THE STRANGE SAGA OF MIRACLEMAN
[adapted from Wikipedia]
In 1953, the American company Fawcett Comics, which was the U.S. publisher of Captain Marvel, discontinued the title due to the court action of lawsuit from DC Comics. Len Miller had been publishing black & white reprints of the series, along with other Fawcett titles, in the UK, and rather than stopping he turned to comic writer Mick Anglo for help continuing (or replacing) the comic. They transformed Captain Marvel to Marvelman while Miller continued his other Fawcett reprint titles and used logos and trademarks that looked significantly like Fawcett’s. This added to the appearance that the Fawcett line was continuing, and that Marvelman was still Captain Marvel, in order to retain the audience.
Marvelman was very similar to Captain Marvel: a young reporter named Micky Moran encounters an astrophysicist (instead of a wizard) who gives him his superpowers based on atomic energy. To transform into Marvelman, he has to speak the word “Kimota” (phonetically, “atomic” backwards; rather than “Shazam”). Instead of Captain Marvel Jr. and Mary Marvel, Marvelman was joined by Dicky Dauntless, a teenage messenger boy who became Young Marvelman, and young Johnny Bates, who became Kid Marvelman; both of their magic words were “Marvelman”. They had fairly typical, unsophisticated superhero adventures.
The changes took place with issue number 25 in each title, both cover-dated 3 February 1954, although they had been announced about five issues earlier. The new titles published were Marvelman, Young Marvelman, and Marvelman Family . Marvelman and Young Marvelman each had 346 issues (#25-370), being published weekly except for the last 36 issues, which were monthly, reprinting old stories. Marvelman Family was a monthly which usually featured Marvelman, Young Marvelman and Kid Marvelman together, from October 1956 to November 1959. A variety of Marvelman and Young Marvelman albums were printed annually from 1954 to 1963. Mick Anglo’s association with Len Miller ended in 1960, and the comics ran until February 1963.
At the height of their success, the British “Marvels” saw a series of Italian reprints. Gordon and Gotch, one of Australia’s largest comics publishers, also published reprint editions. In Brazil, British Marvelman stories were reprinted in the same titles as Fawcett’s original Captain Marvel. However, in Brazil, Marvelman became Jack Marvel.
In March 1982, a new British monthly black-and-white anthology comic was launched called Warrior. Until issue #21 (August 1984), it featured a new, darker version of Marvelman, written by Alan Moore, illustrated by Garry Leach and Alan Davis, and lettered by Annie Parkhouse. Warrior also published a Marvelman Special collecting Mick Anglo stories within a frame story by Moore. The “Marvel” trademark was now owned by Marvel Comics, who objected to its use in the series title. Warrior’s legal troubles led to the character being licensed to an American publisher, first to Pacific Comics, and after Pacific’s collapse, to Eclipse Comics. They would reprint the series as Miracleman and then continue it.
Moore had been fascinated by the notion of a grown-up Michael Moran, and this was the Moran presented in the first issue: married, plagued by migraines, having dreams of flying, and unable to remember a word (noted below) that had such significance in his dreams. In his initial run of Marvelman stories, Moore touches on many themes of his later work, including the superhero as a source of terror, the sympathetic villain, and exploring the mythology of an established fictional character.
Moran is working as a freelance reporter when he gets caught up in a terrorist raid on a newly built atomic power plant. Fortuitously seeing the word “atomic” backwards (“cimota”) when being carried past a door with the word written on glass, he remembers the word “Kimota”; Marvelman is reborn and saves the day.
As Marvelman, Moran remembers his early life as a superhero, but comic books are the only evidence, and his wife Liz finds his recollections of the adventures ridiculous. Moran later discovers that Johnny Bates (Kid Marvelman), not only also survived, but lived on with his superpowers intact. Bates, however, was corrupted by his power and is now a sociopath. After a brutal confrontation, Kid Marvelman says his magic word (“Marvelman”) by mistake and reverts to his alter-ego, the 13-year-old Johnny Bates. The boy, innocent but aware of the evil he committed as Kid Marvelman, mentally recoils in shock and reverts into a catatonic state.
With the aid of renegade British Secret Service agent Evelyn Cream, and after a short fight with a new British superhero called Big Ben, Marvelman makes his way to a top secret military bunker. There he discovers remains of an alien spacecraft, and two non-human skeletons fused together. Marvelman views a file that reveals his entire experience as a superhero was a simulation as part of a military research project, codename “Project Zarathustra”, attempting to enhance the human body using the alien technology. Moran and the other subjects had been kept unconscious, their minds fed with stories and villains plucked from comic books by the researchers, for fear of what they could do if they awoke. As their enhanced minds fought the enforced dreaming, those administrating the project grew fearful of what would happen if they awoke. As a result, it was decided that the project was to be terminated, and so were Marvelman and his two companions: in a final, real adventure they were sent into a trap where a nuclear device was meant to annihilate them. Moran survived, his memory erased, and Young Miracleman died. In the meantime, it is revealed that Liz has conceived a child with Marvelman, which has the potential of being the first naturally-born superhuman on Earth.
