Sunday, February 12, 2012

Is Marvelman Actually Coming Soon, After All?

So, as I mentioned here about a month ago, Marvel Comics’ Editor-in-Chief Axel Alonso has promised that there will soon be news about Marvelman. The thing is, despite my essentially casting a large amount of doubt on that in my previous post, this may actually be the case. A number of things have all happened at virtually the same time and, at the risk of looking like a good old-fashioned conspiracy theorist, it really does look as if they might all add up to something. So, here’s a chronology of events, with bit more exposition on my part afterwards:

31 October 2011: Mick Anglo dies at the age of 95. Kiel Phegley of Comic Book Resources [CBR] says ‘How Anglo's passing impacts the release of Marvelman material is unknown.

13 January 2012: Axel Alonso, now Marvel Comics’ Editor-in-Chief, answers the question ‘Marvelman in 2012? on CBR by saying, ‘Sit tight. We'll have some additional news soon.

26 January 2012: Geoff Johns announces that DC’s Captain Marvel character will henceforth be called Shazam.

27 January 2012: News breaks that Neil Gaiman and Todd McFarlane have finally settled their long-running legal dispute over Gaiman's share of Spawn properties.

Their attorneys filed notice Friday in federal court in Madison saying they've reached a deal that calls for declaring Gaiman a 50 percent owner of Spawn issues 9 and 26, the first three issues of a spin-off series on the angels and the issues' contents. Jeffrey Simmons, one of Gaiman's attorneys, declined to elaborate, saying the terms are confidential.
31 January 2012: Neil Gaiman Tweets this:
Lots of people asking ‘Who owns Marvelman/Miracleman?’ I thought that was already established: [link]
... with a link to the original story on CBR, dated Friday, July 24th, 2009, that announced that Marvel Comics had ‘purchased the rights to Marvelman from creator Mick Anglo’.

1 February 2012: DC Comics - sorry, that should be DC Entertainment - announces they will be publishing a number of comics series under the umbrella title of Before Watchmen, described as ‘all-new stories expanding on the acclaimed Watchmen universe’.

2 February 2012: Neil Gaiman announces ‘I'm off in hiding...


What meaning can we squeeze out of all the above, apparently unrelated, events and announcements?

The thing about Mick Anglo and Marvelman is, in all the years I’ve been reading about this, I have not found one single instance of Mick Anglo stating that he owned Marvelman. Yes, he claims to have created the character - although I often think that ‘created’ is possibly too strong a word for running a quick coat of paint over an already established character at the behest of L Miller & Son, even if all parties involved were agreeable to it at the time - but he never claimed to have owned it, although this claim started being made on his behalf about five years back, or so. I’ve seen a few interviews with him, although these are by no means numerous, and the closest anyone got to asking him if he owned it was when George Khoury asked him about it in Kimota! The Miracleman Companion (TwoMorrows Publishing, Raleigh, 2001), where he answered,
I don’t know; that was [Len] Miller’s sort of thing.’
Later on he says,
All I was interested in was producing the stuff and getting paid on the nail, and that’s how it worked out.
All pretty much as one would expect in the comics business in the UK in the 1950s: the publisher had the rights to what they published - it may not have been right, but that’s a completely different argument. So, how did Mick Anglo’s death change things? Well, I suppose it meant that he wasn’t around anymore to give potentially unhelpful interviews, or to be asked awkward questions. But, at the same time, over two years passed from Marvel’s announcement in July 2009 until his death at the end of October 2011 without anyone interviewing him about Marvel’s purchasing of his supposed rights to Marvelman, which in itself seems odd, now that I think about it. If he was the visionary creator people (mostly the likes of Marvel Comics, who had a vested interest in saying so) said he was, why wasn’t there a whole slew of interviews with him about his creation? Just another unanswered question to go on an already very long list...

Why would the renaming of DC’s Captain Marvel have any bearing on Marvel’s likely publication of Marvelman? Well, DC’s Captain Marvel was once Fawcett’s Captain Marvel, the middle part of the line of succession that runs ‘Superman begat Captain Marvel, who begat Marvelman,’ so the character certainly has a place in Marvelman’s history. Undoubtedly most of the reason DC renamed the character is because Marvel Comics actually owns the trademark to the name Captain Marvel, meaning that DC can never actually use it as the title of a comic, and also because, if DC decide to exploit the character further, as far as the movies, for instance, they’re hardly likely to want a character who, every time his name is mentioned, is as good as advertising their rivals - it’s one thing having it happening in comics, where the consumer has some idea about who owns what, but if the public go to see a character called Captain Marvel in the cinema, they’re probably going to assume he’s published by that Marvel Comics company they’ve heard about. Having said that, Marvel haven’t published a comic featuring their own Captain Marvel since 2008, and in particular not since their acquisition of Marvelman - a character whose origin is directly related to Captain Marvel, just not the one they own. So, the net result is that, certainly for the time being, there is no character called Captain Marvel currently active in either of the two major comics universes. Which may or may not be a sign of something else going on, or of people clearing the boards for what is to come.

