Devoted to Joy (The Last War in Albion Part 85: Garry Leach's Marvelman)


This is the thirteenth of fifteen parts of The Last War in Albion Chapter Nine, focusing on Alan Moore's work on V for Vendetta for Warrior (in effect, Books One and Two of the DC Comics collection). An omnibus of all fifteen parts can be purchased at Smashwords. If you purchased serialization via the Kickstarter, check your Kickstarter messages for a free download code.

The stories discussed in this chapter are currently available in a collected edition, along with the eventual completion of the story. UK-based readers can buy it here.

Previously in The Last War in Albion: Following the cessation of Captain Marvel stories on the part of Fawcett Comics, L. Miller & Son, a British company that had been publishing reprints of Fawcett's material, created a transparent knockoff of Captain Marvel called Marvelman. In 1981, Moore pitched a revival of the character for Warrior, with the idea that Mickey Moran, Marvelman's human alter-ego, had forgotten his magic word, and indeed that he was Marvelman, until one day he was taken hostage by terrorists.

"He was mad. He devoured Nietzsche's writings, enamored of the idea of the superman being devoted to joy, and bringing joy by dint of his existence." -Warren Ellis, Stormwatch

Figure 649: The iconic panel of Marvelman's
return as reworked by Alan Davies. (Written
by Alan Moore, art by Alan Davies after Garry
Leach, from "The Yesterday Gambit" in Warrior
#4, 1982)
Moran, held hostage, sees the word “ATOMIC” reflected in a door, and reads it backwards, out loud, suddenly transforming into Marvelman. The terrorist next to him simply drops dead, burnt to death in the force of Marvelman’s transformation. Seven feet tall and blue, he trivially cleans up the terrorists and flies away, joyful at being a superhero again. Moore then goes on to outline some future plots, starting with one in which Kid Marvelman turns out also to have survived, but in his superhero form, which he remained in, growing rich and powerful with his secret abilities and becoming, in Moore’s words, “a nasty amoral son-of-a-bitch.” He also suggests an arc in which Gargunza’s employers take an interest in the newly returned Marvelman after he visits the grave of Dicky Dawson, Young Marvelman, followed by one in which Marvelman confronts Gargunza himself. “This should take us well into the stage where we’re selling the film rights and printing up the T-Shirts and similar,” Moore quips, although this would more or less have been true save for a series of creative conflicts and poor investments. “I’ll worry about what comes next when I get that far.” Moore then suggests Dave Gibbons or Steve Dillon as artists - both had in fact already been sounded out but were uninterested - and notes that he could rework the idea with a Marvelman pastiche, perhaps called Miracle Man, if the rights prove unavailable. This pitch sufficiently impressed Skinn that he asked Moore to write a first installment on spec that, if Skinn liked it, would land him the job.

(The last point raised in Moore’s pitch raises a significant issue in turn: the character of Marvelman was created by another company, and Skinn had to make sure he did not infringe upon their copyrights. This fact would end up causing a series of problems for over thirty years until Marvel Comics finally solved them all by rounding up everybody who might have had rights to the character and paying them off over the course of 2009-13. The result of this decision - entirely necessary given the eventual mess into which the legal situation had by that point degenerated - means that the actual legal situation has become a sort of superposition of competing claims, none of which had or ever will have their day in court, having been rendered irrelevant in the face of Marvel’s expenditures, and all of which are now essentially irrelevant, no matter how much ink was spilled over them back in the day.

Figure 650: Marvelman art with added copyright
notice from the 1977 anthology Nostalgia: Spotlight
on the Fifties
Regardless, it appears that what happened was as follows. At the start, there were only two plausible entities who might have held the copyright to Marvelman: L. Miller & Sons and Mick Anglo. The former had gone out of business in 1974, without taking any action with the rights. This left Mick Anglo. Skinn, for his part, concluded that Anglo had no rights to the character, and that it was thus in the public domain. This is not entirely straightforward, as Anglo had, in 1977, reprinted a page of Young Marvelman art in an anthology called Nostalgia: Spotlight on the Fifties and added a copyright notice. Certainly Anglo is, in the wake of Marvel’s resolution of the matter, the “official” person who held the rights prior to Marvel, with Marvel’s deal to acquire the character having been made with Anglo, followed by them settling with all of the creators involved in the property over the course of the 1980s and 90s to republish their specific stories. But this is, notably, merely the way in which Marvel presented a process that really amounted to paying everybody who might plausibly sue over the rights enough money to promise that they wouldn’t. But regardless of what the eventual 2009 resolution of the rights saga was, in 1981 Skinn concluded that Anglo’s work had been a work-for-hire. All the same, he contacted Anglo to ask for his permission, which Anglo appears to have given without any expectation of payment, although Skinn did pay Anglo for reprinting some of Anglo’s stories in the 1984 Marvelman Special

