Posted In: News
There’s only one thing worth talking about today. As I posted last night:
I hope this clears the way for Neil (Gaiman) and Mark (Buckingham) to completing their part of the series, too — but most of all, I hope this changes life for the Totlebens for the better.
Indeed, the email and the internet is burning with the news today. John Totleben and I are in touch with one another, and I’ve received emails from peers and amigos like Larry Shell, Al Nickerson, Mark Masztal and others.
I’ve no doubt Neil himself will soon have something up on his blog about it.
I suspect Neil and Bucky‘s longtime association with Marvel in trying to resolve the Marvelman/Miracleman rights issues plays no small part in all this, though I could be wrong.
Again, I would be surprised if Neil, Bucky and Marvels and Miracles LLC hadn’t played some role in all this, but time will tell.
In writing the Marvelman/Miracleman chapter for Prince of Stories: The Many Worlds of Neil Gaiman back in 2007-2008 (with input and polish from my co-authors Chris Golden and Hank Wagner, and a bit of research assistance from Al Nickerson, though it was primarily my baby), I dug deep into the Marvelman/Miracleman controversy — if only to effectively summarize the core issues and make sense of it all, specifically in the context of Neil’s career and body of work.
This excerpt should bring us up to the current events, though I hasten to add both Bob Heer and Pádraig Ó Méalóid have done extensive online legwork over the past few months on all this, trying to sort out what, precisely, Emotiv was all about and up to (Bob, Pádraig, please, send your links!). But previous to that, Prince of Stories had the most definitive assessment to offer.
First, the background on the series, to its beginning. It’s important to fully understand Mick Anglo‘s primary creator role in all this, and the prior role Marvel played in the character’s American incarnation in the 1980s, if you’re to understand what Marvel and Emotiv just announced. It’s also critical, I believe, to understand what Alan brought to the character and property, and what John Totleben‘s role was in all this:
Since the late 1930s, many American comics reached the United Kingdom via a variety of small UK publishers. Len Miller & Son, Ltd. was a London-based publisher of pulps, magazines, and comics that functioned in this manner, taking advantage of the British ban on importing printed matter by publishing British black-and-white (with color covers) editions of American comic books from the 1940s until 1966. According to comics historian Denis Gifford, after World War II “when the dollar situation cut short the supply of American comic books, minor British publishers leapt aboard the bandwagon… not only the Yankee format was imitated but their characters, too. Superheroes abounded… and the most successful of them all [was] Mick Anglo’s Marvelman (1954) for L. Miller & Son” (Gifford, Happy Days! 100 Years of Comics, 1975/1988, Jupitor Books Ltd./Bloomsbury Books, pp. 110-111).
Miller had enjoyed enormous profits repackaging Fawcett Publications’s popular Golden Age Captain Marvel and its spinoff “Marvel Family” titles (Mary Marvel, Captain Marvel, Jr., etc.). Fawcett’s decision to cancel the line of Captain Marvel titles—surrendering in 1953 to ongoing legal pressure from National Periodicals (DC Comics)—left Miller high and dry, without the cash cow that the Fawcett reprints had provided.
Enter Maurice “Mick” Anglo, who had created Wonderman (1948) for Paget Publications, Captain Zenith Comic (both 1950) for Martin & Reid Ltd., Captain Universe for Arnold Book Company (1953), and many, many others. Anglo was already packaging Space Commander Kerry and Space Commando Comics for Len Miller (both 1953) when Miller hired Anglo to make minor changes to America’s Captain Marvel and create an immediate successor/clone. Anglo changed Captain Marvel’s black hair to blond, altered his costume, changed his secret identity from Captain Marvel’s radio reporter alter-ego Billy Batson to boy newspaper reporter Michael Moran, and the magic word that changed Moran to superhero from Captain Marvel’s “Shazam!” to Marvelman’s “Kimota!” Thus, Anglo recreated Captain Marvel and his family: Marvelman was joined by Kid Marvelman (whose mortal alter-ego was Johnny Bates) and Young Marvelman (the superhuman incarnation of Dicky Dauntless). Captain Marvel’s nemesis Dr. Sivana was changed to Dr. Gargunza, and the evil Black Adam became Young Nastyman. Anglo and his studio of freelancers kept the series going in a trio of titles in the ‘60s.
