Comic books have seen dramatic changes since the Marvel Comics Group hit the scene in the ‘60s. We’ve seen the growth of the adult comic book audience as well as the amazing influx of international comics. What was once a cheap form of entertainment found mainly by young boys at newsstands and grocery stores is now a culture made up of devoted fans of all ages hidden away from society behind the walls of comic book specialty stores. So much has changed and yet Marvel remains the same. While Marvel’s biggest competitor, DC Comics, features an entire line of adult oriented comics, Vertigo, Marvel chooses not to. While smaller independent companies choose to challenge the reader, Marvel chooses the status quo. Marvel makes comics for adolescent boys. Marvel does not care if the comic buying world is made of young men and women who go in the comic shops, go to the conventions and talk in the online message boards. Marvel makes comics for kids, always has, always will.
While countless comic companies have come and gone over the past several decades, Marvel is still churning out campy super hero stories in the year 2000. Perhaps Marvel is right. Maybe comics are just for kids. If so, then why is one sequential art form like comics only for kids while other sequential art forms like films and television reach mass audiences? The answer is the stigmatism that goes with comics. People think of comics as silly stories featuring men in tights. How do you destroy the stigmatism? Not by sticking to silly superhero comics like Marvel has for the past four decades.
For years the standard structure of a Marvel comic book was four or five pages explaining the last few issues followed by ten or fifteen pages of the hero lamenting his past and trying to focus his determination to right all the wrongs of the world. The comic would conclude with an attack by and old foe that would be resolved later in the next issue or may not even be resolved until the follow up limited-edition-crossover-event-to-end-all-crossover events. Marvel’s new comic, Marvel Boy, hopes to break this format and maybe even break down the superhero stigmatism.
Marvel Boy is the newest star in the “Marvel Knights” wing of the Marvel Comics Group. Founded by Joe Quesada and Jimmy Palmioti, the “Marvel Knights” line has been home of some of the best super-hero comics of the past year, most notably the work of Kevin Smith (of Chasing Amy and Clerks fame) and David Mack on Daredevil. What makes the “Marvel Knights” line different from the rest of Marvel and the majority of superhero comics in general is that these books are not aimed only at kids but also at those freaky older people who actually buy comics. “Marvel Knights” aims to push the limits of the Marvel format as far as they can while still remaining safely within the comic’s code. In hopes of pushing the limits even further, Quesada and Palmioti have recruited the controversial writer Grant Morrison to pilot the Marvel Boy project.
Grant Morrison twisted the innocent minds of fanboys and fangirls all over the world with Animal Man and Doom Patrol then redefined the superhero genre with your old pals the Super Friends in JLA. More importantly though, he showed us just how powerful comics can be with The Invisibles. Morrison made comics cool again and now he aims to do what many feared was impossible, he wants to make Marvel Comics cool. Morrison has aimed this comic not at his dedicated adult fans or at the standard Marvel buying kids. Morrison has chosen to take the road less traveled and aim this comic at both audiences. Morrison throws the reader into the action the way Spielberg used to back when he was making the best action flicks in the world. He does not spoon feed the plot. He knows the audience is smart and able to catch up. Morrison likes to break the conventional rules of sequential art and jump around in the plot line often leaving readers a bit confused. Not here.
Marvel Boy has a nice flow and does not demand as much from the reader as his more mature work. Die-hard Grant Morrison fans may find Marvel Boy simple and light but there is nothing wrong with a little fun. While Marvel Boy is conservative compared to what Morrison fans are used to, it is still an intelligent read and much more hip and real than what Morrison gave them in JLA. Of course the Hollywood feel of this book is not going to suit everyone’s taste but at the very least, Marvel Boy is more cerebral than Morrison’s run on JLA. Many fans were terrified when it was announced that Morrison would write for Marvel but he manages to prove that good writing makes for good comics no matter who the publisher is.
Our hero in Marvel Boy is Noh-Varr. His is origins tie into the old Captain Marvel (not Shazam but the dude with the green helmet and all those fun times with the Skrulls and the Kree…but none of that is important). All you need to know is that our kid Noh-Varr saw his people destroyed by pesky Earthlings and now he plans to settle the score. He turns pain into music, spits nannomachine saliva that can telepathically control his enemies, walks up walls, carries enough firepower to blow away Manhattan, and lives in a ship powered by imagination.
Noh-Varr explodes off the page thanks to the art team anchored by J. G. Jones. Jones does a fantastic job of providing the widescreen theater feel comics fans have been seeing in Image and Wildstorm comics lately without sacrificing the plot. The look of the comic is ultra modern while at the same time pays a strong tribute to the character designs of Jack Kirby and the first few decades of Marvel Comics. Jones is not necessarily the most original artist you have ever seen but the pacing works very well and the intensity is consistent. By the time you get to the first full shot of the villain Midas in issue one, you really feel like you are in the middle of a classic Marvel cosmic adventure without having to be ten years old to bare it.
Could this be the comic to help push marvel into another decade of success? Perhaps Marvel Boy has enough style and intensity to attract new readers and enough of the Marvel superhero tradition to bridge the gap between the adults and the kids. Is Marvel Boy a glimpse of the future of Marvel Comics or just another over achievement for Grant Morrison? With a lot of luck (and strong sales) maybe Marvel Boy will wake Marvel Comics up and show it the new millennium. Either way, it should be a fun read.