I don’t know how Felix Ruiz ended up doing a “Marvel Boy” miniseries, but he’s an astonishingly good choice. An unorthodox one too, since the Jeff Parker story could have easily fit the sensibilities of a cleaner, more traditional artist. It’s a story set in the 1950s, providing an alternative history of the “Uranian” from “Agents of Atlas,” and it plays off its Atlas-era roots, with secret criminal conspiracies, space aliens, and trouble at the amusement park.
But here’s Felix Ruiz, doing a kind of Duncan Fegredo-meets-Bill Sienkiewicz thing, and Val Staples providing expressively, hard-edged colors. The look of the comic provides a wonderful contrast to the simplicity of the story. And it helps to accentuate the underlying theme of innocence lost, of the sordid reality beneath the seemingly shiny surface of Eisenhower-era America. Ruiz’s very style provides layers of meaning to a story that could easily have been illustrated by a more literal artist.
It also helps that “Marvel Boy: The Uranian” #2 includes two late-Golden Age reprints drawn by Bill Everett. The straight-faced absurdity of those stories makes for a jarring, but appropriate, accompaniment to the scratchy, vigorous pen lines of Ruiz. Parker weaves those Everett tales into modern continuity, sort of, by giving this series a subplot about Marvel Boy comics produced to appeal to the juvenile masses. The Ruiz story is the “real” one, while the Everett back-ups are the fiction.
But Parker’s savvy enough to show that Marvel Boy’s reality is as manufactured as his comic book tales. The Uranian people manipulate him to be their emissary just as the American government, and the comic book publishers, use him for their own gains. This is a comic book with space ships and fighter jets, snipers and super-science, but it’s also about a stranger in a strange land. It’s about the making of superhero, and that such a thing entails.
A spin-off series from a team book on hiatus hardly seems like a likely source for great comics, but maybe the freedom from the Marvel mainstream helps. Or maybe Parker and Ruiz just know what they’re doing. Probably both, and the results are certainly worth reading.