I’m breaking continuity on Poisoned Chalice, my history of Marvelman, to say something about the current disposition of the character, and particularly to speculate on whether Marvel Comics are actually getting any closer to being able to publish it, as is being suggested around the Internet this past while.
As might be apparent from my previous posts, I like facts. I like to organise the facts into order, and see what they tell us. I generally don’t like to speculate, and I particularly don’t like posts that speculate based on information the writer alleges they have, but can’t reveal the sources for. None the less, that’s exactly what I’m about to do…
The first question to ask is, Who Owns Marvelman? The simple answer to this seems to be that Marvel Comics owns Marvelman. That is to say, they own the rights to the character and his assembled supported cast, as well as the milieu they conduct their adventures in. Or, to be more precise, they own one particular version of Marvelman and cast and milieu, which is the one they acquired from representatives of Mick Anglo Ltd in September 2009, to much general acclaim (obviously there’s a lot of ins and out here I’m brushing straight past, which will be filled in eventually in the ongoing Poisoned Chalice pieces, as we get to them). But Who Owns Marvelman? may not be the most important question here.
The thing is, it’s all very well that Marvel claim to own the 1950s L. Miller & Co / Gower Street Studio / Mick Anglo Ltd version of Marvelman, but that’s not the one most people really want. There are fans of that version of the character, certainly, but they would be in the minority – you only have to look at the sales figures for the Marvel reprints of those comics to see that. The version of Marvelman that the overwhelming majority of people want to see is the 1980s one, the one written – and pretty much completely reimagined – by Alan Moore. So, why can’t they use that one? After all, they own the original Marvelman, so is it not the same thing?
No, it not. Because Moore didn’t just use the pre-existing Marvelman characters and milieu, he added a few elements of his own, and one of these elements is the key to his version of the character.
The key to the 1980s Marvelman can actually be found in Moore’s original 1981 pitch to Dez Skinn, as reproduced in George Khoury’s Kimota! The Miracleman Companion (TwoMorrows, 2001), where he says (as quoted here),
The superhero genre is an offshoot of science fiction (amongst other things), and good sci-fi usually runs according to certain established laws. To my mind the most important of these is that the fantasy in any given story should stem from one divergence from reality. [...] If my Marvelman is going to fit logically into a gritty and realistic nineteen eighties then the character should at least have some pretence of credibility. Thus all the fantasy in the strip stems from one point… the crashing of an alien spacecraft in 1948. Everything else follows on from that.
That alien spaceship was being piloted by a member of the interstellar Qys race, the ancient enemies of the Warpsmiths, and the technology that Dr Emil Gargunza found there is what he used to create Marvelman and his companions, Young Marvelman and Kid Marvelman. And none of this had been in the original 1950s Marvelman stories. (For more details, go read this.)
So, that ‘one divergence’ of Moore’s, that contact between Earth and the alien Qys, is the linchpin on which the 1980s Warrior version of Marvelman hangs, and Marvel can’t proceed with their plans for the character unless they own the rights to it. Which they don’t.
Or do they?
The Warpsmiths and the Qys were owned between them by Alan Moore and Garry Leach, and were always mentioned separately in any contractual assignment of Marvelman. Although Alan Moore has signed contracts with Marvel for them to use his Marvelman work as long as they take his name off it, this doesn’t mean he had assigned them any rights to the Warpsmith property, and they have no rights to use the characters in any subsequent work. So, they’re stuck, aren’t they? No, perhaps not.
I am starting to hear stories from sources I cannot possibly name that Marvel have bought out Garry Leach’s rights, not only to all his Marvelman work, presumably including any new characters he co-created with Moore along the way, but also the 50% rights share he has in the Warpsmiths property. And, as has been seen in the recent Superman court cases and, ironically, also mentioned in the context of Neil Gaiman bringing the Angela character to Marvel’s Age of Ultron, 50% is enough to allow them to exploit the property, as long as they reimburse the owner of the remaining 50% fairly for that use.
So, is that it? Do Marvel finally have everything they need to proceed with their exploitation of one of the most talked about characters in comics’ history? No, of course not, as there’s still a number of things for them to get control of. But they’re much closer to it than they were. Perhaps all those times when Marvel said that Marvelman was ‘coming soon’ will finally come true. Although, having said that, I thought that might be the case about a year ago, too…
on Friday March 22nd, Kiel Phegley interviewed Marvel Comics’ Editor-in-Chief Axel Alonso on CBR:
Kiel Phegley: Lastly, with Neil writing and new characters appearing, this brings up the perpetual Marvelman question. Are we any closer to actually seeing this character show up in the Marvel U[niverse]?
Axel Alonso: We are, but I can’t say more.
And then there’s that intriguing quote on Bleeding Cool from artist Mark Buckingham at FablesCon, where he told them to ‘Wait six months’. So, were things moving at last? Was he getting ready to take up his pencils again, and to finally finish the story that he and Neil Gaiman started in June 1990? Once again, no. It seems the questioner should have stuck around for a longer answer.
To the original story, Bleeding Cool added this clarification from Buckingham a day later:
Just to clarify, before people get a little too excited, I’ve been saying the same thing to people ever since Marvel caught me by surprise with their big announcement of signing a deal with Mick Anglo’s people to bring Marvelman to Marvel. That was at the ‘Cup’o’Joe’ panel at SDCC way back in 2009. They caught me by surprise with that.
To be honest, nothing has really changed since then and no one has spoken to me directly from Marvel in quite a while. They reprinted lots of the lovely old Marvelman books but have remained quiet regarding the Miracleman material.
I’ve been telling people over a pint ‘maybe in six months’ or ‘I hope to hear something soon’ ever since.
I think most people know that, next to working with Bill [Willingham] on Fables, the one other project that means the most to me has always been working with Neil on Miracleman. We never finished our story and I really hope we will have a chance to return to it one day. But it is still just a hope at the moment.
After 20 years of waiting my enthusiasm for the MM book and working with Neil remains undiminished. The truth is, as was the case back in 2009, if Marvel do finally announce his return the little bleeders will probably find out before me.
…so perhaps the full quote, if someone had bothered to wait for it, would have been ‘Wait six months, then ask me again’…? It certainly seems that, not for the first time, Mark Buckingham was a witness to events, rather than their knowing instigator.
So, there you have it. It’s been 1348 days – or 3 years, 8 months, 9 days, if you prefer – since Marvel announced they owned Marvelman on the 24th of July 2009. Marvelman may be coming back, and Marvel may finally own the one thing they need to make that happen. But is any of this true?
Today, the 1st of April 2013, is both April Fool’s Day, when we attempt to deceive people into believing what isn’t true, and Easter Monday, when we celebrate the fact that a great man has risen from the dead.