The weekly titles Marvelman and Young Marvelman were joined by the monthly Marvelman Family in 1956, and the series Annuals flourished throughout the rest of the 1950s in Britain, Spain, Italy and Brazil (where Marvelman was known as “Jack Marvel”) until the popularity of superheroes waned. The weekly publishing schedules slowed to monthly status, and Mick Anglo left the series in 1959, after which Miller continued with reprints. The British line ended with Marvelman #370 and Young Marvelman #370 (both February 1963).
Anglo, however, carried on as if he owned Marvelman, though the tradition in British comics publishing of the era was quite the contrary (all rights typically were presumed to reside with the publisher). Anglo launched his own Anglo Features imprint, and among the four titles he launched were his redrawn versions of old Don Lawrence Marvelman comics under the new moniker Captain Miracle (1960), joined by Miracle Junior. This effort was scuttled within nine months (including a title change to Invincible with its sixth issue), after which Anglo reportedly again revamped existing Marvelman stories under the title Miracleman. This, too, quickly failed, relegating Marvelman to limbo for almost two decades, during which almost every conceivable superhero archetype underwent enormous changes.
In the early 1980s, Mick Anglo was approached by British magazine and comics publisher/packager Dez Skinn. “He contacted me me and he wanted to revive [Marvelman],” Anglo told interviewer George Khoury, “and I said go ahead and do what you like, as far as I was concerned…” (Kimota! The Miracleman Companion, pg. 10). What legal rights actually changed hands remains undocumented and unresolved; however, Skinn claimed to have acquired the necessary permission, and Anglo’s interview indicates this was true at the time, though the Marvelman/Miracleman property had little perceived market value in 1981, which is certainly no longer the case.
Scripted by Alan Moore—who had expressed his enthusiasm for reviving the character in a 1981 interview in The Journal of the Society of Strip Illustrators, prompting Skinn’s interest—Marvelman was resurrected in Dez Skinn’s innovative new black-and-white comic magazine Warrior (26 issues, March 1982-January 1985). Moore’s scripts were initially illustrated by Warrior art director Garry Leach. Leach inked penciller Alan Davis’s pencils for the Miracleman chapter published in Warrior #6 and 7, and thereafter Davis worked with Moore on the series until a falling-out between the creators, their final collaboration appearing in Warrior #21.
Shorn of its most popular feature, Warrior ended a mere five issues later. But while it existed, Warrior touted itself as publishing primarily creator-owned comics, a rare commodity in the British comics industry outside of the underground comix scene. After the cancellation of Warrior, many of the unfinished serialized adventures were published (and completed) by various US comic publishing companies, though many remain compromised by questionable proprietorships—the most famous being, of course, Marvelman.
The collaborative Marvelman stories by Moore, Leach and Davis not only reinvigorated Marvelman as a viable British comics icon, but (along with Frank Miller’s tenure on Marvel’s Daredevil in the US) became a catalyst for an international resurgence in the superhero genre itself.
Moore launched the series with an urgency unusual in its day: when a terrorist attack on a nuclear power plant during an opening being covered by aging reporter Michael Moran, the ensuing violence finds Moran almost accidentally reading aloud the word “atomic” backwards: “Kimota!” The word spoken, Moran transforms into Marvelman, setting into motion the premise Moore outlined in his original proposal: “…without deviating in fact from the naive and simplistic Marvelman concept of the Fifties, I want to transplant it into a cruel and cynical Eighties.” (Source: “Alan Moore’s Original Proposal,” quoted from Khoury, Kimota!, pg. 24).
To do so, Moore, Leach and Davis made Michael Moran a more vulnerable, troubled middle-aged man plagued by dreams, the fragmented remnants of a past superheroic existence wiped from his memory by the devastating events of 1961 that left Moran a broken man. They made Dr. Emil Gargunza a truly Machiavellian scientific genius who bred the Marvelman family in a series of top-secret covert government-funded experiments, and destroyed the superheroic clan when they attacked Gargunza’s nuclear fortress in 1961; and changed Johnny Bates/Kid Marvelman to an amoral now-adult megalomaniac with wealth, power, super powers he keeps hidden, the full knowledge of what he was and is, and no concern for anyone’s well-bring save his own. The resulting series ingeniously deconstructed the very concept of superheroes, ultimately questioning what effect the appearance of genuinely godlike beings might have on mankind, a theme Moore subsequently explored further in Watchmen (1986-87).
