Thursday, 1 September 2016

Grant Morrison Corner: Marvel Boy (#1-6)

"If it eats every last one of these ignorant human vermin, so what?" - Noh-Varr

Well Alan Moore is still in the Sin Bin, so time once again to peer into Grant Morrison Corner, and this month we have his 2000 collaboration with artist J.G Jones and a new version of an old character, Marvel Boy.  This Marvel Boy (though actually he never takes that identity in this minseries) is Noh-Varr, a Kree who has gone onto be quite a popular character in the Marvel Universe. I have to say that from the outset I find this story to be a bit self-conciously hip, like Morrison is saying "look kids I know all about umm... cool things!"  It also shows Morrison's more problematic side, when he falls so in love with all the crazy concepts he throws into the mix that his characters come out of it flat and unappealing. But I'm getting ahead of myself, lets jog on through the story and we'll meet on the otherside for a final analysis.  Actually there is one more thing I don't quite get though it's not totally GMozz's fault.  Looking up Noh-Varr online I am told he's from a parallel universe but landed in the Marvel Universe.  Yes Noh-Varr outright states he's from a parallel universe, but the Marvel Earth portrayed is one full of small and large differences, for example Duggan being in charge of things at SHIELD not Nick Fury being one of the more obvious also this was originally published as part of the Marvel Knights continuity which is treated a little fuzzily as to whether it counts os part of the mainstream MCU.  Anyway, I'm guessing this is a case of later authors outright ignoring the original author's intent so they can use the character (Beeeeeeendis! *shakes fist*).  Anyway, keep that in mind as we look through the story.
Noh-Varr's soon to be dead shipmates.
The 18th Kree Diplomatic Gestalt interstellar schooner the "Marvel" tranverses several billion parallel earths on it's way home.  The ship is in trouble but it seems like against all the odds they find their own reality, but in a universe that may or may not be the main MCU a powerful energy blast is directed at them and blows the ship to peices just above Earth.

The only survivor is Ensign Noh-Varr who is taken prisoner by the mysterious man in golden armour who calls himself Midas because everything he touches turns to gold, not literally, just means he can turn any situation to his advantage.  Noh-Varr is suspended in a bubble prison while Midas threatens him with torture.  He also says he knows some Kree language so the race is definitely known to some on this Marvel Earth.

He tells them the pieces of his friends they have recovered from the crash site  and that his ship will be stripped and sold off.  They have started exploring his ship but haven't broken through to the inner chambers yet.  As he keeps this up, Noh-Varr simply responded by spitting on him.
Midas chats with the restrained Noh-Varr.
Midas asks for the saliva to be tested. "I made you angry in English" he observes.  So he tells Noh-Varr his story.  He changed his name to Midas after five years of prolonged exposure to cosmic rays, he knows Noh-Varr's ship is powered by cosmic ray engines and he needs them to complete his transformation.  However at the ship, there is an explosion that kills several of Midas's goons. And it disappears.

Later Midas and his masked, fetish wear clad daughter Oubliette discuss Noh-Varr who Midas accuses his daughter of looking at lustfully.  She says she is merely "trying to find his weak points.  Where he'll break".  Then a man goes to collect a blood sample from Noh-Varr and Noh-Varr spits on him as well, but this time it touches skin.

The saliva is tested and found "Kree positive" but with anomalous results.  They hit the alarm saying he is "seething with micro-tech!" But it's too late for the man Noh-Varr spat on, under some kind of hypnotic suggestion he frees Noh-Varr from the bubble and lets him take his guns.
Noh-Varr makes good his escape.
A decontamination team rushes to neutralise Noh-varr, he kills the team and steals a gold plated jet aircraft to escape in.  He tunes into his ships computer "Plex" (a gestalt entity made up of many intelligences) which tells him it's been sweeping the frequencies and not found anything that matches them.  After ditching the jet, Noh-Varr reuinites with Plex and his ship.  Angrily he asks if his crewmates can be "repaired" not because he thinks they can, because he is furious at what happened to them.  He tells Plex to fix the ship:

Noh-Varr: "And I'll fix the planet. My way!"

The next issue then jumps to Noh-Varr out and about, blasting buildings apart.  He has learned all the languages and is declaring war on the planet his way.