The series stopped (incomplete) in issue #21 of Warrior, just after Moran meets his dream-world arch-nemesis Dr. Gargunza (loosely based on Dr. Sivana). In “reality” Gargunza was the scientific genius behind the experiment that created Marvelman. Gargunza, after working as a geneticist for the Nazis, had been recruited by the British after World War II. Unable to keep pace with the U.S. and Soviet nuclear arms race, the British had backed Gargunza to use genetics to develop a new superweapon. By coincidence, an alien spacecraft crashed in the UK in 1947 and Gargunza was able to reverse-engineer enough technology to create the first Marvelmen. The alien technology, and thus the Marvelman project, consisted of giving someone a second body, which was stored in an extradimensional pocket of space when not in use; when a special word was spoken the two bodies switched place in space, and the mind was transferred as well. After the cancellation of the project, Gargunza escaped to South America where he developed bio-technology weapons such as “Marveldog”. It is revealed that Gargunza has a deeper purpose: after the death of his mother, he has a mortality complex, and intends that the child of Marvelman will act as the host of his own consciousness.
In August 1985, Eclipse began reprinting the Marvelman stories from Warrior, coloured, and re-sized. However, they were renamed and re-lettered throughout as Miracleman, due to pressure from Marvel Comics. Issues 1-6 reprinted all the Warrior content, after which Eclipse began publishing all-new Miracleman stories from Moore and new artist Chuck Beckum (aka Chuck Austen), soon replaced by Rick Veitch and then John Totleben.
The new Miracleman material widened the story’s scope and continued to build in intensity. Moran’s daughter was born in issue 9 (which became somewhat controversial due to a highly graphic birth scene, based on medical illustrations of the process); two races of aliens, one called Warpsmiths, the other called Qys (who were behind the original body-swapping technology) came to Earth; Miraclewoman emerged; and certain native super-humans were revealed to already be living on Earth, such as Firedrake.
It was with the return of Kid Miracleman in issue 15 (“Nemesis”) that Moore wrote at his darkest. Now out of his catatonia, the small, spindly boy has been repeatedly beaten by several older bullies at his group home. When one of them goes so far as to rape him, Johnny’s desperation leads him to transform into Kid Miracleman. Slaughtering his attackers, Bates unleashes a murderous vengeful holocaust on London in an attempt to attract Miracleman’s attention to take his revenge on him, not knowing he, Miraclewoman, and their allies are in outer space.
The gory excess of Kid Miracleman’s rampage and that of the battle which followed when Miracleman and his allies return to discover the carnage is highly disturbing, featuring a degree of violence not previously seen in superhero battles. Depicted are people running from a rain of severed hands and feet, skins hung up on clothes lines, corpses impaled on the hands of Big Ben, the Tower Bridge in ruin, mounds of severed heads, heads on pikes, cars full of people plummeting to earth, mutilated children wandering screaming through the streets, and countless dead bodies.
When the Miracles discover what is happening, they and their alien allies collectively challenge Bates. Bates, however, has had many years more experience using his powers than any except Miraclewoman, and is unrestrained by reason or compassion in his use of them. The battle goes poorly, with none of them able to stop Bates. It is only when one of the Warpsmiths, Aza Chorn, realises that they cannot go through Bates’ personal force field, and instead teleports some wreckage inside the force field — *into* the body of Kid Miracleman, that he is forced by pain to transform back to his mortal form. His rampage is stopped, but Bates kills Aza Chorn as his last act. Unwilling to risk another chance for repeating this horror, Miracleman quietly kills Johnny Bates, knowing that it is the only way to be certain it will never happen again. The heart of London, however, has been destroyed, 40,000 people are dead, the Warpsmith Aza Chorn lies dead, and the world now knows that gods walk among them.
Moore’s last issue, number 16 (“Olympus”) ends with an unsettling depiction of Miracleman’s apotheosis, as he and his superhuman allies bring the entire planet under their totalitarian control. Miracleman and his companions, explicitly compared to gods, now rule the planet as they see fit, though they are ineffectively opposed by groups such as an alliance of Christian and Islamic fundamentalists. The “age of miracles” is ostensibly benevolent, but in scenes such as the final conversation between Miracleman and Liz, Moore suggests that Miracleman has lost his humanity and that his utopia is ultimately harmful to humankind. This ending contrasts with that of the simultaneously conceived serial V for Vendetta, in which the “hero” destroys a dystopian society. Lance Parkin’s book on Moore argues that the two endings, read together, demonstrate the writer’s refusal of “easy” Utopian/dystopian answers (the ending also contrasts with the conclusion of Moore’s Promethea, in which an “apocalypse” of expanded human consciousness heals rather than destroys the world).
