Marvelman poses heroically.


Medium: Comic books
Published by: L. Miller & Sons, Ltd.
First Appeared: 1954
Creator: Mick Anglo
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In everyday life, the British comic book character Marvelman, a big, strapping superhero capable of fulfilling all the power fantasies of his adolescent readers, was a young boy just like the readers themselves. He made the transformation by merely saying a special word. He had a couple of subordinate characters, also kids in normal life, who used the same method to transform into lesser superheroes. And if all that sounds a lot like the American comic book character Captain Marvel, there's a good reason — Marvelman was designed …

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… to be just like Captain Marvel, because his purpose was to replace that hero, both in the publisher's line-up and in the hearts of fans.

This was necessary because the British publisher, L. Miller & Sons, was reprinting Cap's adventures, as well as those of Captain Marvel Jr. and Mary Marvel, when Fawcett Publications decided to throw in the towel on the long-running lawsuit by which DC Comics attempted to quash Cap as a Superman imitator. Sales were down throughout the U.S. comic book market, and superheroes, whose heyday had been the early days of World War II, were especially hard hit. It was a good time to get out of the comics business, Fawcett's management decided, so agreeing never again to publish Cap and his supporting characters seemed a small price to pay for getting rid of an ongoing headache.

This presented a problem for Miller, where Cap etc. were still big sellers — in fact, the biggest the company had. The solution was obvious: clone them. Miller hired cartoonist Mick Anglo for the task. At the end of 1953, as the Fawcett titles were dropping off, their Miller counterparts ran announcements that Cap, Junior and Mary had decided to go back to living as normal kids, and would be giving their powers back to old Shazam, the wizard. As of the January 27, 1954 issues, Marvelman and Young Marvelman replaced Cap and Junior, respectively, even to the point of continuing the numbering of the old series and transferring subscriptions to the new ones. Kid Marvelman, tho not exactly analogous to Mary, was added in 1956.

Marvelman was Micky Moran, a copy boy at The Daily Bugle (no relation to the paper published by Spider-Man's nemesis, J. Jonah Jameson). He'd been judged worthy by a dying "astro-scientist", Guntag Barghelt, and was consequently granted control of the universe's "key harmonics". After that, whenever danger threatened, he could transform into Marvelman by saying the word "kimota!" (which, as readers immediately noticed, was almost, but not quite, "atomic" spelled backward). Repeating the word would change him back to Micky. For an arch-enemy, he had a renegade scientist named Gargunza, who was a lot like Captain Marvel's Dr. Sivana. Another recurring villain was Nastyman, a black-clad analog to Captain Marvel's Black Adam.

Young Marvelman was delivery boy Dicky Dauntless. His magic word was "Marvelman", just as Cap Jr.'s was "Captain Marvel". Both Gargunza and Nastyman had "Young" counterparts for Young Marvelman to fight. Kid Marvelman was 9-year-old Johnny Bates. The three got together regularly as The Marvelman Family, just as Fawcett's characters had formed The Marvel Family. They're widely believed to be Britain's first native-born superheroes. This isn't quite true (they were preceded by The Bat in 1940, The Amazing Mr. X (no relation) in 1944 and a couple of other obscuros), but they were certainly the first to achieve notable success.

Anglo's studio continued to produce, and L. Miller published, Marvelman and Young Marvelman on a weekly basis. Marvelman Family was monthly, and Kid Marvelman didn't have his own title. The line continued until 1963, which, paradoxically, was about when the superhero genre was taking off again in America. Very likely, it was increased competition from U.S. imports that brought on cancellation of all the Marvelman characters.

A couple of decades after their demise, Captain Marvel and his entourage were brought back by another publisher. So were Marvelman and his spin-offs. In 1982, publisher Dez Skinn (using "Quality Comics", no relation to the original publisher of Plastic Man and Blackhawk, as an imprint) acquired rights to all three, and made Marvelman a prominent feature in his new comic book, Warrior. Writer Alan Moore (Watchmen, V for Vendetta) brought the characters up-to-date. It was illustrated by Garry Leach, one of many British artists who have, at one time or another, drawn Judge Dredd.

In the new scenario, Michael Moran, now about 40, rediscovered his hazy memories of Marvelman. The villain was the grown-up Johnny Bates, who had long ago decided he liked being super-powered a lot more than he did his ordinary self, and hadn't switched back in years. Unlike the original version, where things often got more than a little silly, this one was aimed at adults. In fact, most of the original adventures were written off as artificially-induced false memories.

A few years later, the new Marvelman was reprinted in America, by Eclipse Enterprises (Airboy, Ms. Tree). But Marvel Comics, which claimed a trademark on all use of the word "marvel" in U.S. comic books, forced them to change the name. As Miracleman, the revived hero went on to an illustrious career. But now that the name, as well as the old stories, has been left behind, there isn't much left of Marvelman.


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Text ©2005-10 Donald D. Markstein. Art © L. Miller & Sons Ltd.