Sunday, 5 August 2012

Marvels And Miracles

The History

DC Comics prosecuted Fawcett Comics because the latter's Captain Marvel resembled, and outsold, the former's Superman. When Fawcett stopped publishing Captain Marvel, the imminent cessation of Captain Marvel reprints for British publication generated the new British character, Marvelman. In the US, Timely Comics became Marvel Comics and published a new character called "Captain Marvel." Thus, the name "Marvel" continued in Marvelman, Marvel Comics and the Marvel Comics Captain Marvel.

Later, Marvelman, unable to compete with newly imported American superheroes, ceased publication although his creator, Mick Anglo, briefly revived him first as Captain Miracle, then as Miracleman. Years later, DC Comics re-launched the original Captain Marvel but their comic book starring the character was entitled Shazam to avoid prosecution by Marvel Comics. A Miracleman clearly based on Marvelman cameo-ed in Alan Moore's Captain Britain from Marvel UK. (Captain Britain represents another superhero line of descent from the original Captain America.) Then, Moore revived Marvelman in a deconstructed version for adult readership. Marvel Comics threatened legal action because of the name. Moore's Marvelman ceased publication in Britain and resumed as Miracleman from Eclipse Comics in the US. Moore completed his story-line and was succeeded as writer by Neil Gaiman.

When Eclipse went out of business, the ownership of Marvelman/Miracleman was disputed. Todd McFarlane, claiming ownership, having bought Eclipse characters, but, legally challenged by Gaiman, launched the completely unrelated spin-off, "Man of Miracles." Now Marvel Comics own Marvelman and do not need to change either the character's name or his comic book's title. I gather that Marvel were able to buy Marvelman directly from Mick Anglo because the British publisher of Alan Moore's Marvelman had not owned the character so that neither had Eclipse Comics or McFarlane.

Thus, currently, in July 2010:
DC Comics have, among many other characters, Superman and the original Captain Marvel;
Marvel Comics have, among many other characters, Captain America, Captain Britain, the Marvel Comics Captain Marvel and the original Marvelman;

Todd McFarlane has, among several other characters, the Man of Miracles.

DC and Marvel each have the character that they legally objected to. Captain Marvel ceased publication once, Marvelman twice and the latter, re-named Miracleman, a third time but they and two or three off-shoots are still with us. Alan Moore is incorporating another Mick Anglo character, Captain Universe the Super Marvel, into The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, where he also referred to Marvelman's mentor, Borghelm or Bargholt. 
Questions and Observations

Could Eclipse have retained the character's name by entitling his comic Kimota? ("Shazam," "Kimota" and "El Karim" are the empowering transformation words respectively of Captain Marvel, Marvelman and Captain Miracle.) In any case, the name change was appropriate because both Mick Anglo and Alan Moore, Marvelman's creator and re-creator, had already used the name "Miracleman" for revisions of the character. Also, the new name enabled Gaiman to write a celebratory verse with several rhymes for "miracle."

I remember Superman and Marvelman but not Captain Marvel from the late '50's. The history is longer than the lives of most current readers. Mick Anglo's Marvelman is simplistic and insubstantial but I remember that its visual imagination, with exotic settings and characters, appealed to primary school pupils. It provided material for Moore's adult graphic series in which Johnny Bates transforms into the now thoroughly evil Kid Miracleman because he is being raped by other teenage boys in a care home. What he does to Londoners ensures that "Kidding" becomes a swear word and that "London" becomes the name of an event, like Hiroshima.

It is to be hoped that Marvel Comics will re-publish some more of Mick Anglo's Marvelman, all of Moore's Marvelman/Miracleman and all of Gaiman's Miracleman. This last, apart from being re-re-named "Marvelman," must also be completed because Gaiman's story line was interrupted by Eclipse's bankruptcy as Moore's story line had been interrupted by the termination of the British Warrior magazine.

Superman inspired superheroes in general and the Marvels in particular. Superman reached a culmination in "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?," a "last Superman story" by Alan Moore. Superheroes reached a culmination in Watchmen by Alan Moore. The Marvels reached a culmination in Marvelman by Alan Moore. 

Marvelman addressed not only the nostalgia of those who remembered the original character but also Moore's own understanding of story telling and heroic mythology. The character, like his readers, has grown up and forgotten his earlier adventures. The world is as we knew it to be when reading Warrior in the mid-80's, with conflict in Northern Ireland and cuts to the National Health Service. A derogatory remark about "that woman" is understood in context as referring to the then Prime Minister. Nevertheless, a free lance journalist called Moran somehow remembers his absurd adventures of the late 50's and early 60's. Alan Moore explains this discrepancy without invoking parallel Earths. Decades ago, DC Comics, introducing an impossible-seeming story line, would assure readers that this was "Not a dream! Not a hoax! Not an imaginary story!" Well, Marvelman's powers are real but his earlier adventures were the induced dream of a "para-reality program," a virtual reality contrived with alien technology. Inside the program, the Marvelman Family repeatedly defeats the freakish dwarf genius, Doctor Gargunza, although their fights resemble a game where nothing really bad ever happens.

Outside the program, we learn what a villain like Gargunza would really be like. When he kidnaps the girl who is to become Miraclewoman, he has halvah on his breath. His hand goes inside her shirt and the schoolgirl detective yarn of a foreigner and a car becomes, in her words, "a different story." (1) Later, Gargunza rapes the unconscious Miraclewoman, a pitiful troll mounting a sleeping goddess, while her mind roams freely in a colorful comic book universe. We now "know" that, while Mick Anglo's Marvelman fought Gargunza, Marvelwoman had parallel adventures in para-reality while she was being raped by Gargunza in reality. Meanwhile, Gargunza's employers in British Intelligence contemplate the "mega-death potential of such a creature in an international conflict." (1)

Bates realizes his mega-death potential in London but then the rest of the Miracle Family and their alien allies change the world, incidentally overthrowing all existing governments. In human politics, revolution from above cannot liberate a population because it has to be enforced and will be resisted. But this revolution from above is implemented with superhuman power and receives mass support. When weapons of mass destruction have been teleported into the Sun, when resources from the Solar System have been used to save the terrestrial environment and when money has been abolished, then the mass of the population is happy, former potentates are disinherited and isolated and many thousands volunteer to administer the new regime. In real life, we have to do this ourselves.
Before that, but years after the closure of the real Emil Gargunza's "Project Zarathustra," Michael Moran is an adult, married, insecurely employed, suffering from migraines. He dreams of flying, cannot remember that word ("Kimono? No. Komodo? No. Krakatoa? No. Jesus, this headache."(2)), then has to tell his incredulous wife that he has suddenly remembered living the life of a comic book character. He assures her that, even if everything else he has said sounds like a joke, what happened in 1963 definitely wasn't. The Marvelman Family was hit by an A bomb. Mick Anglo's Marvelman comics ceased publication...

I had noticed inadequacies in superhero comics but would never have imagined this solution which perfectly blends fiction with reality.

(1) Moore, Alan, Miracleman No. 12, , September 1987, Eclipse Comics, Forestville CA, p. 6.
(2) Moore, Alan, Miracleman Book One: A Dream of Flying, Forestville, California, October 1988, p. 10.

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