The notion of bringing superhero fiction into the real world—having immensely powerful characters use their power to make drastic changes to global politics—has become an extremely popular theme in recent mature superhero fiction, such as Rising Stars, Squadron Supreme, The Authority, Kingdom Come and Moore’s own Watchmen.
A glimpse of how Moore originally meant the story to continue is presented in Warrior issue 4 (also called the Warrior Summer Special), which features Marvelman and Aza Chorn gathering energy for the final battle with Kid Marvelman. This story has never been reprinted in any shape or form since then, so it remains an obscure yet highly discussed piece of comic history.
Writer Neil Gaiman picked up the series at #17, and developed it further in the 1990s, working with artist Mark Buckingham. He planned three books, consisting of six issues each; they would be titled “The Golden Age”, “The Silver Age” and “The Dark Age”.
The first part, “The Golden Age”, showed the world some years later: a utopia gradually being transformed by alien technologies, and benignly ruled by Miracleman and other parahumans, though he has nagging doubts about whether he has done the right thing by taking power. Gaiman’s focus in “The Golden Age” is less the heroes themselves than the people who live in this new world, including a lonely man who becomes one of Miraclewoman’s lovers; a former spy (whose tale recalls J.G. Ballard’s short story War Fever); and a robot duplicate of Andy Warhol.
Eclipse followed up “The Golden Age” by publishing the standalone, three-issue mini-series Miracleman: Apocrypha, written and illustrated by a variety of other creators, with framing pages by Gaiman and Buckingham. These stories did not form part of the main narrative, but instead further fleshed out the world of “The Golden Age”.
Two issues of “The Silver Age” appeared, but issue #24 was the last to see print. Issue 25 was completed (apart from colouring) but due to the collapse of Eclipse it has never seen light. #23 and #24 saw the resurrection of Young Miracleman and would describe the beginnings of trouble in Miracleman’s idyllic world, and #25 would have reintroduced Kid Miracleman. A few pages of issue #25 can be read at various sites online, and in George Khoury’s book Kimota! The Miracleman Companion. “The Dark Age” would have seen the full return of the character of Kid Miracleman and completed the story once and for all.
The legal ownership of Miracleman is a complicated story, which stems from the character’s beginnings.
L. Miller & Son, Ltd. was a UK comic publisher with two popular series reprinting stories featuring Captain Marvel and the Marvel Family, originally created by Fawcett Publications in America. In 1953, at the end of a long legal battle between Fawcett and National Periodicals (the forerunner to DC Comics), Fawcett agreed to stop publishing the Captain Marvel titles (see National Comics Publications v. Fawcett Publications for further details).
Faced with the sudden loss of their star feature, Miller turned to Mick Anglo to come up with a replacement character that, while ostensibly a new creation, mimicked enough core elements of Captain Marvel to retain the interest of readers who had enjoyed the reprints. Anglo created Marvelman, which proved successful enough to keep the Marvelman/Young Marvelman titles going. In 1959, with demand for British produced black and white reprints shrinking, Miller cancelled Marvelman Family and turned both Marvelman and Young Marvelman into reprint books. The titles struggled on, but were finally cancelled in 1963.
L. Miller & Son Ltd. ceased comic book publication in 1966. The physical asbestos printing plates from which Miller had produced their comics, and presumably the rights to the comics as well, were sold to Alan Class, Ltd.. Class, for his part, was interested primarily in horror and science fiction stories and reprinted few of the original Miller creations. (Class was still using some of the Miller printing plates as recently as the late 1990s.)
In 1960, a disgruntled Mick Anglo recycled some of his Marvelman stories as Captain Miracle which appeared briefly under his Anglo Comics imprint which folded in 1961. Anglo always claimed ownership of Marvelman and although creator’s rights were almost unheard of in the work-for-hire British comics industry of the 1950s and 1960s, at least some of Anglo’s Marvelman stories do have a tiny “© Mick Anglo” in the margins lending a measure of credibility to Anglo’s claim.
In 1982 when Warrior reintroduced Marvelman as its flagship feature, the rights to the character were allegedly held in a four-way split between Warrior editor Dez Skinn, writer Alan Moore and artist Garry Leach, who owned 30% each, and the originating publisher, Quality Communications, which owned 10%. As far as is known, Moore and Leach thought that Skinn had purchased the rights to the character from creator Mick Anglo and believed their ownership to be legitimate (it is unlikely that the 1960s deal between Miller and Class was known in the 1980s). However, in subsequent years Skinn admitted, in the fan book Kimota!, that he had never obtained the rights to the character, assuming there would be no interest in an obscure property owned by a dead company. Skinn says he agreed to pay Anglo only if his old work was reprinted, which he was for the Marvelman Special published in 1984.
