No one can accuse Mick Anglo of revolutionary originality, but that’s not what he was assigned to do when he created Marvelman. The Golden Age of comics were a time that was notorious for replicating and repeating characters and themes across publishers, skirting the edges of nebulous copyright laws in an effort to gain footing in a new market. Marvelman is one of the most enduring examples of this.
With a magic “keyword” that channels the power of the universe, augmented by a secret serum, young boy Micky Moran becomes the mighty Marvelman, whose strength, speed, ability to fly, and other similarly heroic (and convenient) superpowers enable him to save the world from evil scientist Gargunza, time and time again. DC Comics readers will immediately see the similarities between this and Captain Marvel’s Billy Batson shouting “Shazam!” to fight the evil Dr. Sivana. While Captain Marvel skews toward the magical and mythological, Anglo’s Marvelman leans toward the scientific—but either way, the similarities between them (and later, Marvel’s Sentry), are apparent.
Marvel reproduces a strange array of these stories in one hardcover collection, charmingly printed on black-and-off-white pulp similar to that of the original publications, rather than the usual glossy, full-color page. Many of Marvelman’s tales have been collected, in order, elsewhere, but this is a good entry point into a series that really needs very little introduction due to its simplistic and straightforward nature. Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman would completely subvert Marvelman (also known as “Miracleman” for copyright reasons) in the 1980s, but these lay the foundation for the later, darker strangeness.
Throughout the collection, there’s hardly any need for continuity. These are self-contained stories with broadly drawn characters bearing obvious motives, strange and comic-surreal. The weirdness and convenient altruism of Golden Age superheroism dominates every page : Marvelman decides not to imprison his archenemy because he accidentally aided in the capture of another archenemy, but he’ll super-punch the same guy in the face a few pages earlier. Conclusions are succinct and simple, rarely lasting for more than a panel or two, and the art is functional, with moments of true neatness.
That’s exactly what makes this a good, fun survey of where comics came from, at their very core: young, id-driven men playing out power fantasies on paper. They’re not the best artists, and not the most well-rounded writers, but the raw power being expressed in these stories is awesome and cathartic. It may not hold the attention of anyone who isn’t interested in the nature of classic comics, as suspension of disbelief needs to be at an all-time high during a time when comic book cynicism has turned into law, but there’s nothing here to offend anyone. This is great for nostalgia and an education about comic books, and as a lead-in to the much-loved Marvelman of the 1980s.
Reviewed by Collin David on July 6, 2012
Marvelman: Family's Finest