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Year of the Artist, Day 215: J. G. Jones, Part 4 – Marvel Boy #4

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Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is J. G. Jones, and the issue is Marvel Boy #4, which was published by Marvel and is cover dated November 2000. Enjoy!

Marvel Boy feels like it should have been more important, doesn’t it? It’s Morrison doing insane crap in the Marvel U. (although it is fairly conventional, eventually – it seems like he wants it to be weirder than it is) and it introduces some brilliant new characters, yet it never really had much of an impact, and then Bendis came along and gutted the character, if Chad Nevett is to be believed (I didn’t read Bendis’s Avengers comics, so I don’t know). It’s almost certainly the best art of Jones’s career – he was really hitting on all cylinders here, and despite wonderful work since, I’m not sure if he’s hit the heights he does here (although we’ll see some more tomorrow to compare!). Maybe the lack of the promised sequel is part of it. It’s too bad – this came out at the height of the Jemas Era, which, today’s Better-Than-Average Marvel notwithstanding, is the best Marvel era since the Image guys absconded, and despite its conventionality, it feels like the first “new millennium” comic that Morrison so desperately wanted it to be. [Edit: As Jeremy points out in the comments, Jemas shot down a Marvel Boy sequel. That’s weird, as he had no problem letting this one see print. I still think this is a great era of Marvel, but I guess it could have been better!] So let’s check out this amazing artwork!

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This is the first page of the issue, and it’s pretty cool. Obviously, Morrison came up with “white running,” and he may have even suggested the way Jones portray it, but Jones makes the distractions that bring Noh-Varr out of his mental state really come together nicely. First, there’s Noh-Varr himself, with his crazy bike shorts and ripped costume. We only get close enough to him to see his face in the final panel, but Jones does a good job showing his anxiety as the distractions filter in. His eyes look at the woman on his right, while his mouth is pursed from breathing heavily and from worry that he’s not able to continue “white running.” Jones uses precise inking lines, so his hair is disheveled but never scruffy, while the lines on his face chisel it rather than wrinkle it. I’m curious if Jones has the dude on the right in the final panel looking to his right as an implication that Noh-Varr is running so fast that the dude is still looking at where he was rather than where he is, which is past the dude. That would be clever. But Jones also does the clever trick of blurring the panel borders as Noh-Varr comes out of his state. That’s neat. At least I think it’s neat.

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Look how well Jones lays this page out. We’ll get to the continuation of the fight below, but this begins it, and it’s tremendous. Many artists try to move away from motion lines as they get more experienced, and Jones obviously was doing that, but where some artists, unfortunately, still need them, on this page the action is beautifully rendered without any extraneous lines. So Oubliette* rides into the subway tunnel on her gold-plated (or all gold?) motorcycle, and Noh-Varr is grabbing the girder and beginning to swing around. Jones places him on the left so we see the beginning of his swing and our eyes can “move” him around the girder to where Oubliette is, and we can anticipate exactly what’s going to happen. That doesn’t mean Jones doesn’t show what happens, as in the next instant, Noh-Varr kicks Oubliette off the bike. Jones draws her in a very good position, as she looks like someone who’s had their direction and momentum changed very violently. Even her coat billowing around her implies that well. Jones doesn’t forget to draw the back of the motorcycle, which continues on its way. The layout of the first two panels helps with the storytelling, too, as the first one flows well, while the second one doesn’t, as our left-to-right reading collides with Noh-Varr’s feet. Avalon Studios and Matt Milla, who colored this, choose to use “unrealistic” colors in that panel, too, so that it stands out as a violent clash among a smoothly flowing page. The fact that they choose Noh-Varr’s dominant color, green, rather than a violent red is clever, too. Then Jones shows, in a thin row of drawings, how Oubliette tumbles and recovers, which is so wonderful it’s almost animated. He rolls her as someone would fall, and he also shows how agile she is when she stops herself and has the wherewithal to grab her gun, which she dropped earlier in the sequence. Then we get her in the final panel, fully recovered with her gun pointed at Noh-Varr. Jones pushes her to the right of the panel not only to move us off the page, but also because it implies the violence of her fall – she can’t even stop herself in the center of the panel! This is another great drawing by Jones – Oubliette’s coat falls and lies on her body very well, the BDSM costume looks more crackly and leathery than even yesterday’s dueling Black Widows’ did, and the pose is both seductive and dangerous. It’s a superb page, all around.

