Marvel Gets Their Man – The End of the Great Marvelman Rights Saga?

So Marvel Comics have bought the rights to the classic Marvelman character (known as Miracleman in the US) from original creator Mick Anglo? Interesting. Very interesting. Given the rather “colourful” legal history between Marvel and the folks who worked on Marvelman/Miracleman throughout the 1980’s and early 1990’s, if the situation wasn’t so ironic, it would be hilarious. That Marvel would’ve ended up the saviours of Marvelman? I can barely believe it myself.

The classic Alan Moore reinterpretation of the original 1950’s Marvelman first appeared in the famous British monthly comic Warrior back in 1982, and was later reprinted and continued as Miracleman (I’ve always greatly preferred the original name “Marvelman” over “Miracleman”) by Eclipse Comics. It is my all-time favourite superhero strip, by a huge margin. I also rate the Neil Gaiman version which continued on directly from Moore’s version very highly, if, perhaps, not quite so highly as Moore’s.

Coming at a time when the Bronze Age (which I had been a huge fan of) at Marvel and DC was starting to seriously run out of steam, Marvelman was the precursor to a new breed of superhero comic. It was the first of its kind, and started a storm which was to change the entire comics landscape during the ’80s, leading directly to classics such as the Watchmen and the Dark Knight Returns. We didn’t know that at the time, of course, although it all seems so obvious now, but everything is always 20/20 in hindsight. But after being raised since childhood on a diet of classic British comics and Silver and Bronze Age Marvel’s and DC’s, all I knew at the time was that Marvelman was absolutely mind-blowingly incredible, and I had never seen anything like it before.

I have all the issues of the original Warrior, and it didn’t just contain Marvelman, but also a few other classic strips, including another all-time favourite written by Alan Moore, the original V for Vendetta. I liked V for Vendetta a lot, but Marvelman was by far my favourite. I distinctly recall my anger, rage and total disbelief when the strip was dropped from Warrior after about twenty issues, due to the legal wrangling with Marvel over the name. I was absolutely livid. The best superhero strip I had ever read, cut short due to petty legal squabbles.

When Warrior folded a half a dozen issues later, and I saw that mainstream comics had nothing left of quality to offer (or, rather, nothing to offer ME), I dropped out of comics in disgust for over a decade. I didn’t find out until many years later that Eclipse Comics had reprinted and continued the Marvelman story, now rechristened Miracleman (due again to continued legal wrangling with Marvel), during my time away from comics.

I came back into comics full-time again around 1997 or so, and I’ve spent the years since tracking down the Eclipse series, and now have the entire 24-issue run, with the exception of the classic Miracleman -vs- Kid Miracleman finale in Issue 15. I also have the 3-issue Apocrypha mini-series, and the Apocrypha trade paperback, plus two of the four collected trade paperbacks of the main series. The original collected editions haven’t been available for years now, and collectors are paying exorbitant prices for them. The trade paperbacks frequently go for £70-£80 or higher on ebay.co.uk, where, at this very moment, a hardcover of Book 1, A Dream of Flying, is asking for a Buy It Now price of £175, and the hardcover of Book 2, The Red King Syndrome, an incredible Buy It Now price of £375. As much as I love Marvelman/Miracleman, I wouldn’t pay these ridiculous prices for them, particularly since I already have the entire run (bar one) of the Eclipse series.

Eclipse went bust in 1994, and, since that time, Marvelman/Miracleman has remained in limbo, the focus of one of the longest running, most complicated, and bitter legal conflicts over character rights in the comics world. This dispute got even worse when Todd McFarlane acquired the rights to the bankrupt Eclipse properties in 1996, and it has dragged on, year after year. The issue of who owned the rights to which part of the character has always been a muddied minefield, with so many different individuals involved in the matter, each claiming to own a share – Quality Communications/Dez SkinnAlan MooreNeil GaimanGarry LeachAlan DavisMark BuckinghamTodd McFarlane, and the original creator, Mick Anglo (dunno if I missed anyone – like I said, it’s a really confusing mess). It got so bad that for years most of us were none the wiser as to who really owned what.