Then we cut to SHIELD's Global Security Black Ops Orbiter.  "Dum Dum" Duggan, one of Nick Fury's original Howling Commandos is in charge up there.  The UN is pressuring for a first strike and a private company is offering a way to help.  He brings up an advert for genetically modified soldiers designed to keep Captain America's legacy alive (implying he was never recovered post-WW2 in this universe).  "The United Nation's Bannermen.  Standard bearers of a new elite.  Policing the 21st Century".
Duggan ponders what to do about Noh-Varr.
Using them will cost the national debt of Honduras, "each".  Duggan says they give him the creeps.  He says things used to be so easy, so "black and white".  He asks on Noh-Varr's progress and is told he is tearing through mid-town and not the Avengers or Fantastic Four are in town to stop him.  Duggan wonders who he is and what he wants and the authorises the use of The Bannermen to stop him, but take him alive.

Noh-Varr has created an "Omniwave" bubble in which the people of New York are under Noh-Varr's control.  Then Plex detects new intelligences as the three Bannermen fly in to attack.  Noh-Varr says he has a weapon called  "Pocket Battlefield" and activates it.  The Bannermen are trapped inside with Noh-Varr, in a dimension where "up is down and silence is sound and you're in deep trouble".

Noh-Varr easily takes out two of them, but the third decides to "Hulk out" and grows a huge amount of muscle tissue and yelling "Bannerman SMASH!" manages to get the upper hand briefly against Noh-Varr.  But Noh-Varr lets the mind controlled humans in to surround the Bannerman and his programming means he can't hurt civilians who start to pound on him.
Noh-Varr uses civilians to take down the final Bannerman.
Noh-Varr steps out of the Pocket Battlefield and continues his work moving and smashing buildings after he tells a little boy who asks why he is doing this.   What has he done asks Plex?  "I've given them a tattoo" responds Noh-Varr.  Thus finished he returns to his ship to watch the coverage on TV.

On the SHIELD satellite they have recovered evidence that Noh-Varr holds them responsible for the death of his people.  Duggan wonders who killed his people, then asks for a satellite image of New York.  Noh-Varr reshaped the landscape, moving and destroying buildings to create some words. We see an "F" and then a gigantic "YOU".

Duggan: "Whatever happened to  good, old fashioned 'take me to you leader?'"

Back in his ship, a grinning Noh-Varr watches all the different channels covering the events saying "Got 'em!"
Introducing Brand Hex.
The next chapter sees a change of focus as Noh-Varr has to deal with a mess his arrival on Earth has caused.  It's been a month since he reclaimed his ship after it shifted away from Midas's recovery team.  A new company called "Brand Hex" meanwhile has suddenly become a trendy label, hunting down talent in order to grow, as we are shown via two men who are waiting to see someone, one who hopes they can sign his band, the other looking for a job.  They are told, "Brand Hex finds employment for everyone and everything" and after being shown a room full of hypnotised workers, the two men are dragged away.

Noh-Varr is down in the ship's "Concept Dungeons". Plex tells him "Hexus, the Living Corporation" escaped using one of the humans trying to get into the ship.

Plex: "Hexus is invisible, untouchable. A living idea, Noh-Varr.  It grows by hiring new employees and by devouring its rivals. Earth has created dozens of synthetic corporate entities with names like Virgin or Fox.  But they are not alive.  Not truly intelligent. Not like Hexus".

Plex downloads all the information about Hexus into Noh-Varr's mind.  Hexus's endgame is to take over all of Earth, get its slaves to build spaceships and spread out from there to other planets.

Noh-Varr at first refuses to do anything about it.  Why should he care about Earth when humans killed everyone he ever cared about?   Plex says that was only a few humans, and he has a responsibility.  Only he can take on Plex.  Somewhat shamed, Noh-Varr agrees to do something.  We're then treated to a lengthy news report on how the Hex brand has grown from nothing a month ago to one of the most successful and trendy ones around, it is "rapidly become the most famous consumer label in the world..."  And it projects a bioluminescent "X" onto the Earth.  Noh-Varr says it's marking the Earth to warn off other Galactic predators, "too late, I got here first".
Noh-Varr starts his hack and deals with the guiding intelligence.
He breaks into the headquarters and goes up to meet the CEO of the company, "Mr. Greepy.. the voice of Hexus.  Prime servant of the living corporation".  Noh-Varr shoots him and then starts a hack of their systems.  Another executive, a woman, walks in saying she is the new CEO, "Hexus cannot die" before getting fried herself. It can download itself into new bodies as fast as they can be destroyed, and more executives come in and fire eye-beams at Noh-Varr who escapes via a window and runs down the building.

