The history of Miracleman is fairly complex. It starts with Captain Marvel, originally published by Fawcett Comics in the 1940s. If we understand Superman as the archetypal costumed super-powered being, characterized most by strength and flight (or the illusion thereof, given that the earliest depictions of Superman were supposed to be merely leaping spectacularly, though this was treated even then like steered flight), we must understand that there were not so many derivatives of this archetype. Superman’s cape and lack of wings or other visible means of flight were important and fairly unique traits at the time. It was for this reason that Marvel Comics placed silly little wings on the Sub-Mariner’s feet. Well, Fawcett’s Captain Marvel was essentially just like Superman, except that his alter ego was a boy — all the better for wish fulfillment fantasies — instead of a lovelorn, introverted reporter. It was an era of copying, of frantic art and low wages, of printing with near disregard for the law. But Captain Marvel’s case was special: he sold better than Superman; Fawcett was making big bucks. Though Captain Marvel ever drifted more towards clever humor and away from his very Superman-derivative beginnings, creating girl and boy versions prior to Supergirl or Superboy, DC Comics sued Fawcett for infringing the Superman copyright. The legal battle became protracted. Fawcett surrendered in 1953, by which time super-heroes weren’t selling very well and the profits weren’t there to justify continued legal action. This was the infamous lawsuit over Captain Marvel, for which DC was long demonized in the 1970s to the 1990s without regard for historical context; the charge against DC was convenient, given that Captain Marvel’s Fawcett issues were fondly remembered and stopped at the right time (so that no one watched their quality disintegrate), and had more to do with Jack Kirby’s fight over his original art, which many creators publically aided, and with the fiascos over Alan Moore and Rick Veitch, than the lawsuit itself.
Less known was the fact that England had its own version of Captain Marvel, a sort of grandchild to Superman. During Fawcett’s own publication, Len Miller & Son published black-and-white reprints of Captain Marvel and the rest of the Marvel Family, including Mary Marvel and Captain Marvel, Junior. Fawcett turned off the faucet of American material in 1954, leaving an impending need for new material. Captain Marvel thus transformed into Marvelman, a new character closer to Captain Marvel than he had been to Superman. The Marvel Family transformed as well, with Captain Marvel, Junior becoming Young Marvelman and Mary Marvel given a sex change to become Kid Marvelman. DC seemed uninterested in a lawsuit, doubtlessly not because of any greater divergence between characters but instead because of England’s different laws, geographical distance, and small audience; in other words, Marvelman, a black-and-white feature available only in England, was hardly competition for Superman, who therefore let him be. The Marvelman titles — including Marvelman, Young Marvelman, and Marvelman Family — were published prolifically until low profits forced their cancellation in 1963, by which time sleeker super-heroes were popular again in the United States.
The magazine-sized British periodical, Warrior, revived Marvelman as one of its black-and-white serials. Alan Moore wrote the serial, which was first published in early 1982 — almost two decades after Marvelman had last been seen. Garry Leach provided the art, but left quickly to work on Warpsmith stories and was replaced by Alan Davis. The serial was successful and spawned a one-shot entitled Marvelman Special #1. It was, as the cover itself pointed out, the first time a title had featured the Marvelman name in twenty years. Marvel Comics, however, was less than enthused — Marvel being a trademark — and sent Warrior a cease and desist notice warning against using “Marvelman” in a comic title. It was a case similar to that of Captain Marvel, who has for the same reason continually appeared under the title Shazam! Some, including Alan Moore, seemed to see this as Marvel Comics throwing its strength around; in fact, copyright and trademark are two different things, and Warrior could have kept printing Marvelman (just as the original Captain Marvel kept appearing, just not as a comics title).
But it didn’t matter; interior conflicts at Warrior contributed to issue #19 being the final issue to feature Marvelman, whose story was sadly left incomplete. Alan Moore had conceived the story as a series of books, and publication was suspended during the second of these. The entire situation, as well his perception of Marvel Comics’ insensitivity, caused Alan Moore great resentment towards Marvel Comics, for whom he has never worked since. Warrior #26 (cover-dated January 1985) was the final issue of the magazine, leaving Marvelman without a home.
In mid-1985, the American publisher Eclipse Comics began reprinting the feature in colorized form — in a comic book entitled Miracleman to get around the copyright issue. All references within the text to Marvelman were similarly replaced with references to Miracleman. Dates were not changed, causing some readers confusion as to why Moore began the story in 1982. In addition to being colorized, the pages were shrunk from magazine size to the size of American comic books, causing the artwork to look even more detailed. Most readers of these issues were American and seeing the work for the first time — a time when Moore, already respected for his award-winning work on Swamp Thing, was first becoming incredibly hot due to his work on the international hit, Watchmen.
