Monday, September 26, 2011

The Astonishing Marvel Boy!

I just finished reading Marvel Boy's original run from the 1950's just this morning in the Atlas Masterworks volume.

I first ran across Marvel Boy in Marvel Tales alongside Spidey, Thor, and Torch. He was a cool looking hero as rendered by the slick Bill Everett. I liked the hokey adventures then, but I have to confess reading a whole batch of them, the weaknesses in the storytelling really show up.

The thing is that Marvel Boy was a series that seemed to almost have a new premise each issue and often each story. He began as a space warrior, a displaced Earther from Uranus who came back to his home planet to save us from ourselves and from alien threats. But the desire to put out horror material changed Bob Grayson into a battler of ghosts, ghouls, and vampires. Some of those were real, some were bogus. He had a partner in the beautiful circus performer turned secretary Starr Ryder, and then she just disappeared. He was an insurance investigator and then that background seemed to fade. Even his name as Marvel Boy dissolved as the series developed.

He was drawn by greats like Russ Heath and the aforementioned Bill Everett. But despite the handsome gloss of the stories and some really genuinely exciting moments, the series was seriously uneven.

It seemed torn between slamming the Commies in one tale about water on Uranus and then finding for real vampire queens in another set in Italy. Each story had its charms and weaknesses but taken as a whole the mind boggled as the reading unfolded.

I still adore Marvel Boy, he's a character in search of the right circumstances, but he appeared at a time when sadly he was not allowed to become all he might have been. Or perhaps they were just trying desperately to find a formula that worked, but alas none of them seemed to have time to catch hold.

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