Monday, August 17, 2009

Comic Observations: I Teach You the Superman

The quote in the headline is from Nietzsche, but it's also quoted in the first issue of Marvelman, written by Alan Moore. Recently, at the just finished San Diego Comic-Con, Marvel Comic EIC Joe Quesada announced that the publisher has acquired the rights to Marvelman, after over a decade of the character being stuck in legal hell.

This could be great news for comic book fans, as Alan Moore's run on Marvelman is believed to be the finest example of his deconstructionist approach to superheroes, besting even the much lauded Watchmen.

If you're on this site, and you don't know who Alan Moore is, well, shame on you. Moore began working as an underground cartoonist in 1970s England, before abandoning art and focusing solely on writing. After short stints writing strips for Doctor Who and the legendary British anthology comic 2000 AD, he began writing Captain Britain for Marvel UK. His 2000 AD strip, The Ballad of Halo Jones, was one of the most popular in the magazine, but Moore's outspoken and fierce commitment to creator's rights would soon force him to leave the series behind, as it would with almost every major publisher in the comic book world.

In 1982, he began writing for a new British anthology series called Warrior. Moore contributed two strips that would become legendary; V for Vendetta and Marvelman, the latter being Moore's take on a once-popular British rip-off of Captain Marvel. Unfortunately, Warrior folded before either of those stories were completed. Still, they were successful enough to gain American attention, and DC Comics hired Moore to revitalize their Swamp Thing series, which Moore did to startling effect, changing a tired horror series into a bizarre and mind bending tale of spirituality, ecology, and the flexible nature of love. During this time, DC reprinted Moore's uncompleted V for Vendetta series, allowing him to complete the story, and he worked on several of DC's big characters such as Batman and Superman.

Then, in 1986, came Watchmen. Moore, who had already been touted as among the most gifted comic book writers of his generation, was now a full-fledged visionary to readers. Coinciding with this, however, was the deterioration of his working relationship with DC, and the publisher would not get Marvelman. Instead, Moore took his magnum opus to a small publisher called Eclipse. The name of the character, and the book, was changed to Miracleman to avoid friction with Marvel Comics, who were litigious when it came to comic books with "marvel" on the cover. Picking up five years after he had originally been forced to abandon the series, he completed the story once and for all. However, after 16 issues he handed the reigns over to Neil Gaiman, who wrote the character until Eclipse folded in the 1990s.

And that's when the fun starts. Here's a good summary from a recent article:

The character was created by British writer and artist Mick Anglo in the 1960s. Years later it was revived by Warrior magazine and written by Alan Moore (back before he was Watchman [sic] writer Alan Moore). Neil Gaiman eventually took over the writing duties and the Moore's Warrior stories and then new stories, first from Moore and then from Gaiman, were released in North America by Eclipse Comics but with the name changed from Marvelman to Miracleman to avoid ticking off Marvel Comics.

But Eclipse folded and eventually (Todd) McFarlane bought the Eclipse intellectual properties believing he was also purchasing Miracleman. But Gaiman, who under a bizarre ownership structure believed he owned the rights, fought McFarlane on it...

This whole thing kept the character in complete limbo without even reprints of the character being allowed, which, of course, means any back issues and collections have been going for big money on eBay and illegal downloads are also being circulated online.

So how did this all get resolved? Well according to Marvel and Gaiman, when they looked at all the agreements over the years they concluded the rights were actually still held by Anglo. So Marvel made a deal with the Brit to buy Marvelman from him.

This will apparently allow Marvel to release the back issue stuff and create new material with the character.

However, Marvel's claim to back issues, especially the ones written by Moore and Gaiman, are far from certain at this point, what with a recently released, Quesada drawn, picture of MM (seen below) depicting him in his original costume, before it was updated during Moore's tenure.

So, maybe they only have the rights to the character pre-Warrior, which is pretty lame.

But, is it all worth the hype? Well, I just read Moore's entire run on the series for the first time through a website that will go unnamed. Maybe it's because I'm more familiar with Watchmen, Swamp Thing, V for Vendetta, From Hell and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, but I honestly believe the series to be Moore's best, boldest and most richly satisfying work. It has literally blown my mind. I'm actually hesitant to read Gaiman's arc, because Moore's run was some of the most perfect work I've ever read in the genre.

Here's hoping Marvel publishes a nice big, beautiful hardbound edition that we can all cherish.

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