Noh-Varr No More: Saying Goodbye To Marvel’s First Male Pin-Up
Young Avengers has gone away again. It’s a state of affairs that fans of the book are used to. Series writer Kieron Gillen and artist Jamie McKelvie have set off to create a new book about super-teens, The Wicked & The Divine, and Young Avengers fans are left hoping someone else will pick up the baton.
Pending any announcements this convention season, that means a lot of fan favorite characters now go back into mothballs, including Marvel’s premier gay teen couple, Wiccan and Hulkling, and breakout fashion icon Miss America. But the one I’ll miss the most? Marvel’s first male pin-up; Marvel Boy.
Marvel Boy, aka Noh-Varr, was introduced to Young Avengers readers in the first issue of the series with a scene that made an explicit statement about the team’s resident spaceboy. Dancing around in black square-cut boxer shorts to “Be My Baby” by the Ronettes, he put himself on display for the benefit of both fellow hero Kate Bishop and the audience. It was sexy, but not calculated, at least not by him. Like a thousand female superheroes before him, happenstance conspired to strip him down and make him gyrate.
On Gillen and McKelvie’s part, it was very calculated. Putting a male sex symbol in a superhero comic sends a clear message to the audience: “We’re not going to sell you the same old thing. We’re not going to pander to the usual crowd.”
In a book whose audience might be expected to skew unusually female and unusually gay (thanks in both regards to that gay couple at its heart), it was a smart move.
Noh-Varr hit all the usual beats of the comics sex symbol. He found more than one reason to take his clothes off. He played with his look. He showed us his butt. Yet Noh-Varr wasn’t quite like all those thousand female heroes. Noh-Varr wasn’t only there to be sexy. He got to both kick some ass and experience some angst. He had his crowning moment of awesome…
And his crowning moment of douche.
He had plot. Personality. Agency. Gillen and McKelvie weren’t setting out to replicate the mistakes that are made with female sex symbols. They upped the game for sex symbols everywhere. Sexy can be important…
But a sexy character should not be interchangeable with a sexy lamp. To quote Kelly-Sue DeConnick: “[I]f you can replace your female character with a sexy lamp and the story still basically works, maybe you need another draft.” (That’s the clean version. The dirty version utilizes the phrase “f—ing hack”.)
Gillen and McKelvie didn’t invent Marvel Boy, and they didn’t invent his sexy; they just gave him his sexy back. Marvel Boy was made to be sexy, in the 2000’s Marvel Boy by Grant Morrison and J.G. Jones.
Noh-Varr was young, dumb and full of… sexuality, from his first appearance. Created because Morrison thought comics weren’t being “sexy enough,” Noh-Varr was a pouty bad boy in tight, tight shorts whose nemesis was an assassin in a dominatrix outfit. “Sexy” is his motif in the same way that “spider” is Peter Parker’s.
That’s not to say there haven’t been other sexy male comic characters at Marvel. Namor, Daken, Nightcrawler and Gambit are all characters whose sexuality has played a part in their stories. (I’d struggle to name four more.) Most of the big name superheroes have had their sexy moments, even if only in the old Marvel Swimsuit Specials. (And even then, the sexy sometimes veered wildly off-course towards awkward or… terrifying.)
And it’s always only sexy moments. It’s not the default setting. Noh-Varr doesn’t have sexy moments. He’s like Catwoman; his every day is sexy. And yet he’s a dude! It’s a glorious new idea for superhero comics.
Last time Marvel Boy got reshuffled into the Marvel deck his status as an unambiguous male sex symbol got a little… lost.
Yes you are, Noh-Varr. Tight shorts. A razor. Some ’60s girl group pop.
Like I said, a hero designed to appeal to the guys and gals who like to look at hot guys is a new idea. It takes a little getting used to. Now that “Noh-Varr-as-sex-symbol” has spent a whole year in the spotlight (dancing; shirtless; the spotlight glistening off his abs), there are two lessons we can take from it. They’re lessons you may have heard me outline before.
Sexy in comics is good and fun, but (1) men can be sexy too, and (2) women can be things other than sexy.
Let’s all take that lesson to heart.
Come back soon, Noh-Varr.
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