Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Reprint This! 14. Marvelman

UPDATE: Marvel Comics have obtained the rights and are reissuing the series, with new coloring, as both periodicals and collected hardback editions.

Reprint This! is a periodic feature where I talk about some out-of-print comic book gems that are not available in collected form for readers to enjoy. This is hoping to let rights owners know that, yes, readers are out here, and we'd like to buy the things we can't get at this time!

Despite such an enormous variety of books available these days, and genuine efforts to present the material in reasonably-priced, archival volumes, there are still countless fabulous series from the US, Britain and Japan which are overdue for new editions. I've selected two dozen titles which should be on bookshelves, but at this time are not.

One title that is near the top of everybody's reprint wish list is the lawsuit-laden, litigation-heavy story of MARVELMAN. This series, originated by Alan Moore and Garry Leach, originally appeared in the black and white British anthology title Warrior before evolving into a color American comic. But it was based on a much older property, and the companies that published Marvelman in the 1980s have all had their assets and intellectual property rights divided among so many squabbling parties that this, of the 25 series I propose in the Reprint This! feature, may be the least likely of them all to ever reappear, despite the public desire to see it again...

The character of Marvelman was created in late 1953 by Mick Anglo, a writer for a British publishing company called L. Miller & Son. They had been repackaging American comic stories of Captain Marvel - the superhero who shouts "Shazam!" - for the British market, but found themselves in a fix when Captain Marvel's original publisher, Fawcett, shut down. Anglo devised Marvelman and some associates as quick replacement characters for the popular feature, and their new adventures, in a variety of comic titles, continued through the 1950s, with reprints continuing the titles until their cancellation in 1963.

Twenty years later, a revamped, modernized Marvelman was included among the offerings in the first issue of Warrior. Written by Alan Moore and with art by Garry Leach and Alan Davis, the new series appeared in the comic's first 21 issues. This is the series that everybody wants to read again. Placing larger-than-life characters into something like the real world and considering the ramifications of their superpowered struggles has since become almost old hat in superhero fiction, but Marvelman did it first and arguably did it better than anybody since.

Detailing the left turns and road blocks in this series would take too long, and it is all laid out in other sites like Wikipedia. Suffice it to say that, for a number of reasons, Marvelman ceased appearing in Warrior after its 21st issue. At the same time, the rights for an American reprint book, retitled Miracleman to avoid even more litigation from a certain US publisher, were purchased by Eclipse Comics. They reprinted - if I understand correctly - 20 of the Warrior episodes, colorized and shrunk to fit the smaller US page size. When they completed the available episodes, Alan Moore, with new artists Chuck Austen and John Totleben, resumed the series for their new American publisher. Miracleman was a huge hit for Eclipse, and reached a natural end with its sixteenth issue. It was revived in the early 1990s by Neil Gaiman - to whom Moore transferred his share of the rights - and Mark Buckingham, but the closure of Eclipse Comics in 1993 left the story incomplete, and a flurry of lawsuits from contesting parties making claims on the property has meant that the celebrated series can only be found in back issue boxes.

So on the face of it, a Marvelman/Miracleman reprint would be the simplest thing ever: one book containing all of the episodes from Warrior in their original black and white, a second book containing Miracleman # 7-16, and a third containing Neil Gaiman's run. With back issue prices just this side of ridiculous, there's clearly demand. But the lawsuits to which I keep referring have shut this series down. There isn't anybody who wouldn't like to see Marvelman again and read what all the fuss is about, and enjoy rare work by Moore and Gaiman, two of modern comics' most celebrated writers, but many of those anybodies suggest that they have a claim towards sharing in the profits of such an enterprise.

Just to further complicate matters, the original series briefly included an appearance by a British super-agent called Big Ben, created by Warrior's publisher, Dez Skinn with the intention of debuting in Marvelman before being spun off into his own series...

Just this month, a promotional image for a proposed Big Ben television cartoon made the rounds of the comic blogs. If that takes off, how's that going to affect any Marvelman volume that features the character, I wonder?

(Originally posted October 17, 2007, 11:43 at hipsterdad's livejournal.)

No comments:

Post a Comment