Saturday, June 8, 2024

Legal musings on the marvelous and miraculous existence of Marvelman (and Miracleman)


                The announcement of a new collected edition of Miracleman being released prompted me to finally start reading the collected Marvelman books I bought a few years ago. I was inspired to buy them after reading Pádraig Ó Méalóid’s book Poisoned Chalice: The Extremely Long and Incredibly Complex Story of Marvelman (and Miracleman). It’s an interesting read, and you can find my previous review of the book here. Reading these stories makes me think of how fascinating it is that this character managed to exist in the first place.

                To briefly summarize, Marvelman was born in the U.K. after Fawcett publications stopped fighting the copyright infringement lawsuit brought by DC Comics against Fawcett’s Captain Marvel. The licensed publisher of Captain Marvel comics in the U.K., L. Miller & Sons, Ltd., chose to transition the publication of Captain Marvel comics into Marvelman by announcing Captain Marvel’s retirement and laying the groundwork for the title to transition to Marvelman. The publisher even kept the same issue numbers.

 The publisher hired Mick Angelo to create Marvelman and make some changes. Billy Batson, Captain Marvel’s alter ego, became Micky Moran. Batson worked as a cub reporter for a radio station. Moran worked as a copy boy for a newspaper. Batson received his powers from an old wizard. Moran received his powers from a scientist. Batson had to utter the phrase “Shazam!” in order to turn into Captain Marvel, while Moran had to utter the phrase “Kimota!” to turn into Marvelman. Even though there were differences between the two characters, it is easy to see similarities.

Much of this is informed speculation on my part, but Marvelman, and subsequently Miracleman, could have had a much shorter life than it did. Clearly, at least in my mind, Fawcett could have taken action against L. Miller & Sons.

Taking into consideration the copyright infringement lawsuit that they just lost to DC Comics, the similarities between Marvelman and Captain Marvel are much closer than those between Superman and Captain Marvel. Further, Fawcett could have asserted trademark claims arising from the similarities of the two characters’ names and confusion arising from the launch of Marvelman. Fawcett also could have asserted a breach of contract claim, depending on the terms of their agreement. Why didn’t Fawcett take action? My guess is that they just didn’t care after losing the lawsuit to DC.

DC Comics also could have taken action. They just had a court find Captain Marvel to be a copyright infringement of Superman. It is likely they might have been successful in finding the derivative Marvelman to also be a copyright infringement. Unfortunately, I do not know why they didn’t do so. My initial guess is because it was in the U.K., and they (i) either didn’t feel threatened by it or (ii) didn’t think the copyright law was as favorable to them there. In the intro to Marvelman Classic vol. 1, Derek Wilson notes the many countries where Marvelman was distributed; the U.S. is absent from that list. Would DC have taken action if Marvelman had made its way to the U.S. during that era? It’s an interesting thought.

Marvelman fascinates me because of so much of the legal wrangling that had occurred involving the character and because of the legal what-if’s that the character managed to avoid. The original Marvelman comics were only published for nine years, but the character’s legacy and history continues to this day—and is still as complicated as ever.