Superhero comics can be confusing at the best of times. Thanks to intertwining stories and years of history, it can be enough to give any reader a headache. However, there’s a particular comic that has a history far more confusing than the average superhero title – Miracleman. If the character has recently come to your attention and you’re baffled why Neil Gaiman would write new material for him in 2023, then strap yourself in. You’re in for a wild ride involving reinventions, ownership disputes, and much more.
Before we dig into Miracleman, I should discuss Captain Marvel first. However, not Carol Danvers Captain Marvel or any character published by Marvel Comics, but the character formally known as Captain Marvel but is better known to people as Shazam. (Captain Marvel/Shazam has his own confusing history that you can find out more about in this explainer.) This character was created in 1940 by Fawcett Comics as a reaction to the popularity of Superman.
If you’ve seen the Shazam movie, you’ve got a general idea of the character’s premise. For those unfamiliar, here’s the elevator pitch:
Billy Batson is a boy who can transform into an adult superhero when he utters the magic word “SHAZAM”. With powers similar to Superman, he fights Black Adam and a menagerie of weird bad guys.
Captain Marvel was incredibly popular during the 1940s, even outselling Superman. It makes sense. These were stories that had an aspirational element for the target audience. Most kids want to be adults, but instead of doing all the boring things, they want to go on exciting adventures and do incredible feats. Kids could live vicariously through Billy Batson.
Outselling Superman was enough for National Comics Publications (now known as DC Comics) to claim copyright infringement. National decided that Captain Marvel was too close to Superman and the two publishers were in and out of court for twelve years. In the end, the judge sided with National in 1951. With that decision, Fawcett’s Captain Marvel ceased to be published by 1953. (Ironically, DC Comics would later go on to own the character.)
That was a problem in the United Kingdom. You see, publisher L. Miller & Son has been doing black and white reprints of Fawcett’s Captain Marvel for the UK market. Without any Captain Marvel stories, they wouldn’t have the reliable sales the series brought. Instead of cutting their losses and moving on to the next big thing, they decided to make their own version of the character. Thus, Marvelman was born.
Created by Mick Anglo, Marvelman hit the stands in 1954. For all intents and purposes, the comic was a knockoff of Captain Marvel that tried to keep the sales momentum going. At its core, there are plenty of similarities. It stars Micky Moran, a young man who uses a magic word – “Kimota” in this instance – to transform into an adult hero. Both heroes have similar powers, possessing invulnerability, flight, and super-strength. And finally, there was an extended cast who could transform into a superhero too.
However, where Marvelman deviated was in its approach to its superhero adventures. Captain Marvel’s powers derived from mythology and had a fantasy take on superheroics. The UK counterpart, however, took a more science fiction approach, with his powers received from a “recluse Astro-Scientist” who has “discovered the keyword to the Universe”. With these powers, Marvelman and his sidekicks – Young Marvelman and Kid Miracleman – went on adventures influenced by the atomic-powered science fiction that was popular at the time.
These stories are nothing special when reading them through the lens of an adult in 2022. While there are a few fun ideas, the comics tend to fall flat. A lot of that comes down to the pacing. Stories move at a break-neck speed to accommodate their single-digit page counts and will often end abruptly. As a result, these rushed stories are not that satisfying. They’re a curiosity at best.
However, kids at the time loved them. By the time the series ended in 1962, there had been a whopping 346 issues of the main Marvelman series and its spin-off Young Marvelman.
After the conclusion of the Marvelman comics, the character fell into obscurity. L. Miller & Son shuttered a few years later. Marvelman wouldn’t see the light of day again until Dez Skinn of Quality Communications purchased the rights from Mick Anglo in 1982.
The character reappeared in an anthology series called Warrior. Competing for a similar audience to 2000 AD, Warrior published a mix of science fiction, fantasy, and horror. While many of the anthology’s comics are mostly forgotten, a few, such as V For Vendetta, have endured. Here, Marvelman was one of many strips in each 52-page issue.
Publishing Marvelman in 1982 was not as simple as doing the same kinds of stories as in previous decades. The audience had grown up and expected more from their comics. With that in mind, a young Alan Moore and artists such as Garry Leach, Alan Davis, and John Ridgeway looked to update the hero while acknowledging the previous version.
