Marvel Gets Their Man – The End of the Great Marvelman Rights Saga?

So Marvel Comics have bought the rights to the classic Marvelman character (known as Miracleman in the US) from original creator Mick Anglo? Interesting. Very interesting. Given the rather “colourful” legal history between Marvel and the folks who worked on Marvelman/Miracleman throughout the 1980’s and early 1990’s, if the situation wasn’t so ironic, it would be hilarious. That Marvel would’ve ended up the saviours of Marvelman? I can barely believe it myself.

The classic Alan Moore reinterpretation of the original 1950’s Marvelman first appeared in the famous British monthly comic Warrior back in 1982, and was later reprinted and continued as Miracleman (I’ve always greatly preferred the original name “Marvelman” over “Miracleman”) by Eclipse Comics. It is my all-time favourite superhero strip, by a huge margin. I also rate the Neil Gaiman version which continued on directly from Moore’s version very highly, if, perhaps, not quite so highly as Moore’s.

Coming at a time when the Bronze Age (which I had been a huge fan of) at Marvel and DC was starting to seriously run out of steam, Marvelman was the precursor to a new breed of superhero comic. It was the first of its kind, and started a storm which was to change the entire comics landscape during the ’80s, leading directly to classics such as the Watchmen and the Dark Knight Returns. We didn’t know that at the time, of course, although it all seems so obvious now, but everything is always 20/20 in hindsight. But after being raised since childhood on a diet of classic British comics and Silver and Bronze Age Marvel’s and DC’s, all I knew at the time was that Marvelman was absolutely mind-blowingly incredible, and I had never seen anything like it before.

I have all the issues of the original Warrior, and it didn’t just contain Marvelman, but also a few other classic strips, including another all-time favourite written by Alan Moore, the original V for Vendetta. I liked V for Vendetta a lot, but Marvelman was by far my favourite. I distinctly recall my anger, rage and total disbelief when the strip was dropped from Warrior after about twenty issues, due to the legal wrangling with Marvel over the name. I was absolutely livid. The best superhero strip I had ever read, cut short due to petty legal squabbles.

When Warrior folded a half a dozen issues later, and I saw that mainstream comics had nothing left of quality to offer (or, rather, nothing to offer ME), I dropped out of comics in disgust for over a decade. I didn’t find out until many years later that Eclipse Comics had reprinted and continued the Marvelman story, now rechristened Miracleman (due again to continued legal wrangling with Marvel), during my time away from comics.

I came back into comics full-time again around 1997 or so, and I’ve spent the years since tracking down the Eclipse series, and now have the entire 24-issue run, with the exception of the classic Miracleman -vs- Kid Miracleman finale in Issue 15. I also have the 3-issue Apocrypha mini-series, and the Apocrypha trade paperback, plus two of the four collected trade paperbacks of the main series. The original collected editions haven’t been available for years now, and collectors are paying exorbitant prices for them. The trade paperbacks frequently go for £70-£80 or higher on, where, at this very moment, a hardcover of Book 1, A Dream of Flying, is asking for a Buy It Now price of £175, and the hardcover of Book 2, The Red King Syndrome, an incredible Buy It Now price of £375. As much as I love Marvelman/Miracleman, I wouldn’t pay these ridiculous prices for them, particularly since I already have the entire run (bar one) of the Eclipse series.

Eclipse went bust in 1994, and, since that time, Marvelman/Miracleman has remained in limbo, the focus of one of the longest running, most complicated, and bitter legal conflicts over character rights in the comics world. This dispute got even worse when Todd McFarlane acquired the rights to the bankrupt Eclipse properties in 1996, and it has dragged on, year after year. The issue of who owned the rights to which part of the character has always been a muddied minefield, with so many different individuals involved in the matter, each claiming to own a share – Quality Communications/Dez SkinnAlan MooreNeil GaimanGarry LeachAlan DavisMark BuckinghamTodd McFarlane, and the original creator, Mick Anglo (dunno if I missed anyone – like I said, it’s a really confusing mess). It got so bad that for years most of us were none the wiser as to who really owned what.

