Marvelman / Miracleman to the Big Screen?
A highly placed source with one of Hollywood’s leading film production companies has revealed to ComicMix that an agent for a Scottish businessman has been offering around to studios and producers the purported feature film rights to Marvelman, the superhero property whose rights status has been in limbo since publisher Eclipse Comics went into bankruptcy in the middle of Neil Gaiman’s iconic run as its writer more than twenty years ago.
Any movement tending to resolve the rights to Marvelman – and to bring it back into print – would be welcome news for fans who have been following the Marvelman saga for more than two decades and been put through a roller coaster ride of ups and downs as a litany of claimants to the rights to Miracleman have continually come out of the woodwork.
When the title was first brought into the United States from England, Eclipse Comics prudently changed Marvelman to Miracleman to avoid obvious potential trademark issues with Marvel Comics, and the series has continued to generate interest in the comics world more than twenty years after it was last published. One top comics editor, speaking not-for-attribution, told ComicMix that “If a publisher could actually be assured that they had the rights to publish the title, and most importantly, if Neil would license the rights to his scripts and would agree to finish the scripts for the story he started but never got to finish, the book sales would be through the roof – we’re talking astronomical. The fact that the title got into the Gaiman/McFarlane litigation has kept it in the spotlight. And Alan Moore wrote issues of the title before Neil, and Alan still has a bit of a following. But Alan isn’t the key to the deal. It’s all about Gaiman.”
So is this Holy Grail of comics finally about to see the light of day with, at minimum, a major Hollywood film? The answer is that it’s possible, but our investigation casts serious doubts on this latest sales effort.
For one thing, there’s the matter of the original author, Mick Anglo. Still alive by all accounts (though Mick Anglo created the character in the 1950’s, putting Mr. Anglo well north of 90 years old), the agent asserts that their rights emanate from Mr. Anglo. Mick Anglo, however,had always had the reputation for maintaining tight control over any derivations from the Marvelman character as Anglo originally conceived it, and our source says that Jon Campbell, the Scottish businessman whom the agent represents, may not have from Anglo a critical waiver of Anglo’s droit morale rights. The phrase refers to the right of a screenwriter and director to take liberties with the story and characters as conceived and depicted in the original source material.
For another thing, the cachet for a Marvelman/Miracleman film would center around Gaiman, as anyone who has read through the comics’ story before Gaiman got hold of it knows, and Gaiman has been steadfast about being unwilling to get involved in the project until the publishing rights were settled and the original creators and artists taken care of. Marvel Comics was widely rumored to have made a run at the publishing rights with Gaiman’s blessing some time ago but apparently either could not make a deal happen or couldn’t assure itself it could get good title to actually publish.
According to our source in Hollywood, the information from the agent showing the rights around reflects that there has been a lot of ownership movement between Mr. Anglo, Mr. Campbell, and various business entities, necessitating, one presumes, a lengthy stack of warranties and indemnities from Anglo, Campbell and the several businesses that purportedly held title at various times.
Presuming a studio could get good title to the character rights the attraction to the character – with Gaiman out of the picture – could only be because of a desire to feature and develop the earlier Alan Moore scripts. But would any Hollywood producer or studio make yet another major investment in adapting another Alan Moore comic script?By this time it seems clear that having Alan Moore’s name on a film isn’t bringing any box office. And apart from the oddity of having the writer of the source material bad mouth every Hollywood production of his work to date, which Mr. Moore generally has characterized as untranslatable into film, has it occurred to anyone in Hollywood that perhaps Alan Moore is right and his writing is untranslatable into film?
Alan Moore’s name used to have cachet in Hollywood for getting movies made, but not one of Moore’s works has actually been made into a good movie. And in economic as opposed to qualitative terms, with one box office bomb after another through to Watchmen, the latest box office failure, one would think that in today’s post-collapse economy, the disastrous reality of the box office histories of films made from decades old Alan Moore scripts might cool the ardor of even the most ignorant comics-blinded studio exec.
This presumes, of course, that a studio could even get good title to the rights to Alan Moore’s scripts, which Moore rather publicly assigned to Gaiman in trust, a fact which our source confides the current sales efforts conveniently ignore.
Perhaps the most fascinating question of all is whether the character even has a usable name in the United States? Almost certainly, the character cannot be called Marvelman – at least not by anyone except Marvel Comics. But the Miracleman name was created by Eclipse Comics. Thus Mick Anglo, and these claimants posturing as Mick Anglo successors, never have had any right to the Marvelman name. The Miracleman name was created by Eclipse Comics precisely because the Marvelman name could not be used by Eclipse Comics.
Moreover, Todd McFarlane has filed for and has applications pending for trademarks in the Miracleman name. The Miracleman name didn’t become associated with the character until Eclipse Comics first published Alan Moore’s scripts (which are apparently now owned by Gaiman), but didn’t attract significant attention until Gaiman took over the scripting, and Gaiman retained sole ownership rights to his scripts – at this point, perhaps the most valuable scripts in comic book history. The record in the U.S. Trademark and Patent Office shows that Gaiman has filed formal objections to the Miracleman trademarks, and that McFarlane’s Miracleman trademark applications and Gaiman’s objections remain pending, by order of the Trademark Office, until resolution of the underlying Gaiman/McFarlane litigation, litigation which is still far from over.
