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The Curious Case of Marvelman

He’s Back! But Does Anybody Care?

By Chad Derdowski     April 07, 2010
Source: Mania


Comicscape: Marvelman
© Mania

Last year, Marvel Comics Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada dropped a bombshell: Marvel had purchased the rights to Mick Anglo’s Marvelman. Long bound by legal wrangling and red tape more powerful than Kryptonite and more confusing than the most complex superhero continuity, Marvelman had acquired something of a mythic status over the years. The character began life as a British replacement for (some might say a rip-off of) Captain Marvel when Fawcett Comics discontinued the series following a legal dispute with National Comics Publications (later known as DC Comics). The long and short of it is this: Captain Marvel was outselling Superman and National was pissed. So, doing what any red-blooded American would do, they sued Fawcett for copyright infringement. The funny thing about this is that Superman is widely considered to have been inspired by Philip Wylie’s novel Gladiator and while the lawsuit against Fawcett was still pending, many elements of the Captain Marvel comic were adopted by Superman, including the ability to fly and a teenage version of the character… so it’s sort of like a rip-off suing someone else for ripping them off and then ripping off the thing they’re claiming ripped them off.

Anyway, trials and appeals followed with the end result being that Fawcett and National settled out of court and Fawcett ceased publication of their supehero titles. There’s a whole lot more to the story and we could easily write a series of articles about the lawsuit, but that’s not what we’re here for today.

When Fawcett ceased publication of Captain Marvel in 1954, an enterprising publisher named Len Miller, who had been reprinting the Captain’s adventures in the U.K., didn’t want to lose a good thing so he turned to Mick Anglo to come up with a replacement. Thus was born Marvelman, a young reporter with a alliterative name who, upon speaking a magic word, became Marvelman! He was accompanied by his own Marvel Family of sorts, including Young Marvelman and Kid Marvelman. The comics ran until 1963 and as far as we know, were pretty much just run-of-the-mill old-timey superhero comics of the day. We don’t really know for sure because we’ve never read them. But that’s a whole other lawsuit.

So in 1982, the British monthly anthology Warrior started publishing new Marvelman stories written by a young Alan Moore (perhaps you’ve heard of him). The resulting work was a post-modern deconstructionist story, the kind of thing that Moore excelled at. But this was before he did it in Watchmen and even before he did it in Swamp Thing. It’s sort of like Moore-Prime and it began the “how would superheroes affect the real world” type of storytelling that we still see in comics today. A lot of confusion regarding who actually owned the character soon followed, which included Todd McFarlane, Neil Gaiman, Mick Anglo himself and even Eclipse Comics. It’s long and confusing and we won’t even pretend to understand how it got so mixed up in the first place. Maybe someday someone will write a book about it, but for now we’re more concerned with Marvelman’s future rather than his past.

 

The Holy Grail

So the bottom line is this: Alan Moore’s work on Marvelman is much lauded and the folks who’ve read it put it up on the highest shelf of Must-Read-Comics. Problem is, the stuff’s been out of print for so long, hardly anybody’s read it. So when Quesada announced that Marvel had acquired the rights to the character, the first thing on everyone’s mind was “Oh hell yeah – I’m finally gonna get to read that Moore stuff!” But to date, Marvel has made no announcement regarding the reprinting of this legendary work. June will see the release of a Marvelman Primer and in July we’ll get a hardcover collection of the old Mick Anglo strips… which is all well and good. Regular Comicscape readers know that we get as giddy as schoolgirls over old-timey comics and we’ll be first in line to buy ‘em. But even though we might be excited, will anyone else be? Let’s face it, it’s not like fanboys are rushing out to buy those old Green Lama reprints. Sure it’s an interesting novelty, but honestly, no one really cares; they want to read the Moore stuff and until Marvel’s legal team gets all that stuff figured out, we have to assume this is all going to amount to a whole lot of nothing.

We’re fairly certain Marvel will take care of it, if they haven’t already, and the Holy Grail of Comics will finally be accessible to the common fan. With Disney’s money backing them, they can probably buy their way out of a contract with the Devil written in Stan Lee’s blood. But that begs another question… then what happens?

 

Putting it in Context and Sentry Speculation

When all is said and done and fans finally get the opportunity to read Marvelman, will it live up to the hype? Or will fanboys simply smirk and say “Yeah, I’ve already read a superhero deconstruction story by the same guy and it was better than this one!” After all, this is Moore’s first attempt at breaking down the superhero myth and while it’s no doubt amazing, it may not live up to the standard he’s set in ensuing years. Will the artwork of a young Garry Leach and Alan Davis hold up to their later, more polished works? Will Marvelman simply be filed under “Well, that was quaint. Now I’m going to go re-read Watchmen.”? Or will they be able to put the whole thing in context and realize the historical significance of this work? We’d love to weigh in on the topic, but the truth is – we haven’t read it either. Do you think we can afford those books?