Ironically, another character name change became necessary when Skinn published a one-shot reprint of Mick Anglo Marvelman stories entitled Marvelman Special #1, which sported the cover copy, “Back in their own title—after 20 years!” (this special was eventually reprinted by Eclipse Comics in the US as Miracleman 3-D #1). Enforcing their trademarked company moniker, Marvel Comics threatened legal action over use of the name Marvelman. Given Marvel’s corporate legal clout, Skinn back down, meaning that when Eclipse Comics launched its color comic book reprinting the Moore/Leach/Davis Warrior stories, beginning in 1985, Marvelman became Miracleman in the U.S..
With the involvement of Alan Moore, Eclipse Comics launched Miracleman reprinting the published Warrior chapters in color, engaging Moore to complete the truncated storyline and continue the series beyond. In the era of monthly comic books, the series was a troubled one despite its success, plagued with constant delays and sporadic publication dates. Nevertheless, Book One, Miracleman: A Dream of Flying came together. The Warrior reprint material concluded in Miracleman #6 (February 1986), which also featured the first new episode, sporting art by Moore’s new collaborator Chuck Beckum (now known as Chuck Austen), who also delineated the two chapters in #7 (#8 was entirely composed of Mick Anglo-produced reprint material). Rick Veitch illustrated the controversial Miracleman #9, which featured the graphic birth of Miracleman’s child Winter, and the final chapter of the Book Two, Miracleman: The Red King Syndrome series arc in #10.
Book Three, Miracleman: Olympus, was launched in Miracleman #11 (1987). Having significantly expanded the Miracleman mythos—including the arrival of two races of aliens, the Warpsmiths and the Qys, to Earth, the emergence of Miraclewoman, and revelation of several native superhumans already living on Earth—Miracleman: Olympus was Moore’s final word on the character and concept, a magnum opus that took three years to complete in six issues, all illustrated by Moore’s former Swamp Thing collaborator John Totleben. This was the only Moore Miracleman arc to be illustrated by a single artist, and Totleben’s truly visionary collaboration with Moore yielded an unprecedented landmark for its genres—superhero and science fiction comics—and the comics art form as a whole.
Miracleman #15’s genuinely apocalyptic resolution of the Miracleman showdown with the demonic Johnny Bates/Kid Miracleman resonated into subsequent entries (in which Neil Gaiman took over writing chores). Bates is beaten only after the the Warpsmith Aza Chorn, teleports a shard of wreckage into Kid Miracleman’s body, forcing him to transform back to his mortal form, allowing Miracleman to execute Bates. Having utterly demolished London, killed the Warpsmith, revealed to all that superbeings live among us, and dramatized Moran’s final decision to permanently remain Miracleman, Moore and Totleben set the stage for the breathtakingly beautiful but decidedly frighteningly totalitarian utopia imposed upon mankind by Miracleman in #16.
That completed, Moore passed the baton—and his share of the rights to the Miracleman property—over to his personal choice for successor, the pre-Sandman Neil Gaiman, whose tenure began with Miracleman #17 (1990).
To say the Alan Moore/John Totleben Miracleman: Olympus was a tough act to follow would be a gross understatement, but Gaiman and his artist collaborator Mark Buckingham rose to the challenge with Miracleman: The Golden Age (#17-22, 1990-91) and the beginning of Book Five, The Silver Age. Gaiman planned three books consisting of six issues each. Book Four: The Golden Age was the only one completed and collected, to have been followed by The Silver Age and The Dark Age. The last published issue of Miracleman to date remains #24 (1992), only two chapters into The Silver Age and halfway through Gaiman’s entire planned story arc….