In recent years, the legal situation seems to have been resolved, with the courts settling in favour of original Marvelman creator, Mick Anglo. Despite the grumblings of Todd McFarlane, it’s emerged that Quality Communications had never owned the rights to Marvelman in the first place, and that they still resided with Anglo, which make’s all the other creators’ claims to ownership of the character null and void. Considering the legal quagmire over rights that the character has been mired down in for years, now that they’ve been bought up by Marvel, we might just see an end to the endless legal wrangling that has kept Marvelman in limbo for so long.

That is, unless Todd McFarlane somehow manages to kick up a legal fuss of some kind, if he has any legal legs left to stand on. I would assume that any trademark rights he may own, if any, relate only to the Eclipse character Miracleman, not the original Marvelman. But even with Marvel buying the rights to the character from Mick Anglo, the legal situation still isn’t completely crystal-clear. They might have the rights to the 1950’s/1960’s version, but what about the 1980’s Moore/Gaiman version, which is the real jewel in the crown? We do know that Marvel has been discussing plans for the character and its stories with Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Alan Davis and Mark Buckingham. I guess we’ll just have to wait to find out exactly what they’ve agreed on.

However Marvel may decide to revitalize Marvelman, I’m just hoping that they do the character justice, and don’t make a complete mess of it. I would dearly love to see Alan Moore revisit his best-ever (in my opinion) creation, but that seems highly unlikely. It would also be great to see Neil Gaiman and Mark Buckingham get to finish their original run on the comic, completing the trilogy of stories that they were in the thick of, and closing out the unfinished Silver Age, and the final Dark Age sequences that they were working on when Eclipse went to the wall. The fact that they had at least another full issue (or more) completed (but never published) before Eclipse went bust has kept hard-core fans chomping at the bit for years to see this unfinished work. And I’m one of those hard-core fans. The hardest of the hard.

But if none of the above happens, and if they were to start from a completely clean slate, Marvel really would need to bring out their big guns for their new acquisition, given the importance of the character, and put together a massive creative team to give it their best shot. A writer of the caliber of Joe StraczynskiWarren EllisKurt Busiek, Mark MillarGrant Morrison (now THAT would be ironic, considering the slating he gave Moore over Marvelman back in the day), would be an absolute must. Absolutely no second stringers or hacks – this revival has the importance and potential to be one of the biggest events of the decade, so don’t fumble the ball, Marvel, please. Pick a top-notch writer and pair him with an artist of equal standing, and make sure they stay on the strip. Avoid the instability of creative teams constantly chopping and changing, something which would surely guarantee the failure of the new title.

Whatever happens with Marvel, the current situation has to be better than the stalemate the character has been trapped in for fifteen years. Even if they make a total disaster of their new version (and fingers crossed that they don’t), I’m really hoping that we will, at last, be able to get regular reissues of the classic 1980’s strips in trade paperback or hardcover. I’d dearly love to see a huge hardcover omnibus edition with the entire Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman run, plus the Apocrypha mini-series and other bits ‘n’ pieces thrown in as extras. And, who knows, maybe, somewhere down the line, even reprints of the original Mick Anglo strips. Please, please, please. Here’s hoping.

That is, unless Toddy or some other gremlin doesn’t manage to throw yet another spanner in the works, re-starting the old legal merry-go-round and consigning our hero to limbo once again. For all fans of Marvelman, I really, really hope not. Let’s have this fantastic, ground-breaking character back in circulation again. A generation of comic fans – all but the most determined collectors – have been deprived of one of the greatest superhero strips of all time. It’s well beyond time for him to be back in the public eye again, receiving the recognition and adulation that he so richly deserves.

Marvelman deserves to be up there with The Watchmen, V for Vendetta, The Dark Knight Returns, and the other 1980’s mega-classics of the comics medium. He’s the equal of any of them, and, in my opinion, the best of the lot.

Reborn #1 and Marvel’s “Hard Sell” Tactics – A Step Too Far?

I’m rarely surprised these days by any of the seemingly ceaseless dirty goings-on in the comics industry, particularly the never-ending merry-go-round of hype and sneaky “crossover” tricks that the Big Two (Marvel and DC) use to con us into buying their (mostly rubbish) titles each month. But the latest issue of Marvel Previews contains possibly the newest “low” in a long line of questionable tactics employed by Marvel in their eternal attempts to part us from our hard-earned pennies.