Next along we have the news that Neil Gaiman and Todd McFarlane have resolved their long-running dispute over the rights to various characters co-created by them for Spawn #9, originally published in June 1993, nearly twenty years ago now. Very briefly, three characters that appeared in that issue - Angela, Olden Days Spawn/Medieval Spawn, and Count Nicholas Cagliostro/ Cogliostro - were later used by McFarlane in numerous ways that hadn’t been part of the original agreement between them, a situation made worse by McFarlane then claiming that he owned all the rights to them, rather than sharing those rights with Gaiman. In January 2002 Gaiman sued McFarlane, looking to have his position of co-creator legally established - the suit wasn’t about the money, as most of these things tend to be, as Gaiman has stated publically, more than once, that any money he gets from the case will be donated to various comics charities. There has been a huge amount of to-ing and fro-ing in the meantime, which I’m not going to go into (go here for a brief overview). Again, though, what bearing does this have on the story of Marvelman? Firstly, there’s the fact that Todd McFarlane bought up all the assets of the bankrupt Eclipse Comics in 1996, which was said to include Eclipse’s share of Miracleman, as Marvelman was known at that time. Whilst there has been doubt cast on whether or not Eclipse had any rights to Miracleman for McFarlane to buy, or indeed had any right to sell those rights, his having these - real or otherwise - rights to a portion of Marvelman was always an unspoken part of the interaction between him and Gaiman, and it seems unlikely that they will have reached a deal between them without this issue being part of it. But, as we are told that ‘the terms are confidential,’ this may not become public knowledge any time soon.

Another reason that the end of the case between Gaiman and McFarlane is significant is because all of Gaiman’s costs for these cases were being paid for by Marvels and Miracles LLC, a company set up by Gaiman and his friend and lawyer, Ken Levin. Marvels and Miracles was announced to the world at a press conference on the 24th of October, 2001, where Gaiman was joined by Marvel Comics’ then Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada, and their company president Bill Jemas. The actual funding of Marvels and Miracles itself came from two projects Gaiman did for Marvel, Marvel 1602 (2003) and Eternals (2007), with both Gaiman and Marvel putting their share of the proceeds into the M&M pot. It certainly appears that Gaiman and Marvel were hand in hand on this project, and presumably the pay-off for Marvel would be that, once Neil Gaiman got the right for Miracleman - such as they were - from Todd McFarlane, that he would make these available to Marvel, or more likely simply put them to rest forever. So, one outcome of the conclusion of action between Gaiman and McFarlane is undoubtedly the removal of Todd McFarlane and Miracleman from the board, tying off at least one of the many loose ends surrounding the Marvelman story. One caveat to all of this, of course, would be the fact that this pair have reached agreements before, going back over all those twenty years, and Todd McFarlane has broken his word on pretty much every single one of those agreements. So, it ain’t over ‘til it’s over, even at this stage.

Why do I think that Neil Gaiman’s tweet on the 31st of January is significant? Because he’s the only one of the creators of the 1980s version of Marvelman that speaks publically about it, and him referring to it, just after his positive trial result, seems to indicate that he’s still actively involved with it, and that he still sees Marvel Comics as where it’s all going to happen, and possibly even to indicate that, now that one particular roadblock has been successfully negotiated, we can expect to see some positive movement soon. It also adds legitimacy to the idea that, yes, Marvel do have rights to Marvelman, which they bought from Mick Anglo - or, more correctly, from Jon Campbell of Emotiv, who bought out Anglo. I concede that that’s a lot to read into 140 characters!

How could DC’s announcement that they’re going to start exploiting - and if ever there was a word that says exactly what it mean, exploiting has to be it - Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’s Watchmen have any bearing on this? Undoubtedly it doesn’t, but I’m fascinated by the fact that we have two major works by Alan Moore, Marvelman and Watchmen, both from early in his career, and both dealing with essentially the same idea: What would happen if superheroes were real, in a real world? In both cases we now have work based on those works: Neil Gaiman picked up Miracleman after Alan left, after being specifically hand-picked by Alan to do so, and the first six issues of his run, The Golden Age, are effectively responses to things from Alan’s run. Neil did all this at the very start of his career, before he was the major name he is now, but Moore chose him because he felt he had talent, and trusted him.