[-from Prince of Stories, my final text for the Marvelman/Miracleman chapter]
Leaping ahead, from 1988 (“…Gaiman’s first Miracleman story actually appeared in the Eclipse Comics five-issue miniseries Total Eclipse (1988), a cross-company crossover involving all of Eclipse’s characters…”) to the matters immediately at hand, our Prince of Stories assessment of the situation pre-Marvel-and-Emotiv‘s announcement yesterday is still pretty comprehensive.
The following passage also explains how Todd McFarlane became involved. I was privvy via personal experience to one facet of this curious legal chronology: back in 1996, I had been notified of the Eclipse auction, as I intended to bid on our the negatives for the two-issue Bedlam! collection of Rick Veitch’s and my work and other sundries; calling in at the time indicated by the letter I’d received from the attornies handling the bankruptcy auction, I was told the auction had been completed before the announced time, sold to a single buyer for a single price that had been accepted — that, my friends, was Todd, cutting us all off at the knees, as it were.
If you want to know more, you’ll have to buy Prince of Stories and read the Angela chapter, which remains the best one-stop assessment of that legal nightmare you’ll find anywhere in print or online.
But as to Marvelman/Miracleman — quoting again from Prince of Stories, my own chapter:
“MIRACLEMAN: THE SILVER AGE AND BEYOND
Book Five, Miracleman: The Silver Age, began with Miracleman #23 (June 1992). Jumping further into the future, Gaiman turned his narrative’s focus to the Miracleman family, specifically the revival of Dicky Dauntless a.k.a. Young Miracleman. Overtly building upon hints Alan Moore had dropped during his tenure on the series, #24’s “When Titans Clash!” highlighted Young Miracleman’s ongoing difficulties awakening in and adjusting to the new utopian world—literally, a world apart from the lad’s 1950s sensibilities. The process is traumatizing, due in part to his screening the Stanley Kubrick film Veneer, which Gaiman referred to in “Screaming,” through which Young Miracleman sees the horrors of Bates/Kid Miracleman’s devastation of London.
Dicky’s confusion over Bates/Kid Miracleman’s transformation, and Miracleman and Miraclewoman’s worry that Dicky himself might similarly change, is only part of the problem. There’s also the matter of Young Miracleman’s apparent homosexuality and his long-standing devotion and attraction to Miracleman. Miraclewoman encourages Miracleman to help Dicky confront his sexual orientation via open acceptance and expression of mutual love, but this backfires: when the patriarchal Miracleman kisses Dicky on the lips, Young Miracleman reacts violently and flees. The series ended on this cliffhanger, leaving readers dangling.
This adventurous confrontation with gay sexuality was still daring in non-underground, mainstream comics venues in 1992, and predated Gaiman’s exploration of gay characters in Sandman and other works. The issue provoked much controversy, already fanned by fan ambivalence and/or animosity toward The Golden Age. Far more upsetting, though, was the inadvertent termination of the series; in the fan press, speculation raged. Gaiman’s script for #25 was completed and Buckingham and inker D’Israeli had finished and delivered the artwork; as Buckingham told interviewer George Khoury, “certainly #25 was done and waiting for something to happen with it. Then Eclipse folded…” (Ibid., pg. 131). Eclipse Comic’s final publication was its Spring 1993 catalog, featuring a complete bibliography of its publications; the company ceased operations in 1994 and declared bankruptcy. Before the bankruptcy auction, Eclipse Editor-in-Chief and partner Cat Yronwode, to her credit, returned the original art for Miracleman #25 to Gaiman and Buckingham.
What was in Miracleman #25? In Kimota!, Gaiman told interviewer George Khoury: “the next thing that happened was we get Young Miracleman waking up in human form as Dick[y] Dauntless on the side of a mountain… He’s sort of trekking through the Himalayas with a friend that he makes, and the old man that he meets in a cave. Basically… The Silver Age was very consciously designed as one of these ‘Heroes with a Thousand Faces’ kind of stories… they all have the same pattern in which the young prince leaves his kingdom, learns things and evidently returns. So that would have been the overall shape of The Silver Age…” (Khoury, Ibid., pg. 120). #25 was also to have featured the return of Johnny Bates/Kid Miracleman as “a sort of seeping psychic presence from the underworld… in The Dark Age, I would have him back” (Ibid.). Pages from the issue were published in Kimota! (see pp. 132-136).