It centres around the first issue of a new, upcoming five-part Marvel mini-series, known only as Reborn, which, apparently, is the next Big Event in the Marvel Universe. Leaving aside the fact that I dislike these Big Events intensely, and avoid them like the plague – they’re so common these days, and mean so little now that they have no real impact or meaning anymore (why the hell can’t we just have normal, decent stories, without everything having to be Yet Another Boring, Bland and Irrelevant Marvel Big Event or Crossover?) – there’s something new about this one that disturbs me like none before it has.

There’s always a certain amount of secrecy involved in the run-ins to these Big Events, as the publishers don’t want to give away too much, too soon. But there’s also always some information available, just enough to whet our appetites or to let us know enough about it that we can decide whether or not we want to buy it. But in the case of this new Reborn mini-series, there’s an incredibly high level of secrecy involved, way beyond anything we’ve seen before. Marvel won’t give us any information. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Not the slightest clue what it’s about or who’s in it.

They’re messing with our heads. We’re expected to buy it without knowing anything about it, like we have to take Marvel’s word that it’s gonna be great. Like we’re dumb shits who can’t be trusted to make up our own minds, mindless sheep who will pay up without question for anything that they throw at us. They regard their customers with total contempt, arrogantly assuming that if they tell us absolutely nothing about this new “event”, we’ll all be so overcome with anticipation that we’ll rush out in droves to buy it.

Well, guess what Marvel? No thank you. At least from this particular customer. Some of us have enough intelligence to know when we’re being insulted and manipulated, and I, personally, feel really insulted and irritated when confronted by cynical con-man “hard sell” tactics. And this new Marvel selling tactic stinks. It bugs me, I mean REALLY bugs me, extremely, big time, with lashings of cream on top.

The vile stench of cold, hard, cynical manipulation of comics buyers by the marketing department of one of the so-called “leading lights” of the comics industry is positively nauseating. As a long-term Marvel junkie – I’ve been buying their comics for four decades now, and more than 75% of my $400+ monthly comics spending goes into the Marvel coffers – I find this level of sneaky, underhand, taking-for-granted manipulation of their ultra-loyal customer base totally repulsive. At this moment I’m thoroughly disgusted and ashamed to be a Marvel fan.

And it isn’t just the lowly customers. Marvel are also keeping comics retailers in the dark about Reborn, a fact that shocks and surprises even me. They’re being messed around even more than we are, since they’re expected to pay handsomely and upfront for the honour of stocking a whole bunch of these (non-returnable) Reborn #1 thingies, unseen, and all just on Marvel’s say-so. Well, at least one of these retailers is really pissed off about it (and good fer him).

Yesterday I received this rather interesting email from my friend and esteemed comics supplier Jack Curtin (well worth a visit). I’d urge you to click on the link for Savage Critic and have a read for yourselves:

“Those of you who became pals with Brian Hibbs back in the CIS days, might appreciate seeing this…

Much of what Brian Hibbs says in his article echoes my own sentiments. I recall Brian from my days on the Compuserve Comics & Animation Forum (known as CAF to long term members and ex-members), although he probably wouldn’t remember me, and I’m not one bit surprised he’s taken this stand. He’s definitely one of the good guys, and we need more like him in the business.

On the Reborn #1 thing, Marvel is treating both its retailers and customers with astonishing arrogance and contempt, and it’s absolutely refreshing to see a comics retailer act on his conscience by telling them to sod off, thankyouverymuch, rather than letting greed rule his head. Far too often, single-minded greed is sadly the bottom line for too many retailers out there.

It’s not a question of whether or not retailers will shift all the copies of Reborn #1 on the shelves. It’ll probably sell by the truckload. Rather, it’s the principle of the thing, and we need far more people emulating Brian Hibbs, retailers sacrificing a few sales and customers a refusing en masse to buy this particular title, just to let Marvel know in no uncertain terms that they can’t treat us all like shit. Most importantly, we have to make darned sure that this despicable new sales tactic they’ve employed does NOT become accepted industry practice.

Boy, do I hate these Big Companies… Speaking as a customer, I myself will definitely not be buying Reborn on principle, whether or not it might be my cup of tea (probably not, being a Big Event thing), and despite the fact that I usually like the work of both Ed Brubaker and Bryan Hitch. Even if I really, really want to have it, I’m still sticking to my guns and refusing to buy it, either in comic book or trade paperback form, precisely and solely because of Marvel’s new selling tactics.