* I first learned the word “oubliette” from this series. Comic books – expanding your vocabulary since 1935!

All right, buckle in, because I’m showing the entire rest of the fight between Oubliette and Noh-Varr. Then I’ll write about it!

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I’m almost tempted to just leave this sequence here and not write about it because it’s so gorgeous, but I’ll give it a try. First we get the two 12-panel grids as Oubliette chases Noh-Varr up the side of a building. It’s impressive how he moves our eyes across the panels and shows all the action he needs to, while the discipline of the 12-panel grid means he can show reactions too without interrupting the fight. A larger panel layout would have not allowed the reaction shots, which are a pretty neat part of the scene. Oubliette shoots the window out and Noh-Varr falls, while the people inside the building look through the hole in the window at his predicament. Oubliette is wearing “vibranium soles” on her shoes, which is how she’s able to stick to the window, and Jones does a wonderful job in the bottom row of the first page, as Noh-Varr lands on her and knocks her loose, and we see it from the perspective of the people inside the building. The violence of the collision in Panel 11 is palpable, and while each panel forms a single drawing, time still moves in it, so that Panel 12, which shows a dude looking toward the “center” of the scene, still shows the passage of time because Oubliette and Noh-Varr aren’t in the panel anymore. It’s a very clever device. On the second page, Jones nails the chaos of their fall, as some panels – Panel 6 specifically – are “off-center” a bit, giving us a sense of everything moving very fast. The violence is also nicely implied, as Panel 3 shows Noh-Varr’s hand ripping through the flag as he uses it to slow his descent and Panel 11 shows the tattered flag wrapped around him, denying him a chance to get his bearings. These two pages are really tremendous.

Jones, of course, doesn’t stop there. Noh-Varr lands on the bus and we get a beautiful, cartoony “BOOM!”, a circular panel, and the crashing of that circular panel to drive home how violent the impact is. Panel 3 is really well done – reminiscent of Despero’s UN flag in Justice League America – as Jones uses thick blacks on Noh-Varr and the flag to make him look more menacing. He gets “Plex,” the Kree Supreme Intelligence, back on-line, and Plex tells him that he’s surrounded, which takes us to the next page. Jones sets the scene very well – Doctor Midas is filming the attack, so we get a very high shot of Oubliette’s feet as she looks down, showing us the bus as it’s about to be shot to pieces. Jones, as we saw yesterday, uses some chaotic page layouts, but unlike yesterday, here he’s in total command, so there’s no difficulty moving from panel to panel. The money shot on this page is beautifully drawn, as the SWAT teams shoots up the bus while the cameraman films it all from above Jones uses smoke from the bus in Panels 1, 2, and 6 to show its movement, but notice that in the final panel, he just shows the orange cones getting knocked over, yet the sense of movement is still palpable. On the final page, he tips the bus on its side and uses four panels to show its movement across the page. The car in Panels 2 and 3 shows us that the bus continues to slide forward, and in Panel 4, we get that poor weird dude running away from the bus, which for whatever reason makes me think of Homer Simpson skittering away in “The Fugitive” parody the show did years ago. Midas blows the bus up, and we get more kinetic movement as the tire flies toward us, and then Noh-Varr is attacked by a Buddhist monk. Because why not? That final panel is also tremendous, as Jones uses excellent perspective to drive us from the back to the front, and it’s almost three-dimensional the way the monk’s foot looms forward and Noh-Varr comes at us. We see the nice thick inking on the bodies and the more delicate lines on the monk’s robes, and we’re not terribly surprised that Jones doesn’t do more interior work if he’s going to be so meticulous about it.

Anyway, this is an amazing chase/fight scene in the middle of a gorgeous comic, and it shows that Jones could easily handle the biggest superhero comics if he chose to do that.

