Monday, 22 September 2008

British Comics Part Seven (Marvelman, Miracleman, Mick Anglo and Alan Moore)

Way back in the foggy mists of comic history, well, sometime around the late forties early fifties. Two American giants of comic book publishing were slugging it out over their two respective creations.
It was National Comics (now DC) against Fawcett Comics.
Superman versus Captain Marvel.

The sales favoured Captain Marvel but the copyright laws favoured Superman.

You see DC claimed that their character, Superman, was their creation and that all of his super human powers were part of that characters copyright. Fawcett didn't see it that way and claimed that their creative superhero was nothing like the man of steel.

Whatever the merits or rights and wrongs of the situation Fawcett lost the legal battle. Captain Marvel in red was beaten by Superman in blue.

All of this happened over in America but was very relevant to us in the UK as over here L.Miller & Son were reprinting all of the good Captains adventures in a black and white format and doing very nicely too.

Then KABOOM! Or rather SHAZAM! Captain Marvel was shackled. No more adventures in either colour or black and white. L.Millers little money maker had gone POP!

Enter Mick Anglo.

Mick Anglo was an English comic strip writer and his answer to the problem was to do precisely what Fawcett comics stood accused of and copy somebody else's idea. Using Captain Marvel as his template, along with the whole 'Marvel Family' concept, Mick Anglo created a character that would rise, in the world comic pantheon, to be recognised amongst the all time greats. Certainly from our British perspective Marvelman (now Miracleman) stands alongside Dan Dare and Judge Dredd in the halls of the great adventurers.

Marvelman began life on February 3rd 1954. As a character he owes a lot of his existance to both Captain Marvel and Superman but it is to the good Captain that he owes the greatest debt.

Just like Captain Marvel, Marvelman had a 'magic' word that transformed him from an ordinary person into his superhuman alter ego. In the case of Captain Marvel it was SHAZAM! but for our UK superhero it was KIMOTA ('atomic'backwards).

The stories were simple and child like. Unsophisticated adventure yarns that not only involved Marvelman but also his team of sidekicks, Young Marvelman and Kid Marvelman. The villains were a variety of evil scientist types, Doctor Gargunza for one, or a host of strange aliens. There were also a bunch of ridiculously named characters such as Nastyman. The stories ran for nine years and built up quite a cult following but never really broke into larger commercial arena.

Unlike the American publications, which were printed on a monthly basis and in colour, Marvelman UK was produced in black and white and was printed each and every week.
And then in February 1963 the series came to an end.

It lay dormant for nearly twenty years and then, in 1982, up popped WARRIOR and along with that magnificent publication came the now legendary Alan Moore. (See
article dated 19/01/05).

Moore's vision was of a darker Marvelman and altogether far more adult than that of the fifties version. If you think that comics were created just for children then at this point you had better stop reading. Through Moore's genius the reinvented Marvelman's past was very neatly (and believably) tied up.

All of Marvelman 'history' was a scientific simulation created by Emil Gargunza and payrolled by the British Government who wanted to test the viability of the superman as by means to create a supersoldier that would be impervious to virtually all forms of weapons.

When the British Government realises the monsters it had created it tries, unsuccessfully to destroy them. An atomic device explodes high up over the Earth. Killing Young Marvelman but not Marvelman nor Kid Marvelman.

Michael Moran, Marvelman's alter ego, falls victim, after the explosion to amneasia whilst Richard Dauntless, Kid Marvelman, only a young child at the time of the explosion, goes through puberty and evolves into something other than human.

For me, I enjoyed both variants. The fifties, kiddies style and also the older, more mature approach. And lets face it their is room in lterature for both adult and childish things then why not comics?

Moore explored a multitude of interesting story arcs including the how and why Gargunza could create such a race of superhumans (a crashed alien craft is found in the Wiltshire countryside along with a dead alien and all of its technology is extrapolated) and he also introduced a wealth of powerful characters who matched the main heroe with their quirky personalities.

When Moore had taken the storyline as far as he could he passed the writing chores to Neil Gaiman who developed the series even further and then, after only a short while on the book (only one volume and two stories were completed), things really did go down an almost otherwordly route.

You see, when the character was revived in the early eighties Dez Skinn, the publisher of Warrior, was thought to have done one of three things.

1. That the copyright was in the public domain
2. He had bought the rights of Marvelman from Mick Anglo
3. Offered a form of retroactive ownership deal to Mick Anglo

In actual fact it was probably L.Miller & Son who could lay claim to copyright ownership but as they had gone bust the point was surely a moot one.

As far as can be ascertained Moore thought that option two was the true version.

To mess matters up even more Marvel Comics grew ever more protective over the name Marvelman and threatened legal action if Moore, Davis (the artist) and Skinn didn't stop using the name. Their name.

Warrior stopped publishing in 1985 and the Marvelman continuity was published by an American independent comic publisher Eclipse Comics who also bought the third share from Dez Skinn and shortly after they also bought Alan Davis's third share. They changed the name from Marvelman to Miracleman. Sadly, Eclipse and Marvel/Miracleman only lasted a short time (1985 to 1994) and, yet again, the whole thing went belly up and the Marvel/Miracleman saga went again into publishing limbo.

In 1996, Todd McFarlane, a writer/editor and publisher of comic books, purchased the Eclipse assets. No one knows for sure but it is likely that he was only interested in getting hold of Miracleman.
Gaiman had previously worked for McFarlane creating Angela and Medieval Spawn for him whilst believing that he retained ownership of them.McFarlane would later dispute this. Gaiman also claimed that in exchange for those two characters that he and McFarlane had made, not only a verbal but also a written agreement, that they would 'swap' one for the other leaving Gaiman as the sole owner of the Miracleman franchise.

Adding to this complex and awful mess, up steps Dez Skinn, like a corpse risen from the grave, to claim that all rights on the character reverted back to him once the character hadn't been published for a number of years.
Mick Anglo has claimed that the rights never left him and that he is the rightful owner.
And finally, Alan Davis claims that he owns all the artistic rights to all the material drawn by him during his tenure on the book.

A total and utter mess which unfortunately prevents one of the all time British comic book legends seeing the light of publishing. . . . Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.

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