Confused yet? The phrase “Gaiman/McFarlane litigation” is only ringing a distant bell? For those of you who have come in late, and as every true Marvelman fan know, the property was originally created in the1950s in England as a newspaper comic strip replacement for Captain Marvel, which became unavailable in England as a result of United States rights litigation. Marvelman was created so long ago that it precedes the existence of Marvel Comics UK, which is how Mick Anglo got away with the name at the time.
By the mid 1980s the property had been dormant in England for years, but with the onset of the United States independent comics movement, and with those new U.S. publishers hungry to find things to publish,the property was brought over to the states in a deal with Eclipse Comics made by Dez Skinn, who purported to have obtained his rights from Anglo – Skinn’s deal purports to sell a 70% interest in the Marvelman character and property to Eclipse Comics, with the minority interest of 30% retained by Alan Moore. Because by then Marvel Comics had rock-solid o
wnership of the “Marvel” name, Eclipse Comics began publishing the existing stories under the name “Miracleman” rather than“Marvelman,” and made a deal with Alan Moore to write the title’s initial new comic books. Moore ultimately wrote 16 new issues, aided by various artists – with Moore retaining ownership of his scripts. After finishing Miracleman #16, believing he had a minority ownership interest in the character and contractually owning his scripts through his deal with Eclipse Comics, Moore rather publicly deeded his entire interest in the character and his scripts to Neil Gaiman “in trust” so that Gaiman would take over the character.
Gaiman then began a story arc with Eclipse Comics’ issue #17 that was interrupted mid-story (after issue #24) by the sudden liquidation bankruptcy of Eclipse Comics. Miracleman #25 was reportedly completed but has never been seen by the public. Gaiman has said he had intended to do at least 10 more issues to complete his story arc.
Two years after the Eclipse Comics bankruptcy came the break-off from Marvel Comics of seven of its top artists to start Image Comics, with each artist forming his own company to publish through “Image Central.” One of the seven, Todd McFarlane, formed Todd McFarlane Publishing, which began putting out McFarlane’s creation, Spawn. From the beginning, Spawn, like a number of the new titles from the other Image artists, got roundly panned for its lack of story development despite its beautiful art. McFarlane then decides to pull a stunt and have four of the top comics writers each write one Spawn issue. Only one of the four writers, Neil Gaiman, adds to the Spawn mythos, but he does so in a major way: in Spawn #9, Gaiman creates three wholly new characters and adds, among other story elements, a Heaven’s army of angel warriors led by Angela to fight the attackers from hell. Gaiman also creates Medieval Spawn to develop his concept that the modern-day Spawn wasn’t the first Spawn; and Gaiman creates Cogliostro, an older Spawn still on earth, to show modern-day Spawn how to use and preserve his powers. McFarlane later acknowledged that Gaiman’s Spawn additions gave McFarlane enough material to last for over 200 future comic book storylines.
After Spawn issue #9, Gaiman becomes increasingly frustrated over McFarlane’s failure to live up to agreements that Gaiman alleges McFarlane made to compensate Gaiman for McFarlane’s profits from the characters Gaiman created for Spawn. Knowing that Gaiman had always expressed an interest in finishing his uncompleted Miracleman story arc, McFarlane buys the assets of Eclipse Comics from the company’s Trustee in bankruptcy for $50,000 to increase his bargaining position with Gaiman. Gaiman and McFarlane ultimately “settle,” with Gaiman getting McFarlane’s rights to Miracleman acquired by McFarlane from the Eclipse Comics’ Trustee.
Shortly after the “settlement,” McFarlane files for trademarks in the Miracleman name. Gaiman learns of the filings, and Gaiman files objections. Less than three years later the Gaiman/McFarlane dispute ends up in federal court, where a civil jury in Madison, Wisconsin finds that McFarlane made – and breached – three different agreements with Gaiman over the Gaiman-created Spawn characters and McFarlane’s Miracleman interest. The resultant court judgment in Gaiman’s favor dissolves all of the agreements, and awards Gaiman a 50% copyright interest in the Angela, Medieval Spawn, and Cogliostro characters and the publications they were developed in. The Court then orders a pre-agreed-to arbitration to proceed in order to determine how much money McFarlane and his publishing company owe Gaiman for all of the uncompensated uses of the Gaiman-created characters, which had become major-selling McFarlane toys, while Cogliostro became the narrator for HBO’s three-season Spawn animated series.
Though both sides made claims against the other concerning Marvelman, the jury was never asked to make any findings concerning the rights to Marvelman. The trademark office then froze the proceedings concerning McFarlane’s Miracleman trademark applications and Gaiman’s objections until the Gaiman/McFarlane litigation is finished. But before the arbitration is completed, Todd McFarlane Publishing files for bankruptcy to stave off a $15 Million judgment obtained against McFarlane and Todd McFarlane Publishing by former hockey player TonyTwist. As a part of the bankruptcy, Todd McFarlane Publishing sues Gaiman, claiming it owns 100% of the rights to Miracleman, but before the case is brought to trial the case is dismissed “without prejudice,” leaving Gaiman and McFarlane and Miracleman in the same position as they were in when the bankruptcy commenced. As of today, Todd McFarlane Publishing is still under protection of the bankruptcy court, and the arbitration in the underlying Wisconsin litigation, and frozen pending trademark office proceedings regarding Miracleman, continue on, with no end in sight.
So is Miracleman (or is it Marvelman?) about to jump to the big screen? It’s possible. But at this stage, still highly unlikely.