Pádraig Ó Méalóid’s Poisoned Chalice is a Compelling, Enjoyable Read for this Alan Moore Fan

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Poisoned Chalice by Pádraig Ó Méalóid

I just finished reading Pádraig Ó Méalóid’s new book Poisoned Chalice: The Extremely Long and Incredibly Complex Story of Marvelman (and Miracleman).

Ó Méalóid traces the lineage of Marvelman/Miracleman from Philip Wylie’s 1930 book Gladiator to Superman to Captain Marvel/Shazam to Mick Anglo’s 1950s British knock-off Marvelman to the character’s reinvention in the 1980s-90s by Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, and a host of collaborators – including Gary Leach, Rick Veitch, and John Totleben.

I remember when Alan Moore’s then-Miracleman was coming out from Eclipse comics in the 1980s. Miracleman/Marvelman is really one of the most important, most groundbreaking comics series ever, or at least in the last forty years that I’ve been reading comic books. In ways similar to Swamp Thing, Moore had followed all of the ‘rules’ of the superhero comics I had grown up reading, while at the same time, breathing life, depth, and complexity into them.

Miracleman came out infrequently (from Poisoned Chalice now I know why) and I went away to college, moved out, still read some comics, but lost track of Miracleman for a bit. Then I remember being blown away when, probably in the early 1990s, I picked up the collected edition of the third arc of Moore’s Miracleman. Totleben’s art there is extraordinary – detailed, lush, wondrous, and in places horrific. Moore, as he often does brilliantly, extrapolated from the Marvel/DC universes where super-powered beings inhabit the world pretty much as it is around us every day, to what sorts of radical changes would take place here if superheroes really did walk among us.

Due to legal disputes, Miracleman/Marvelman went out of print for about two decades. It became a sort of holy grail that new comics readers had heard of – in reverent hushed praise – but couldn’t get a copy of – unless they forked over increasingly high collectors prices. I loaned my trade paperback copies out to friends. Eventually, starting in 2014, more-or-less the whole thing was re-published by Marvel, though in rather expensive editions.

Anyways, let me get back to Poisoned Chalice.

Chalice is both full of detailed research, while at the same time very readable. Ó Méalóid (whom I am an acquaintance of – through online Alan Moore aficionado circles) has interviewed numerous players, and sorted through contemporaneous accounts, contracts and other legal documents.

Much of Chalice is a sort of slow-burn legal thriller – an extensive exploration of the protracted legal challenges that resulted in Marvelman being out of print for two decades, and the challenges that are still in the way of Marvel publishing Gaiman’s later issues. Chalice sadly confirms many of the sad exploitative truths that comics creators have long gotten the shaft from the corporations that run the comics industry. Moore has called this the industry’s “dark satanic mills.” Though creators rights have come a long way, Chalice shows that the exploitation has not been limited to just the big two (Marvel and DC), but extends to more pro-creator companies including Image, Eclipse, and UK’s Quality.

Anyone who enjoys comics should read Moore and Gaiman’s Marvelman. Anyone who has read Marvelman should enjoy Poison Chalice‘s epic tale of Marvelman‘s inspiration, creation, and challenges.

 

 

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