“Miracleman” Flies Again — At Marvel? It’s A Miracle, Alright — And Most Definitely Not A Marvel (Fear Not, I Explain All)

Posted: January 29, 2014 in comics
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

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Hey, look — I’m with you. I never thought this was gonna happen,  either, much less under circumstances this bizarre — and yet last week, at my local comic shop, there it was — Miracleman #1. And bearing the Marvel Comics imprint, no less.

My enthusiasm for seeing this material back in print for the first time in forever was tempered somewhat by Joe Quesada’s truly awful cover, which makes Miracelman/Marvelman look flat-out fucking evil, but beyond that, I gotta admit, finding this on the new release racks was definitely a “pinch me, I must be dreaming” moment.

The story particulars first, then, for those of you unfamiliar with the proceedings — Miracleman is, as you’ve probably surmised by now, the same thing as Marvelman, a uniquely British riff on Captain Marvel/Shazam! created by UK comics legend Mick Anglo at the height of Cold War atomic unease that was resurrected by a young-at-the-time writer named Alan Moore and artist Garry Leach in the pages of the legendary, incredibly-short-lived anthology series Warrior at the advent of Margaret Thatcher’s rise to power — a time, not conicidentally, of even more atomic unease. As one of the first of the “revisionist” super-hero strips, it achieved instant notoriety for its challenging and timely content, and when Moore skyrocketed to prominence in the US thanks to his groundbreaking work on  Swamp Thing and Watchmen, American publishers suddenly got very interested in exposing stateside audiences to this material ASAP.

There were just a few hang-ups, though. And that’s where our admittedly brief story recap ends (honestly, if you haven’t read this stuff before, the less you know the better since it’s best to experience its majesty with no pre-conceived ideas going on — and if you have read it, well, you know what you’re in for, and why you absolutely need to read it again) and our examination of various behind-the-scenes machinations begins.

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The copyright arrangements behind Marvelman (as it was only known prior to 1985) were complex, to say the least, but here’s what it boils down to — 1/3 of the ownership of the character was held by Quality Communications, the original publishers of the comic, 1/3 was held by Moore, as current (at the time) “caretaker” of the property, and 1/3 was held by the company that eventually was granted US publishing rights, Eclipse Comics. Make sense so far? Good. Because things are about to get even more convoluted.

Moore’s run was unfinished when Eclipse picked the book up, Warrior having folded up shop a few years previously, so the first arrangement to be made was for him to finish his story, which he did — along with artists Rick Veitch and John Totleben, who did positively lavish  work. It took 16 intermittently-published issues, and the better part of a decade, for Moore to complete his epic (a term, I assure you, that I do not use lighlty) and then the reigns were handed over to Neil Gaiman, who wrote a six-part story entitled “The Golden Age,” superbly illustrated by Mark Buckingham, That 1/3 copyright ownership Moore held? That went to Gaiman as well with, by all accounts, no fuss and no muss.

Then things got complicated  — again. Two issues into Gaiman and Buckingham’s second run, “The Silver Age,” Eclipse finally went the way of most independent publishers in the late-’80s/early-’90s and gave up the ghost. As a result, Miracleman, as it was then more widely known (more on all that in a moment) was left unfinished — for a second time.

And so things have remained for just over 20 years.

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Most of us figured this was one of those projects destined to remain in limbo forever, and the only way to read this material would be too pay top dollar for back issues, either on eBay or, if we were real lucky, at our LCS (don’t hold your breath) — but demand remained constant, and sometime in the last year or so, the weirdest possible breakthrough of all happened.  But first we need to backtrack one more time to provide even further context.

Ever wonder why Alan Moore refused, from day one, to ever work for Marvel’s US arm? The answer goes back to the first attempts to bring Marvelman to these shores. Marvel, you see, had major problems with the character’s name, even though it had been around since the 1950s with nary a word of protest from their UK division. In fact, at first they threatened legal action to prevent Eclipse re-printing the Warrior material at all, much less continue the story with new chapters once the old stuff had run its course. The solution : Eclipse simply changed our erstwhile hero’s name to “Miracleman,” and the rest is history. But Moore never forgot, and consequently held a deep antipathy toward Marvel that, bless his heart, remains in full force to this day. So much so, in fact, that he’s requested to have his name removed from these new Marvel reprints and the credits merely read “Written By The Original Author” instead. Say what you will for Moore, but the man never compromises his principles, and for that he deserves our heartiest congratulations.

But how did Marvel end up with the publication rights at this late date in the first place? Well, I did hint about an unlikely “breakthrough” just a moment ago —

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Gaiman, now apparently 2/3 rights-holder of the property with Eclipse out of the picture, is reported to have cut a deal with the self-proclaimed “House Of Ideas” at about the same time that he sold he and Todd McFarlane’s rights to the Angela character (originally from Spawn, now appearing in Marvel’s Guardians Of The Galaxy) to not only publish all extant Miracleman material,  but to finally finish his “Silver Age” storyline, as well. And so the character Marvel tried their damndest to prevent from ever seeing the light of day in the US is now in their stable, and while Moore might be less than thrilled about it, he hasn’t uttered a word of complaint publicly, just quietly asked to have his name excised from the project. Fair enough.

All of which means that, whether we’re new to this book or not, we’re all in for a wild ride. Miracleman starts a bit rough on the story front — Moore doesn’t really find his footing until a few issues in — but the art, whether by Leach, Veitch, Totleben, or Buckingham, is uniformly exquisite, and once the narrative gets going, trust me when I say it really gets going. This is a series that honestly rivals Watchmen in terms of sheer impact, and does so much more lyrically, poetically, and hauntingly. It’s quite simply one of the best comics ever made by anyone, period.

Marvel’s first issue boasts a fair number of “extras,” as well, to help justify its hefty $5.99 price tag — look for extensive backstory, an interview with creator Mick Anglo, and reprints of some early B&W Anglo stories among other goodies. All in all, an impressive package to commemorate a genuinely historic return. I’m over the moon, friends, and once you start picking this title up — assuming you haven’t already — you will be, as well. Get to your comic shop — now! KIMOTA!

Comments
  1. Sam Gafford says:

    I need say only one word, “Marveldog”. Those in the know are already familiar with that marvelosity!

  2. Tom Jacobs says:

    Miracleman is weak compared to Wreckingbar & Galvanic Girl.

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