You've probably heard of Watchmen, the bleak take on superheroes that's seen as among the medium's best, or maybe seen the movie. But the author, Alan Moore, wrote an even darker take on superheroes a few years prior and it was unavailable in print aside from original copies for over twenty years. The story of Marvelman, or Miracleman in the States, starts in the superhero bust of the 1950s.
In the late forties and fifties an effort led by Dr. Fredric Wertham to pin the blame for juvenile delinquency on comic book began. This culminated in a Senate hearing with some choice exchanges among senators and EC Comics publisher Max Gaines. Gaines published horror books and, paraphrasing, when asked if a severed head on the cover of a comic book was appropriate, he replied that, yes, it was appropriate on the cover of a horror comic. Fearing government intervention, the major publishers instituted a self governing body called the Comics Code Authority that pretty much put Gaines out of business and came close to shutting down the medium as only squeaky clean Batman and Superman comics emerged unscathed from their forties popularity boom while other genres that were becoming popular like crime and horror were wiped out by self censorship.
Comics in the forties could sell over a million copies per month. Captain Marvel was one such character whose combination of a boy main hero and an adult superhero made him more popular than Superman. You might know him as Shazam. This popularity rankled DC who filed a copyright suit against rival Fawcett Publications over alleged similarities between Captain Marvel and Superman. The suit lasted into the fifties and when it seemed the superhero fad had died out, Fawcett quit fighting, eventually selling its characters to DC.
In England Captain Marvel was also popular. L. Miller & Sons had been republishing Captain Marvel stories in the UK but with the folding of Fawcet they were left with no new material. Rather than close up shop, they had a man named Mick Anglo come up with a very similar character called Marvelman and continued publishing basically the same stories, although original, with the new character. In 1963 L. Miller & Sons filed for bankruptcy and Marvelman also ceased publication.
In the early eighties a young writer named Alan Moore was tasked with reviving Marvelman and he did with resounding critical acclaim. The young man who was Marvelman grew up and forgot about his years as a superhero until an encounter at a nuclear facilty reminded him of his magic word "KIMOTA" or atomic backwards with some liberties taken. His kid sidekick remained on in his adult superhero form becoming a sociopath but accidentally reverts to his alter ego after saying his magic word, "Marvelman," following the reemergence of the hero. Some pretty bad shit happens to Kid Marvelman in his child form and he transforms back to his sociopathic super self, London is destroyed in a way the Germans never imagined.
In the States these stories are republished by Eclipse comics, an independent, meaning they aren't DC or Marvel. The name Marvelman is't going to go over well on the home turf of Spider-Man so he becomes Miracleman.
Now the issue of rights. There are really no contracts written in this narrative, with Dez Skinn, Alan Moore's publisher at the UK magazine Warrior, saying he got verbal permission from Mick Anglo to use the character. Alan Moore saying the rights were held three way between him, Skinn and someone else, the artist maybe or Anglo. And Eclipse in the US having no real claim to the title, but that didn't stop a man name Todd McFarlane from buying Eclipse's assets in an attempt to procure Miracleman for his line of Spawn comics. Just to gum up the copyright claims even more, Alan Moore borrowed characters called the Warpsmiths from another comic.
I may be wrong, but towards the end of Moore's run and the beginning of Neil Gaiman's, the writer Moore selected to take over, Eclipse is the only publisher of this book, Warrior in the UK having folded. And Eclipse goes out of business after about two of Gaiman's issue are published.
So what happens? A two decade argument over who said what to who about who owns what. Alan Moore just really doesn't give a shit. Gaiman says Moore had a claim and passed it on to him. Mick Anglo doesn't even know if he gave anyone else the rights. Todd Mcfarlane thinks Eclipse owns the character and buys them so he can make Miracleman toys. He even included the character in issues of Spawn despite no consensus resolution being reached.
Gaiman finally takes up with Marvel and writes a miniseries with profits going to a group called Marvels and Miracles that will hopefully sort out the mess and let him finish telling the story he got about a fifth of the way into. Also he wants to say 'Fuck you' to Todd Mcfarlane for screwing him out of royalties for characters he created for Spawn comics.
So somewhere around 2013, Gaiman wins, Marvel is set to reprint this story that's been almost impossible to find for 20 years, it's decided somehow that Mick Anglo was the owner all along, and Alan Moore just wants to be left alone to his magick cave and spliffs the size of chair legs. He refused a credit on the reprint and probably deferred his payments. He's seriously like the biggest curmudgeon anywhere near pop culture.
Confused? Then you probably have a life
1) EC Comics was published by Bill Gaines, not Max Gaines. Max was his dad, who published All American Comics.
2) Bill Gaines got even by pouring all of his resources into Mad Magazine. Most of his good artists and writers went with him.
3) All the confusion didn't stop Filmation from doing a 3-season run of Shazam! in the '70s, long before Moore and Gaiman got involved. Those rights were then and are now held by CBS/Viacom.
Comics fans love to get all spun up about MarvelMan but in the end, a giant American multimedia conglomerate has held locked-down title to Captain Marvel for half a century. Considering how a little title confusion cost Warner Brothers 8% gross participation in Watchmen, all this song'n'dance with Gaiman is nice'n'all but the minute there's real money on the table, Viacom is gonna say "that's ours, thanks, appreciate your marketing now fuck off."