Alternate Cover: Who is Marvelman?

Marvel Comics has just bought Marvelman. James explains just what's happened, and why this may be very good news...

Marvelman

Of all the news to come out of the recent Comic-Con International in San Diego, the most interesting and important for comic fans has to be the purchase of Marvelman by Marvel Comics. At this point, non-comics fans will be scratching their heads, so let’s try and give a quick recap here…

Captain Marvel was a superhero character published by Fawcett Comics – a young boy who transformed into an adult with super-powers when he said the word “Shazam”. However, in 1951, a lawsuit from National Comics (aka DC Comics) accused Captain Marvel of being too similar to Superman. The ruling was made in favour of National, and as a result, Fawcett ceased publishing Captain Marvel.

Over here, however, the UK reprints of Captain Marvel were selling well. When the new stories dried up, Mick Anglo created Marvelman, essentially a proprietary version of Captain Marvel, so that new stories could be told. Instead of Billy Batson, he was named Micky Moran, and instead of saying “Shazam” to turn into a superhero, he said “Kimota” – phonetically the word “atomic” backwards. The adventures of Marvelman ran until 1963, though the final three years worth of issues were reprints – Mick Anglo stopped creating new stories in 1960.

And so it was until 1982, when Warrior magazine launched. It contained the first new Marvelman material since the 60s, with the series re-imagined as a dark, deconstructionist take on the superhero and stands as one of the most important unavailable stories in the medium. The road to Watchmen was paved with issues of Moore’s Marvelman run.

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By this point, though, Marvel had established their use of the Marvel trademark in comics titles (which is why the Captain Marvel series, now ironically published by DC Comics, who had bought the character, never uses the word “Marvel” in its title.) Since Marvel objected to the use of the name “Marvelman”, when Warrior magazine licensed the character and stories to US publisher Eclipse, the character became known as Miracleman. Moore continued to write new material for Eclipse, eventually handing over the reins to Neil Gaiman.

The Miracleman series ended abruptly with issue #24 when Eclipse comics went into bankruptcy. The legal mess that followed is even more labyrinthine, seeing the rights to the character apparently divided up between its creators and publishers throughout the 80s, and changing hands in the 90s, before it eventually emerged that the rights were never available to be licensed out or distributed in the first place.

As it transpired, Mick Anglo always owned the rights to Marvelman. Every Marvelman/Miracleman story published by Warrior and Eclipse was, apparently, illegitimate. Once this matter became clear, Marvel was able to purchase the character from Mick Anglo – now a healthy 94 years old – which will allow them to reprint Anglo’s original stories as well as new material featuring the character. And, most importantly, presumably allows them to legitimately reprint the 1980s Miracleman stories, as soon as the creators involved agree – although Marvel has been conspicuously coy, if not entirely silent, on the matter.

So, whether or not it’s just around the corner, things are looking a lot simpler for Marvelman/Miracleman than they have done in years. Hopefully, it won’t be long before we’ve all got a copy of Miracleman next to our copies of Watchmen and Sandman, finally giving this long-suppressed story the prominence it deserves – and enjoy the fact that Mick Anglo finally got paid for it.

James writes Alternate Cover every Monday at Den Of Geek. His previous column can be found here.