BHOC: MARVEL SUPER ACTION #4

I was strangely super-excited when I got this issue of MARVEL SUPER ACTION in a 3-Bag at a department store or a toy store. I don’t know what motivated Marvel after three issues featuring reprints of Captain America stories (which the title would return to the following issue) to devote this one to reprints of Marvel Boy adventures from 1951. Possibly they needed to do so in order to renew the trademark on the character and the material. But I was glad that they did, possibly the only person who was glad. You see, I had first encountered Marvel Boy in the villainous role of the Crusader in FANTASTIC FOUR #164, and I was later dumbfounded to learn in the pages of the Olshevsky Official Marvel Index to Fantastic Four that the Crusader was a genuine Marvel atom-age hero who’d gone bad. I was extremely interested in comic book history and the comics of the past, so getting to experiencing a few of these stories was something of a godsend.

The issue doesn’t just feature straight-up reprints, though, a lot of effort went into crafting this package, knitting together material from an assortment of Marvel Boy stories. The cover and the new splash page above were illustrated by Dave Cockrum and Joe Sinnott, probably thanks to the fact that Cockrum was on staff at Marvel during this period and could easily be called upon to knock out a few images for the reprint title. The rest of the book mixes and matches material from four different Marvel Boy stories in order to make an almost-cohesive whole out of them. Years later, Roger Stern told me that he had worked on this issue, so I believe that this was his effort–not that this means that doing a Marvel Boy issue was his idea. That feels much more like something that Roy Thomas would have instigated, Roy being a fan of this era and its super hero material. (He had written that return of Marvel Boy as the crusader, and would later use the character in an issue of WHAT IF.)

Marvel Boy was launched in 1950 and was a last gasp attempt at starting up a super hero character by Marvel (then Timely) as the Golden Age came to a close. Kicked off in his own self-titled series, MARVEL BOY only lasted for two issues. Thereafter, the series was retitled ASTONISHING in the style of the popular horror and fantasy anthologies of the period. Marvel Boy’s adventures continued in ASTONISHING for four more issues, and then he was gone, vanished without a trace. The time, it seems, was not right for new super heroes just yet. MARVEL BOY’s real saving grace was that it had strong artwork. The origin story, which is excerpted across the first four or five pages of this issue, was illustrated by Russ Heath, whose draftsmanship was on-point. By the second issue, the series was handed over to Bill Everett to both write and draw. Everett’s work during these years was singularly good, and he brought a weird manic energy to Marvel Boy, with elements of horror and fantasy that fit the remit. It wasn’t just a regular super hero strip.

Marvel Boy was Robert Grayson, a young man who’d grown up on the planet Uranus. Back in the days of the Great Depression, Grayson’s scientist father had built a rocket ship to launch himself and his infant child to the stars to escape conditions on Earth and the impending rise of the Nazi party. They discovered an alien colony on Uranus and were taken in and adopted by its citizens. Because he had grown up in that alien environment, Bob Grayson was stronger and more robust than a typical Earthman–though he had to take capsules regularly so that his strength wouldn’t diminish in Earth conditions. Given the task of returning to Earth to face a recently-revealed menace, Bob is christened Marvel Boy, and given a pair of light-emitting wrist-bands as his one and only weapon apart from his own strength. These bands were later re-imagined as the Quantum Bands used by Quasar–but all of that was in the future at this point. While he spent much of his time on Earth battling weird menaces and working as an insurance adjuster, Marvel Boy commuted to his home on Uranus as well, which allowed for some more otherworldly challenges as well.

Most of the first story was pulled from an adventure originally printed in ASTONISHING #5 and written and drawn by Everett. In it, Marvel Boy battles a would-be alien conqueror who has set up his base of operations within the Grand Canyon. This villain, Orion Rex, poses as Earth scientist Dr. Noiro in order to further his plans, counting on the foolish earthlings to not think to spell his name in reverse. Unfortunately for him, on Uranus such a trick of reverse-spelling is child’s play, and Marvel Boy exposes his schemes, detonates his Atomic Bombs, and takes him into custody. Huzzah!

The second story in this issue is also from ASTONISHING #5, and is much more outer space-centric. It introduces Marvel Boy’s romantic interest, Lilli, making her first and only appearance. When Marvel Boy won’t take her along with him on his return to Earth from Uranus, she stows away on board his rocket ship. The World Organization of Atomic Research has a briefcase full of important secrets that they want Marvel Boy’s father to examine, and so they give them to Bob to transport. But bad guys want the secrets in those papers as well, and when they fail in their efforts to overpower Marvel Boy and take them from him, they instead abduct Lilli to use as leverage. In the original story, Marvel Boy finds Lilli’s purse at the site of her abduction, but Roger Stern didn’t think that was specific enough, so in this reprint he had it changed so that Marvel Boy instead finds a distinctive brooch she had been wearing.

What’s more, the bad guys are all working for a would-be dictator on Uranus. This guy doesn’t seem to have any name other than the Chief, but he’s captured Dr. Matthew Grayson on Uranus, and when Marvel Boy returns, he tries to use the elder Grayson to force MB to hand over the secrets contained in the documents. Marvel Boy is able to trick their captors and liberate himself and his father–mostly because the captors in question are catastrophically dumb. But they’ve still got Lilli a prisoner back in Earth. So it’s back into the space ship for another quick fight, where marvel Boy knocks the crap out of the common Earth thugs holding her. There isn’t a lot of deft plotting to these stories, not a ton of sophistication–but they certainly had verve.

7 thoughts on “BHOC: MARVEL SUPER ACTION #4

  1. I would think Roy was very involved in the decision to do this issue — and at this particular time, too — since it was dated Nov 1977, and the Jan 1978 issue of CAPTAIN AMERICA (plotted and edited by Roy) introduced the new Marvel Boy, Wendell Vaughn.

    This must have been Roy’s way (with Archie and Roger’s cooperation, of course) of re-introducing Marvel Boy to set up for his successor’s debut as one of the Super-Agents of SHIELD.

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  2. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it stated anywhere, but Marvel Boy had to be the inspiration for Marvel Girl’s name, right? Has that ever come up anywhere, in-story or out?

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    1. I don’t think so, except in the general sense that “Marvel Comics” was the inspiration for both of their names, plus the earlier Marvel Boys and anyone else Marvel published with Marvel in their names.

      Plus, STRANGE TALES is why Dr. Strange’s name is Dr. Strange…

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      1. Yeah, makes sense of course. I just didn’t know if Stan had ever mentioned something like “we had a Marvel Boy, why not a Marvel Girl?” while talking about the X-Men.

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  3. So weird to be looking at this from a modern-day perspective. It’s definitely a good example of the trope Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale. The distance between Earth and Uranus varies between 1.6 billion miles and 1.98 billion miles but Marvel Boy is shown easily traveling back & forth between the two by rocket ship as if he was commuting from the suburbs to Midtown Manhattan.

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  4. This reprint would have appealed to me also if I had known it had existed back in the day. I greatly enjoyed the Quasar series that launched in 1989 and I remember the first few issues were a fun re-hash of the Marvel Boy/Quasar history. I was definitely intrigued that the original version of the character was actually from the ’50s. Gruenwald was just fantastic at all things to do with Marvel history and continuity.

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