Not Quite The Avenging Angel I Was Hoping For

Today, for about three minutes, I was convinced that something amazing was going to happen. For that 180 seconds, I was so convinced of this thing that I've spent the rest of the day since I found out it wasn't going to happen trying to recover from the disappointment.

In order to explain fully, I have to back up a few days, to the release of Marvel's solicitations for June, which included this:
AGE OF ULTRON #10 (OF 10)BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS (W)BRANDON PETERSON, CARLOS PACHECO& JOE QUESADA (A/C)Cover by BRANDON PETERSONVariant cover by MARK BROOKSUltron Variant by ROCK-HE KIMSpoiler Variant also availableSpoiler Sketch Variant Also AvailableTHE FINALE!The biggest secret in comics will be revealed to you! An ending so confidential...even the artists of this book don’t know what lies on the final pages...! A surprise so big that comic book legend Joe Quesada himself returns to the pages of Marvel Comics to draw a sequence that people will be talking about for years.40 PGS./Rated T+ ...$3.99*All covers of Age Of Ultron #10 will be polybagged 
Which, you know, alright. Caleb Mozzocco has covered the more absurd aspects of this particular solicitation, and all I have to add is that I'm not particularly interested in Age of Ultron, whether its a universe changing event or not; I'm not enamored of Bryan Hitch's recent work and I'm suffering from a little bit of, and this is a clinical term, event burnout after having spent six months and way too much money on Avengers vs. X-Men.

Then, on Monday, Rich posted the following missive:

Age Of Ultron‘s surprising ending is meant to be top secret, only eight people are meant to know about it and Joe Quesada is drawing the last few pages to preserve the mystery. Nice bit of PR, certainly but it’s not true. 
Guarding the secret has been Marvel’s number one job, but it seems there more than one aspect to Age Of Ultron‘s ending that they are trying to keep confidential. Everyone seems to think I love to spoil stories but it’s just not true, when I discovered one aspect to the ending of Age Of Ultron after the Marvel Summit, they asked me not to run it, so I didn’t (even though it screams at me from this month’s solicitations- could only eight people really know this one?) 
Later, however, I was told a different aspect to the ending, which caused Marvel to properly panic when I shared with Marvel that I knew it – or at least a part of it – and I was told there were all sorts of legal implications if this story got spoiled by me. And so, again, I’m not running it, but I will give you a hint because you deserve at least that, “an unexpected guest star joining the Marvel Universe…”
Again, well, ok. I didn't see the hint, but I also didn't care enough to look particularly hard. All of that was followed up by this announcement this morning:

This summer, acclaimed writer Neil Gaiman makes his return to Marvel—and he won’t be alone!
Those of you with eyes will notice that the press release continues after that, but as soon as I saw that sentence, I put together the following things: Neil Gaiman is returning to Marvel. Age of Ultron ends with the arrival of a special guest. The special guest is a huge, shocking, presumably long awaited surprise, the acquisition of which involved some legal wrangling, and they appear in a part of the comic drawn not by Hitch but instead by Joe Quesada.

Well, that could only mean one thing, right?

Marvelman! It had to be! Gaiman was the last Marvelman writer before the series stopped publication. Quesada had even drawn the announcement poster when Marvel told the comics world it had bought the rights. I was euphoric! Here he is, three years later! Finally! After all this time!

And then I read the rest of that press release, which continues as follows:

June’s AGE OF ULTRON #10 will not only conclude the epic event, but include a special epilogue written by Brian Michael Bendis with art by the legendary Joe Quesada bringing Gaiman’s original creation Angela into the Marvel Universe. Sporting a new Quesada-designed look, Angela will have an immediate impact that carries over into GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY #5 in July, written by Bendis and Gaiman.
Wait, what?

There are a couple of reasons that I find this announcement confusing, and I will keep them separate by using bullet points. First though, some background that you should feel free to skip: Marvelman is a pre-Silver Age Captain Marvel rip-off created by Englishman Mick Anglo. In 1980s, Marvelman was revived by Alan Moore as the creator's most extreme consideration of what a real superhero would be like. At some point, Moore gave his percentage of the rights to the character to Neil Gaiman, who continued the series, which ended at issue #24, with the bankruptcy of its second publisher, Eclipse Comics, which had changed the character's name to Miracleman to prevent a lawsuit from Marvel Comics.

Angela is a character that Gaiman created for Todd McFarlane's Spawn in the early 90s. Gaiman and McFarlane had a very, very long running spat about the ownership of the character and the distribution of associated royalties. In 1996, McFarlane purchased the rights to the Marvelman character and initiated a plan to use him in Spawn. The next year, the two creators came to an agreement: McFarlane would receive the full rights to Angela and a couple of other characters that Gaiman had created for Spawn, and Gaiman would receive the Marvelman rights. At some point, McFarlane backed out of this deal. In 2001, Gaiman founded Marvels and Miracles, LLC in order to figure out how to figure out to whom the rights belonged and in 2002, he wrote 1602 for Marvel, the profits of which went to the LLC. The publication of that series was approximately concurrent with my first major period of interest in comic books.

Then a bunch of years pass and, at San Diego Comic Con 2009, Marvel Comics announced that they had purchased the rights to Marvelman from... Mick Anglo, the character's creator. At the time, it was hoped that this meant that Marvel was going to reprint the Moore and Gaiman written material from the 80s and 90s, and the company promptly reprinted... some Mick Anglo material that, frankly, no one was interested in. Somewhere in all of this, Gaiman and McFarlane come to a deal that lets Gaiman use Angela however he wants. At some other point it also became clear that McFarlane owns the rights to some images associated with Marvelman rather than any actual rights to the character.