In recent years, the legal situation seems to have been resolved, with the courts settling in favour of original Marvelman creator, Mick Anglo. Despite the grumblings of Todd McFarlane, it’s emerged that Quality Communications had never owned the rights to Marvelman in the first place, and that they still resided with Anglo, which make’s all the other creators’ claims to ownership of the character null and void. Considering the legal quagmire over rights that the character has been mired down in for years, now that they’ve been bought up by Marvel, we might just see an end to the endless legal wrangling that has kept Marvelman in limbo for so long.

That is, unless Todd McFarlane somehow manages to kick up a legal fuss of some kind, if he has any legal legs left to stand on. I would assume that any trademark rights he may own, if any, relate only to the Eclipse character Miracleman, not the original Marvelman. But even with Marvel buying the rights to the character from Mick Anglo, the legal situation still isn’t completely crystal-clear. They might have the rights to the 1950’s/1960’s version, but what about the 1980’s Moore/Gaiman version, which is the real jewel in the crown? We do know that Marvel has been discussing plans for the character and its stories with Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Alan Davis and Mark Buckingham. I guess we’ll just have to wait to find out exactly what they’ve agreed on.

However Marvel may decide to revitalize Marvelman, I’m just hoping that they do the character justice, and don’t make a complete mess of it. I would dearly love to see Alan Moore revisit his best-ever (in my opinion) creation, but that seems highly unlikely. It would also be great to see Neil Gaiman and Mark Buckingham get to finish their original run on the comic, completing the trilogy of stories that they were in the thick of, and closing out the unfinished Silver Age, and the final Dark Age sequences that they were working on when Eclipse went to the wall. The fact that they had at least another full issue (or more) completed (but never published) before Eclipse went bust has kept hard-core fans chomping at the bit for years to see this unfinished work. And I’m one of those hard-core fans. The hardest of the hard.

But if none of the above happens, and if they were to start from a completely clean slate, Marvel really would need to bring out their big guns for their new acquisition, given the importance of the character, and put together a massive creative team to give it their best shot. A writer of the caliber of Joe StraczynskiWarren EllisKurt Busiek, Mark MillarGrant Morrison (now THAT would be ironic, considering the slating he gave Moore over Marvelman back in the day), would be an absolute must. Absolutely no second stringers or hacks – this revival has the importance and potential to be one of the biggest events of the decade, so don’t fumble the ball, Marvel, please. Pick a top-notch writer and pair him with an artist of equal standing, and make sure they stay on the strip. Avoid the instability of creative teams constantly chopping and changing, something which would surely guarantee the failure of the new title.

Whatever happens with Marvel, the current situation has to be better than the stalemate the character has been trapped in for fifteen years. Even if they make a total disaster of their new version (and fingers crossed that they don’t), I’m really hoping that we will, at last, be able to get regular reissues of the classic 1980’s strips in trade paperback or hardcover. I’d dearly love to see a huge hardcover omnibus edition with the entire Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman run, plus the Apocrypha mini-series and other bits ‘n’ pieces thrown in as extras. And, who knows, maybe, somewhere down the line, even reprints of the original Mick Anglo strips. Please, please, please. Here’s hoping.

That is, unless Toddy or some other gremlin doesn’t manage to throw yet another spanner in the works, re-starting the old legal merry-go-round and consigning our hero to limbo once again. For all fans of Marvelman, I really, really hope not. Let’s have this fantastic, ground-breaking character back in circulation again. A generation of comic fans – all but the most determined collectors – have been deprived of one of the greatest superhero strips of all time. It’s well beyond time for him to be back in the public eye again, receiving the recognition and adulation that he so richly deserves.

Marvelman deserves to be up there with The Watchmen, V for Vendetta, The Dark Knight Returns, and the other 1980’s mega-classics of the comics medium. He’s the equal of any of them, and, in my opinion, the best of the lot.