On the other hand, we have a series of sequels being produced to Watchmen, very much against the wishes of Alan Moore - and only receiving lukewarm support from Dave Gibbons, at best - by supposedly ‘top-drawer talent,’ who nonetheless seem to need to raid perhaps the most famous and important comics story there is, over a quarter of a century after its publication, because apparently they’ve all run out of ideas of their own. The fact that the announcement for this was made less than a week after a major development in the Marvelman story just seems like interesting timing: two major Alan Moore projects, from early in his career, still able to make the two major comic companies get excited. But not to actually treat him with respect, or anything like that - respect and earning money don’t seem to get to be in the same room, if you’re DC or Marvel, it seems.

And then poor old Neil Gaiman decided to go into hiding! He’s actually going on the road for a while in preparation for his new novel, but you couldn’t really blame him if he did go into hiding - I imagine that the time leading up to the announcement of the settlement with Todd McFarlane must have been fraught, for instance, and now that things might be forthcoming with Marvelman and Marvel, well, it’s possible that there could be some interesting things happening there, and he may just want to walk away from it all for a while. And who could blame him?

So, there you have it. A whole bunch of things happening in a short space of time, that may or may not be related, or have any bearing on one another. Or that may point to, as promised by Axel Alonso in the middle of January, 'additional news soon.' If there is to be news, I suspect we will not be waiting too long to hear it...

[Over the past many years, I've been obsessed with the story of Marvelman, so much so that I've written a book about it, called Poisoned Chalice: The Extremely Long and Incredibly Complex Story of Marvelman, which just keeps on growing. I managed to get it finished at one point, and had a contract with MonkeyBrain Books, who soon afterwards decided they were giving up publishing books. Curse of Marvelman, anyone? If you're a publisher, and you think you might be interested in publishing a really ridiculously long and detailed - I believe we use the word 'immersive' now - book about Marvelman, then leave a comment, and I'll get back to you.]


  1. You could always self-publish it as an ebook, if illustrations & clearance aren't too much of an issue. I hear all the cool kids are doing it now.

    It would also mean that you could release new editions every time the story changes.

  2. It is an option I have been giving some thought to, along with some others.

  3. Hey, Just finished reading your update. Great stuff. I'm glad someone's keeping an eye on this. You keep writing 'em, I'll keep commenting on 'em (ahhh Stan Lee). For your book, I second the suggestion that you self-publish. Apple's new textbook-making app software looks promising. Hopefully we'll see the end of this saga in our lifetime-lol!
    1. Marveleman/Miracleman is Alan Moore's best work by far and I'd love to own the original saga in some kind of remastered format (to replace or co-exist next to my Epic Comics collection). I loved Miracleman and thought it was genius when I read it, but I was a little disappointed when I read a semi-comedic novel from 1977 called "Superfolks" by Robert Mayer. Many of the exact same ideas found in Marvelman and Watchman can be traced back to that book. It was quite the revelation a few years ago. Being such a voracious reader, I wonder if Moore received inspiration from this book prior to writing both of those masterpieces, hmmm...
    2. On the Watchmen prequels: I don't understand the hyperbole. Who cares, really. Moore's drawn his line in the sand for some time now and they've (DC) been straddling the fence on this issue for years now. He's never going to work for them ever again, so why shouldn't they do what they want with the property? It belongs to DC. Have at it! the prequels will suck or won't suck. In the end, fans should be thankful that Watchman isn't like Star Wars, Moore won't go back and add new useless pages of scenes that serve no purpose. The original text will stay forever intact.
    As for the prequels: We're entering an age of professional fan-fiction in my point of view. I'm looking forward to seeing Darwyn Cooke's stuff and Adam Hughes' first interior art in a long time. In the end, there are more important problems in the world than people making up prequels to 25 year old comic books! No one's changing the original text. Get over it.
    3. I'm glad that Neil Gaiman won his creator's rights from McFarlane. It's funny that McFarlane, like Lucas - lots of Star Wars parallels here today - became the thing that he was rallying against when he created Image along with his co-founders.
    Ah, I guess Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

  4. Fascinating stuff. You probably know this by now, but Marvel have just announced a new Captain Marvel title - Ms Marvel is assuming the mantle of Captain Marvel from this summer.

    1. Yes, I've seen that. A lot of people are commenting that her new uniform seems to borrow something from the Marvelman uniform. Whether this is a harbinger of things to come or not, who can tell?

  5. you better publish your book before the ripe old age of 95, look what happened to poor Mike Anglo!

  6. Hello, Padraig,

    I've been enjoying Poisoned Chalice and your other writing on the Beat. I see your in Dublin and, as the cartoonist on ULYSSES "SEEN", I'll be there myself for an exhibit and some talks the week around Bloomsday. Can I interest you in meeting up, having a few pints and talking about comics somewhere?

    Email me directly if you'd like at