In hindsight, the idea that Marvel was going to reprint the Marvelman stuff that people actually wanted to read was, well, insane. Read the "Ownership" section of the Wikipedia article to see just how insane-- nobody has any idea who actually owns the rights to any of it, and I think that it might be a distinct possibility that no one ever will. That's why I was so excited about Marvelman, and so disappointed by what's actually going on.

 Ok, so here's those bullet points about why I'm confused:

  • Did you read all of that? No wonder I'm confused.
  • More importantly: Gaiman fought for a really long time to ensure that he owned a share of Angela. And then he wins! His agreement with McFarlane says that he can use the character however he pleases. And then he turns around and sells, gives, or trades the character to Marvel? I don't understand. 
  • I also don't understand this: why would Marvel introduce Angela at all? Is there a group of fans who care enough about a peripheral Spawn character from two decades ago that it'll boost sales of Guardians of the Galaxy, a book almost guaranteed to sell well because, well, Bendis is writing it and they're making one of those movies everybody loves using those particular characters. Are they going to use Angela in the movie? Why not just create a character from scratch? It's not like Angela would sell more movie tickets than something that they came up with because, again, I don't really think that anybody cares.
With all that in mind, I think that there are three possibilities. The first is that Age of Ultron is just one, big, long, expensive jab at McFarlane. I have no idea why it would be, but the series does have covers that are foil embossed. That foil is as much a symbol of 90s comic excess as McFarlane is himself. This one seems unlikely.

The second is that Marvel wanted Gaiman for Guardians of the Galaxy, his presence will certainly increase the book's sales, even though they're likely to start and stay very high, and he told them he would do it if they would introduce Angela into the Marvel Universe. This one seems possible, although I'm still I'm not sure I see from Gaiman's point of view.

The third possibility is a lot more intriguing, and also more plausible. Keeping in mind that Marvel does completely crazy things at relatively regular intervals, it's a distinct possibility that someone from the company, probably Quesada, decided that he would like to use Angela for Guardians of the Galaxy. Again, I have no idea why Marvel would want to do that, but I don't think that its outside the realm of possibility. It's also pretty clear, and has been since 1994, that Gaiman wants to finish the Marvelman story that Eclipse's bankruptcy intervened in. At this point, Marvel has a claim to a character that's as strong as anyone's, and they have Disney's money and legal muscle to back it up. Given all this, I can't help but wonder if Quesada called up Gaiman and said "Yo, Neal, I was wondering if you would be interested in a trade..." That Rich has even suggested that Marvelman is a possibility now makes me all the more suspicious.

What that means is, of course, an open question, and all of this is very, very idle speculation, but its the only way that I can make any sense of any of this, because, again, none of this makes any sense, from any perspective that I can get my mind around, anyway. If nothing else, its an important reminder that the people that pay other people to make the things that I love don't always make decisions I understand. 

I am, however, always glad to read Gaiman's work, and so this is welcome news even if I don't understand it. I would also very much like to see a nice reprinted edition of Marvelman, with the long awaited conclusion to Gaiman's story in it. If this is a step in that direction, well, who cares how we got there?

Me Gusta Indeed

Well, here's our answer to yesterday's mystery:

Welcome to Panel Syndicate, where artist Marcos Martin and writer Brian K. Vaughan deliver original comics directly to readers around the world, who pay whatever the hell they want for each DRM-free issue. Our first new storyline is THE PRIVATE EYE, a forward-looking mystery we created with colorist Muntsa Vicente. Set in a future where privacy is considered a sacred right and everyone has a secret identity, The Private Eye is a serialized sci-fi detective story for mature readers. You can download our 32-page first issue right now, for any price you think is fair. 100% of your payments go directly into our greedy mitts and will help fund the rest of a story that we're both very proud of (we hope there will be around 10 issues total; an old-school "maxiseries!"), so thanks for reading...
                                                                                          BRIAN & MARCOS
Me gusta indeed. Its nice to see that I was about 75% right yesterday. More once I have some time to click through it, probably tonight or tomorrow. 

Me Gusta

Earlier today, David Aja tweeted links to three promo images for Brian K. Vaughn and Marcos Martin's mysterious new project. The first, courtesy of Zone Negativa, is below, and others were posted to Spanish outlets RTVE (also, at Comicsbeat in English) and Entrecomics (all of this via Comics Alliance).

With teasers like this, unlike, say, with the mostly meaningless monthly solicitations from big comics companies, it's sort of fun to play "guess what this is going to be." This one is particularly interesting-- is there some reason that two thirds of them are exclusively in Spanish, other than Marcos Martin is Spanish himself? Is the series set in Spain? And why the free font? Marcos is a helluva designer, so that choice is probably meaningful, somehow. And what's going on with the people in the subway car? There are a bunch of human-looking folk, including the only character facing us, (the main character?) but also what look to be two mummies, a medusa, on the left, and a Greedo looking dude on the right. Then there's the funny steampunk helmet being worn in the compartir image, and also the slightly sci-fi cityscape of the seguir one, all of which adds up to... a monster sci-fi steampunk story?

More helpful, perhaps, are the words themselves: "like" (literally "I like"), "share," and "follow," which all have ubiquitous social media implications. That being the case, it may be Martin screwing with us a little bit, "like" and then "share" the images on Facebook, "follow" them via whatever outlet you please. But its also possible that they're actual hints, that the plot of whatever monster sci-fi steampunk he and Vaughn have cooking is social media related in some way, and that could be very interesting indeed. Martin's work is always good, and Vaughn's work with Fiona Staples on Saga has been consistently great for a year now. Whatever it is they've got going together, and there's no telling what it is just yet, I'm very excited.