Sunday, 7 April 2013

Alan Moore's Marvelman/Miracleman

Miracleman #1 (Eclipse Comics, 1985)
By Alan Moore & Gary Leach
(from 'The Controversy Over Copyrights' in Following Cerebus #3, 2005)
Alan Moore and Gary Leach created Marvelman for Warrior magazine in the UK in 1982. A modern updating of the beloved fifties series (obviously inspired by Captain Marvel), the new version became extremely popular. In 1985 Eclipse Comics began reprinting the stories in colour, also to wide acclaim. The series ended after twenty-four issues, with new stories written by Neil Gaiman. The character's name changed to Miracleman in the Eclipse editions because of complaints from Marvel Comics, thus souring Moore on ever working for Marvel. When Eclipse went bankrupt, Todd McFarlane bought the assets - which did not include publishing rights, but only tangible property. Eventually he transferred this to Gaiman, but soon afterward filed for a trademark on the name. Gaiman sued, and the controversy is still mired among the lawyers.

(from 'Dave Sim On Parody &Copyright' in Following Cerebus #3, 2005) light of what I've just said about all the ins and outs of trademark and copyright, and where I think there's a certain validity, and where I think it's all just "smoke and mirrors" make-work projects for lawyers, I find the Miracleman situation particularly disheartening. Essentially Miracleman is the changed name of Marvelman who was a very half-assed knock-off of Captain Marvel, which was published in England. The problem seems to stem from the fact that the iconic costume has great sentimental resonance for English comic book creators of Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman's generation. This was the reason Alan Moore wanted to write a revived Marvelman, and this was the reason that Neil Gaiman was pleased to be asked to follow him on the book and thrilled that he was given Alan's share of Miracleman as part of his compensation and eager to get whatever part of Miracleman Todd McFarlane acquired out of the Eclipse bankruptcy auction.

When I became aware of the situation that was brewing, I contacted Neil directly and Todd indirectly and suggested that the whole thing could be headed off at the pass by just agreeing to make Miracleman the same as Cerebus is, an unprotected trademark. It seemed very sensible to me. Neil already had all of the Miracleman negatives from Todd, so he could print his own work and Alan's in one big Miracleman trade paperback, and Todd could do Miracleman statues and hockey sweaters and baseball caps and whatever else Todd was interested in. Miracleman would be protected on the same basis Cerebus is. Anyone would be free to do a Miracleman comic book, but they would be competing with the Alan Moore / Neil Gaiman / Mark Buckingham version if they did so. I think it would be as unlikely that someone would try to do that as it is that someone would try doing a Watchman sequel if Watchmen were an unprotected trademark.

Unfortunately - unfortunately, to my way of thinking - Neil adopted the viewpoint that everything had been set in motion, and there was no turning back, rather like the troop trains at the start of World War I. He has set up the "Marvels & Miracles Foundation" to determine who actually owns Miracleman and, to me, he has thereby walked into the oldest lawyer trick going: he has asked them to research what is, at essence, an impossible question to answer and which the lawyers can, therefore, spend an unlimited number of years researching and pretending to answer at hourly billing rates that boggle the mind to contemplate. From what I understand, the research phase has already eaten up all the money Neil made off 1602, with no end in sight. It's just such a waste of currency that could've been given to a food bank or the CBLDF or anyone else beside a pack of lawyers. In my view, all Neil had to do was to put out a Complete Miracleman trade paperback and told Todd that he was free to do anything with Miracleman that Todd wanted to do, and that would have been the end of it. Miracleman would be spewing money all over the place instead of sucking it into a black hole full of lawyers. It's just really sad and really unnecessary to me.

Pádraig Ó Méalóid explores the convoluted history of Marvelman/Miracleman's ownership in an ongoing series of 'Poisoned Chalice' posts at The Beat.

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