As Plex warns him Hex is negociating to buy NASA as its first step in escaping the planet, Noh-Varr, under attack calls Hexus's current CEO and tells him he knows he can't defeat it by shooting at it.  So he hacked them and has released ALL their secret recipes, their jealously guarded recruitment strategies, every carefully plotted step to world domination, to their competitors.  He then fires a "cosmic bullet" into the CEO office and blows it up taking Hexus's guiding intelligence with it.

Free from Hexus's influence, the workforce are dazed but have their own minds again.  The brand collapses and Plex tells Noh-varr he has scanned for Hex and can't find it.  It's been destroyed.  Noh-Varr has collapsed though, the strain of doing the hack has burned out his enhancements.  Staggering into an alleyway he starts hunting for food in the bins to get some energy back.
Two cops find him and ask if he wants them to bust him for "impersonating a superhero?"  Then Oubliette appears and tells the cops to scram using the codeword "Midas" to assert her authority.  She says she only has one bullet to play with:

Oubliette: "And this is for the heart of the boy who fell to Earth".

Noh-Varr has recovered enough to run in a super kind of way, but Oubliette follows him on a golden motorcycle. She gets knocked off it, and fires an energy bullet at him which misses. He gives her a significant look and she stops firing at him, then she reports to her dad Midas that he got away.

She starts chasing him again while her father implies she fancies him which she strenuously denies.  Midas says he'll try to "beguile" her.  And she shouldn't let him.  Oubliette chases Noh-Varr up the side of a building and grapples him saying "You're everything I ever wanted in a boy.  Too bad".

He falls, wrapped in a US flag and smashes his way through the top of a bus which he then commendeers.  He calls in to Plex who tells him it's not just the girl, he is completely surrounded by hostile forces.  Then many guns are unleashed on the bus.  He jumps out and several by-standers attack him.  Noh-Varr is brought to his hands and knees and can only mumble:

Noh-Varr: "I've done none you harm.  My people's mission was peace.. harmony and suchlike.  For pity's sake."

Midas and Oubliette watch Noh-Varr get a beating from the sidelines.  Midas says Noh-Varr was looking at her with "creepy" eyes.  Oubliette sighs and says no one wants to look at her.  She takes her mask off, but her face is in shadow and says "you did this to me" so why would anyone want to look at her?  Midas said "it made you strong" and that she is everything to him and puts her mask back on.

Oubliette: "Dad.. wouldn't you say there was something weird about our relationship?"

He says that's not the word he would chose.  Then tells her to kill Noh-Varr with the golden bullet.  He then goes to Noh-Varr and says he has one chance to live.  If he tells him where his ship with the cosmic ray engines is hidden.
Midas gives Noh-Varr a beatdown.
He holds Noh-Varr up in the air and tells Oubliette to shoot him. Oubliette pulls the trigger and the bullet hits Midas in the hand holding Noh-Varr.

Oubliette: "Daddy.  I've given this some thought... I really want to be normal".

While her father is incapacitated, she takes the badly beaten Noh-Varr and carries him into the sewers.  Furious, Midas is patched up and says Noh-Varr must be mind controlling her somehoe.  But he is Midas, he can turn anything to his advantage, she will lead them directly to Noh-Varr's spaceship.

Back at the Marvel, Noh-Varr heals up enough to rather ungratefully call Oubliette "sick in the brain".  She points out that he blew up half of Manhattan and swore at humanity in in letters five blocks hogh, so he doesn't exactly have the high moral ground here.  They argue for a bit and he tells her:

Noh-Varr: "This whole ugly planet sucks.  As bad as being jailed in pre-history when everyone was crazy".

