Miracleman. Artist: Howard Chaykin.


Medium: Comic books
Originally published by: Quality Comics
First Appeared: 1982
Creator: Alan Moore
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Comic book writer Alan Moore (Halo Jones, From Hell) made a name for himself during the 1980s, at least partially by creating widespread new interest in old characters by tinkering with the known "facts" about them, thus opening up new and unexpected avenues of development. He started by introducing hitherto-unknown elements into the the origin of DC Comics' Swamp Thing, which turned a perennial second-stringer into a classic. Later, he revised the old Charlton Comics superheroes into the cast of Watchmen, which is also considered a classic. In-between …

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… he turned Marvelman, a lackluster British character of the 1950s, into Miracleman, which some critics consider his greatest classic of all.

Marvelman had been one of a trio of characters — the other two being Young Marvelman and Kid Marvelman — based on the old Captain Marvel schtick of a child or adolescent turning into a big, strong superhero just by saying a magic word. Also like Captain Marvel, he and his fellow Marvels were played for fun, having adventures very young people might enjoy, but which those having had the misfortune of growing up often found boring or annoying. Still, the character was fondly recalled by a generation of Britain's former children — Moore's generation.

Moore's idea was to grow him up, and thus appeal to the same generation as adults. Journalist Michael Moran, formerly Micky Moran, the newspaper copy boy who used the word "kimota!" to become Marvelman, would wake up one day with restored memories of long-forgotten adventures. He found the word still worked, then went about exploring his past. It turned out his memories of those light-hearted adventures had been artificially induced, and he actually spent the 1950s undergoing much more serious and frightening experiences. It also turned out Dicky Dauntless (Young Marvelman) was dead; and Johnny Bates (Kid Marvelman) had chosen not to change back, but instead had grown up with his super powers. Johnny was the major villain during the first story arc.

The basic idea was to explore the superhero concept in a real-world context. It was neither the first nor the last time this was tried. The Stan Lee and Jack Kirby characters of the 1960s tended to have everyday problems and personal foibles to a far greater extent than superheroes had before; and in the '90s, Kurt Busiek's Astro City was more concerned with the effects they had on ordinary people, than with the superheroes themselves. The way it was applied in this case was to examine the effect a person like that would have on the world as a whole, just by his existence.

The concept was developed for Quality Comics, which was completely unrelated to the U.S. company of that name, the one that had introduced Phantom Lady and the comic book version of Uncle Sam. This Quality Comics was a start-up publisher being put together by entrepreneur Dez Skinn, whose pre-launch tasks included negotiating for the Marvelman property. The revised version (drawn by British comic book artist Garry Leach (Dan Dare, Judge Dredd), no relation to the Gary Leach who was editing Disney comics a few years later) debuted in Quality's first release, Warrior #1, where several other series, including Big Ben (the man with "no time for crime"), V for Vendetta (dystopian future adventure, later a movie) and several others were first seen. The cover date of the first issue was March, 1982.

Skinn had succeeeded in acquiring rights to the character from the successors to the long-bankrupt L. Miller & Sons, the former publisher. But it turned out other intellectual property interests were involved. Marvel Comics, the American behemoth that hadn't even been using the name back in the '50s, was now claiming a trademark on all use of the word "Marvel" as part of a comic book title or character name. Bowing to Marvel's pressure, Quality dropped the character after Warrior #21 (August, 1984), with important story points still unresolved.

Moore's contingency plan, in case Skinn failed to get rights to the character, was to call his version "Miracleman" and let it stand as a thinly disguised pastiche. And that's exactly how the situation was handled when the character came to America. Eclipse Enterprises (Airboy, Destroyer Duck) began reprinting the Warrior stories in Miracleman #1 (August, 1985). When the reprints ran out, Eclipse continued with new material, until the story was complete. Because it was experimenting with a new, less expensive printing method, Eclipse was able to sell the early issues at a price virtually unheard-of for an independent publisher, which drove initial sales through the roof.

After Moore had brought the character, and the world around him, to a satisfactory point, he turned the series over to writer Neil Gaiman (The Black Orchid, Sandman). Gaiman continued to develop the concept until Eclipse ceased operations. The last issue was #24, dated June, 1993. Again, the story was left unfinished. A 25th issue was written and drawn, but remained unprinted by the time Eclipse declared bankruptcy. The company's assets, including Miracleman production materials and an interest in the property itself, were eventually acquired by Todd McFarlane, creator of Spawn.

Since then, the character has languished in comic book limbo, despite the fact that interest in him remains very high. What prevents the story being finished (Gaiman had planned nine more issues) is a complex dispute over rights to the character. Originally, ownership was split among Skinn, Moore and Leach. Artist Alan Davis (The Maze Agency, Excalibur), who came along later, also shares in them, as do Gaiman, later artist Mark Buckingham (Batman, Fables) and, through Eclipse, McFarlane. Any or all may or may not own a piece of the character, and the situation is further complicated by completely unrelated copyright issues between Gaiman and McFarlane. The question of whether or not Mick Anglo (Gunhawks, Captain Miracle), creator of Marvelman, has a stake in him remains mostly unexplored.

Should these issues ever be resolved, the completion of the Miracleman story will be well received by readers. But as the years go by, little progress seems to be made.


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Text ©2005-10 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Alan Moore, Howard Chaykin, Eclipse Comics and who knows who else.