Perhaps you recently picked up the first issue of the hip new “Young Avengers” from Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, and Mike Norton. Perhaps after reading it you asked yourself, “Hey, who was that charming space kid with the bizarre taste in music?” Well I’m here to tell you that kid is the creation of Grant Morrison and J.G. Jones, and that you should definitely check out his fantastic origin story.
The basics: “Marvel Boy” is a six issue miniseries released in 2000 under the “Marvel Knights” line. It is the story of a Kree soldier from a parallel universe, stranded in the Marvel universe, hellbent on destroying our insignificant race for the death of his crew mates. Created around the same time Warren Ellis was deconstructing super hero comics in “The Authority” and “Planetary,” Marvel Boy is Morrison’s take on anti-establishment heroes. Armed to the teeth with futuristic weaponry, Kree intelligence, and cockroach DNA, he’s a new age cosmic Spider-Man with all the edge and none of the responsibility. This leads to a hero’s journey story that is anything but typical.
As you would expect, Morrison toys with some pretty fascinating ideas in this short six issue series. What kind of threats would you expect an anti-establishment alien soldier from a dimension far far away to tackle? How about a sentient infectious corporation? Ideas like this abound in typical Morrison fashion, setting this apart from the regular Marvel milieu of the era.
“Marvel Boy” is set firmly in the Marvel universe, but feels very unlike a mainstream Marvel book. Yes, it’s set primarily in New York and features staples like S.H.I.E.L.D., but everything else is slightly askew. Case in point; the villain, Midas, wears a gold version of Tony Stark’s original Iron Man suit and treats himself with cosmic radiation. Another example, the Bannermen, commercially produced super soldiers aping the “Captain America” look, with gamma irradiated Hulk modes. Morrison blends all these elements in a way that is both referential and innovative. If you’re expecting to see interaction with other Marvel heroes, then think again. It’s almost as if the rest of Earth’s heroes took the month off, leaving Marvel Boy to have his way with Earth. If you can get past that suspension of disbelief then you are in for a real treat.
Part of that treat is, of course, J.G. Jones’ fantastic art. Jones’ style is clean and realistic yet never seems mundane. Jones drenches everything in a cosmic glow and is the perfect match for all the wild and zany concepts Morrison throws at him, and rest assured, this is Morrison at his zaniest. When reading “Final Crisis,” another collaboration of Morrison and Jones, it’s easy to see the adoration Morrison has for the king of comics, Jack Kirby. As the third act of “Marvel Boy” descends into the trippiest kind of cosmic you can put on a page, it’s obvious that appreciation is manifest here as well.
“Marvel Boy” was surprisingly ahead of its time and remains relevant over a decade after its original release. If there’s a major flaw to this superb series, it’s that there’s no real follow up to the fantastic ideas contained in its pages. While there’s evidence that Morrison intended to return for a sequel, it was not to be. Instead, Brian Michael Bendis commandeered the character during the course of his decade long “Avengers” run. Unfortunately, Bendis didn’t quite run with the “Zen Fascist” philosophy of the character, and Noh-Varr hasn’t been the same since. It’s still too early to tell what role Gillen has in mind for Noh-Varr in the new Young Avengers. However, if it’s anywhere along the lines Gillen has taken Loki over the past few years, then perhaps cosmic jihad isn’t too far off.