They wind up pointing guns at each other.  Plex tells them to rewind before someone gets needlessly hurt.  Mollified, Noh-Varr introduces Plex to her.  She thanks him and asks "what makes you space monsters to hostile anyway?"
Plex introduces itself to Oubliette.
Meanwhile Midas and his team are tracking them. His psychics are very close to finding the ship.  Noh-Varr leads Oubliette to a room in which images of his shipmates are projected, he tells her that they had negociated the end of the Kree/Skrull war and were on their way home when they got lost and were trying to find their own universe.  They thought they had, but then "your dad happened."

He holds the skull of his lover and asks Oubliette if that explains his hostility now?  She says they were just a means to an end, her father wants the Cosmic Ray powered engines to bathe in so he can become like the Fantastic Four.  Her mother was genetically altered while she was pregnant and Midas killed her ripping Oubliete, who was born "cursing in eight languages", out of her.

Oubliette: "And he trained me to kill everything that ever tried to live.  I've hunted vampires, space monsters and Greek gods.  I'm the Lara Croft of evil.  I admit it.  But I need you to trust me".

Noh-Varr says he will if she takes of her mask and shows him her face. She is unwilling at first, then reluctantly takes it off.  Only for Noh-Varr to show her she has a perfectly normal face with one small scar on it.  "He lied to me" she says.  She says her dad is worse that she thought and that he'll hunt Noh-Varr down.  He says, "the ship is impregnable.  I'm unbeatable.  What can they do?"
Oubliette doesn't want to take off her mask, but complies and learns the truth.
He says if he can't go home, he'll change Earth into a place he is more comfortable living in.  Then Plex alerts Noh-Varr that a "Skrull-Chimera" signal has been broadcasting their location.  It was planted in Oubliette's mask.  He thinks she's betrayed him, but she says she had no knowledge of it. 

Oubliette: "I can help you change the world.  I have to change the world. I can't live in this one anymore."

Suddenly Plex is overwhelmed.  Midas and many armed soldiers break in. Midas says his psychics have managed to take it down and he is called by the others who have discovered the cosmic ray engine.  OUbliette and Noh-Varr manage to run.

He commands the engine cover be opened, then a soldier brings Oubliette's mask to him and he realises she knows the truth.  She calls him over comms to chew him out and he tells her "have you no shame?"  Noh-Varr then butts in to say she's on his side now and he's coming to get him.

Midas tells his people to unleash the "un-entity" on his daughter and Noh-Varr and destroy them both.  He is going to bathe in cosmic rays.  Close by, Oubliette asks Noh-Varr to say something to her in Kree before they die.  Then a huge, brick like entity, with a beam of light coming from its "face" comes bearing down on them.
The Un-entity attacks.
Meanwhile for some reason SHIELD seem to be teaming up with Midas, while he bathes in cosmic radiation they are pulling Plex and the rest of the ship apart.  Can't see Nick Fury having stood for this sort of thing which just adds to my feeling this is another parallel Marvel U.  

Meanwhile Noh-Varr and Oubliette are holding off Midas's un-entity, which is not adapting to the quicker world it's been thrust into, leading to the groan-worthy observation that "it's getting old fast".  Really Grant?  Anyway they evade it for now and she and he go looking for Midas who has been taking a very long bath in cosmic radiation.  Noh-Varr says he won't let Midas take his ship and they split up, Oubliette goes to take out the un-entity, Noh-Varr to take back his ship.

The SHIELD troops decide to deal with Plex using flamethrowers, Plex emergency protocols activate and it unleashes attack bees which kill everyone there who is not Kree.  So everyone then. This is essayed to Midas, but he emerges from the Marvel's engine core with all the various powers of the Fantastic Four and has no more use for them and kills those soldiers waiting for him.

Midas:  "Do any of you know what I mean when I say I am experiencing cosmic awareness?  I am flame, air, mass and thought."

He then reads the dying Plex's mind and when he discovers all the many universes he declares "Cosmic Man is born".
Midas gets cosmic awareness.
Noh-Varr tries to activate Plex's self-destruct but Midas aborts it.  He shoots Midas in the head and physically attacks him as Midas recovers, but Midas starts crushing Noh-Varr.  Then is somewhat surprised when a huge hole gets blown in the middle of his torso.  Oubliette is responsible using the head of his un-entity to do so. 

