Monday, April 23, 2012

Number 1145: The Astonishing Marvel Boy

Marvel Boy—this incarnation, anyway (there had been two before him, both short-lived)—was born in Marvel Boy #1 (1950), written by Stan Lee and drawn by Russ Heath. If you're interested at all in the character you can read more about him at Don Markstein's Toonopedia website. After two issues the title of the comic was changed to Astonishing, which later became one of Atlas Comics' horror/science fiction titles, and a few issues later Marvel Boy was gone. Super heroes of the early '50s just didn't have the staying power they needed to keep themselves in business.

This story, which is the lead to Astonishing #3, is astonishing in that it's not only religiously intolerant, it's religiously ignorant. It's not going to help relationships with Muslims, that's for sure. The religion in the story is described as a cult, which invokes the names of Allah and Mohammed, so figure out for yourself where it's coming from.

A good thing is it's drawn by Bill Everett, who did his usual wonderful job. He also did the cover.


BillyWitchDoctor said...

It's not like I've seen every Marvel Boy story, but the ones I have seen always had a surplus of close-ups of the big-eyebrowed hero's leering sneer. This time around, however, he looks positively freakish and sinister.

Further, Marvel Boy's primary talent seems to have been timidly lulling overconfident villains into a false sense of triumph while he set them up for arrest. This is what killed the title so quickly: MB's a powerful alien superhero who dresses like a Castro Street gladiator, and the only "action" in the story is when the bad guy runs smack into a cop on the final page. Marvel Boy! The superhero-in-distress who never throws a punch! Wait, there's more! He's also an insurance fraud investigator! ...Hah? Hah? Wait, come back!

And yeah, wow, nice depiction of Muslims there. MB's final-panel lecture about ignorance wouldn't be quite the same without it. Thank goodness we've come such a long way since th--oh.

Pappy said...

Billy, your analysis of this strip is so right on I should have turned the text over to you! Thanks, buddy. You've nailed it.

"100Aliases" said...

I agree with Billy, almost every MB story I've read has been all talk, little action. I don't mind seeing a hero use his brains, but come on. All of the ones I've seen tend to end in text walls and don't illustrate crucial parts of the story. Someone needed to learn the 'show don't tell' rule.

As for the depicitons of muslims; when pursuing old comics and pulp stories, I tend to judge ones that feature minorities or other cultures on what the intentions of the writers appear to be. While I'm not saying that good intentions make it right or something we should overlook, I tend to tolerate characters like Ebony White because the writers were trying to be progressive in some sense. Stories like this are genuinely offensive because they had no positive intentions at all.

Still, that's some nice Everett art, and you gotta love a story where the hero offers studying up insurance policies better as a moral.

Keir said...

Maybe it's because I live near Dachau, but seeing a comic featuring an Aryan superman and a overtly Semitic villain seems a bit too close to the bone so soon after Julius Streicher had been executed at Nuremberg for Der Stuermer. Could 'J.C' also be a code for something else?

Jeff Overturf said...

I really dig this under-exposed Atlas era of super folk. Thanks!

Gumba G Gadwa said...

Marvel Boy fought crime like a true insurance fraud investigator would -- boringly!

Who thought that was a great idea? Insurance fraud investigator? Don't miss a single issue of exciting fraud research! Watch him re-check his file draws for information! 'nuff said!

BTW, anybody get the 50's silver age Superman vibe in this -- where it was more Superman tricky people with his powers instead of actually doing anything heroic? Now we know where this came from!

Pappy said...

Ah, all your comments are great, guys. I really appreciate how you've looked at the material. It assures me that someone is actually reading this blog.

I'd like to reiterate that whenever I present material that will be offensive to someone, either racial or religious, I give a disclaimer. This story might be one of the most egregious, even if I could claim that Mr. Death did not represent Islam, but was using its holy names and trappings for his cult's skullduggery. Perhaps a modern reader could extend that to Al Qaeda.

I agree with 100Aliases in part that stories like this are "genuinely offensive" because they have no positive intent, but here's my qualifier. A modern reader, because of a lot of publicity about Islam in the past few years, can infer that Mr. Death does not represent any Muslims or their faith. But the young American reader of 1950 probably didn't know anything about Muslims and so this could become more bigotry against "the other"--those folks who are outside of the local culture.

Another thing is that you readers who have commented so thoughtfully are adults, with adult reasoning powers. The original readers of this Marvel Boy story were probably preteen to mid-teens, with a smattering of older readers, but they had the disadvantage of living in an era when racial and religious slurs were more common and out in the open.

Although when it comes to Islam a lot of folks are still very vocal with their dislike.

To reader Keir, I don't know how many readers I have in Germany, but I appreciate your comment, because what happened during that era is still within modern memory. Any religious intolerance should be measured against how far it is possible to take it, and with the death camps it went very far indeed.

Gary Huffford said...

Just stummbuled on yer site....Iam looking at alot of Smoky Stover comics ..realy like his style ..Isee you have a page on Wonder Warthog...have not seen that for years..didnt know WW was that old!!
Well backto wondering you site .. THANKS !!