When Leach left the strip and was replaced by Alan Davis, Moore, Skinn and Leach transferred part of their ostensible ownership of the character to Davis — with Skinn claiming 10% and Moore, Davis and Leach, 30% each. Moore and Leach continued to own the aspects of work they created.
To further complicate things, Marvel Comics, who objected to a competitor producing anything with “Marvel” in the title, threatened legal action in 1983. Even the rights to the alternate name for the character were murky, as Moore and Davis had already used the Miracleman name for a single-panel cameo appearance of a Marvelman duplicate in their run on Marvel UK’s Captain Britain. With the creative team unable to produce a united front due to a series of differences between Moore and Davis, the strip saw its last appearance in Warrior issue #21, though Skinn did print letters he received from Marvel lawyers in Warrior’s final two issues.
In 1985 Eclipse Comics bought the putative rights from Skinn and started reprinting Marvelman, retitling it Miracleman to placate Marvel Comics. Davis, stating that he wanted no more to do with Moore or the situation, gave his rights to Leach. When Moore completed his story with issue 16 and Eclipse announced they wished to continue publishing, Moore gave his 30% share to writer Neil Gaiman, who would be taking over the title, and Gaiman divided them between himself and artist Mark Buckingham.
Eclipse went bankrupt in 1994, ceasing publication of Miracleman with issue #24. Issue #25 was completed, but has never been printed. Gaiman had also approved a spin off series called Miracleman: Triumphant which was written by Fred Burke and penciled by Mike Deodato Jr and inked by Jason Temujin Minor. Most of the first issue of Miracleman: Triumphant was complete and ready for printing, and the second was scripted, but like Miracleman #25 the two issues would remain in publishing limbo after the collapse of Eclipse.
In 1996, Todd McFarlane purchased Eclipse’s creative assets, including the purported Miracleman rights, for a total of $40,000. In 1997, McFarlane and Neil Gaiman allegedly reached an agreement in which Gaiman would cede his ownership stake in characters he created for the Spawn comic book, in exchange for the rights to Miracleman. McFarlane later backed out of this deal.
In 2001, McFarlane had introduced Mike Moran (Miracleman’s alter ego) in Hellspawn #6, with the alleged intention of returning Miracleman himself in Hellspawn #13. This never came to pass as the lawsuit was filed before the book was ready for print. McFarlane also had included Miracleman in his section of what was then the long-delayed Image 10th Anniversary Book, known today as the Image Hardcover. He also released a Miracleman cold-cast statue as well as a 4-inch (10 cm) scale action figure that was partnered with Spawn in a San Diego Comicon exclusive two-pack. It had been McFarlane’s intention to use the character in his core title. Since the Hardcover story became a direct tie-in to the events of Spawn #150 and beyond, Miracleman was changed into a mysterious new character known as the Man of Miracles. His appearance as Miracleman is explained by Man of Miracles’ ability to shape-shift and the fact that people see him as they wish during the time.
In 2001, Gaiman formed Marvels and Miracles LLC, a company whose goal was to clear up the ownership of Miracleman long-term. In 2002 Gaiman sued McFarlane over his unauthorised use of Miracleman and the characters he had created for Spawn. According to Gaiman, the evidence presented in the course of the lawsuit revealed that the rights for Miracleman were not included in McFarlane’s purchase of the Eclipse Comics assets. However, the court ultimately made no ruling on the Miracleman rights. McFarlane still claimed to own the Miracleman trademark.
In 2002, Gaiman wrote the 1602 series for Marvel. Gaiman’s profits from this series went to Marvels and Miracles LLC to aid his legal fight over Miracleman. Gaiman’s dedication in the collected editions of 1602 reads, in part, “To Todd, for making it necessary,” presumably referring to McFarlane.
At the San Diego Comic Con in 2009, Marvel Comics announced they had purchased the rights to Marvelman, “one of the most important comic book characters in decades” from original creator Mick Anglo. In June 2010, a “Marvelman Classic Primer” one-shot was published, featuring new art and interviews with Mick Anglo and others involved in Marvelman’s history. In July 2010, a new ongoing series called “Marvelman Family’s Finest” launched reprinting “Marvelman’s greatest adventures.” A hardcover reprint edition, “Marvelman Classic Vol.1″, released August 2010. These reprints contain only early material. As of 2011 Marvel Comics has not announced any plans for the ’80s material, their ownership of such remaining in doubt.
As of 2011, the disposition of the various portions of the Marvelman rights purportedly held by Alan Class, Todd McFarlane, or the creators associated with the character via Warrior and Eclipse Comics is not publicly known. Alan Moore has stated that he would donate at least some of his royalties from any Marvel reprints of his Marvelman stories to Mick Anglo.