The GeeksverseREVIEW | Miracleman #1 (Marvel Comics)

REVIEW | Miracleman #1 (Marvel Comics)
Published on Thursday, February 6, 2014 by
Needless self-censorship, premium pricing, unresolved creator issues, and dubious coloring choices cast a pall over what should have been a reprint series debut worthy of celebration by superhero comics fans everywhere.
  • Miracleman-1Story: Alan Moore (listed in the credits as “the original writer”)
  • Original illustrations: Garry Leach
  • Additional story material by: Mick Anglo
  • Additional art by: Mick Anglo, Don Lawrence
  • Colors: Steve Oliff
  • Art restoration: Michael Kelleher and Kellustration with Garry Leach
  • Cover: Joe Quesada
  • Miracleman created by: Mick Anglo
  • Cover price: $5.99
  • Publisher’s summary: KIMOTA! With one magic word, a long-forgotten legend lives again! Freelance reporter Michael Moran always knew he was meant for something more—now, a strange series of events leads him to reclaim his destiny! Relive the ground-breaking eighties adventures that captured lightning in a bottleor experience them for the first timein these digitally restored, fully relettered editions! Issue 1 includes material originally presented in WARRIOR #1 and MIRACLEMAN #1, plus the MARVELMAN PRIMER.
  • NOTE: This comic was a personal purchase by the reviewer.
Preview gallery

Any serious discussion of Marvel’s new series reprinting Alan Moore’s Miracleman (a.k.a. Marvelman) stories from the UK’s Warrior comics anthology will have to touch on the lengthy and complicated legal battle over the rights to the character. At this point in the property’s history, it’s probably even fair to say that the dispute over its ownership has overshadowed its profound effect on the contemporary superhero comics genre—Miracleman/Marvelman may not be the instantly recognizable name these days like it was during the 1980s and early 1990s, but its direct and indirect influence on material like Warren Ellis’ The Authority, Mark Millar’s Ultimates, J. Michael Straczynski’s Supreme Power, and Garth Ennis’ The Boys, among others, is indisputable.

So, about that legal battle over Miracleman. Here’s an attempt to boil it down to its essential facts, as I understand them:

In 1953, British comics publisher Len Miller commissioned cartoonist Mick Anglo to create “Marvelman,” an original character that would serve as a replacement for Captain Marvel after National Comics Publications (DC Comics’ predecessor) successfully sued for the cancellation of all Fawcett Comics superhero publications, including the Captain Marvel reprints that Miller was publishing in the UK.

When Alan Moore began writing the Marvelman serial for Warrior magazine in 1982, he was told that editor and publisher Dez Skinn held the rights to the character. Skinn split ownership of the Marvelman property equally with Moore and Marvelman serial artist Garry Leach. By the time the serial was abruptly concluded (or canceled, depending on how one interprets the events) in 1985 with Warrior #26, artist Alan Davis, who replaced Leach partway through the run, had also received a smaller share of the supposed ownership of the property. Throughout this period, Marvel Comics was threatening a lawsuit against the publisher for its use of the Marvelman name, citing copyright infringement.

US comics company Eclipse Comics bought Skinn’s supposed rights to Marvelman in 1985. Eclipse then changed the Marvelman name to Miracleman to appease Marvel’s lawyers. Alan Davis, not wanting to work on Eclipse’s planned Miracleman series, ended up giving his share of the claim to the character to Garry Leach. Moore would eventually leave Miracleman with issue #16, and would give his stake in the property to new Miracleman writer Neil Gaiman, who then proceeded to split it with Miracleman artist Mark Buckingham.

Eclipse Comics went bankrupt in 1994 and publication of Miracleman ceased. Image Comics co-founder Todd McFarlane claimed ownership of the Marvelman/Miracleman IP after buying Eclipse Comics’ assets in 1996.

Through the late 1990s and into the 2000s, a battle primarily involving Gaiman on one side and McFarlane on the other over the ownership of the property was waged in the legal arena. All the while, the Warrior Marvelman and Eclipse Comics Miracleman stories remained out of print because of their uncertain ownership status, further driving fan demand for reprints and inflating the prices of back-issues in the secondary market to “silly money” levels.

In 2009, Marvel announced that it had purchased, for an undisclosed amount, the rights to Marvelman/Miracleman from the different parties a court recognized as having a legitimate claim to it.

For his part, Alan Moore said that he would have nothing to do with any attempt by Marvel to cash in on the property, unless Marvel would give a sizable share of the profits to Mick Anglo, who by the time of the company’s purchase of Marvelman/Miracleman, was old and infirm. In multiple interviews over the past few years, Moore has stated that he was misled into believing that Skinn owned the rights to Marvelman in 1982, and he now believes that Skinn actually had no legal claim to the property in the first place and that the property belonged to Anglo all along. Mick Anglo died in 2011.

Got all that?

Anyway, let’s run down a list of what I liked about the comic.

