On Jan. 22, Marvel Comics shipped Miracleman #1 to comics shops across America. Miracleman isn’t a very well-known character, but he is one with a rich history, one whose book has boasted some of the finest talent in the biz and one who has attracted a bajillion lawyers.

“A bajillion is a great many lawyers,” you may say. “I doubt very much that statement is accurate in an objectively determined manner.” I understand your skepticism, so let me relate The True Story of Miracleman (And Why You Should Care).

The tale of Miracleman begins, as do most comic-book histories in one way or another, with the debut of Superman in 1938. That premiere, in Action Comics #1, sold so many comic books and made so much money that it single-handedly transformed comic books from a fad into an industry. Every nickel-and-dime publisher in New York City decided to publish their own “mystery man” – they weren’t called “superheroes” yet – using Superman as a template.

Naturally, National Publications – the publisher of Action Comics, now known as DC Comics – took exception to action heroes that were too similar to the Man of Steel. For example, they quickly sued out of existence a red-suited hero named Wonder Man in 1939.

And when Fawcett Publications fielded their own red-suited superhero in 1940, National’s lawyers swung into action again. They charged that Fawcett’s Captain Marvel, a boy who changed into an adult superhero by saying the magic word “Shazam,” was a copyright infringement of Superman, an alien from another planet who had super-powers due to pseudo-scientific reasons.

Unlike the owners of the unfortunate Wonder Man, though, Fawcett fought back. And that lawsuit dragged on in court until 1953, by which time Captain Marvel wasn’t making very much money any more, so Fawcett threw in the towel. As part of a settlement, Fawcett agreed to get out of the funnybook business.

That left a UK publisher named L. Miller & Son in a bind. They had been reprinting Captain Marvel material in the UK, and those books were big sellers. So they turned to the preposterously named Mick Anglo to write and draw new Captain Marvel stories, but with a variety of changes to avoid National’s lawyers. Captain Marvel, for example, became Marvelman, Captain Marvel Jr. became Young Marvelman, Mary Marvel became Kid Marvelman, and so forth.

Miller & Son continued publishing Marvelman adventures until 1966 – but Anglo left in 1960, claiming he owned the character. Anglo even published a couple issues of Marvelman with the name changed to “Captain Miracle” – foreshadowing trouble to come.

Which is complicated. Try to follow me here.

In 1982, editor Dez Skinn of UK publisher Quality Communications decided to update the Marvelman concept for an adult audience in Warrior magazine. He brought in a kid named Alan Moore – now one of the most celebrated writers in all comic-dom – and superstar artist Gary Leach to do the job, splitting the rights four ways (including Quality). Later those rights were further split with Leach’s replacement, another superstar artist named Alan Davis.

But evidently Skinn had never gotten the rights in the first place, at least not the ones disputed by Anglo. Further, the lawyers for Marvel Comics, who objected to the word “Marvel” in any title, started making snarly noises. The five putative owners of Marvelman couldn’t come to an agreement on how to proceed, and Marvelman ended with Warrior #21.

Meanwhile, U.S. publisher Eclipse Comics bought some kind of rights from Skinn, and began publishing the Marvelman stories in America, with the word “Miracle” substituting for “Marvel” everywhere, to avoid those snarly Marvel lawyers. When the UK material ran out (with Miracleman #6), Eclipse hired Moore to continue the story. When Moore finished his story (with issue #16), he passed the baton – and whatever rights he possessed – to a kid named Neil Gaiman, another guy who went on to amazing success and acclaim.

Gaiman planned three six-issue “books,” to be titled Golden Age, Silver Age and Dark Age, whereupon the Miracleman story would be finished. But with issue #24, only two issues into the Silver Age “book,” Eclipse went bankrupt. The rights to all its properties, including Miracleman, were bought at auction by Todd “Spawn” McFarlane, another pretty famous guy.

Gaiman started writing for McFarlane’s comics, but maintained that he retained the rights to Miracleman. McFarlane asserted that he owned the rights instead. Guess what happened?

That’s right, another lawsuit! McFarlane and Gaiman went to court in 2001, and that’s where Miracleman has been ever since.

Well, until 2009, when Marvel Comics (them again!) announced they had bought the rights to Marvelman/Miracleman from Mick Anglo (him again!). And in 2013, Marvel announced that it had further buttressed their claim (they didn’t say how), and would begin reprinting Miracleman until the original material ran out, whereupon Gaiman (him again!) would finish the story. Moore (him again!) says he no longer owns any rights, and has insisted his name be left out of the credits (which now refer to him, weirdly, as “The Original Writer”).

Now you may be saying “Is any comic book worth this kind of agita?” And the short answer is “Yes.” I first read Eclipse Miracleman comics in the 1980s, and have never forgotten them. In fact, a number of industry talking heads maintain that no creator ever forgot them, because the amazing creativity, sophisticated suspense, astounding plot twists and stark brutality of the series changed how comics were written. I won’t go that far – I consider the bulk of 1990s comics to be unreadable – but Miracleman was pretty spectacular.

In this story, instead of child radio reporter Billy Batson saying “Shazam” and becoming Captain Marvel, adult newspaper reporter Micky Moran shouts “Kimota” (“atomic” backwards, sorta) to become a superhero on par with Superman. The first issue begins with Moran, who has amnesia about being a superhero that nobody else remembers, suffering from recurring dreams about flying, and an elusive word he can’t remember. When he does re-discover “Kimota,” it sends him on a journey to find out the hows and whys of his transformation, and why nobody remembers Miracleman, which results in one heckuva exciting story, far more than you’d expect from the silly froth Mick Anglo wrote for children.

