Marvelman: Lost Hero of the Golden Age

Marvelman is a character who has a complex publishing history, which is to be mild, a massive bloody understatement. Created by Mick Anglo in the 1950′ and brought back from the dead in the 1980’s by Alan Moore and then continued in a story written by Neil Gaiman in a story which still hasn’t been completed some 35 plus since it started.

This is a YouTube documentary that tries to cram this complexity into a mere 16 minutes. It isn’t perfect but it is worth watching for the attempt to do this in as short a time as possible while still giving it some sort of justice. It strikes me that if anyone ever wanted to make a drama about the comics industry, then the story of Marvelman lies begging to be made…

What I thought of Miracleman #2

Thoughts about #1.

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I was pleasantly surprised with Marvel’s treatment of the Marvelman material from Warrior in the first issue of these reprints, but found the firs tissue just a wee bit too padded out. I’m glad to say the second issue shows signs that Marvel aren’t going to just pad out every issue with half an issue’s worth of Mick Anglo reprints. This isn’t to say that the Anglo material isn’t nice, but at $4.99 (around £3.50) a pop this isn’t material frankly worth that amount each issue. It’s the Alan Moore and Garry Leach material we want and we start to get Marvelman hitting it’s stride with these episodes, plus there’s the never before reprinted episode, The Yesterday Gambit, which is a fascinating read, especially if like me you’ve not read it in probably 20 years at least.

The issue picks up with the morning after the night before, with Liz Moran coming to terms with the fact her husband Mike, is Marvel/Miracleman and is a superhero.

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The colouring here is splendid and the middle panel here is an example of the craft that’s went into making these strips work not only in colour, but for a 21st century audience who may never have seen these comics before. The little specks of flesh tone in the second panel are a subtle touch which a lesser colourist than Steve Oliff would have missed.

This though is the episode which reveals that Kid Marvelman, Johnny Bates, survived the incident which killed Young Marvelman and left Mike Moran suffering from amnesia. As Bates and the Moran’s discuss what’s happened we get hints that something bad is building up.

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Most of this episode is Bates and Moran talking, but it’s in Garry Leach’s sublime art we get the hints something bad is coming, so when Mike finally confronts Bates about him still being Kid Miracleman we’re prepared.

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Or at least, we think we’re prepared. Cast your mind back to 1982 and seeing this for the first time, or indeed try to put yourself in the head of someone in 1982 seeing this, so you’re expecting a normal superhero fight scene but as soon as Bates reveals himself Moore turns things round.

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The fight scene that follows is one that pretty much changed how the superhero fight scene would be realised, and to this day there’s still people desperately pulling whatever bits of flesh left on this carcass off but at the same time, most miss the power of Moore’s writing, and of course, there’s only one Gary Leach.

One scene I’ve always loved is the moment where Moran realises what Bates is and says his magic word…

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No posturing. No big dramatic speech. No dramatics. Just a quiet ‘kimota’ and then the fight begins in earnest only for the reader to see Marvelman get his arse kicked and a small child be threatened by Bates which was, and still is, amazingly shocking as it makes it clear this is not your usual superhero comic you’re reading.

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As for what happens to the child and Marvelman, buy the comic or wait til I talk about #3.As for the rest of this second issue, the biggest thing for me is the reprint of The Yesterday Gambit.

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This was originally printed in Warrior#4, or the Warrior Summer Special to give it it’s better known title. It’s a look far into the future of the Miracleman story, and shows just how far thought out Moore had the story, but for new readers it’s worth pointing out that when you do get to that part of Moore’s story, he’s moved on. This is the Moore before Watchmen, Halo Jones and even V for Vendetta when it hits it’s stride, so this is an interesting oddity which reveals what might have happened to Moore had he remained a very good comic writer, as opposed to an excellent writer. It’s also a chance to see some good Paul Neary art.

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And the first work on Marvelman by Alan Davis, and in colour it’s simply stunning.

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As for the rest of the issue there’s more original art from Gary Leach, which is nice. A short history of British comics by Mike Conroy which really is a short history and a couple of Mick Anglo Marvelman strips from the 1950’s. It’s a much more satisfying package than issue one, though it does seem Marvel are trying to follow the Eclipse reprint schedule which is a pity, but seeing as next issue promises more never before reprinted material that seems fine for the moment.

There’s also a fuss regarding Comixology’s censored versions (you can buy a 17+ version which is the version I’ve taken these scans from) which is mainly due to what we know is coming, especially the post-Warrior material. We’ll see soon enough but I can see how the birth issue or the final Marvelman/Bates battle can be printed censored without ripping the heart out of these episodes.

That’s for later on in 2014. Next issue is the completion of Marvelman’s fight with Bates and the reprint of some Warpsmith strips which have never been reprinted before.

