January 3, 2010

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Marvel Boy

Written by Grant Morrison
Illustrated by J.G. Jones, Ryan Kelly, and Sean Parsons
Marvel

I'm sure the marketing guys at Marvel didn't take long to realize this one should be dug out of the vault and placed into trade form. "Hey, it's a comic from Grant Morrison and his art partner from Final Crisis! Let's get this into a hardcover, stat!"

I'm not going to argue, though, because more Grant Morrison in trade form is a good thing. Even the weakest Morrison stuff is interesting to read and when he's off doing strange things--and this book is decidedly strange--it's a fun trip.

In this book that probably shouldn't be in continuity but apparently is, Noh-Varr, a Kree warrior who was part of a mission into the time stream, crash-lands on an earth that I don't think Morrison intended to be the 616 version. (Oh well.)

Noh-Varr encounters an evil man called Doctor Midas, who has a lusting after anything alien and lives in an Iron Man suit. He's got a daughter that he keeps in fetish gear and control over all sorts of alien technology. Naturally, with Skrulls and others in his collection, a Kree would be a nice catch. But Noh-Varr breaks free and soon has his own ideas about the planet he's stranded on.

After clashing with S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Dum Dum Dugan and some super-soliders with the features of Captain America and the Hulk, Noh-Varr battles a living corporation in the most Morrison-y part of the narrative. Then it's a three-issue, knock-down, drag out fight between Noh-Varr and Midas, with his daughter in the middle. Who will survive when everything from Mindless Ones to the powers of the Fantastic Four are unleashed in the battle? The answers probably won't surprise you but the way in which Morrison gets there just might.

This is one of those stories that plays to Morrison's strength--the use of years and years of a comic book company's history without being tied down to particulars. (Think Seven Soldiers, which I believe came just a bit after this in terms of original publication.) The hints of the Marvel we know are all around the book, but they never end up front and center. The only character that we see for sure is Dugan, and I'm not convinced that he's our Dugan. Yet there is no doubt this world has superheroes, as Midas tries to get what he cannot have--the power of those who can go to the stars.

In fact, I think that in some way, Morrison was commenting on the idea of a fan's relation to the source material here. Perhaps I'm way off, but consider this for a moment.

Midas is the perfect stand-in for the fanboy taken to the extreme. He even names his daughter after a torture device and puts her in a costume that is almost a parody of fetish. He collects items relating to superhuman power and has changed his name to be more fitting to his desires. Midas says he can turn anything to his advantage, but in the end, cannot control the emotions of those around him. He can imagine himself Iron Man or the Thing, but is really a pale imitation. He is the reader who must try to control the stories being written around him and flails when they do not go his way. (I can see myself in that to a certain extent, so I'm not passing judgment on the idea.)

Nor-Varr, by contrast, has a singular vision and metes it out on the universe, like a comic creator taking on a new series. He mows down the amalgamated old heroes and shows Midas who has control. Even the ending has the sense that Nor-Varr can perform his desired changes on this earth at all, like Morrison can change the way his characters act or talk. Nor-Varr mentions time and again that he has a vision, and nothing will stop him until this earth is the center of a new empire ruled by his plans.

Perhaps I'm reading a bit too much into things, but given the meta-textural nature of much of Morrison's comics, I think there's something to this line of thinking. Even if that's not the case, the struggle between old and new is clear on every page.

I mentioned that the third issue was the most Morrison-like, and that's because he invents a living corporation that goes from planet to planet, taking over and leaving its host a husk. Now that's been done before with the Brood, the Borg, and many others, but this is more about Morrison using comics to show off real-life problems in such a blatant way that I'm a bit surprised it got published. The solution to the problem is part guns, part industrial espionage and all genius.

While he may not be the fastest artist going (he wasn't able to finish this mini without inking help, so why DC was surprised when Final Crisis was late is beyond me), J.G. Jones' art is really pretty to look at. His details and ability to portray anything Morrison comes up with is really impressive. He even takes the time to draw intricate image reflections on the Iron Man suit worn by Midas. How many artists would do that? Morrison keeps the pace frantic and Jones responds with some of the best artwork I've seen in the widescreen style. No matter whether he's drawing homages, amalgamations or sneaking DC characters into the background, Jones is one fine comic artist. I'd love to see him do a mainstream Marvel book some time, if DC ever gets tired of using for their big-ticket crossovers.

This is not Morrison's best work but it hits on all the themes that make a Morrison story work--questioning the status quo, throwing the reader's perceptions off, and villains who think they're better than everyone. (Is Doctor Midas any different from Darkseid at his heart?) Combined with gorgeous art from Jones, it's a good book for Morrison fans that may have been overlooked because of the subject matter. Like I said, it may have been a marketing ploy, but either way, I'm happy Marvel reprinted this and I think you will be to, after reading it.