Figure 651: The numerous debates over the legal
status of Marvelman were finally put to an end
when Marvel began reprinting Moore's material in 2014.
This also, however, raises the question of Moore’s own intellectual property rights. The entire concept of Warrior was that, unlike their work for companies like IPC or Marvel UK, Moore and the other contributors would retain creative ownership. This also applied to Marvelman, although, as a previously created character, it was somewhat more complex than with V for Vendetta. The understanding that everyone had at the time was that the rights were split between Moore, Leach, and Quality Publications, which is to say, Skinn. Over the next decade, these supposed rights would be traded around among the writers and artists as they came and went, a process that would eventually become a key component of a legal dispute between Neil Gaiman and Todd McFarlane, before, like everything else, being superseded by Marvel’s “pay everyone” plan. Nevertheless, the question of exactly how Skinn obtained these rights was not entirely settled. Moore’s recollection is that Skinn told him he’d purchased the rights from the Official Receiver, who owned them following L. Miller & Son’s 1963 bankruptcy. This is, it should be noted, precisely the sort of detail Moore is not always great about recalling. If that was Skinn’s explanation to Moore, it was clearly a fabrication, not least because L. Miller & Son did not go bankrupt in 1963 or, indeed, at all. And Moore has not been subtle in suggesting malfeasance on Skinn’s part, bluntly saying that “my opinion - for what that is worth - is that there was knowing deceit involved in the Marvelman decision.” But for all of this, it is worth stressing a key fact about Skinn’s conduct, namely that he, through all of this, never would have thought about what he was doing in terms of creating a watertight legal case for the purposes of resolving a thirty-year-long intellectual property dispute. From his perspective, once Mick Anglo gave his blessing to the project - and it’s clear that he did - the rights were settled, and as long as, at any given point, everyone who might sue was satisfied and not going to do so, that was more than sufficient for the purposes of publishing Warrior, although it would turn out that he had not adequately considered one other company with a potential legal claim in a character called Marvelman.)

Figure 652: Kid Marvelman revealed. (Written by Alan Moore, art by Garry
Leach, from "When Johnny Comes Marching Home," in Warrior #3, 1982)
Moore’s script was a fairly direct adaptation of what he suggested in his pitch, to the extent of containing sections of the pitch as caption boxes, and was sufficient to get him the job. The artist chosen for the project was Garry Leach, who had been recommended by David Lloyd, and who had previously worked with Moore on “They Sweep the Spaceways,” one of his Future Shocks for IPC. Leach drew the first three installments of the strip, covering Moore’s initial script, an issue focusing on Marvelman coming back to explain what’s going on to his/Moran’s wife, giving Moore an opportunity to recap Marvelman’s canonical origin story and how a superhero came to be a middle aged journalist, (Liz Moran laughs at the absurdity of the story, upsetting Marvelman, who protests, “This may, damn it… this does sound silly in 1982, but in the fifties it made perfect sense”) and a third introducing Kid Marvelman/Johnny Bates, and ending with the revelation that Kid Marvelman has gone bad in a series of caption boxes as he unveils himself: “the cold lightning of fear skewers them, and they feel the terrible hunger in the heart of the storm… they see the smile on the face of the tiger.”

Figure 653: The cover of the Warrior Summer
Special, which ended up also being the fourth
issue, to considerable confusion.
The next installment of Marvelman marked the point where things started to go wrong for Warrior and, indeed, for the strip. Skinn’s original plan was to do a Summer Special of Warrior, which would include a Marvelman strip called “The Yesterday Gambit” in which Moore flashed forward in his plot line. This consisted of three sections: a frame story drawn by Steve Dillon and featuring Marvelman exploring an underwater structure built by aliens and called Silence with a mysterious figure called Warpsmith, and a pair of sections in which Marvelman fights past versions of himself, one from during the adventure where Gargunza attempted to kill him, and one set between the first and second issues of Warrior, the former drawn by Paul Neary, the latter by Alan Davis. After drawing power from his encounters with his past selves, Marvelman and Warpsmith are attacked by Kid Marvelman, leading into a cliffhanger.

Unfortunately, Warrior was running into financial troubles from the start. Sales on the first issue had only been 40,000 or so, which was far lower than Skinn had hoped for. On top of that Leach was proving to be a slow artist, and deadlines on Marvelman were imperiled from the start. The result of all of these problems was that the Summer Special and the fourth issue of Warrior were hastily merged together into one, resulting in confusing numbering and further harming sales. This began the long and slow decent into failure for Warrior as payments grew increasingly late and increasingly small, resulting in various creators abandoning Warrior for more lucrative and reliable work. 

