Miracleman: How Spawn (Almost) Brought Back the Legendary Hero

As one of the biggest superheroes of the ’90s, Todd McFarlane’s Spawn is a perfect distillation of the grim and gritty narratives and aesthetic that defined the era. Like many comics of that era, Spawn felt the dark, direct inspiration of masterpieces like Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen and Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, and Spawn even featured new stories by some of those creators.

While it may not be as well-known as those other works, Miracleman played an equally important role in deconstructing the superhero myth. Featuring a cynical corruption of an old British superhero, the series pushed the envelope of what could be done with superheroes and comic books in general. And in the midst of an infamously complex legal ruling over the hero, Miracleman was even supposed to become a big deal in the pages of Spawn’s comic book. Now, here’s how the undead Al Simmons almost shared a book with one of the most controversial characters in comics.

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Miracleman — who was originally known as Marvelman — was created by Mick Anglo in 19954’s Marvelman #25, a series that was transitioning from featuring reprints of the American comic book hero Captain Marvel — now known as Shazam! — into featuring new stories with very similar original characters. The character’s adventures were the typical cheeky pap of the Silver Age, with the powerful Marvelman family constantly defeating the machinations of the evil Dr. Gargunza with whimsical ease.

However, this all changed when Alan Moore and Gary Leach got their hands on the character in the anthology comic book Warrior in 1982.

Marvelman’s new adventures took the character on a darker, far more mature path, with the youthful Micky Moran now the middle-aged Michael. Having long ago forgotten the magical word that transformed him into Marvelman, Moran turns into the hero again after a terrorist incident jogs his memory. The ensuing events of the book would take a dramatically realistic look at how a superhero would truly change society, and the deeper thematic matter was matched with more explicit violence, gore and sexuality. The events of Miracleman were perhaps more shocking than the similar genre deconstruction in Watchmen. That story focused mostly around powerless vigilantes, while Miracleman very bluntly played with a character who once embodied the wholesome Superman/Captain Marvel archetype.

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While Marvelman was eventually renamed Miracleman to avoid legal trouble with Marvel Comics, Miracleman continued to feature revolutionary work by Moore and later Neil Gaiman that featured the same kind of critically acclaimed, boundary-pushing work that Watchmen and Dark Knight Returns were celebrated for. And in the decade following their publication, the complex, dark themes of those works gave way to nihilistic “grimdark” comics of the ’90s, which matched their tone and outlook, but not always their quality.

Although Spawn was one of the more acclaimed and successful books of that era, McFarlane’s plans to bring Miracleman into Spawn’s world turned into a legal battle from hell.

Starting with Brian Michael Bendis, Steve Niles and Ashley Wood’s Hellspawn #6, McFarlane slowly introduced elements of Miracleman’s mythology into the book. This started with the civilian Mike Moran, before the character “officially” appeared in costume as the so-called “Man of Miracles.” This introduction started after McFarlane had theoretically bought the character as part of his outright acquisition of Eclipse Comics’s creative assets, Miracleman‘s American publisher. While he believed that this acquisition entailed the rights to Miracleman as well, others didn’t see things the same way. McFarlane denied any shared rights with the Eclipse creators, and former Miracleman scribe Gaiman took him to court.

Gaiman established the company Marvels and Miracles LLLC. for the legal task of figuring out just who owned the rights to Miracleman character. After a lengthy high-profile legal battle, it was revealed that Mick Anglo — the original creator of  Marvelman — was the rightful owner to rights. From there, he would go on to officially selling the rights to Marvel Comics, which has since reprinted the character’s old adventures.

While all of this was being untangled, Hellspawn‘s Mike Moran transformed into a new “Man of Miracles” who had nothing to do with any concepts related to Miracleman.

During the character’s brief use in the Spawn comics, Man of Miracles was simply one of several facets of the being known as the Mother of Existence. This character was more powerful than even God and Satan, having created them both and becoming disappointed in their continued squabbling over the happenings of Earth. This revelation came after the legal problems surrounding Miracleman had begun, with the Man of Miracles also having a more anime-inspired redesign that was distinctly different from the classic look.

The Mother persona eventually became the dominant form of the Man of Miracles, and the comic’s subsequent continuity reboots have rendered the stories with either form as no longer canon. For as much attention as McFarlane’s use of the Man of Miracles garnered when it began, the Man of Miracles ultimately bore remarkably little resemblance to Miracleman. While the Man of Miracles may have been one of the strongest characters in Spawn’s universe, the biggest miracle around the character is that they even exist at all.

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Todd McFarlane wanted to reintroduce Miracleman in the pages of Spawn, but legal troubles changed the character into someone completely different.

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