Noh-Varr breaks free and punches him again and as Midas pleads with his daugther she finishes him off with the un-entity's powerful beams.  Sadly she sits on the head and when Noh-Varr compliments her just says "please be quiet.  I just blew up my dad."
Oubliette deals with her dad for good.
As he tentatively offers her sanctury with him, suddenly SHIELD forces led by Duggan burst in on the emotionally charged scene.  We then get a look at where Midas ended up, in the un-entity's dimension getting a well-deserved beatdown.  Then we cut to SHIELD Global Security "Overmind" Telepathic Executive.  The badly damaged Plex is now being held in a forcefield and being mentally probed by people who don't seem to know about the Kree.  Yet Midas did... I'm confused.

Noh-Varr is being held prisoner in some super secret SHIELD prison, his capture happening off screen.  Oubliette it seems escaped... somehow and declares "Cosmic Jihad" until he is released.  Bill Clinton is told SHIELD will track her down soon and without her leader she won't last long. "And we'll have him cut down to size soon enough" says an advisor.  Inside the super prison "The Cube", Noh-Varr is told he'll be crawling on his knees in six months. He arrogantly responds he only needs five to turn the place around, "welcome to the capital city of the new Kree empire".
You can't keep a good cocky prick down.
And that brings this miniseries to an end. There is a bit too much telling  and not showing, like he can't conceive how any mere artist could visualise his drugged out Genius Ideas so we get huge wordy panels full of text describing what is going on.  Which is a shame because it feels like he's legitimately wasting J.G.Jones on the most superficial elements of the script (the superheroics) and the whole thing feels cluttered and paced so fast the whole thing is over in much less than an hour's reading ironically despite the egregious infodumps all over the place.  That said, J.G Jones does do a magnificent job with what he's given.  He really does seem to be channelling the great Jack Kirby here with chunky figurework that jumps off the page and looks dynamic and action packed despite the huge amounts of text bubbles weighing the work down.  Probably the best issue is the one that sees Noh-Varr defeat the virus that creates hostile corporations designed to consume a whole planet's resources.  It's a little derivative of Terry Pratchett's parasitic shopping centre in Reaper Man but it's actually a pretty neat idea and I would have preferred a more measured multi-issue look at that than the rather boring Noh-Varr versus the flat, one-dimensional Midas of the rest of the mini.  Ah well.  While I still think this series is set in a parallel Marvel U, it's been retconned as the main one.  After some time flip-flopping between good and bad, he found a home in the Young Avengers and that seems to have been his latest characterisation fixed.  So, while it showcases much of the worst elements of Grant Morrison's obssessions it's worth a look both for the great art and the introduction of a new character who went on to play an important role in various big Marvel events of the noughties.


  1. wow the art really is amazing! story is a bit confusing though, I prefer Morrison when he is writing about animals or Superman.

  2. Funny you should mention Superman... Anyway I agree the art is super good even if the script reads like Morrison having a mid-life crisis.

  3. The Oubliette character reminded me a bit of the Dr Who story "The Android Invasion". In that the baddies had fooled an underling into thinking that he was disfigured.

    I remember at the time wondering how you'd not notice you still had two eyes.

  4. That's.. actually something I as a big Doctor Who fan should have remembered. Shame on me. But great point, both are daft plot points attached to very flat characters. I just feel the whole character was Morrison finding an excuse for some "edgy" leather fetish clad fun.

  5. In Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS a human character is fooled into thinking that he is in fact an android.

  6. That's an interesting reversal of the old, is it human? Oops no it's an android reveal. Still it's a bit daft here that Oubliette can't feel her unscarred face when she takes her mask off which she does on-panel.

  7. @ Lucy - I liked the bit in Red Dwarf where Lister thinks he's an android for a bit; especially Krytons's chocolate finger related bullying.

    Of course, king of that trope is Philip K Dick. Don't know if you've ever read "We can build you"? It's effectively the prequel to "Do androids dream..."

  8. Oh that bit of Red Dwarf is hilarious, must watch it again sometime soon.

    I am not a huge reader anymore of non-comicbook material but I do own and have read "Do Androids Dream..." I didn't know it had a prequel, must hit up Amazon for it sometime.

  9. "Or we could just use the teleporter" is the funniest sci fi line ever written.