fire until the owner of Miracleman was decided. Indeed, Gaiman wrote the Marvel book 1602, with Marvel Comics surprisingly and publicly stepping in his corner and giving all proceeds to Marvels and Miracles — in his dedication to the book, Gaiman presumably thanked McFarlane, “for making it necessary.”
As the battle continued, McFarlane was in a bit of a jam. He had already introduced Mike Moran, but the payoff was now legally out of his hands until the court battle concluded. Instead, Miracleman became the Man of Miracles, a shape-shifting avatar with omniscient powers dwarfing even those of God, a man who once walked the earth as Jesus Christ himself. According to the book “Prince of Stories” by Hank Wagner, Christopher Golden, and Stephen R. Bisette, in 2002, Gaiman ultimately won the court case, with a judge saying that McFarlane had indeed entered into a contract by promising to treat Gaiman “better than the big guys.” With Gaiman winning the subsequent appeals in 2004, ICv2 reported that Gaiman decided to keep his shares of his Spawn characters rather than seek breach of contract damages. Later, Neil cryptically said on his blog, “It’s still full steam ahead now for the Miracleman plans.”
Now here’s the million dollar question — how did Marvel get the rights to Marvelman? According to Neil Gaiman… Mick Anglo had the rights all along. “[Marvel] bought them from Mick Anglo’s representatives,” Neil wrote us on Twitter. “Todd mcfarlane could still sue everyone but I hope he won’t.” That logic would state that because of the lengthy gap between the end of the first series and its reincarnations, both Warrior and Eclipse’s series were entirely illegal, and that Mick Anglo was in fact the holder of all the rights to the character — a sort of “fruit of the poisonous tree,” so to speak, for both McFarlane and Gaiman, but probably a hefty check for Anglo. Will there be a legal dispute with Todd McFarlane? That’s still unclear, especially as Gaiman alleged that all McFarlane owned was just a Miracleman logo — it may depend on a judge, who could very well pour over every last page of contract that McFarlane signed with Eclipse. Either which way, a hero who has run the gamut from atomic archetype to deconstructed demigod to the legal Holy Grail of comics is finally returning to a national stage — and it’ll be interesting to see which creators, if any, take the reins, and how a new generation will look at him.