It’s an early example of taking a property made for children and giving it a dark reinvention. Something commonplace today but a novel idea in the early 80s. Here, Micky Moran is now a 40-something freelance journalist. He’s married and has the kinds of adult problems that someone of his age has. The character is also plagued with dreams he doesn’t understand. Dreams of flying, adventures, a particular word on the tip of his tongue. While reporting the opening of a new nuclear power plant, he’s caught in a hostage situation. In this stressful moment, the word comes to him, speaks it to become Miracleman for the first time in 18 years. He had had amnesia during this time and wasn’t aware he was a superhero.
From there, Alan Moore takes the hero in a darker direction. Instead of the “gee-whiz, isn’t it great to be an adult” attitude of the old comics, Moore’s version had more adult problems. Moran developed an inferiority complex when comparing himself to the hero he transformed into, which caused tensions with his wife. The comic also contained far more graphic violence, something beyond what was seen in any superhero comic of the time.
Marvelman ran in Warrior until the 21st issue, where it was left on a cliffhanger. While the anthology would run until issue 26th, the Marvelman ended in that fashion due to a financial dispute. However, that wouldn’t be the end of the comic book series.
Over in the United States, Pacific Comics picked up the license to publish Marvelman in the budding direct market of dedicated comic book shops. However, the publisher would go under before releasing a single issue. The comic soon found a home at Eclipse.
Beginning in 1985, the publisher would release all of the Warrior material over six issues. However, it wouldn’t be quite the same. To start with, Marvelman was now Miracleman. The small publisher didn’t need the headache that Marvel Comics could cause over the name. Other changes included coloured art and resizing to fit the standard American comic dimensions.
Moore would continue the series where it left off in subsequent issues, with artist Chuck Beckum (now known to many as the notorious Chuck Austen) along for the ride. The comics continued to detail the struggle between Miracleman and his sidekick turned evil Kid Miracleman, with the run taking on a dystopian approach by its conclusion in issue #16.
These issues were not without controversy. Miracleman’s final confrontation with Kid Miracleman escalated into gory violence – way beyond any other superhero offering at the time.
However, what was more notable was a detailed birth scene in Miracleman #9. Births tend to happen off-screen, with the focus being on the top half of the mother. However, this comic didn’t leave anything to the imagination, showing Micky Moran’s wife giving birth in detail over three pages. It comes as a shock if you’re not expecting it. Confronting but not sexualised. Steve Geppi, President of Diamond Comics Distributors, disagreed and famously reacted when it was released:
“Diamond values its retailers too much to take chances on such a dangerous situation… We cannot, however, stand by and watch the marketplace become a dumping ground for every sort of graphic fantasy that someone wants to live out.”
Moore tried to push boundaries during a period when the medium was being looked at through a new lens. Comics were “growing up” in the mid-1980s and trying to find their footing with mature content. While Moore was successful with this in titles such as Watchmen and Saga of the Swamp Thing, Miracleman’s ultra-violence is an acquired taste. That’s not to say that the comic is without merit. Moore also uses the comic to examine superheroes as omnipotent figures and their perception by the people around them. Overall, it’s a well-constructed run, but the violence won’t be to everyone’s taste.
A young Neil Gaiman, still in the early days of writing The Sandman, and artist Mark Buckingham picked up Miracleman after Moore in 1990. Where the previous run had taken a dystopian approach by its conclusion, this new run was built toward achieving a superhero utopia. Three six-issue story arcs were planned for this run, titled The Golden Age, The Silver Age, and The Dark Age. However, only The Golden Age and the first two issues of The Silver Age made it into publication before Eclipse Comics went bankrupt in 1994.
Miracleman entered a weird limbo again, with a battle over the ownership raging for years. This is where things get complicated. I’ll try and make it as simple as possible.
In 1996, Todd McFarlane, the creator of Spawn, purchased Eclipse’s creative assets, including what he thought were the rights for Miracleman, for $25,000. In 2001, McFarlane told Comic Book Resources that he owned the full rights. When queried on Neil Gaiman’s claim as a partial owner of the character, he said the following:
“Someone may very well prove that wrong, but I’m willing to prove the point. If somebody else thinks that they have control of this, then do something about it. Because I’ll be right there on you, right now. Then we will solve this problem.”
Perhaps Gaiman read that interview. Later that year, the writer used the money he made writing Marvel 1602 for Marvel Comics to form Marvels and Miracles LLC. The company’s goal was to get the rights back for Miracleman, along with some characters Gaiman created when he wrote a handful of issues of Spawn.
Gaiman had a stake in Miracleman and stories based on his agreement with Eclipse. The publisher only owned two-thirds of the character, with Gaiman possessing the remaining third – the same deal Alan Moore also received for his material. With that claim, the two creators battled it out over the ownership.
