Regular readers know I blog, tweet and otherwise participate on the web under the name ‘Kimota’. Some have assumed it is some anime reference or obscure Japanese word. But those who recognise it will know why today I’m as excited as a teenager in Angelina Jolie’s bedroom.
Joe Quesada – editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics – announced just hours ago at the San Diego Comic-Con that Marvel has bought the rights to Marvelman from creator Mick Anglo. If you’re not familiar with Marvelman, or the US version reprinted as Miracleman, then you have no idea why this is momentous. It finally brings to an end about 15 years worth of legal wranglings, court battles, name calling and – more importantly – Marvelman/Miracleman out of print.
“Marvel has purchased the rights to Marvelman,” Quesada said. “It is arguably the J.D. Salinger of comic book characters. Arguably one of the most important comic book characters in decades.”
Why should I care?
Marvelman is the lost classic of modern comics. Charles Dickens’ died before finishing The Mystery of Edwin Drood, but it remains in print in numerous editions. But imagine if the book was never published. Not only that, but imagine that because of the legal fight over the rights to publish Edwin Drood, all other Dickens’ novels were kept long out of print. Well, we wouldn’t let that happen, would we. Yet that is exactly what happened to Marvelman.
You might think me to be overstating the value of Marvelman by comparing him to Dickens, but in every genre and every medium, there will be those creations that surpass the form. In the world of superhero comics, Alan Moore’s Watchmen raised the form to literary heights and is recognised as one of the great novels of the Twentieth Century. Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman equally stands as a notable literary work beyond its superhero comic roots. Marvelman sees Moore and Gaiman work on the same character to create something that — in my opinion — surpasses both their individual works.
Quesada’s announcement yesterday is a brilliant final blow by Marvel. Rumours that Anglo was reasserting his ownership of the character had recently begun to surface. Marvel going straight to Anglo and buying the character gives them by far the biggest claim over the various — largely bankrupt — publishers that followed. Whether Anglo did still have all the rights becomes a moot point as any dissenting voice would have to challenge the full weight of Marvel in court — and that would be plain suicidal. In effect, Marvel has enacted the Gordian Knot solution — if the knot cannot be undone, slice through it. The original creators will be looked after and McFarlane is left out in the cold.
It is an honor to work with Mick Anglo to bring his creation to a larger audience than ever before,” said Dan Buckley, CEO & Publisher, Print, Animation & Digital Media, Marvel Entertainment Inc. “Fans are in for something special as they discover just what makes Marvelman such an important character in comic book history.”
Marvel has also released a Marvelman t-shirt to coincide with the announcement, but it isn’t available outside of the US and Canada. (Little help?)
The full Marvel press release is available here.
What does it all mean?
Understandably, most interest is in whether Marvel intends to reprint the long out-of-print Moore and Gaiman storylines and allow Gaiman to continue his run. Marvel have been in talks with Gaiman over the character since at least 2007 and Mark Buckingham (artist on the Gaiman issues) appeared on the Comic-Con panel alongside Quesada. Reference was also made to Marvel contacting all the relevant creators of the 80s/’90s material to negotiate.
A brief history
Some of you reading this may already be all too familiar with Marvelman’s convoluted history. If so, just skip to ‘Hopes and Fears’ at the end of this post.
Marvelman (Wikipedia) was originally created by Mick Anglo back in 1954 for British comic publisher L. Miller & Son. Designed as a replacement for the Captain Marvel comic strip that had run successfully for years, Marvelman shares a lot of similarities with that character.
Just as in the Captain Marvel comics, Marvelman was soon joined by sidekicks Young Marvelman and Kid Marvelman (modelled on the characters Captain Marvel Jr and Mary Marvel). Instead of Shazam, the magic word was Kimota (get it now?). Uttering the magic word transformed Micky Moran, Dicky Dauntless (don’t laugh) and Johny Bates into their superpowered alter-egos for bright and fun adventures pitted against the evil Professor Gargunza – himself a shameless imitation of Captain Marvel’s chief villain, Professor Silvana.
Knock-off or not, Marvelman built a loyal following and ran until the mid 1960s before cancellation. But not before the character had made an impression on the young Alan Moore, writer of Watchmen and one of the most lauded creators in comics to this day. When his career was starting off in the early 1980s, he was given the opportunity to revive Marvelman for the new Warrior magazine alongside his other new series, V For Vendetta.
Moore’s reboot surprised everyone. It was thoughtful, intelligent, adult and genuinely treated the readers with respect. After Warrior folded, Moore’s episodic tales were both still unfinished. DC Comics bought the rights to V For Vendetta, allowing Moore to complete it as a ten part miniseries. Marvelman had a harder time finding a new home before it was bought by Eclipse Comics. Objections from, ironically, Marvel Comics necessitated the change of name from Marvelman to Miracleman – something which the new announcement has reversed.
After Eclipse finished reprinting the Warrior material, Moore was able to continue and complete the storyline. Following his final issue #16, Moore handed creative control over to Neil Gaimain. Gaiman is now best known as the multi-award winning writer of The Sandman series and a number of best selling novels, including American Gods and Annansi Boys. Recently, his work has been adapted into brilliant films such as Stardust and Coraline. Miracleman was in safe hands.
But Eclipse Comics was in trouble. Issue #24 was the last before Eclipse went bankrupt. Gaiman had just started the second major storyline in a trilogy only for the series to be cut off yet again. Marvelman, despite being one of the most critically acclaimed comics of the day, seemed to be cursed.
A full account of the history of Marvelman and his eventful transition into US comics can be found here.
“I’ll see you in court!”
For years, the character and the reprint rights have been in legal limbo. Various creators and publishers insisted they owned part or all of the rights to the character and the published material. Todd McFarlane – creator of Spawn – bought out everything Eclipse Comics had in a firesale and maintained that he therefore owned the rights to Miracleman. Yet the creators maintained the deal with Eclipse always kept reprint rights and control of the character with them. McFarlane, Gaiman, Moore, Dez Skinn (editor of Warrior) contended that they either still owned or previously had a portion of the rights to the character and had different ideas as to who they had passed those rights to. All the artists including Alan Davis, Gary Leach and Mark Buckingham also had stakes. What had started as a good-willed attempt at sharing the success around all those responsible for the character had devolved into a quagmire of confusion.
Law suits really started kicking back and forth when McFarlane tried to incorporate the character in his Hellspawn comic and released a truly hideous statue. Gaiman later responded by working with Randy Bowen to release a stunning and beautiful statue of the character, (can anyone help me track one down?) which again saw legal papers flying back and forth.
I’ll spare you the detailed ins-and-outs. A more detailed account of the court case between Gaiman and McFarlane in 2002 can be found here. (Gaiman won on all counts).
Hopes and Fears
Marvelman – Marvel have consigned the Miracleman name to dust – doesn’t come without a certain level of hype. The long absence and the high prices for back issues on eBay have created a mythic stature for these comics – one that any new material from Marvel will have to live up to. Starting with reprints of the Anglo material is an obvious first move, especially as this was undoubtably part of the deal with Anglo himself to get his material back into the marketplace. But fans are more concerned with the continuation of a story curtailed back in 1994.
Quesada understands the need to maintain Marvelman as an elite comic. He cites Marvelman as one of the inspirations for him entering comics, meaning he is one of us – a fan. The character could never realistically be drawn into the Marvel Universe proper to star alongside Spider-Man and others. Creatively, it wouldn’t fit. Ditto any other creative team. Buckingham’s presence on the panel should be seen as an indication that he’s on board. Gaiman’s previous conversations with Marvel should hopefully mean his involvement is now merely a formality.
It is a miracle – Marvelman is back.