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Marvel Boy(pop culture)
For a company founded on a title called Marvel Comics, the temptation to create a hero called Marvel Boy was always going to be hard to resist, and there have been many incarnations of that name over the years. The first Marvel Boy was Martin Burns, who enjoyed two different origins in just two appearances. In the first, by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby (in Daring Mystery #6, 1940), he becomes the reincarnation of Hercules, who had been driven to return to Earth by the growing Nazi threat. In his second origin, by Bob Oksner (in USA Comics #7, 1941) he inadvertently knocks over a mummy—”Hercules’ mummy,” as per the myth-mash that characterized all of the Marvel Boy’s stories—during a museum trip, and some of the mummy extract (whatever that might be) enters a cut in his skin; presto, instant superhero! In both cases, young Martin is presented with a (different) costume by an animated shadow that just happens to be lurking nearby. (Marvel has since established that there were two different 1940s Marvel Boys, both named Martin Burns.)
Fast-forward a decade, and following the collapse of the superhero genre, up popped a new Marvel Boy, created by writer/editor Stan Lee and artist Russ Heath in Marvel Boy #1 (December 1950): Bob Grayson, son of intrepid genius scientist Professor Matthew Grayson. Frightened by growing instability in Europe, the professor had fashioned a nuclear-powered spaceship and spirited his young son away to safety on Uranus. Now in futuristic 1950, the grown-up Grayson returned to Earth in a Roman-style, bare-legged costume, popping uranium pills and dazzling hoods with his “light jewel,” which fired a beam of light that was temporarily blinding. The Marvel Boy stories were enjoyably scatterbrained, as he flitted from Uranus to Earth and back, tangling with aliens, commies, and swamis. After two issues, his Marvel Boy comic was retitled Astonishing, and beautifully drawn Marvel Boy stories (by Russ Heath and Bill Everett) continued to appear until issue #6, after which it was converted to a horror comic.
In a move to retain copyright on the name, Marvel Boy strips were reprinted in the 1960s and 1970s, and the hero himself was revived by writer Roy Thomas in a Fantastic Four issue (#164 in 1975). Grayson had apparently been in suspended animation and woke up with crime on his mind, renaming himself Crusader. He was defeated by the Fantastic Four and promptly died. His armbands (tiny generators filled with the energy of miniature stars) were passed on to Stark Industries, where a young would-be S.H.I.E.L.D. spy called Wendell Vaughn tried them on, fought off some enemy agents, and duly became Marvel Man (in Captain America #217). Adding blue tights to the original costume, Marvel Man next met the Hulk, changed his name to Quasar, and flew off to Uranus where, after three years of sleep, he was told he was the universe’s new protector. Flying back to Earth, he would go on to enjoy a healthy run in his own comic for six years (1988–1994), as a sort of lighthearted Green Lantern.
But if Marvel Man became Quasar, that name was now going spare again, and so … enter Vance Astrovik, a.k.a. Marvel Boy, in the pages of the New Warriors in 1990. (This character was an alternative version of Guardians of the Galaxy leader Vance Astro.) Rejected by the Avengers, the telekinetic Marvel Boy was recruited by Night Thrasher to join his fellow novice heroes in the New Warriors, which proved to be one of the surprise hits of the 1990s. In an unusual move that very much mirrored the increasingly violent state of life in the late twentieth century, storylines revealed that Marvel Boy was an abused child, and in issue #20 he killed his father after a particularly savage beating. As a result, he was sent to jail where he changed his name to Justice and fought for the cause of prisoners’ rights. In due course, Justice was released, and together with new Warriors girlfriend, Firestar, went on to get accepted into the Avengers. All of this meant that there was another vacancy in the Marvel Boy department.
The fifth Marvel Boy duly arrived in 2000, courtesy of cutting-edge writer Grant Morrison, with the talented J. G. Jones on art, as part of the company’s more mature Marvel Knights line. This time around, Marvel Boy was Noh-Varr, the sole survivor of a crashed spaceship of the Kree race, and the series’ premise was effectively a retelling of the early (1968) Captain Marvel series, right down to the design of Marvel Boy’s costume. Over six issues, Noh-Varr (effectively a living weapon) came up against Mr. Midas (a billionaire dressed in Iron Man’s old armor, for some reason), S.H.I.E.L.D., Nexus the Living Corporation, a beautiful killer called Oubliette, and pretty much the whole planet. Noh-Varr has since joined the Dark Avengers, adopted the name Captain Marvel, and joined the main Avengers team. Noh-Varr is undoubtedly the least sympathetic Marvel Boy so far, albeit the best crafted, but almost inevitably there will be more.
In 2006 it was revealed that the third Marvel Boy, Robert Grayson, was not dead after all, and that the Crusader had been a deluded Eternal from Uranus. Grayson had remained on Uranus, where he lived among the native, non-humanoid Uranians, who altered his body to suit their environment. Now known as the Uranian, Grayson is a member of the Agents of Atlas, a contemporary team of heroes from the 1950s (when Marvel was known as Atlas), including Jimmy Woo, Gorilla-Man, M-11 (the Human Robot), Namora, and Venus. —DAR & PS