It didn’t stop McFarlane from using the character. Micky Moran appeared in the Spawn spin-off series Hellspawn, with Miracleman making an appearance in the series later down the line. However, McFarlane would later backflip on the use of the character claiming it was an original creation known as Man of Miracles, who shape-shifted into Miracleman’s appearance.
Jump to 2009, it was discovered that Mick Anglo had owned the rights all along. As you can expect, this caused a lot of confusion. It was thought that Quality Communications, Todd McFarlane, and Neil Gaiman had owned various parts of the character and stories. However, that would soon change.
Marvel Comics entered the equation when they announced at 2009’s San Diego Comic-Con that they had purchased everything from Mick Anglo. Some of Anglo’s work was reprinted from the publisher a year later. In 2013, Marvel announced that the 1980s material would be reprinted and that Neil Gaiman and Mark Buckingham were onboard to finish the short they had started more than 20 years prior.
These reprints started rolling out in 2014. While it was great to see this back in print – the Eclipse issues had become insanely expensive on the secondary market – it was done in a less-than-ideal manner. To begin with, Marvel decided to publish the comics monthly in 44-page, poly-bag-wrapped issues. The first half included material from the 1980s. These were presented in the same increments that Eclipse did but with new digital colouring. The other half contained behind-the-scenes extras, such as scans of the original art, along with a couple of Mick Anglo’s short stories from the 50s. Most readers were only interested in the 1980s material, not the additional material that ballooned the price of each issue.
From Marvel’s perspective, I can understand why this format was used. The publisher had bought a whole bunch of additional material to get the 1980s material. However, they’ve tried to recoup their cost instead of writing those comics off and focusing on what people wanted most.
It’s also worth noting that the Alan Moore material doesn’t have his name anywhere on these Marvel reprints. Moore, a vocal believer in creator rights, opted to have his name removed. Instead, you’ll see “The Original Writer” credited.
After “The Original Writer’s” run, Marvel released the first original Miracleman material in decades with All-New Miracleman Annual #1 in 2014, which contained two stories.
The first was the most notable as it was a long-lost script by Grant Morrison and drawn by Marvel’s Chief Creative Officer at the time Joe Quesada. This was written in the mid-1980s but never saw the light of day due to Moore and Morrison’s relationship being frosty at best. Morison described the situation in an interview with The Beat:
“I didn’t want to do it without Moore’s permission, and I wrote to him and said, “They’ve asked me to do this, but obviously I really respect you work, and I wouldn’t want to mess anything up. But I don’t want anyone else to do it and mess it up.” And he sent me back this really weird letter, and I remember the opening of it, it said, “I don’t want this to sound like the softly hissed tones of a mafia hitman, but back off.”
Afterwards, Marvel went back into reprint mode. This time around, reprinting the Neil Gaiman and Mark Buckingham material. The Golden Age story arc was reprinted in 2015. Marvel then solicited The Silver Age to follow afterwards. While the first two issues would be remastered material, subsequent instalments would be brand new. However, Marvel didn’t release any issues in this arc, with them falling off the release schedule altogether.
I assume that Marvel had hoped Miracleman: The Silver Age #3 would be ready for release. However, Neil Gaiman is a busy man, with other projects taking priority. Although, as mentioned at the top of this piece, this new material is seeing the light of day in 2023. However, as of writing this, Miracleman: The Silver Age #1 and #2 are scheduled for November and December respectively, with the new material landing in January 2023 onwards. Readers had to wait an additional 8 years to see it arrive. However, considering Miracleman’s complicated history, it’s a miracle (pardon the pun) it’s seeing the light of day.
Beyond Gaiman and Buckingham’s run being concluded, Marvel Comics has hinted at what the future holds for Miracleman. The first came in 2021’s Timeless, a Kang the Conqueror framed one-shot, which hinted at what’s coming to the publisher in 2022. While it hinted at Marvel stories coming in 2022, the most talked about element of it was a Miracleman reference.
Is Miracleman being integrated into the Marvel Universe? It’s a question readers have asked for the last nine months without an answer. However, we may find out in October 2022’s Miracleman #0, in which Marvel hints in the solicitation text that we are on the “cusp of a new era of Miracleman.” What does that mean exactly? I guess we’ll find out soon!
Congratulations if you’ve made it to the end. There’s a lot to take in. Hopefully, the confusing mess of Miracleman on and off the page is much clearer!