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Points of Articulation

yo go re

When Superman was first created, he inspired a slew of imitators, though none was as closely linked as Captain Marvel. With the same sorts of powers, a bright costume and a cape, the Big Red Cheese was quite obviously a son of the Man of Steel.

Once Cap started making more money than Superman, DC Comics sued Fawcett (his publisher) into stopping production, but the character lived on. Captain Marvel's adventures had been reprinted in England, and when the American material stopped, the publisher created "Marvelman," a clear rip-off of its progenitor, right down to the young sidekicks. Fawcett was in no position to sue and DC didn't care about such a niche market, so they let it go.

But when Marvel Comics rose to prominence, they didn't like any competition; through the power of their money and lawsuit-happy legal department, Captain Marvel would forever be published under the title of "Shazam!" and a Marvelman revival written by an unknown Alan Moore was pulled from its magazine. These "slash and burn" tactics were the beginning of Moore's dislike and distruct of Marvel Comics.

In 1985, smalltime publisher Eclipse began reprinting Marvelman under the name "Miracleman" to avoid Marvel's costly ire. When Moore finished his run on the story (covering six isues of reprints and ten of new material), his chosen successor, an unknown Neil Gaiman, took over, picking up loose threads and making the world of Miracleman all the richer. Gaiman had planned for a three-part arc, and his first issues were wonderfully received, but Eclipse shortly went bankrupt and a copyright battle began.

Alan Moore and the series' artist originally owned one-third of the copyright, and that ownership potentially moved to whomever was the current creative team, but also may have reverted to Moore upon the title's cancellation. Mick Anglo, Marvelman's creator, and Dez Skinn, editor of the magazine in which the stories appeared, may also own part of the rights. Eclipse owned part, but it may have lost it upon its bankruptcy. Alan Davis owns all rights to the artwork he provided to the series, which Eclipse reprinted illegally.

In 1998, Todd McFarlane bought Eclipse Comics' copyrights and tangible property (things like the films used for printing) at auction. He obviously thought those copyrights included Miracleman, since Todd made public statements at the time to that effect. Todd wanted to merchandise Miracleman like he did everything else, and that understandably upset Gaiman.

Neil had created several important (and wildly popular) characters for McFarlane's Spawn comic, but had never received royalties for the reported 1.1 million copies sold. McFarlane Toys even produced figures of the characters in question. As compensation for all this, Gaiman agreed to accept the rights and films for Miracleman. Todd, however, may have never completed the transfer of rights, and the copyright confusion extended even further.

Despite no clear legal stance, Miracleman's alter ego began appearing in Spawn spinoff Hellspawn, though that series went away before any transformation into the big guy. Gaiman, Moore and (artist on Gaiman's issues) Mark Buckingham transferred all their rights over to Marvels and Miracles, LLC, which would then represent the interests of Miracleman, rather than soley Neil Gaiman, in court. Joe Quesada, editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics, stated that he would be willing to allow Marvelman to return to his original name, and expressed an interest in publishing both the existing catalog and any new issues.

In October of 2002, a federal jury found that Gaiman did have a right of ownership for the characters he created for McFarlane, and that Todd had breached the 1997 contract which promised the swap of Neil's characters for the Miracleman rights.

Within days of the verdict, Todd quietly announced plans to produce a cold-cast Miracleman statue, which were later made official in January of this year. Standing 12" high, this would be the ultimate extension of Todd's crippling inability to design a toy with articulation. Sculpted in McToys' usual ultra-realistic style, the statue didn't look anything at all like any artist's version of the character.

When the idea was unveiled, everyone scoffed: fans of Miracleman knew what Todd had done to Neil Gaiman and how his childish temper had only served to make things worse, and they certainly wouldn't support it; people who didn't know anything about Miracleman wouldn't care about the character enough to drop upwards of $100 on a statue of him. Todd's seemingly pathological need to be right was blinding him to clear and simple insight about his own company. But then again, it was his company: if he wanted to throw money down a hole, who could stop him?

As an exclusive figure for the 2003 San Diego Comic Convention, McToys announced plans to produce two 4" PVC figures: one based on Spawn's appearance as a hidden character in the upcoming Soul Calibur II video game, and the other based on the Miracleman statue.

The Spawn figure is based on the same mold as Series 20's mass market Spawn figure, with a only few minor changes planned: he's got two skulls and a chain at his neck, and his only accessory is the large Spawn-sigil axe he uses in the videogame. To differentiate the SDCC Spawn from the retailer exclusive Spawns, the exclusive would not include the axe, but a fun throwback to the first Spawn figure: a board with a nail in it. The original figure was no triumph of articulation, and McToys certainly wasn't about to go back in to add more. This small size puts Spawn in the same scale as the planned Soul Calibur line of figures, so that's a nice bonus, at least.

Miracleman, in both statue and figural form, has a rather ridiculous stance. With his feet spread wide, he's twisting to the side and has his arm raised. Despite all this seeming power, he's got a dopey "aw shucks" look on his face. The statue is supposed to come with a large crater base, but the figure has no such thing. What it does have is an over-detailed sculpt, no articulation and only a dubious claim to legality.

The saddest part about this whole copyright debacle is that Todd McFarlane, once the king spokesman of creator's rights, has done everything is his power to abridge the rights of any creator who isn't him. Barreling through the issues with all the petulance of an upset toddler, Todd seems to be of the mindset that he cannot be wrong and he'll stick it to anyone who disagrees.

This entire situation could have been resolved if Todd had just been a grown-up about it; we'd still be able to get figures of Angela, Cogliostro and Medieval Spawn, there would be Marvelman comics on the shelves, and everyone in the industry would have more respect for Todd. But who wants to satisfy fans when you can make a fast buck and prove yourself to be the jerk that so many have said you to be?

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