Marvel(ous) Miracle!

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One of the most famous of Britain’s home-grown superheroes is Marvelman, who has a long and pretty complicated history. He came about when National Publications (later DC Comics) threatened to sue Fawcett Publications, the owner of Captain Marvel, because he was considered to be too similar to Superman (later, DC simply bought out Fawcett instead).

Captain Marvel was an ordinary boy, who was chosen by an ancient wizard to become a mighty hero (with the powers of various Greek gods) when he said the word “Shazam!”. Much later, the Captain Marvel comic was actually named Shazam!, due to legal threats from Marvel comics.

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In the UK, Captain Marvel had been a big seller, so Len Miller and Mick Anglo created their own version, called Marvelman. Marvelman was the alter-ego of Micky Moran, who transformed when he said “Kimota”, which is Atomic backwards. Marvelman also had a slightly more “scientific” basis, as opposed to Captain Marvel’s mythical basis. The character first appeared in “issue 25” of Marvelman, so numbered because there had been 24 issues of Captain Marvel before it. Mind you, it wasn’t unusual for the one-shot and short-run comics of the late 40’s and early 50’s to begin with high numbers, to make them look more “stable” and “regular” than they were.

The series came to an end in the 50’s, but was revived in the early 80’s in Warrior, written by Alan Moore. This carried on, but a battle over pay saw the series end abruptly 5 issues before Warrior itself ended. Then an American publisher called Eclipse Comics got hold of the character, and Neil Gaiman started to write an epic story, continuining on from the Warrior stories. But then Eclipse comics went bust before it could be finished.

After some back-and-forth legal battles, it was discovered Dez Skinn, who started Warrior, had never actually bought the rights to the character anyway, so Mick Anglo still owned them. Marvel Comics jumped in and bought the rights for themselves – so we can finally enjoy complete reprints of the stories, sold in large numbers from shops – without any worries of legal wrangles / bankruptcy causing the character to vanish again!

The first issue of the new Marvel title. which is still called Miracleman, as that’s the name American readers are more familiar with, came out in January, containing the first two parts from Warrior, three old stories, a (new?) introduction story, and some short articles and unadulterated art board scans.

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We start with the introduction story, a tale which leads into the first part of the Alan Moore version. With depressing inevitability, it’s been done in a “retro” style. The colouring is done in that ‘deliberately bad’ way, which can also be seen making Batman ’66 unreadable. What makes it even worse is the fact that, as we learn from the pages at the back of the very same issue, the original stories were not even in colour! The story is about the original Marvelman of the 50’s, who encounters time-travelling villains from the utopian future world of 1981. They invade “Cornwall” (which is full of American soldiers), and are able to fight our heroes using “magnetic gas” which is fired from “video rings”.

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After they are defeated, we jump into the Warrior story, which is set in 1982. But this time it’s the 1982 we remember (well, people who are old enough to XD), with lots of eco-warriors protesting against nuclear power stations. Now Micky Moran is a middle aged journalist, who is covering one of these protests when terrorists appear and herd everybody inside the power station’s canteen. Micky feels ill, and collapses, so they drag him out. On the way, he spots “Atomic” written on a glass door, but as he’s on the other side it reminds him of “Kimota”, the magic word from his recurring dreams about superpowers. He transforms into Marvelman, easily defeats the terrorists (they only bought AK47’s with them) and goes home. He starts to tell his wife all about his super-adventures, but she just thinks they sound stupid. Then “the big bad” turns up.

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After that, we get some short interviews and articles about the original Marvelman, and some reproductions of the very gaudy covers (with far superior colouring to the “retro”, “deliberately bad” colouring of the introduction story).

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Then we’re onto the good stuff – the 50’s stories! These short, wacky tales treat superheroes as the ridiculous concept they are, every one featuring some pantomime villains planning to steal this, or blow that up. One of the first things you’ll notice about these 50’s stories, though, is how they’re all talking about “malt shops”, “bucks” and “autos”. That’s right – THEY’RE SET IN AMERICA! The fact the “modern” version is set in Britain really highlights the spitting contempt in which our modern wannabe-yank creators and fans hold old British comics. They’d probably just guessed the old Marvelman stories were set in Britain, because those tweed-wearing, pipe-smoking chaps from the 50’s couldn’t possibly have written anything set in johnny foreigner land, eh? What good was the 50’s anyway? There was all racism, and it was illegal to be gay. There was even near-full employment, chances for promotion and ‘social mobilty’ for talented members of the working class, living wages for most workers and railway lines that went everywhere. They even built flood defences after a major storm surge, rather than just telling people they were going to be sacrificed. Thank god we live in more civilised times now, eh?

Complete scans of rare 1940’s British comics

The late forties was an interesting time for British comics. Much of the “old guard” had been swept away by Graveyard week in 1940 and the American “slicks” had become incredibly popular among kids lucky enough to get some from a friendly G.I. Any wheeler-dealing spiv who could get his hands on a load of paper would hastily set up a “publishing company” and produce a comic, it was the one thing guaranteed to sell out (sadly that’s far from the case today). The small print runs, irregular schedules and lack of respect for comics in Britain have all contributed to making these comics incredibly rare today.

But they are also one of the most important parts of British comic history, marking the point where adventure strips really started to take over from text stories. The process had been going on since Rob The Rover in 1920, but really got underway at the end of the war. Even DC Thomson began to put simple strips on the covers of Adventure. Many artists who would go on to become legends of the fifties and sixties got their first ‘break’ in these small comics too.

Because of the huge array of small, obscure companies producing these things, tracing copyrights is virtually impossible. This prevents them from being reprinted in large numbers. They were also all different sizes, making a comprehensive book a difficult thing to create.

BUT then the internet was invented. Working on the assumption that the owners of the copyright on these two comics either:

– No longer care about the comics

– No longer remember the comics

– Are no longer alive

I’m just going to post up full scans anyway. It’s possible that these are the only copies in the world, not even the British Library has a full collection of these short-runs and one-shots. I think it’s far more important to make these stories available for people around the world to read and remember, that to “protect the livelihood” of some anonymous person who is probably long dead.

The Tornado in OH BOY! No. 5  – 1948/9 – Paget Publications

The main story in this comic is about The Tornado, a superhero who in his day-to-day life is journalist Steve Storm. He becomes The Tornado by “exerting his mighty will”. The story manages to pack in three fights against giant creatures in only 4 pages! Oh, it’s also drawn by somebody called Mick Anglo.

The second story is called Post Atom, and is about a man called Jungle Jim, who is a super-strong adventurer. It’s actually the first part of a serial, so if you own the other part and despaired of ever reading the first, this is your lucky day, eh?

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Secret Service Series No. 4 – The Forgers (A Headline Halliday Story) – 1948 – Hotspur Publishing

This comic is slightly smaller, and is also printed in blue and red (maybe there was an abundance of those inks around?). The seller on Ebay said that this was really number 1, though I have since found a website selling Secret Service Series No. 3. In addition the comics.org “grand comics database” lists three issues of this. Also the lead story begins with the heroes talking about a case they had solved before. The whole comic is drawn by Bob Wilkin, who might very well have been the writer and publisher too!

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As you can see, both comics were just 8 very thin pages. The use of red and blue an attempt to look more “colourful” and thus “American” than the black and white fare from DC Thomson and Amalgamated Press. Though full colour comics would not become the norm in Britain until the nineties. As an aside, here’s a size comparison against comics available in Britain today.

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