Because the reprinted serials were of relatively short length, each issue contained multiple chapters. The first book stretched through the first three issues and was followed by Marvelman 3-D #1, a 3D version of the Marvelman one-shot that had prompted the legal trouble. Ironically, this is the only material never to have been colorized, as it was not included in any trade paperback collection. The sixth issue, cover-dated February 1986, contained the last of the reprinted stories and the first new episode. The new episode, while well-scripted, featured inferior art, made all the more apparent by its contrast with the reprinted episode just before; this was not solely a product of an inferior artist but also the result of producing artwork for pages of the correct size rather than shrinking magazine size originals for comic book reprints. The all-new issue #7, featuring two new episodes, followed soonafter, but issue #8 was a fill-in issue, mostly reprinting old stories and containing nothing either written by Moore or taking place within his story. Issue #9, featuring a single 16-page chapter illustrated by Rick Veitch, was cover-dated July 1986. It featured the birth of Miracleman’s baby in graphic detail and resulted in great controversy by the standards of a small publisher like Eclipse Comics. Issue #10, cover-dated December 1986, featured another 16-page chapter illustrated by Rick Veitch; it concluded the second book of Moore’s plan for the series.
Book three began in early 1987 and did not conclude until the start of 1990. Consisting of six issues published over three years, book three, planned as Moore’s final book, was entirely illustrated by John Totleben, the only book to have a single artist and a great contrast to the many artists of book two. One reason for the delay was eye trouble on Totleben’s part; reportedly, he went unable to draw for months at a time. The story itself began as a continuation of book two, but only accelerrated, linking the expanding Miracleman family to mythological precedents. Issue #15 was a revelation, exploding the super-hero genre that had seemed dead after Moore’s Watchmen. Issue #16 moved from deconstruction to reconstruction as the entire world was transformed into a funner, more just and more wonderful place. It was fantastic. It was beautiful. It was one of the few most important moments in American comics history.
A new creative team began book four with issue #17, taking over a title that had received great critical attention but that had become notorious for its lateness. Miracleman was fortunate in having the two greatest mainstream writers of its era: Neil Gaiman, before his rise as writer of The Sandman, had been hand-picked as Moore’s successor by Moore himself. Along with artist Mark Buckingham, who varied his artistic style episode by episode, Gaiman envisioned three books, consisting of six issues each. They would be titled The Golden Age, The Silver Age, and The Dark Age. The Golden Age, running from #17-22, jumped the narrative into the future and examined how the transformed society left at the end of #16 affected a series of people. Critics charged that he was simply exploiting the various loose threads left by Moore rather than creating anything new; while largely true, it was a brilliant exploitation that decentered Miracleman and examined the issues left by Moore on a more consciously crafted level. Finding loose threads in Moore’s work to exploit, much less doing it so masterfully, was itself no small task. The brilliance of Gaiman’s work was that they exposed and illuminated Moore’s work, making it stronger; had Gaiman’s work carried Moore’s name instead, critics would have praised Moore’s foreshaddowing. And taken on their own, Gaiman’s stories were brilliant.
As The Golden Age had taken over a year, and Miracleman was Eclipse’s best-known and best-selling title, Eclipse published a three-issue mini-series entitled Miracleman: Apochrypha following book four’s conclusion. Beginning in late 1991, the three issues could be published quickly because they featured multiple artistic teams. Featuring a very well-done framing sequence by Gaiman and Buckingham, the three issues featured stories by other writers and artists that, according to the framing sequence, occur within comic books published within the world of Miracleman. These stories were off and on, but featured work by Matt Wagner, James Robinson, Kelley Jones, and Kurt Busiek — as well as an early work by Alex Ross, prior to his fame-launching work on Marvels. The framing sequence took place between The Golden Age and The Silver Age.
Book five, The Silver Age, began with #23, cover-dated June 1992. Jumping further into the future, the issues returned the focus to the Miracleman family, specifically on the revival of Young Miracleman. Touching on hints Alan Moore had dropped, #24 featured Miracleman and Miraclewoman realizing Young Miracleman’s homosexuality. In this utopian future, Miracleman sought to soothe Young Miracleman’s difficult adjustment to a world that challenged his 1950s sentimentality by kissing him. Critics thought this was going too far, perhaps even catering to liberal concerns, but they ignored the fact that this too had been foreshaddowed and, while perhaps uncomfortable, carefully illuminated each character’s personality.