Unfortunately, no other publisher could take up publication of the issue, nor resume any publication of Miracleman in any form. After Eclipse declared bankruptcy, and especially after the auction of their material assets in 1996, the whole of Miracleman became entangled in a massive copyright dispute that essentially froze the property to the present day.
The only uncontested fact about what followed is that in 1996, former Spider-Man and Hulk artist, Spawn creator, Image Comics co-founder and Todd McFarlane Productions proprietor Todd McFarlane purchased Eclipse’s material assets in bankruptcy auction. What McFarlane paid, and what he actually acquired and owns, is still questionable. Some sources report McFarlane paid $25,000-$40,000 (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miracleman), but Gaiman recalls, “…the bankruptcy judge didn’t want to be bothered with chopping up properties into bits and on the bankruptcy [auction] day, McFarlane simply offered $50,000 for the lot… So, that’s how he got Eclipse” (Khoury, Ibid., pg. 123).
Whatever the sum actually paid, McFarlane’s involvement and actions since the auction, and subsequent legal claims and assertions of those claims via the publication and manufacture of Miracleman-related works… has immeasurably complicated an already convoluted chain of ownership.
For readers seeking more information, the only book on the subject remains Kimota! The Miracleman Companion by George Khoury (2001, TwoMorrows Publishing), which we have already cited herein. However, Khoury’s admittedly comprehensive book should not and cannot stand as the definitive—much less final—word on the subject, given its own confused account of the alleged ownership of the property and division of that ownership.
After the publication of Kimota!, Marvelman/Miracleman artist Alan Davis publicly clarified his own views of ownership of the character and the work Davis had collaborated on. In a November 5, 2001 open letter to the online CBR News: The Comic Wire, Davis asserted author Khoury’s published account of the Marvelman/Miracleman title and character ownership issues were inaccurate. Davis also wrote, “I do want to make it clear that I still own the rights to the Marvelman pages I drew, and that anyone who has been sold any degree of copyright to this artwork has been conned… I did not give or sell anything to Eclipse…” (“Alan Davis Talks ‘Miracleman’,” November 5, 2001; http://www.comicbookresources.com/news/newsitem.cgi?id=610).
Given the number of artists who worked on Marvelman/Miracleman from 1982 to 1992, the issue of ownership on that collaborative body of work alone is hardly a simple matter. But, added to that, Maurice ‘Mick’ Anglo still claims some form of ownership, having created the character Marvelman in 1954; Warrior publisher Dez Skinn claims to have published Marvelman in Warrior with permission, and claims partial ownership of the character and property; the now-defunct American publisher of the series, Eclipse Comics, had legal claim to the Miracleman trademark, and claimed a partial ownership of the entire property; Alan Moore passed on his respective share of the ownership of the work and property to Gaiman; the respective creators of the Warrior and Eclipse-published Marvelman/Miracleman series, including Gaiman, have a legitimate claim to owning copyright to their portion of the collaborative body of work; and as of 1996, McFarlane—who never had any prior creative or business involvement with Miracleman, in any form—claims to now own Eclipse’s partial rights to the property, though whatever those may have been or may be has never been documented or disclosed in any public venue.
This has, in the public arena, come down to an ongoing ethical and legal battle between Gaiman and McFarlane that came to a head in 2001-2002.
The character of Michael Moran appeared in the Spawn spin-off title Hellspawn in 2001, beginning with issue # 6. Moran’s appearance as a supporting character (a reporter) was to culminate in the reintroduction of Miracleman himself in Hellspawn #13; the Ashley Wood Miracleman cover was painted and the issue was promoted for distribution. By that time, Hellspawn #15 was already being solicited in distributor catalogues, promising a resolution to the story arc beginning in #13. But before Hellspawn #13 was released, Gaiman’s objections and the filing of the Marvels and Miracles LLC lawsuit against McFarlane resulted in the planned reintroduction of Miracleman being pulled, and another cover and storyline supplanted #13’s contents, as were the contents of the subsequent issues.