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Finally, Jones shows that he’s still pretty good at quieter moments. Doctor Midas claims that Oubliette is horribly scarred (of course, just like Doctor Doom, she’s not), and here she responds to her father’s question about Noh-Varr looking at her (in a sexual way) with this brief scene. Whenever people (me included) rant about Morrison caring too much about being weird and not about writing human characters, I’m reminded of little stuff like this, which is heart-breaking but brief enough that it doesn’t become maudlin. Jones does a wonderful job with it, too. He shows her crestfallen face in Panels 1 and 2 as she pops her mask off, and of course Jones shows her from the rear in Panel 3, but then we get that wonderful Panel 4, where Jones inks her face completely black but her pose is brilliant. She’s slouched because she lacks confidence, and her hair flops forward, drooping sadly. Jones does really well showing how hard she’s clutching the mask that is her crutch. Midas, too, wears a mask, so Jones can’t do anything with his face, but the way he turns him slightly toward his daughter and casually lights a cigarette speaks volumes. Jones puts Oubliette in reflection in Panel 5, distorting her, which speaks both toward her physical abomination (which doesn’t exist) and the way her father, in whose gauntlet she’s reflected, has twisted her. Jones does a great job making Midas’s hands in Panel 6 softer than we can imagine, as he places the mask back over her face. Jones tilts Oubliette’s head up, almost in supplication, as Midas hides her from the world again. On the next page, we get the final panel, in which Oubliette looks strangely blissful, which Jones shows really well, half-closing her eyes and leaning her head to her left, as if she’s trying to feel her father’s hand against her skin. It’s scenes like this that make Morrison’s depiction of the relationship, which Oubliette calls “weird” a few panels later, both more disturbing but also, strangely, more tender as well. Is Midas lying to his daughter because he wants to control her or because he’s so afraid of the world? It’s never answered, but Jones is able to show that while Midas is a monster, he might not be completely without a soul, which is why Oubliette’s eventual betrayal (in this very issue!) cuts him so deeply.

Jones kept working, cranking out a Wonder Woman graphic novel and Wanted, but I’m going to skip those to check out his even more ambitious collaboration with the God of All Comics. Join me, won’t you? And be sure to check out the archives!

18 Comments

tom fitzpatrick

August 3, 2014 at 2:27 pm

Can Jones do any better? Or worse?

Tomorrow’s another day!

Jeff Nettleton

August 3, 2014 at 3:59 pm

I first heard the word oubliette in the movie Labyrinth. Jim Henson, expanding your vocabulary since 1966! Ma-na-ma-na…..

It seems like this is the era when action films seemed to become as big an influence on modern comic artists as previous comics. I can see the Matrix and other digital film stunts all over this, as well as the work of Bryan Hitch and John Cassaday. Not only do their stunts reflect the same staging, but the way they draw clothing reflects film costuming, especially in how they adapted superhero costumes.

Meanwhile, is it just me or did fetishism really infiltrate mainstream comics in the New Millenium? By the same token, it started permeating films, television, and books, to the point where words like “bondage” and “kinky” have lost a lot of taboo impact. I like to chalk it up to millenial anxiety (especially in light of subsequent events), but it is rather striking. Prior to that, you have your pockets, like Golden Age Wonder Woman, or the Hellfire Club, or Howard Chaykin’s 80s comics; but it seemed more of a minor thing. Now it seems a lot more commonplace. Just an observation.

It kinda looks like the guy on the right in the White Running Page is looking at Noh-Varr’s leg in the panel above him. So Marvel Boy is running so fast he jumps out of one panel, over that guy’s panel into a third panel. He’s operating in different dimensions, man! Such an awesomely dynamic page :D

Along with the antipathy towards Morrison’s Nick Fury proposal, Marvel President Bill Jemas’ hostility toward any proposed sequels to the Marvel Boy series was a large factor in Morrison’s decision to sign an exlusive deal with DC in 2003.

Marvel Boy 2, with Morrison’s Swamp Thing collaborator Phil Hester taking over from J. G. Jones on art duties, was to be the culmination of Morrison’s long standing admiration of Jim Starlin and Steve Englehart’s ‘cosmic comics’ of the 1970’s. Morrison said in an interview with Newsarama, “the Kree Book of The Dead issue, “Beyond The Withinfinite,” delved into Kree comic book religion in full-on Prog Comics style”

“He simply didn’t like the fluorescent overtones of what I was doing in Marvel Boy 2″, he went on, “and asked me if I was prepared to try a different and more down-to-earth approach to the basic idea of angry alien boy trapped on Earth. My original series pitch and scripts were based in a horrible super-security prison called the Cube, home of the most deranged inhuman mutants and motherfuckers on the face of the Earth. Grotesques like Daddy Heart, Alan Satan and the Spider Sisters filled every page and the whole thing was a very fast-paced religious satire in the Marvel Cosmic style.”