What I thought about Miracleman #1

In 1982, some 32 years ago I bought a copy of Warrior #1 from a newsagent in Queen Street Station in Glasgow. I was 15 at the time and that comic was massively influential upon me as it had genuinely adult strips in it from a writer called Alan Moore who I was vaguely aware of thanks to his work elsewhere. Moore had two strips; V for Vendetta, a dark and very adult story featuring things I wasn’t used to seeing in comics at 15, and the other was Marvelman. This is the strip that almost singlehandedly changed the face of superhero comics, not to mention was the start of the entire industry being woken up, and up til now has only been reprinted once by Eclipse Comics in 1985.

Since then the character has been in a horribly mess, the  history of which is superbly documented by Pádraig Ó Méalóid in his Poisoned Chalice series which is possibly the most comprehensive history of Marvelman and the messy legal issues around the character and the events, which meant most people who thought  these stories being reprinted would never happen, and the story which Moore passed onto Neil Gaiman actually being completed, can finally reach it’s conclusion.

So 32 years later, I’m now on the cusp of my 47th birthday and Marvel Comics have released their first edition of their Miracleman reprints which will reprint all the Warrior/Eclipse material and allow Neil Gaiman and artist, Mark Buckingham to complete the story.

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It’s an interesting package, more so as Alan Moore isn’t to be mentioned once in the book after washing his hands of Marvelman, which is again detailed in length in this interview with Moore’s royalties going to Marvelman creator Mick Anglo, and his family. Moore is instead listed as ‘The Original Writer’ which is a rather funny way to describe things as most people will know this is an Alan Moore work.

Anyhow, from the very first panel of the recoloured strip, it’s evident that Steve Oliff’s work is phenomenal.

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In it’s original black and white form this panel is nice, but the colours here add so much. The sky is brilliant and that little hint of dawn adds to the storytelling. Any worries this would be Stevie Wonder being let loose on the comic with a set of crayons like the Eclipse reprints were, is gone from the off, and in fact Garry Leach’s already stunning art is only complimented by the colour which is something I though would never, ever happen.

As for the story as it’s some of Moore’s early work, it’s easy to spot how traditional some of it feels. The use of thought balloons for example is nearly at Chris Claremont proportions in places…

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Considering the vogue now is for characters in superhero comics to have internal monologues without thought bubbles is a technique Moore himself started to use during his Marvelman run, and this was then copied by writers right up to the present day, it’ll be interesting to see a generation’s reaction who are not used to thought bubbles. This aside, I’d forgotten how fast paced the first episode is so that there’s a genuine excitement built up by the time we get to the point when the main character, Mike Moran remembers his magic word I’m 15 again and I’m dying to see what happens…

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After a brief fight where Moran has become Marvelman, Garry Leach unleashes one of the finest panels in any comic ever.

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I once saw the original of this. It’s an extraordinary piece of art but to see it fresh again like this is wonderful, and it reminds me how perfect an introduction to Marvelman it was for me, but it’s the next episode that Moore starts to show what he’s made off as it’s a conversation between Moran and his wife Liz shortly afterwards. This is Moran/Marvelman telling Liz of his life he’s now remembered and it’s a crucial episode, but for it to be mainly character based was somewhat of a revelation in 1982, and in 2014 it still feels real, or at least as real as superhero comics can get.

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The chapter ends after we’re introduced to a shadowy and violent figure who’ll be unknown to new readers, but anyone else who’s read the story will know who this is and what’s to come..

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I haven’t read these stories with fresh eyes since 1982 so it’s a joy to sort of relive the same rush of all those years ago, but as much as it hurts to admit, Marvel’s job in representing these stories is immaculate. Sadly, the rest of the issue is frankly, padding. Yes, the Garry Leach sketchbook is nice and seeing his amazingly detailed pencils is fascinating but lets be blunt, this is padding the package out.

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There’s then a two-page history of Marvelman which I’m chuffed to see was written by Mike Conroy, a familiar name in British comics, but ends on this paragraph.

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Which makes me assume that either it’ll continue next issue, or that Marvel are skimming over the messy history of the character but for the rest of the issue it’s pure filler with a Joe Quesada interview of Mick Anglo that’s interesting enough, but more reprints of Anglo’s original Marvelman strips fill up the rest of the issue and for $5.99 (or around £3-3.50) it’s a broadly uneven package that’s going to potentially put off casual readers who may not have read the Moore stories and want to see them for the first time. I do appreciate Marvel putting in the time to put Moore’s version in context for an American or a 21st century readership, but they overdo it.

I want them to get on with it, which is understandable, but I want them to do it because I’m excited in reading this story serialised in this way with colouring that complements the story. Now for #2 Marvel do seem to be saying there’s less pre-Warrior material, but we’ll see. Right now, I’m happy downloading these issue from the splendid Comixology site, before buying the hardcover collection Marvel will put out which will fill a large hole on my bookshelf that’s waiting for it.