Eclipse, eager to exploit the success of Miracleman, solicited a new monthly series entitled Miracleman: Triumphant, to be published around the same time as Miracleman #25. The main title would continue, ever aiming for a bimonthly schedule and ever failing, while the new monthly series, featuring art by Mike Deodato, Jr. (who went on to popular runs on Wonder Woman and other titles despite his fairly poor work), would feature the Miracleman family and would take place immediately following the events of #22, the final issue of The Golden Age. Before either Miracleman #25 or Miracleman: Triumphant #1 could be published, Eclipse Comics went bankrupt and ceased publication. Few mourned Miracleman: Triumphant, but it later became known that Miracleman #25 was finished and ready for publication. Unfortunately, no one else could take up publication of the issue, nor publish the second half of Gaiman’s and Buckingham’s three books. Miracleman became entangled in a massive copyright dispute that paralyzed the work.
Gaiman’s understanding, as he reported it to the press, was that the present writer and artist at any time inherited the original one-third of the copyright owned by Alan Moore and Gary Leach, then Alan Davis; by some reports, this share would revert to Alan Moore if the series were to end and there were no present writer and artist. As noble as this may seem, it is by no means certain. Mick Anglo, the original creator of Marvelman, and Dez Skinn, editor of Warrior, both may own part of the copyright. Eclipse apparently owned part of the copyright, but whether it automatically lost this upon its bankruptcy was unclear. In any case, Todd McFarlane, the millionaire creator of Spawn and Todd McFarlane Productions (a prominent toy company), purchased all of the copyrights Eclipse owned, at public auction in 1998 (reportedly for a mere $25K). McFarlane apparently did not understand the other claims to the copyright; he planned to use Eclipse characters in his regular titles or in a couple new anthologies (entitled Todd McFarlane’s Twisted Tales and Todd McFarlane’s Alien Worlds), while relaunching Miracleman soonafter. McFarlane’s company placed hints of its plans to sell the rights to a Miracleman movie and its thoughts of Miracleman toys. All of this was particularly insensitive to Gaiman, who had a long-running dispute with McFarlane over the use of Angela and Medieval Spawn, popular characters Gaiman had co-created in Spawn #9 but for which he had not received royalties despite McFarlane’s very public promises at the time. Gaiman was suing McFarlane, who had even made toys of the disputed characters and soon started an ongoing series featuring Medieval Spawn. Some speculated, after the anthologies and movie deals utterly failed to appear or even receive mention, that McFarlane had offered the Eclipse portion of the Miracleman rights to Gaiman in compensation for the disputed royalties. By Gaiman’s later account, this was exactly the case and McFarlane’s written transfer of rights was accompanied by Eclipse’s film to the issues. But McFarlane may have never completed the transfer of rights and Gaiman may not have never formally accepted. Confusion over the Miracleman copyright continued to proliferate as the comics press annually lamented the situation.
Shockingly, in 2001, many years after McFarlane had purchased Eclipse and promised strange titles that never appeared, Miracleman was slated to reappear in the pages of Hellspawn, a spin-off title from Spawn. Mike Moran, Miracleman’s alter ego, had appeared months prior and bore no real relation to his Moore-Gaiman version. He was slated to first transform within the book at the end of Hellspawn #12 and was to be featured on the cover to #13. Gaiman publically asked readers to boycot the issues, initially declining to sue. As others rallied to his side, he changed his mind. With his novel American Gods on the best-seller lists, he sued McFarlane with Marvels and Miracles, a limited-liability company to which Gaiman, Moore, and Buckingham transferred their rights to Miracleman and which would represent the interests of Miracleman, as opposed to Gaiman’s interests, in court. Marvel Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada publicly announced a deal to produce a Marvel Universe mini-series written by Gaiman, the profits of which would be donated to the lawsuit. Meanwhile, Ashley Wood, the popular and stylistic artist on Hellspawn, quit the title, leaving the bastardized return of Miracleman unpublished in the wake of the litigation.
Marvel announced that it had purchased the rights to Marvelman, upon which Miracleman was based. Court settlements cleared up any claim by McFarlane, but Marvel still had to buy out (or otherwise get permission from) every creator involved, owing to British copyright law. Years followed, during which Marvel eventually settled things and prepared a new reprint series, which would be recolored and relettered. It debuted in February 2013.