The PopCult Bookshelf 

The life of Charleston’s notable homeless person, Elizabeth, is chronicled in a touching series of articles by Douglas Imbrogno, who also took this photo

Last week, the PopCult Bookshelf wandered away from the shelf and took a look at the magazine rack. This week, we’re going to wander a bit further and take a look at two exceptional pieces of journalism which can be found online.

First up, I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge the remarkable three-part series that ran in the Charleston Gazette this week by Douglas Imbrogno. His touching portrait of the homeless person most people knew as Elizabeth should be required reading by anyone who ever looked down on their fellow man or woman who happened to be down on their luck.

Doug’s three part series, which can be read here, here, and here tells the story of a promising young musician, George Bartlett who, on the cusp of stardom, made a realization about himself that was not accepted by his family and began a long journey replete with mental illness and homelessness. Doug’s piece also shows off the kindness of the people of Charleston, West Virginia, particularly Leslie Clay and the fine folks at Covenant House.

Elizabeth, reunited with the family who knew her as George.

As you may know, Douglas Imbrogno was the mastermind behind the Gazz online experiment and is responsible for hiring me to write the PopCult blog and was also instrumental in helping me to bring Radio Free Charleston back from oblivion. I have to say I am proud of Doug as a colleague for crafting such a wonderful piece of humanitarian journalism, and I’m glad to know someone who can write such a humane piece. It is a must-read.

This incarnation of Marvelman, written by Alan Moore, is why so many people are fighting for a piece of the character

Another must-read for different reasons is “The Poisoned Chalice” by Padraig O Mealoid. The Poisoned Chalice is essentially a serialized book that investigates, speculates and explores the byzantine labrynth of who owns the rights to the comic book character Marvelman. It’s been running in weekly installments over at Heidi MacDo0naold’s excellent Comics Beat Blog.

Marvelman was a British comic book hastily created out of necessity when Miller and Sons Publishing needed to replace the Captain Marvel and related features which they were reprinting in Britain due to Fawcett Comics ceasing production in 1954. With Billy Batson changed to Mickey Moran, the magic word changed from “Shazam” to “Kimota” and Captain Marvel becoming Marvelman, this cheesy knockoff of superheroic proportions was published until 1963, when the books were canceled and largely forgotten .

Rechristened “Miracleman” for his US debut, an affiliation with Eclipse comics lead Marvelman down the rabbit hole

The only reason anybody cares about Marvelman now is because in 1982, a then-unknown writer named Alan Moore wrote a highly acclaimed re-launch that brought the character into the present and explored more mature, real world themes. It was this series that brought Alan Moore to the attention of DC Comics, who hired Moore to write “Swamp Thing” and it’s clear that his work on Marvelman was a precursor to his seminal work, “Watchmen.”

Making Marvelman even more attractive, even after his name was changed to Miracleman due to complaints from Marvel Comics, was the fact that Alan Moore’s handpicked successor to take over writing the title was the then-unknown Neil Gaiman.

With Moore and Gaiman, two of the best selling graphic novel authors of the last thirty years involved, Marvelman/Miracleman has become quite a desirable property.

Padraig O Mealoid’s series of articles, currently up to chapter 16, tries to answer the question of just exactly who owns that property, if anyone. The players are many and varied. Dez Skinn is a legendary British comic book editor who was responsible for the 1982 revival in Warrior Magazine. Mick Anglo was the comic book packager who created the stories for Miller and Sons Publishing. Anglo, shortly before his death, sold his rights to another company which then sold those rights to Marvel Comics. Todd McFarlane of “Spawn” fame kept asserting that he somehow owned the rights, even though he kept getting slapped down in the courts in costly lawsuits. There are many more people who claim to own all or part of Marvelman. The fascinating thing is, they may all be wrong.

Neil Gamain never got the chance to finish “The Silver Age,” his story arc for Miracleman. If the rights ever get sorted, he plans to wrap up this incomplete epic

If you have any interest in copyright and trademark law, these articles will be like sugar coated crack for you. And if you’re a fan of comics like “Watchmen” and “Sandman,” the fact that Marvelman/Miracleman is one of the least seen, yet most influential comic books of the last thirty years should draw you in.

The reason this matters is that the book has been out of print for so long, and in fact, Gaiman’s story remains unfinished twenty years after the next to last chapter was published. A deal with Marvel Comics is supposedly in place to bring these stories back into print, but Padraig O Mealoid’s series demonstrates why Marvel may have possibly gotten cold feet due to the uncertainty of who owns Marvelman.

The Poisoned Chalice” is an exquisite example of detailed investigative journalism, still in progress.