by Reshan Sabaratnam
The hero is an alien who has declared war on earth. The villains are greedy humans, lab grown super-babies and ideas too dangerous for human consumption. The love interest is a bondage-masked assassin. This is just scratching the surface of the depth of beauty and madness in Marvel Boy, the 2000 Marvel Knights series with art by JG Jones and written by one of my favorite writers, Grant Morrison. It is the story of Noh-Varr, a crew member of an alien diplomatic ship that is shot down to Earth by Dr. Midas, a clandestine corporate pirate who made his trillions by torturing aliens and stealing their advanced technology. Noh-Varr’s entire crew, including his girlfriend, is killed, and he is captured so Midas can steal his ship’s cosmic ray engine, which he needs to give himself Fantastic Four-like powers. Noh-Varr escapes using the weirdest superpowers ever, like mind-controlling nanotech spit, and promptly declares war on Earth. That’s just issue #1.
This book feels like Morrison could tell he was doing something special. In an interview with Warren Ellis, he discusses what he and JG Jones were looking to accomplish with this series:
I love when comic creators talk like this, because it validates that comic books are more than just proving grounds for movie ideas that haven’t been optioned yet. They speak a language that cannot be told in any other medium, and the boundaries of what we can be doing with it are still being explored. These unusual techniques communicate feeling in unique ways that can’t be copied in film and television. Marvel Boy’s panel borders are constantly being broken, passing the chaotic feeling of the on-page action to the reader. Rectangular panels turn to shapes like broken glass when a motorcycle busts through the side of a subway car. When Marvel Boy struggles to regain consciousness after a battle and wakes to find himself already running from danger, hazy panels in the blank white page starts to appear, gaining structure around him as he gets his head on straight. This is the kind of book that stands on the shoulders of giants like Kirby and Steranko and shows us how much further we can take it, if we dare.
One of the standouts of Marvel Boy is its villain, Dr. Midas, who should be up there as one of the best new Marvel villains of the new millennium. He is the epitome of a thief: he wears a bootleg rip off of Iron Man’s old armor, he makes his trillions by torturing aliens to steal their alien technology. He sits in a chamber that looks like Darth Vader’s hot tub, bombarding himself with cosmic rays so he can steal the Fantastic Four’s powers. He has no limits to what he will do to further his obsessive quest for power, including mentally manipulating his own daughter, who he trained as an alien hunting super killer and forces to wear a bondage mask so she won’t know how beautiful she really is. He is capitalism turned cancerous; a Doctor Doom for the modern, consumer driven world. Its a shame that we didn't see him in a Marvel book until 2015’s Original Sin, which felt like it didn't use him to his fullest potential.
There are few books that are as ballsy and stuffed to the brim with crazy sci-fi concepts as Marvel Boy. The rapid fire ideas that you get from this comic could fuel lesser science fiction stories for decades. Travelling through multiple realities in a ship powered by pure belief. “Dangerous ideas” escaping from “concept dungeons” to wreak havoc on an unexpecting Earth, like Hexus the Living Corporation. Setting up a fake movie shoot just so you can kill a man in broad daylight without reprisal. The ideas are so fantastic, but Grant Morrison just gleefully tosses a few into each page, as if he just has millions more in his little bag of tricks. After reading his later works like New X-Men, All Star Superman, and his impressive run on Batman, we know that he really does have a million crazy ideas, but in Marvel Boy it seems like he is just showing off, and having a tremendously good time doing it. Jones and Morrison are trying to do something different here. The universe feels different, the fights are different. It has roots in the Marvel Universe, but it feels like its part of a universe all on its own. We get versions of familiar Marvel ideas, but theyre slightly twisted: SHIELD is there, but its run by Dum Dum Dugan, who orders superhuman response options from an infomercial like it was a Shake Weight. Marvel Boy is a Kree, but a different flavor of Kree than we have ever seen, a race of “Zen Fascists” who travel the multiverse spreading their philosophy. The villain is a perversion of our favorite Marvel icons: an obsessed, power-mad capitalist with skin like the Thing and Iron Man’s wardrobe. Every expectation is slightly changed and perverted by Morrison, just so you know that this may be Marvel, but the old Marvel rules may not apply.
Even with all of the crazy concepts and sci fi action, Marvel boy still manages to capture the feeling of being an angry kid. He loses his family and his girl, and all he wants to do is say “FUCK YOU” to the world. Which he does, writing the letters in smoldering wreckage in the New York skyline. Like every kid, he feels like his problems are the only ones that matter, but eventually he learns responsibility and puts his rage to good use to stop the real threats to the universe. He never truly gets any less angry in this book, but we know that he eventually mellows out a little in Young Avengers, thanks to the power of “hot make outs”.
This book may not be the right choice if you wanted to “try out” comics after watching “Guardians of the Galaxy”, but if you are looking for something fun, beautiful, and full of crazy ideas you will be chewing over in your brain for weeks after reading, Marvel Boy might just be the thing. Marvel Boy is not available via Comixology, but you can read it on Marvel Unlimited, or you can buy the collected edition on Amazon.com here.