And that brings us to our final question. What about The Sentry?

What about him? Like Marvelman, The Sentry is a product of government testing, has nearly infinite powers as well as a whole bunch of messed up mumbo jumbo inside his brain. Both are forgotten heroes and if you’ve ever read the original Sentry mini-series by Paul Jenkins and Jae Lee, you’ll probably come to the conclusion that The Sentry is really just Marvel’s attempt to introduce Marvelman (or at least, their own version of him) into the Marvel U. So what if The Sentry really is Marvelman? Hey… Marvel does own the rights to the character now.

So in the end, we’re left with nothing but speculation and the possibility of a rip-off of a character who began life as a rip-off after the owners of a character who was ripped-off of another character sued someone for ripping them off. Even in the real world, comic book continuity is confusing. So what do you think, Maniacs? Are you excited at the prospect of Marvelman? Indifferent? Confused and bored? Sound off!

COMMENTS AND RESPONSES

Showing items 1 - 10 of 12
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thecheckeredman 4/7/2010 6:30:25 AM

Thi is one of those properties I feel like has always been on the fringe of my radar...a curio rather than a must-have.  Here's hoping Joe and Marvel can get their legal eagles to uncoil the rights and get us both the original works as well as the Moore and Gaimen era...

I can't say my opinion on the whole Sentry issue carries much weight, the Sentry...the Big Two over the past 3-5 years has been a big let down so I really have no vested interest in the Sentry at all...I don't know why but something...my gut feeling dislikes the Sentry is Marvelman concept...I dunno...

 

Blackwolf 4/7/2010 8:48:33 AM

 Okay! there is Blue Marvel (A black man who is equal in power to Sentry who you will never see again because he is a black man with powers equal to Sentry) Sentry: A nut bag Superman and now Marvel Man another possible nut bag hero who is more powerful than any current hero in the Marvel U.....Good luck with that let me know how that works out.

Rheul_home 4/7/2010 8:49:32 AM

Marvelman never really carried any interest for me. I file him in the same bin a The Spirit. Something form the past that in its day was ahead of its time... Mostly irrevilant now. I just dont care. With the price of comics these days I just cant see myself jumping into this. If he turns out to be Sentry cool if not... I really dont care.

lister 4/7/2010 9:26:31 AM

If M.M. turns out to be the Sentry, then "cool"? Oh, that makes my heart sink.

I think mixing MarvelMan into 616 is a mistake, but tainting MarvelMan with the stain that is The Sentry is an even bigger mistake. Why pollute something so removed and pure unto itself with something so reviled?

The only thing worse would be having MarvelMan turn out to be the Red Hulk.

Jasinner 4/7/2010 9:48:11 AM

 I can skip the original run, but I have read two non sequential issues of Moore's run and I must have it all. Even out of context I could see that proto-Moore was still as talented as he was in his prime. It's true that it's a story he and so many others have told many times but this is more or less the birth of superhero deconstruction. I really couldn't care less about the whole Senrty thing and what they do with MiracleMan's future all I care about is getting my hands on Moore and Gaiman's teeth cutting.

agentkooper 4/7/2010 9:53:59 AM

Lister -

Not cool on the Red Hulk idea.  Loeb might be reading.

I desperately wanted to read Marvelman a year ago and did something illegal.  I downloaded it.  I have to say, it is one hell of a great read.  I'm looking forward to making amends by purchasing the collection when it releases some day in the distant future.

As for bringing him into 616... why?  What the hell does Marvel need a Superman for?  We can always have a Squadron Supreme (either JMS MAX or old school, not that crap Marvel pumps out on occasion now) crossover if it's that big of a deal.

HunterRose 4/7/2010 10:05:28 AM

As a comic book fan, I'll give it a shot to see if it peeks my interest. I would love to get a chance to read Moore and Gaiman's run to see what the hype is all about.

cdale78 4/7/2010 1:55:12 PM

I read the first 6 issues of Moore's run 3 or 4 years ago and don't remember being that impressed.  Could be that it was something that was ahead of it's time, but seems run of the mill with the quality of today's comics.  Either way I don't think he should be incorporated into the Marvel U.  Keep him separate.  The Sentry is bad enough. 

ChadDerdowski 4/7/2010 1:57:01 PM

I hope no one has mistaken my speculation for desire.  I think Lister said it best - there's no need to pollute something so removed and so pure.  While I think it would be a clever idea to have Sentry turn out to be Marvelman, there's really no need to include MM in the 616 at all.

cdale78 4/7/2010 2:52:15 PM

Is there anyone still reading Red Hulk?  If so, please give me your money so that I can buy Guardians of the Galaxy instead, since it's on the chopping block

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