Tuesday, 24 July 2007

Mary Marvelman Makes Me Feel Old

So, to recap: 1954 saw the end of L Miller and Sons’ supply of Captain Marvel and Marvel Family comics to reprint for the British market. They turned to Mick Anglo to come up with a substitute, the Marvelman Family.

Anglo replaced Captain Marvel with Marvelman, and Captain Marvel Jr with Young Marvelman. His biggest change was to replace Mary Marvel with a boy, Johnny Bates, Kid Marvelman.

So perhaps it is only appropriate that Mary Marvel is now recapitulating the character development Alan Moore devised for Johnny Bates when he revived the Marvelman strip.

The thing is, Marvelman came back in 1982 – a quarter of a century ago. Countdown and the Mary Marvel plotline are drawing not just on that, but on other developments in superhero comics that all date back to the 1980s: structurally (the company-encompassing crossover, pioneered with Crisis on Infinite Earths; weekly publication, as attempted with Action Comics), thematically (darker and gloomier plotting and characterisation supposed to appeal to older readers) and even technically (the page as a stanza, the replacement of thought balloons and third-person narration by first person caption boxes).

Go back another 25 years from 1982 and you’re in 1957. Even the journeyman superhero comic book writers of the 1980s had ambitions beyond merely emulating the work of Gardner Fox or, for that matter, Mick Anglo. They had absorbed the developments made by Lee and Kirby, Denny O’Neil and Steve Englehart, among others, in the 1960s and 1970s.

Alan Moore said that the purpose of his America’s Best Comics imprint was to reassemble superhero adventure comics, after deconstructing them in Marvelman and Watchmen. Grant Morrison seems to share that project, especially in All-Star Superman, and I’d guess that it was also the intention behind DC’s One Year Later plan. But too many writers seem to have gone back to taking inspiration from their well-thumbed copies of The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen and – if they’re lucky enough to have them - Marvelman.

That’s the rationalised version. The original, stream-of-thought version of this post ran, “Christ, Moore's Marvelman started twenty-five years ago? Where did the time go? God, I feel old. And everything was better when I was young. Bah!” So my ramblings may be a little skewed by self-pity and nostalgia today.

Pictures and Panels

Marvel Family issue 3, cover by CC Beck and Pete Constanza, Fawcett Comics, July 1946, taken from the Grand Comics Database

Marvelman Family issue 1, L Miller and Sons, October 1956, cover taken from Superbrits

Mary Marvel issue 9, cover by Jack Binder, Fawcett Comics, February 1947, taken from the Grand Comics Database

Marvelman Family “Marvelman Family and the Invaders from the future” by Mick Anglo (script) and Don Lawrence (art), Marvelman Family issue 1, L Miller and Sons, October 1956, reprinted in Marvelman Special issue 1, Quality Communications, 1984

Marvelman “When Johnny Comes Marching Home …” by Alan Moore (writer) and Garry Leach (artist), Warrior issue 3, July 1982

Countdown issue 47, cover by Ed Benes, DC Comics, June 2007, taken from the DC Comics website

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