In Episode 6 of Superheroes for Dummies, we talked about the great British character Miracleman, formerly known as Marvelman. Another character with a rocky history, many legal battles and a painfully long 28-year wait! Here’s what I learnt.
As we discussed in Episode 4 of the podcast, Fawcett comic strips were reprinted in the UK and Europe by British publisher L Miller & Son. One of their most popular reprints was our friend, Captain Marvel.
Following the 1950s National v Fawcett lawsuit, L Miller & Son lost access to new Captain Marvel comics and were facing cancellation of their most popular strip.
Looking for a solution, they turned to their top in-house writer/artist, Mick Anglo. They gave him a simple mission; create a character so similar to Captain Marvel they can keep the stories going without the readers either noticing or caring.
Anglo introduced the world to Micky Moran, a young orphan working for the Daily Bugle. He encounters Guntag Barghelt, an astrophysicist who bestows on him atomic based superpowers. Micky just has to say KIMOTA and he transforms into the adult superhero Marvelman.
As you would expect from his point of inspiration, Marvelman has superhuman strength, durability and the ability to fly. Joining him and rounding off the Marvel Family were Young Marvelman and Kid Marvelman.
Anglo also worked some magic on Marvelman’s foes; Captain Marvel has Doctor Sivana, Marvelman has Dr Gargunza. Instead of Black Adam, he had Young Nasty Man.
Anglo’s work proved a success for Miller, and invested fans kept buying the issues. This continued until the late 50s when a change in the law allowed more high-quality imports from America. The slow demise of the publisher had begun, leading to their closure in 1963.
Warrior and Moore
In 1982 a new black and white British anthology launched (each issue containing multiple stories). From the beginning, they felt they needed a character that would be instantly recognisable and bring in loyal readers.
Warrior comics, with Alan Moore writing and Garry Leach as artist, woke Marvelman up from his 20-year slumber. Moore in his usual style completely revitalised the story and turned things on its head. The stories were darker and grittier, and although the original stories by Anglo still counted in canon, he used them a completely new way.
An adult Micky, completely unaware of his powers, is plagued by constant dreams of these wild adventures; flashbacks of himself flying and battling villains lead to a crisis of identity. Moore was re-setting the character for an audience who had grown up and had new perspectives and life experiences.
like the character he was born to replace, the revival did not come easy. Behind closed doors, arguments were growing between Moore and the editorial team. His stories were Warriors most popular, but payments were becoming increasingly late and sporadic. At the same time, Marvel comics were threatening legal action over the character name. This gave Warrior the out they needed. Blaming Marvel, Warrior cancelled Marvelman in 1984, with issue 21 ending in a cliffhanger.
Passing The Baton
This time the wait for a new home was short, in 1985 the property was licensed to the American publisher Eclipse. They renamed the character Miracleman, coloured and re-lettered the Warrior drawings, then combined and reprinted them over 6 issues. Seeing the possibilities and a strong audience, they then continued with new stories, with Moore writing up to issue 16.
Thriving best in ‘world creation’ stories, Moore had begun to look towards what he can do next. This meant Miracleman needed somebody to continue where he left off, somebody he trusted. He approached his friend, Neil Gaiman.
Gaiman was an accomplished journalist but was still new to the comics world. It was, in fact, Moore’s ‘Swamp Thing’ that created a fascination that would give the world one of its much-loved creators. Gaiman became enthralled in the comics and decided to send Moore some of his work. From there, a friendship had been born.
Taking the helm with Mark Buckingham doing the art, Gaiman planned out the direction he would take. There would be 3 volumes; ‘The Golden Age’, ‘The Silver Age’ and ‘The Dark Age’. Golden Age, issues 17-22, followed various citizens in a utopian world ruled by Miracleman. It is thought Silver Age was to show the demise of this world, the ingrained failings and corrupted relationships beginning to tear it apart. In 1992, 2 of the planned 6 Silver Age issues were published. In 1994, Eclipse filed for bankruptcy.
It’s at this point I customarily tell you about all the legal issues, the lawsuits, the copyright, the various claims and counterclaims of ownership. But as Steve quit rightly says in the podcast, it becomes so complex entire books have been written about it. Suffice to say, as of 2013, Marvel declared they now held ownership of the rights to Miracleman.
And so, the reprinting began again. The recoloured Warrior issues, the Eclipse issues, and The Golden Age all received fresh prints. All the while, they promised new stories will come. But years pass, rumours and deadlines come and go.
However, as you can read in a 2019 interview from Steve with artist Mark Buckingham, it’s not a hollow promise. The work is ongoing, the discussions continue, and the fans wait. 28 years of waiting for the return of a great British character amid a groundbreaking story. The original fans have grown up, had children and are passing on their knowledge. It’s a story that will define a generation who are eager to share it with the next.