Nor will I buy ANY other Marvel title employing the same approach. And if they adopt it as a general marketing tactic, I will boycott their entire range – and believe me, I do not say this lightly, since I’m a die-hard Marvel fan and the bulk of my comics spending goes on their products. But I’m sure there are a lot of deserving indies and small press titles out there who who be glad of a larger chunk of my monthly $400.

In my case, Marvel’s new “hard sell” has backfired, badly, and I reckon (at least I hope) it’ll also backfire with a sizeable percentage of the customer base. When I read the Reborn entry in the current Marvel Previews, my only thought was “BASTARDS!!! They can take Reborn and stick it where the sun don’t shine”. I make a point of reading Previews each month solely to get information on upcoming releases, so I can make up my own mind on exactly what I’ll be ordering. Marvel’s refusal to give any information whatsoever about Reborn prevents me from doing just that, at least in the case of Reborn. So I won’t be buying it, simple as that.

I really am quite livid at what I see as Marvel’s latest, and possibly most blatantly cynical and arrogant attempt to hook and reel in the Marvel Faithful. Most of the obsessive Marvel Lemmings will most likely just behave like crack addicts, and buy this thing in droves, so Marvel will see the new approach as being successful, at least in terms of sales. But I’m sincerely hoping that enough of the more discerning general readership may just see through this cynical marketing ploy, and that there’ll be some kind of backlash.

We badly need a lot of retailers and readers to do the Right Thing for once, giving Reborn #1 a well-deserved raised middle finger, and sending an emphatic message to Marvel that they really should quit messing around with their customers and retailers, the people who have made them what they are.

If this doesn’t happen, and, unfortunately, there’s a strong chance that it won’t, since most comic fans are mindless sheep – no offense intended to the more intelligent and discerning minority, nor to the younger readers, who haven’t yet learned about the cynical side of the comics industry – I anticipate lots of bad shit descending upon us down the road a bit if Marvel continues on this path, and DC and others start to follow in line.

It looks like a certain greedy company has forgotten the very stark and costly lesson provided by the implosion of the industry back in the ’90s. But remember this, Marvel. Piss off enough customers, and history might just repeat itself. Biting the hand that feeds you is not a good long-term business practice.

I’m sincerely hoping that many, many more retailers will follow the brave lead set by Brian Hibbs, and refuse to order Reborn #1. For once, please, think longer term, beyond the extra bit of money you’ll bring in for the few weeks that Reborn is the new Big Event on the block. Take a stand, ‘cos even if it costs a few bucks now, it may just cost a heckuva lot more in the future if you don’t. Send a loud, clear message to Marvel that the Direct Market should never be abused in this way, and that this kind of behaviour simply will not be tolerated. My most fervent hope is that this cynical, underhanded game-playing blows up completely in Marvel’s greedy face.

Did I mention that I hate these Big Companies? They’re a lot like the Ferengi in Star Trek: The Next Generation and DS9. To them, Profit is God, and they’ll use every low-down trick in the book to bleed us dry. If they’re allowed to, that is. The Big Guys really do need the occasional swift, hard kick in the nuts to bring them right back down to Planet Earth. Be warned – apathy and mindless subservience to Marvel now on the part of retailers and collectors will reap lots of pain for all of us later on down the road.

It takes guys in the industry like Brian Hibbs to bring this sort of thing to the public’s attention, to get us all to sit up and take notice, because most people are, lets face it, apathetic and easy-going at the best of times. So a big Thank You to Brian, and, come Friday night, when I’m in the pub with my mates, enjoying the music of a decent local rock band, and imbibing a few glasses of the old liquid pick me up, I’ll make sure to take a minute or two out to toast Brian’s good health.

I wish there were a lot more like him in the comics industry.

Silver Surfer: Requiem

One of my current favourite comics is a four-part mini-series published under the Marvel Knights imprint, Silver Surfer: Requiem. The series is is written by none other than J. Michael Straczynski himself (yep, he of Babylon 5 fame), and the beautiful, painted art is by Esad Ribic, someone whom I haven’t come across before, but I’ll certainly sit up and take notice if I see the name again.

