The original Miracleman comic has been out of print for years and become famous for the legal battles surrounding its copyright. At one point, Sandman and American Gods writer Neil Gaiman took the creator of Spawn to court in order to regain copyright that he may never have owned in the first place. But who could've guessed that the place you're most likely to see Miracleman - arguably the series that made Alan Moore's career - would be in an Australian theater?
Miracleman started life as Marvelman, a hastily-created character that allowed British publisher L. Miller & Son to cash in on Captain Marvel's popularity even after they'd lost the publication rights to the character in the 1950s. When Alan Moore revived the character for the seminal Warrior comic in the early 1980s, it was the first time a formerly "innocent" superhero was revised in "realistic" terms, heralding in a storytelling style that would appear again and again, from books like The Dark Knight Returns to The Ultimates and beyond (The Marvelman/Miracleman name change came when the strip made its American debut, to avoid a potential lawsuit from Marvel Comics). Moore stayed with the character until the early 1990s, when he passed both the writing of the series and what he believed to be his part in the ownership of the character to Neil Gaiman and Mark Buckingham, who went on to produce another eight issues of the series before the publisher, Eclipse, went bankrupt.
Here's where things get confusing.
Spawn creator Todd McFarlane bought the intellectual property of Eclipse, which he believed to include Miracleman. As part of a deal to regain complete copyright of two Spawn characters created and co-owned by Gaiman, McFarlane promised the return of his share of Miracleman copyright to Gaiman but then changed his mind, and Gaiman (with the assistance of Marvel Comics) sued McFarlane to force him to comply with this agreement. Gaiman won, but that was only the start of the problems; it turned out that McFarlane may never have owned any of Miracleman in the first place.
The current state of the legal ownership of Miracleman is, at best, somewhat uncertain. There are multiple versions of who may own the character: Eclipse's ownership may have been voided when the company went bankrupt, according to former Warrior publisher Dez Skinn. Skinn, Moore and artist Gary Leach may have been accidentally illegally using the character in the first place, claims the character's creator, Mick Anglo, because he owns Marvelman 100% and always has done. Alternatively, L. Miller & Son may have owned the copyright and so, whoever owns their intellectual property owns the character or, finally, the character may be - and always has been - public domain and the only legal ownership that matters is for the stories themselves and not the character at all.
All of which means that the series, one of the most important in Western mainstream comics, has been out of print for years and doesn't seem to be returning anytime soon. Which brings us, at last, to Australia and performers Bruce Woolley and Bernard Caleo.
The duo have taken the story from Moore's run on the series and adapted it for a two-man show currently running in Melbourne's Croft Institute. A show that is, apparently, surprisingly good:
Any fears of a pair of "comic book geeks" making fools of themselves on stage should be immediately dispelled. This production is a deeply performative affair that combines many layers and techniques of open theatricality that renders the piece almost more like a work of experimental theatre or performance art than a conventional play... Woolley and Caleo are equally talented performers, and totally in their element. As both the actors and adaptors, their command of and commitment to the material is evident, and they have a terrific chemistry, pulling off this complex show with astonishing slickness.
Quite how they managed to get the rights to the character/material is open to question, but in a strange way, it's nice to see that Moore's groundbreaking story is getting out there somehow. Here's hoping the show will find someway to come to the States sometime soon.
Miracleman [Australian Stage]