McFarlane also began to produce Miracleman-related products through his comics and toy companies beginning in 2000, including lithograph posters, statues, and action figures, all claiming (apparently total) copyright and trademark to Miracleman for Todd McFarlane Productions, Inc.
Gaiman responded with a statue he sanctioned from Bowen Designs Studio in 2003. This was, as advertised, “Designed by Neil Gaiman” and sculpted by famed limited editions figure sculptor Randy Bowen; the painted statue stands 13″ tall overall and was limited to 1000 pieces. At the time of the release, Gaiman publicly commented, “What we’ve actually done is, Marvels and Miracles [LLC] has licensed Miracleman to Randy Bowen on the basis that I really like Randy’s stuff—he did all the nicest Sandman statues—so he’s going to be doing a Miracleman statue. Mainly just to go, ‘No no no, Miracleman doesn’t look like that. He doesn’t clench!’ The Todd one is terribly clenched.” (Source: ICV2.com, Ibid.)
In the conflict of Miracleman ownership issues between Gaiman and McFarlane, the legal issues were not resolved in the final verdict in the October 2002 Gaiman vs. McFarlane trial (see sidebar on this trial in the section on “Angela”), or the critical decisions following that verdict, which could have potentially resolved the matter.
Following the verdict in Gaiman’s favor, concerning the damages portion of the trial, ICV2.com reported at the time, “Gaiman decided to keep his copyright interest in characters he created for Todd McFarlane’s Spawn comic—Medieval Spawn, and Cagliostro—rather than seeking breach of contract damages from McFarlane…. Under the option Gaiman chose, the rights for Miracleman that McFarlane purchased from Eclipse remain in McFarlane’s hands…. What will Gaiman ask for in a deal? He’s still likely to ask for the rights to Miracleman as part of any settlement. He’s made it clear that he wants to acquire unencumbered rights to the property, reprint the old issues, and create new materials (see “Marvel Snags Neil Gaiman”). Gaiman created Marvels and Miracles LLC, one of the plaintiffs in the suit, to own and manage the rights to Miracleman, and has promised that after creators are compensated, proceeds will go to benefit two favorite industry charities—the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund and ACTOR. It seems unlikely that he would not pursue that goal now.” (Source: “Gaiman Keeps Share of Spawn Characters: Gaiman vs. McFarlane Ends,” October 04, 2002, http://www.icv2.com/articles/news/1890.html).
However, since 2002, the actions of Todd McFarlane Productions, Inc. have only complicated matters, not only with the products noted above, but also with subsequent publications. A character derivative of Miracleman, named “Man of Miracles,” appeared in Spawn #150 (October 2005) In 2006, McFarlane Toys’ Spawn: Evolutions line of action figures offered a “Man of Miracles” action figure, a slightly redesigned variation on the Miracleman character sporting the distinctive ‘MM’ logo. The packaging read, “Copyright 2006 TMP (Todd McFarlane Productions) International.”
Through Marvels and Miracles LLC, Gaiman continues to work to resolve the convoluted Marvelman/Miracleman legal issues. At the time of this writing, this matter—and the hope of reprinting, and perhaps completing, Gaiman’s portion of the series—remains in limbo.”
[ - Prince of Stories, excerpted from my Marvelman/Miracleman chapter]
Well, I reckon now it’s out of limbo.
However, Marvel now has to clear up negotiations and contracts for every single creator who worked on the character and property since 1980. The hard work is just beginning.
I’m personally relieved for my friends — John Totleben, Neil Gaiman, and (though he only drew a couple of issues in Alan‘s run) Rick Veitch. This will hopefully bring all this to some definitive resolution, and they’ll begin earning income from the reprints of their classic work, if nothing else.
Who knows, maybe we’ll be seeing new work from them featuring the character.
Maybe not. Marvel isn’t all peaches and cream to work with, y’know, though Neil and Marvel have worked and played well together for over a decade or more — and given Neil‘s excellent track record for caring for and seeing to his collaborative partners in all ventures, that may be all it takes for this to finally sort out.
Of course, Marvel is now free to do — well, anything.
We’ll see where it all goes from here.
At least it’s going.