Every month we take turns to delve into our trusty longboxes, pluck out a dusty back issue, and give you our thoughts. We’ll also try and place it in the context of the time it was originally published.
With the ‘final’ pieces of last year’s DC crossover now settling back into place, it’s interesting to take another glance at the miniseries which the firm’s competition tried to sell off the back of its creators’ more high profile gig. Marvel Boy undeniably reads well in the trade format, particularly the closing half of the story, but the knowledge that little of any interest has followed for Noh-Varr in his original writer’s absence somewhat overshadows the series.
While the Kree soldier’s adventures were hyped as being a bold new take on the Fantastic Four mythos, it’s perfectly possible to simply enjoy the story without knowledge of Marvel Boy’s race, as simply a slice of pop-art sci-fi. A common-sense structure is adopted, with an origin story preceding two stand-alone issues and a three part concluding arc. The writer’s approach to the property varied noticeably through these instalments. Grant Morrison had praised Warren Ellis’s Authority as being the first superhero comic of the twenty first century and these two issues seem very much inspired by the Wildstorm book, with grandiose sci-fi concepts being fought by the hero against an urban backdrop, supported by his otherworldly spaceship. You can’t argue with the imagination deployed, and Morrison was clearly having fun here, but these distractions sadly weaken the story as a whole. We’re left with certain elements of the main tale being rather perfunctory, with Noh-Varr and Oubliette’s attraction to each other being communicated by other characters, rather than shown in the events on-panel. Certain character traits also come off as less than convincing, with the destruction of Noh-Varr’s friends and lover being used rather unconvincing as a reason for light angst, rather than anything stronger.
It’s a little harsh to view Marvel Boy as a failure; JG Jones turns in some excellent work here, and Morrison used this book as a launch pad to inject his sensibilities into a much more high-profile Marvel property. The story itself was clearly influential- the conception of SHIELD here is an obvious influence on Joss Whedon’s SWORD set-up. By destroying the series status quo in the final issue, however, the creators gambled that they’d have time to return to their creation and fully define him. The failure of this bet sadly left Noh-Varr as driftwood in the Marvel universe. Marvel Boy still entertains, but the standard trade format seems more fitting than the hardcover treatment it received.