Well shit, I would have paid to see that. Thanks Jemas!

I learned the word “oubliette” from The X-Files.

I’ve always thought that Marvel Boy was Marvel’s answer to Stardust (yes, that Stardust). From the hallucinogenic spit to rearranging NYC’s buildings to spell “F–k You” to declaring “cosmic jihad” against Earth, Noh-Varr works best as a revenge-crazed teenage space messiah. It’s too bad no writer after Morrison knew what to do with him. His “Protector” persona is as bland as his new characterization.

Gillen and McKelvie did an alright job reconciling Bendis’ awful awful awful mischaracterization of Noh Varr with the character’s original conception, and the end of that series was pretty clearly meant to shift him a bit Morrison-ward.

@Jeff: re: fetishism, a /lot/ of that you can trace back to Morrison’s work specifically. Even the “Matrix” influence is actually an “Invisibles” influence in terms of the use of fetish outfits. Of course, Sin City was in the mix too.

@Jeremy: Holy /crap/ I’m going to be sad about that forever now. I’ve been eating up as much Starlin as I can lately. Never knew Marvel Boy was even meant to have a sequel.

tom fitzpatrick

August 3, 2014 at 9:05 pm

@ Robert Eddleman: Same here. Weird word, eh?

tom fitzpatrick

August 3, 2014 at 9:09 pm

We should try to use that word in a sentence, just for the fun of it.

How many of you nerds have seen that Seinfeld episode where Constanza used the word “behooves” in a sentence in a conversation and Seinfeld called him on it by saying “How long have you waited to use that word in a sentence?” ?

cich: Ha! Good point.

Jeremy: I know Jemas can be a dick, but I still think his reign at Marvel was an excellent period. I’m actually surprised he shied away from the sequel, because he green-lit so much else weird crap at Marvel around 2000. I mean, he might not have liked Morrison’s Nick Fury, but he let Ennis go nuts on the character!

Matt: Yeah, I do think Gillen and McKelvie did a pretty decent job with Noh-Varr. Not as good as Morrison, but that kind of goes without saying!

tom: Hasn’t everyone seen every episode of Seinfeld? :)

@Matt Amylon
Does anyone really buys that piece of dung that Morrison tried to sell that they ripped him off in the Matrix? Nobody ripped him off nowhere. Nobody outside a small pocket of comics writers of waning relevancy was influenced by him. It’s just him projecting his own guilt.

The Wachowskis are openly fans of Grant Morrison and took plenty of reference from The Invisibles.

the “dominatrix lady” has appeared in numerous Morrison comics. Same hair style too

Invisibles
7 Soldiers
Marvel Boy
Final Crisis

@Nick Miller: Now that you mention it, yes, Oubliette from Marvel Boy and Evil Mary Marvel from Final Crisis have very similar looks. I don’t know if that is down to Grant Morrison, J.G. Jones, or a combination of the two of them.

@Alin R.

I guess reading is hard…and so is google.

tom fitzpatrick

August 4, 2014 at 9:44 am

@ Mr. Burgas: I pretty much stopped watching Seinfeld after that Baseball/Kennedy-like episode (I forget which season it was the season finale in). Season four, I think.

I guess there’s just so many ways that talking about nothing was funny, and then it just got stale.

So no, I haven’t seen ALL the Seinfeld episodes.

tom: You’re dead to me!!! :)

Almost everything that made The Invisible be The Invisibles (and a sizable portion of the rest of everything else Morrison produced) is lifted from something he consumed as a teenager and young adult. Be it Philip K. Dick, Moorecock and Williams S. Burroughs novels or Alan Moore, Bryan Talbot and Philip McCarthy comics, various Doctor Who media, British cult movies and a couple of others. It’s not like he incorporated smoothly, filtered them trough his own sensibilities and experiences any of those things into his comics. The Invisibles is basically fanfiction for the kind of counterculture genre work that turned toothless by the turn of the 90s. He cannot feel influential (or ripped off) with work that he didn’t create.

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