Sunday, June 12, 2005

Captain Marvel:

Why are most of the best shows on TV, Cartoons (Simpsons, Family Guy, Justice League)? One reason why the Justice League is so good is that it is written and produced by those within the comic book industry who attempt to stay very close to what goes on in the comics.

Last night's episode introducing "Captain Marvel" was great. Interestingly, Captain Marvel originally did not "exist" in the same universe as Superman, et al.

He was created and published by another [not DC, home to Superman, et al.] company, Fawcett, which DC effectively put out of business via a series of copyright lawsuits, claiming that Captain Marvel violated DC's copyright on Superman.

Then, perversely in the 1970s DC acquired the rights to Captain Marvel and began publishing the hero. And -- irony of ironies -- Marvel had their own "Captain Marvel" and held the trademark to that name, which they still hold today. DC had to publish their Captain Marvel under the name "Shazam."

So over in the DC Universe, Captain Marvel and the rest of the Marvel Family existed on their own parallel "Earth S."

DC Universe continuity was very messy with all of these different "parallel Earths": Earth 1 -- the main place of continuity, Earth 2 -- the place where Superman, Batman et al. made their "debuts" around WWII (as they originally did in the comics), Earth S, and many many more. Comics have always struggled with "time" -- the characters have been around in real time for many years, some more than 60s years, but they don't age in their stories, which are always set in the present day. If Superman and Batman originally debuted during WWII, then they'd be in their 80s now. This was the main reason why they had to have a "split" between Earth 1 and Earth 2.

But the continuity between the Earths became too "messy" so DC had its Crisis on Infinite Earths that effectively rewrote DC history and squished all of the Earths into one. There would only be one Superman, Batman, etc.; so entire heroes (the WWII era Superman, Batman, etc. Heroes of Earth 2) disappeared. But now Captain Marvel existed in the same reality as Superman. And they existed in the same reality as The Question, The Blue Beetle, Captain Atom, heroes that made their debut in Charlton Comics, to which DC again acquired the rights.

Crisis also gave DC the opportunity to "reboot" heroes who were in much need of rebooting. For instance, the "post-Crisis" Superman wasn't nearly as powerful as the pre-Crisis one; Ma and Pa Kent never died, and Lex Luthor was transformed from a mad scientist, to a ruthless businessman.

But in the meantime, the Multiverse has since come back to the DC universe.

At the time of Crisis, Marvel, on the other hand, claimed it wouldn't mess with its continuity. But it eventually did; it had to. For instance, Tony Stark, Iron Man is currently in his 30s. But as originally conceived, he became Iron Man in Vietnam during the war. He'd be pushing at least 60 if they stayed true to that element of the story.

To tie things back to Captain Marvel: Interestingly, before recent developments [the WTO, the TRIPS agreement] Intellectual Property law really didn't have nearly as much force abroad. So when Fawcett stopped publishing Captain Marvel, which was quite popular in the UK, another publisher in the UK continued the Captain Marvel stories, under the name "Marvelman."

"Marvelman" would have been a footnote in comics history if not for British writer Alan Moore, who has the ability to take old comic book themes, deconstruct them and then brilliantly reconstruct them in...well, you'll just have to read his books. For instance, in his best seller, Watchmen (published by DC), he took Charlton heroes -- The Question, The Blue Beetle, Captain Atom, etc. -- and changed the way that comic book stories would be told forever. His original plan was to use The Question, Blue Beetle, etc., in the stories, but DC wouldn't let him because they were then integrating those characters into DC continuity. So The Question became Rorschach, Blue Beetle became Nightowl, Captain Atom became Dr. Manhattan and so on and so forth.

Well, before Watchmen, he did the same deconstruction-reconstruction thing with "Captain Marvel," only he used "Marvelman" as his foil. Moore's Marvelman, originally published in the UK, was the comic book "Superman-Captain Marvel" narrative viewed through the lens of the Nietzchean-Heideggerian "Superman."

But when Moore tried to publish "Marvelman" in America, you got it, this time it was Marvel comics who stopped him from using that name on Intellectual Property grounds. So "Marvelman" became "Miracleman" and Moore has since never worked for Marvel Comics (and given Moore's immense talent and demand, this turned out to be one of the stupidest things Marvel Comics ever did -- but then again, aggressively protecting IP rights, more often than not, results in the big companies being better off financially, but not always).

More IP mess: Alan Moore's "Miracleman" is like the "Holy Grail" of comics. I have most of Moore's earliest issues, but not the later ones, which are hard to find because they had smaller printings. The comic world would love to see these "reprinted" in Graphic Novels, but Miracleman's legal status is in IP limbo, with legends Neil Gaiman and Todd McFarlane fighting over the rights.

And this time it's Marvel Comics, under new management that desperately wants to published "Miracleman/Marvelman" and finally "make good" with Alan Moore.

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