Figure 654: Kid Marvelman brutally murders Stephanie. (Written by Alan
Moore, art by Garry Leach, from "Dragons" in Warrior #5, 1982)
The first to do so was Leach, who was finding the amount of time that Marvelman was taking and the pay Warrior was offering an unsatisfying combination. He stayed onboard as part of the magazine’s design team but after one more installment in Warrior #5, resolving the Kid Marvelman story handed off art duties to Alan Davis, inking Davis’s first two strips to smooth the transition. These three installments concluded the Kid Marvelman story, with the character ending up far more disturbing than the merely “amoral son-of-a-bitch” and becoming an actively homicidal sociopath who casually kills his secretary and assistant, which Leach gruesomely depicts a startlingly disturbing caption box of Moore’s reading “Her name is Stephanie. She likes Adam and the Ants. Her boyfriend’s name is Brian. She collects wedgewood. Her insides have turned to water. She is only human.” Kid Marvelman also proves far more powerful than Marvelman, having had years to master his powers, and over the course of Leach’s last strip and Davis’s first pummels Marvelman nearly to death, the fight prompting a series of phonecalls depicted in small inset panels responding to “a signal that has been anticipated for nearly eighteen years” and resulting in a character named Sir Dennis Archer exclaiming, “Oh God. They’re back. The monsters are back.” But in the course of his brutal beating of Marvelman, Kid Marvelman makes a crucial mistake, gloating, “I beat him!! He thought he was bloody great and I beat him to a whimpering pulp!! And now I’m going to finish him off! Me! His adoring junior protege! Me. Kid Marvelman.” 

As this happens, Moore narrates: “Kid Marvelman. Johnny Bates. He was human once. But he’s forgotten all that. He has forgotten the curious hurts and joys of humanity. He has forgotten the warmth of bodies locked in love, forgotten the painful beauty of children. He has forgotten the primal terror that hides int he heart of the lightning, of the thunder. He should not have forgotten the thunder.” For “Marvelman” was to Johnny Bates what “Kimota” was to Mickey Moran - the word that transformed him back and forth between his identities, causing him to suddenly change back into a small and terrified child, seemingly no longer dangerous (although this assumption on Marvelman’s part has already been undermined for the reader by the flash forward in “Yesterday’s Gambit”). 

Leach’s last involvement with Marvelman came in Warrior #7, published in November of 1982, eight months after the magazine’s debut. It appeared alongside installments of The Spiral Path, Shandor, Demon Stalker, Laser Eraser and Pressbutton, a Paul Neary strip called Madman that had debuted in Warrior #2, and the “Virtue Victorious” installment of V for Vendetta, in which Evey helps V bring down the pedophile Bishop of Westminster. Entitled “Secret Identity,” the strip served as a transitional beat between the Kid Marvelman story that had just resolved and the story of Evelyn Cream and Project Zarathustra, set up in the denouement of that story. It would also, idiosyncratically, be one of the major causes of Moore’s eventual departure from the strip just under two years later. 

Figure 655: The torment within Johnny Bates's mind. (Written by Alan Moore,
art by Alan Davis and Garry Leach, from "Secret Identity," in Warrior #7, 1982)
The eight page strip jumps among settings, starting with Sir Dennis Archer shortly after briefing the sapphire-toothed Evelyn Cream on his mission. Archer reflects on the events of October 12th, 1963, when they blew up the Marvelman Family. The second page has Mike and Liz out on Dartmoor, getting ready to test Marvelman’s powers. Liz brings a stack of American superhero comics, reading off possible powers he could have. The third goes to Johnny Bates, now in the hospital, catatonic. The scene shifts to inside Bates’s mind, where Kid Marvelman berates him, calling him a “snot-nosed little pratt” and a “snotty little virgin.” Then it cuts back to Marvelman and Liz investigating his powers, trying to figure out exactly how they work and how, for instance, the impact of a massive boulder falling on him doesn’t drive his feet into the ground at all. Page five has Evelyn Cream, with caption boxes explaining how he has figured out that Marvelman must have been one of the reporters at Larksmere, that the transformation probably resulted in some sort of energy transfer, and that the terrorist with burns was probably closest when it happens, arriving at the hospital. This is followed by one more page of the Morans, with Marvelman having turned back into Mike and the two of them driving off. As they do, Liz tells Mike that “I’ve missed my last periods and I’m going to have a baby and it isn’t yours its Marvelman’s.” [continued]


Eric Gimlin 5 years, 10 months ago

Minor fun on the sales/distribution problems Warrior had: Skinn was selling off copies of issue #4 (and others) on eBay at 4 pounds each back in 2011. The fact that he was still sitting on copies at that point surprised the heck out of me, given the demand for the #4 in particular back in the day (as the only MM story from Warrior not reprinted in the US run.)

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Daru 5 years, 10 months ago

Really interesting to hear about the background to the disputes over ownership of Marvelman. I had when I picked up reading the editions that came out later after Warrior and Garry Leach, heard a little about rights issues from a friend in the eighties but I had not idea that there had been such a complicated background history to the comic.

That is a pretty intense panel where poor Stephanie is murdered. The one thing that really drives home the brutality of Kid Marvelman is his relaxed posture in the way he is portrayed, especially in the central panel where he floats whilst appearing quite calm, as opposed to the traditional 'hero' postures.

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Maneesh Kumar 4 years, 8 months ago

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