As you might have guessed, the overarching theme of the mini-series is the impending death of the Silver Surfer, due to the molecular disintegration of the silver “skin” which covers his body, and which is part of him, right down to the deepest level of his nervous system. Even Reed Richards, one of the smartest humans on the planet, can do nothing to help. So the Surfer, in his own stoic, pragmatic fashion, resolves to accept his coming fate, and enjoy his remaining time to the utmost. He hops on his surfboard, and heads off into the big blue (or black) yonder, to see as much as there is to see of the world and universe before he dies.

So far, there have been three parts published out of the four, and each issue is a separate-but-linked segment of the whole story. The first part deals with the visit to Reed Richards, who confirms the diagnosis of the illness, with a bit of a recap of the Surfer’s origin and the fateful adventure in which he rebelled against Galactus and sided with the Fantastic Four and the people of Earth against his former master. The second revolves around a fascinating encounter with Spider-Man, with a nice ending to that segment of the story. And the third issue takes the Surfer away from Earth out to the stars, where he gets involved in a “Sacred War” between two interplanetary races.

The series looks beautiful, and is very well written (as you’d expect with Straczynski at the helm). What I really like about it is the way it deals with people, examining with a critical eye both the beauty and the ugly flaws of humanity (even when the “humanity” is two alien races), the religious fanaticism, the aggression, and the corruption and greed of powerful rulers. Powerful stuff.

Excellent story so far. Can’t wait for the fourth and final segment of the mini-series.

Eternals by Neil Gaiman and John Romita, Jr.

I tend not to follow modern mainstream Marvel or DC comics at all these days. With the exceptions of the various collections of Silver and Bronze Age material and the occasional, very rare, collection of modern material by authors that I like (Ed Brubakker, Warren Ellis, Mark Waid, Mark Millar, Kurt Busiek, James Robinson and a few others), they do absolutely nothing for me. Compared to the glory days of the Silver and Bronze Ages, the quality of new comics output by both companies is generally absolutely abysmal these days.

But every once in a while they do come out with something worthwhile, something a little different, like a brand-new kind of superhero story, or a high quality reimagining of an old one. One of the better “reboots” of a classic superhero comic that I’ve read in recent years was Eternals, a seven-part mini series produced by Marvel Comics, written by Neil Gaiman, and with art by John Romita, Jr.

This is a reimagining of Jack Kirby’s old Eternals title from the 1970s and early 1980s, and elevates what was really a second or third rate (although fun) Bronze Age Marvel series to true “classic” status. Although the original was an interesting enough series in its own right (and I myself almost always prefer the originals over reboots), in my opinion, Kirby was well past his best when he worked on it, and it showed.

I know that the purists will be screaming “BLASPHEMY!!” from the roof-tops at these comments, but I cannot emphasize just by how much this modern, “Gaiman-ized” version of the Eternals completely blows the original out of the water. Gaiman takes the original concepts and story and runs with it all, creating a fresh new look at the original, a more adult (in the good sense) story, and great characters. What else would you expect from Neil Gaiman?. All of the original characters, both protagonists and antagonists, get a real make-over in this new version.

The Deviants, in particular, are given the expert Gaiman treatment. These were the one-dimensional, bad-guy cannon-fodder in the original series. Now they’ve been fleshed out, made more three-dimensional, and given a lot more depth, darkness and outright menace. The two lead Deviant antagonists are a nasty team altogether, obviously modelled on Vandemar and Croup, Gaiman’s own creations, the two vicious assassins in his classic novel Neverwhere. These two are by far my favourite characters in the entire story.

Romita’s excellent art also sets off Gaiman’s writing perfectly, and the series was published in a number of variant covers (most by Romita) that all collectors will want to grab. I usually am NOT a fan of the multiple “variant cover” nonsense, but I made a point of grabbing most of these, because the Romita covers are so good.

I won’t spoil things by revealing details of the story itself. Just go buy it. The series was collected in both hardcover and trade paperback. I bought both, and I’d definitely recommend grabbing a copy of the trade paperback, at least. I’d say that anyone who is not a hardcore original Kirby Eternals “purist” should enjoy this one.