I’m glad that Marvel has rightfully credited Mick Anglo on a prominent area of the inside front cover as the creator of Marvelman/Miracleman. In so many ways, he was the one who benefited the least from the success of his creation and while this gesture doesn’t make up for it, not in the least, it’s still worth noting.

$5.99 is a lot of scratch for a “floppy,” and the cynic in me is thinking that Marvel is going to milk everything they can from readers who’ve built up their anticipation for legal Marvelman reprints over the past two decades. Still, the comic, at almost 60 pages, is packed full of content. Besides the Marvelman serial installments by Moore and Leach that appeared in Warrior #1 and Warrior #2, Marvel’s Miracleman #1 also has a ten-page prologue adapted from the first issue of the Eclipse Comics Miracleman series, three shorts from the original 1950s Marvelman series written and illustrated by Mick Anglo, a sketch gallery, an essay by Mike Conroy, and a transcript of Joe Quesada’s interview with the late Mick Anglo.

As for the main content itself, it’s quintessential mid-1980s Moore. That is to say, readers who are only familiar with Moore’s work on Watchmen and V for Vendetta will find the same depth to the dialogue, character tropes, and the theme of the Cold War and nuclear paranoia looming over everything.

• Garry Leach’s line art is outstanding, even 32 years on. I really hope these reprints mean that younger readers will seek out Leach’s work on other British anthology titles like 2000 AD and A1.

All that being said, there’s also a lot I did not like about the comic:

The fact that Moore did not consent to the use of his name in the credits probably means that Mick Anglo didn’t receive what Moore considered a fair deal in Marvel’s acquisition of Marvelman/Miracleman, if we take Moore at his word that his sole condition for cooperating with Marvel was that Anglo benefit monetarily from any reprints. 

• I’m not liking the coloring in the comic at all. I suppose there’s nothing technically wrong with it, and it’s superior to the job Eclipse Comics did when it colored the Warrior originals for its reprints, but I would have preferred to see the Warrior stories in black & white, as they were originally published. The use of what look like digital effects to add texture and implied volume to surfaces introduces an unwelcome and jarring contrast with the more organic rendering of the original ink work. And who knows, maybe leaving those stories in black & white would have knocked down the cover price by a dollar.

Speaking of seeing the stories as they were originally published, there’s a growing online flap over the self-censorship Marvel has applied to the digital “mass market” edition of the comic. Check out the image below, featuring a scan of a panel sequence from the original black & white Warrior story on the left and the same sequence as seen in the digital edition of Miracleman #1 on the right:

miraclemandigitalcensorshipbymarvel

It’s a fairly negligible change when you get right down to it, but it raises some pretty serious implications about the title’s fidelity to the source material moving forward, at least as far as the digital edition is concerned (the print edition did not feature this self-censorship).

I understand that Marvel is simply preemptively kowtowing to Apple’s infuriatingly vague definition of offensive, disgusting, or objectionable content for its app system, but this is just ridiculous. Marvelman was always intended for older readers and it features situations, language, and visuals that can all conceivably be considered offensive or inappropriate for younger or more sensitive audiences. But the same can be said of Watchmen, which has Dr. Manhattan walking around naked in all his blue-skinned glory for about four-fifths of the whole series, and you don’t see DC painting boxer shorts over his package in the digital edition of the comic (at least last I heard… anybody know if it’s any different now?). When did an exposed bottom become “offensive” or “objectionable” material, anyway? Doesn’t anybody at Marvel remember reading Calvin and Hobbes comic strips in the paper?

calvinwishwehadanaquarium

Anybody who has read the Warrior Marvelman stories in any of their previous editions will know that a pert, exposed female bottom is hardly the most “offensive” thing that will appear in the series as it proceeds. There are scenarios later in the series that I just can’t imagine Marvel allowing to appear in the digital “mass market” edition of the series, in any form, outside of totally blacked out pages and panels, especially if the publisher isn’t willing to risk publishing something as innocuous as a bare backside. In the above case, the changes don’t really impact the story all that much, and I think it actually makes the scene a smidgen more plausible in context, but I shudder to think of the extent Marvel will go to bowdlerize and neuter the material to fit their conservative reading of Apple’s content guidelines and how much the material will suffer for it, especially in light of the recent comments made by editor Tom Brevoort on Tumblr about having to “adjust” the comic in order for it to “pass muster in the digital space.” Yikes.

It’s a damn shame, really, that it’s come to this, after all the hype and anticipation of the last twenty years. Readers who want to finally read what is arguably the seminal Moore superhero comic are basically stuck with two choices, neither of which is particularly appealing: Pay jacked-up prices for the original Warrior magazine and/or Eclipse Comics material on the secondary market or pay the premium prices for the single issue Marvel reprints. And if they decide to go the digital Marvel Comics route, there’s really no assurance that they’ll still be reading the original comic book as far as future issues go, in terms of both authorial intent and execution. That’s just unacceptable in a reprint series.

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