Moreover, Moran discovers Kid Miracleman had never forgotten his transformational word – and had retained super-powers in secret as he grew up, becoming a murderous sociopath in the process. Only one person has a ghost of a chance of stopping him: Captain Marvel. I mean, Marvelman. I mean, Miracleman!

Or maybe some lawyers. Because, as we’ve seen, the only thing that can reliably stop a superhero is a bajillion lawyers. OK, maybe not a bajillion. But a lot!

Contact Captain Comics at capncomics@aol.com.

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Thanks.  I think trade waiting is the way to go--after all, there are enough issues to reprint before they get to the new stuff that things can still fall apart & leave us hanging again.  Surely, all Bazillion lawyers haven't signed off on everything yet...

I hear you, and Marvel's been so mum on how they acquired the rights -- and what rights those are -- that there's plenty of reason to be nervous.

OTOH, hope springs eternal. I plan to buy whatever upscale collection they come out with, which should have all parts and pieces mentioned, even though I, too, have all the Eclipse books. Eventually, god willing, I'll get the new stuff, and have the complete story.

Figserello said:

LOL. I hadn't thought of the "Irish Englishman" translation anytime I've seen his name. And then when I did see it, just earlier today, I wondered if that was what you meant, as it's kinda of a bit arcane. Still - funny. I guess in the UK 'Paddy' took over as a more common label for the Irish by my time.

(BTW I've heard that 'Mick' originally began to be used as a term of contempt in reference to Michael Barrett, the last person to be hanged in public in the UK - an Irish terrorist? I was told this by someone who'd studied his life story.)

I always thought the slur 'mick' was based upon the erroneous assumption that all Irish names begin with 'Mc ' .

I'm always amazed when the tern "paddy wagon" is used in a TV show, since this dates from the 'no Irish need apply' days in the US. I don't think people get that it's an ethnic slur.

I'm in agreement on all points, Richard.

I've never heard the slur "Mick" used in my lifetime, so either it's evaporated from the culture or it's only used in Northern cities or the West coast or somewhere. But even then, we'd probably hear it on TV if it was still in use. I suspect it's no longer part of the common parlance. At any rate, like you, I had heard or intuited as a boy that it was a reference to so many Irish names beginning with the "Mc" prefix.

The whole "Irish need not apply" era seems almost preposterous now. But it did exist, and now -- as you say -- we have "paddy wagon" in the lingo without most people realizing it began as a slur. (As a child, I thought they were saying "Patty Wagon," and wondered what Patty had done wrong.)

Here in Memphis, there's an area called the Pinch district, which is now something of a restaurant/bar area. But the area got its name because it was once an Irish slum, with a lot of people fresh off the boat fleeing the potato famine. It was called the Pinch district because they were so skinny from starvation -- they had a "pinched" look. I'm not sure that was even meant as a slur -- it could just have been an observation, or shorthand for hungry people from anywhere. At any rate, the word has survived without most people knowing what it means. They probably figure a developer named Pinch was involved, if they think about it at all.

I've kind of...sort of disparaged Miracleman , but I will admit that once a collection comes out, I will probably pick it up. Just for posterity sake.

Heh, heh, heh ... another convert. Soon I shall rule the world!

I've heard the term "mick" growing up in NYC but surprisingly I learned it from an Irish-American classmate. Our little gang from grade school were a mix of Irish, German, Puerto Rican, Italian, Yugoslavian and one Maltese! We called each other all kinds of names which, I'm sure, our parents and teachers, would have disapproved of. Not that we fully understood what the terms really meant at any rate.

As for Miracleman, I have the Eclipse issues, too, though I have not reread them in twenty years at least. They were very disturbing and graphic stories (though I later found out that Alan Moore was in fact very disturbing and graphic!) ;-)

If I had to judge it, I would say that it's beneath Watchmen and Swamp Thing, on par with League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Vol 1 & 2 and V For Vendetta and better than most of his ABC work. (I have a soft spot for Top 10).



Captain Comics said:

I hear you, and Marvel's been so mum on how they acquired the rights -- and what rights those are -- that there's plenty of reason to be nervous.

OTOH, hope springs eternal. I plan to buy whatever upscale collection they come out with, which should have all parts and pieces mentioned, even though I, too, have all the Eclipse books. Eventually, god willing, I'll get the new stuff, and have the complete story.

Over on Heidi MacDonald's Beat site Padraig O'mealoid wrote a series of articles about the ownership of Miracleman/Marvelman called the Poisoned Chalice.  It's quite good and in the comments section of one of the articles Cat Yronwold (sp?) shows up and reveals some startling stuff about Miracleman  and the breakdown of  the eclipse company. Just type chalice in the search bar of the Beat site otherwise the articles are tough to find.

Wow. Interesting stuff!

Richard Willis said:


Captain Comics said:

Heh, heh, heh ... another convert. Soon I shall rule the world!

Just be prepared for me to blast it.

Philip said:

If I had to judge it, I would say that it's beneath Watchmen and Swamp Thing, on par with League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Vol 1 & 2 and V For Vendetta and better than most of his ABC work. (I have a soft spot for Top 10).

I would put it above LoEG, since I didn't like it. The first series at least. I never gave any of the other ones a shot.

I liked LoEG Vol 1 and 2 but felt that the quality slipped afterwards. Mina and Alan are not THAT interesting!

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