Op/Ed: Whatever Happened to the MARVELMAN of Tomorrow?

SDCC 09: MARVELMAN Belongs to Marvel

It's been almost two years since Marvel Comics announced that they'd bought the rights to Marvelman, apparently ending one of the more confusing rights battles in comics history, and since then, we've seen one apparently-canceled ongoing reprint series, two expensive hardcover black and white collections of 1950s stories and... nothing else. What happened?

 

At the time, the announcement was treated by Marvel as a major coup, with a press release calling it "the biggest news of Comic-Con International" and claiming "jaws are still on the floor." But even then, it was unclear of what, exactly, Marvel had actually purchased; under British copyright law, the rights to the stories that made the character as important to comics history as he is are still part-owned by the creators, and even in the aftermath of the announcement, Marvel Publisher Dan Buckley described the situation of "talking to all the people involved in the '80s/'90s material," as if the matter was far from resolved.

To be fair, unresolved is not a new state of affairs when it comes to the character, who has been the subject of various rights issues since even before Eclipse went bankrupt midway through Neil Gaiman and Mark Buckingham's run; after the fact, it was discovered that the famous Alan Moore run that made both the character and creator's reputations was based on an erroneous belief that the character existed in the public domain - and that's completely ignoring the fact that Marvelman was a hastily-created, barely-revised rip-off of the original Captain Marvel in the first place. Marvel's purchase of the character from creator Mick Anglo appears to only give them rights to Anglo's original stories - the ones reprinted in Marvelman Classic and Marvelman Family's Finest in 2010 - and, presumably, any new stories they want to create with the character. Neither of these, in my opinion (of course) are what people want to read the most; they want the Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman runs, and the absence of both of those remains keenly felt.

 

The value of Marvelman isn't the character at all; the character is little more than a blonde, British Captain Marvel, a character who has continually failed to find success from DC for decades, now, and also one who has is already available in various other analogs from other publishers (Hello, Prime - published by Malibu, since purchased by Marvel). The value is entirely in the historical importance of the 1980s run by Alan Moore - his first superhero revisionary work - and, to a lesser extent, the aborted Neil Gaiman run that followed in the early 1990s. If you needed proof, you can see it in the low, low sales figures for the reprint books that Marvel put out last year - so where are the Moore and Gaiman reprints?

The problem is rumored to be that, while Moore and Gaiman have agreed to allow Marvel to reprint (and, in the case of the latter half of Moore's run and the entirety of Gaiman's, correct the lettering to replace "Miracleman" - the name the character and strip took on after the threat of legal action from Marvel way back when - with "Marvelman") their runs - with Moore offering to give his royalties money to Mick Anglo - the same isn't true of all of the artists involved, who also share rights to the work. If true, this just seems crazy to me: It has to be a dispute over money, which either means that the artist(s) in question are asking a ridiculous amount, or Marvel is lowballing them in the hopes of... what, waiting them out, perhaps? Hoping they'll eventually get bored or desperate and say yes?

The idea of Marvel publishing the Marvelman stories that people want to read should, on the face of it, be irresistible to the publisher. Right now, they don't have anything in their library that truly stands up to DC's one-two punch of Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns, and this would fix that hole in their back catalog and create a brand new piece of prestigious legacy for them. That they've owned the character for two years and haven't, somehow, addressed all the rights issues to make this happen could be due to one of many scenarios. Was it an underestimation of what the process would be? Was it lack of faith in the value of what's within reach? Or perhaps, is it truly outrageous creator demands that they can't justify agreeing to? Or maybe it's something else entirely. As a reader, it's frustrating, but I can't help but feel as if it has to be so much more frustrating to everyone involved with the character, to see things come so close to finally being resolved and then... nothing.

Still. Maybe there'll be an exciting announcement about this at Comic-Con International: San Diego a couple of months from now, huh?

Marvel was contacted, but declined to comment about any existing plans for the character.

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