Saturday, 29 June 2013

Marvel Boy

Grant Morrison & J.G. Jones Marvel Boy (2001)

This being over a decade old probably illustrates the degree to which I've been out of touch with what's been going on in the world of comics; that combined with my having no knowledge of its existence until it came up as a recommendation on Amazon. Marvel Boy, it turns out, reimagines Captain Marvel - the character created by Stan Lee and Gene Colan, the Kree cosmic warrior as opposed to the Superman knock-off in the red leotard. Recalling very little about the 1960s Marvel Comics cosmos beyond a few names - the Kree, the Skrull, Galactus and so on - I dipped my soup spoon into the internet and came back with the following croutons from Grant Morrison:

I really began to utilise J.G. Jones' preposterous genius to its best effects and decided to rethink the prevailing vogue for cinematic panel structures and page layouts. Marvel Boy's visual style becomes more like MTV and adverts; from issue three on its filled with all kinds of new techniques; rapid cuts, strobed lenticular panels, distressed layouts, sixty-four panel grids, whatever. We've only started to experiment but already Marvel Boy looks like nothing else around. Some of the stuff J.G. is doing is like an update of the whole Steranko Pop Art approach to the comics page. Instead of Orson Welles, op art and spy movies, J.G.'s using digital editing effects, percussive rhythms, cutting the action closer and harder, illuminated by the frantic glow of the image-crazed hallucination of twenty-first century media culture and all that. Comics do not need to be like films. They do not need to look like storyboards.

This emphasis on surface is probably why it reminded me a little of contemporary Doctor Who, albeit with better writing and less transparency in terms of intention. That said, I can't say I felt like my preconceptions regarding comic book narrative felt particularly stretched, and even given that Marvel Boy dates from 2001, I can't see that it was particularly revolutionary even at the time, unless the above simply constitutes another pointless swipe at Alan Moore who, it has been noted, often tends to write to an ordered grid of panels very much in the style of a storyboard.

Still, true enough Marvel Boy looks decent, if not quite so startling as the above might imply; which leaves just the story.

Roughly speaking Marvel Boy is Captain Marvel redone from the same angle as Morrison's take on the X-Men, but stepping up the cosmic scale, casting its star as a living God fallen to Earth and not necessarily a friendly one. There are some neat twists and plenty of big ideas - the sentient corporation being one I particularly liked - and a healthy expectation of the reader paying attention rather than presuming it will all come served up on a heavily captioned plate. All the same, I had a struggle caring about any of it, what was happening or why, which is probably a consequence of Grant Morrison's enduring love of surface as an end in itself. Ultimately, Marvel Boy seems oddly inconsequential although I suspect it may reward repeat readings; and although it's no Doom Patrol, it's nevertheless amongst his better stuff.

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