On Wednesday, Marvel Comics shipped “Miracleman” No. 1 to 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.
The tale of Miracleman begins, as do most comic-book histories, with the debut of Superman in 1938. That premiere, in “Action Comics” No. 1, sold so many comic books and made so much money that it 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,” using Superman as a template.
National Publications — the publisher of “Action Comics,” now known as DC Comics — took exception. 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 struck again. They charged that Fawcett’s Captain Marvel, a boy who changes into an adult superhero by saying the magic word “Shazam,” was a copyright infringement of Superman.
But Fawcett fought back. And that lawsuit dragged on until 1953, by which time Captain Marvel wasn’t making a lot of money, so Fawcett threw in the towel and got out of the funnybook business. That left UK publisher 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 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.
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.”
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 comic-dom — and superstar artist Gary Leach, 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 noises. The five putative owners of Marvelman couldn’t come to an agreement on how to proceed, and Marvelman ended with “Warrior” No. 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.” When the UK material ran out (with “Miracleman” No. 6), Eclipse hired Moore to continue the story. When Moore finished his story (with issue No. 16), he passed the baton — and whatever rights he possessed — to a kid named Neil Gaiman, who also went on to amazing success.
Gaiman planned three six-issue “books,” to be titled Golden Age, Silver Age and Dark Age, whereupon the Miracleman story would be finished. But only two issues into the Silver Age “book,” Eclipse went bankrupt. The rights to its properties, including Miracleman, were bought by Todd McFarlane, another 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. McFarlane and Gaiman went to court in 2001, where Miracleman languished until 2009, when Marvel Comics announced they had bought the rights to Marvelman/Miracleman from Mick Anglo. 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 would finish the story.