Marvel 1985 Paperback – 9 Feb 2009
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I've read enough Mark Millar to know this guy knows how to write a damn fine superhero comic so ordering this was a no-brainer - weird year to pick but then I trust this writer to tell an entertaining story.
Eep - seems I was wrong! While he is generally awesome, "1985" is by no means a flawless, or even half good, book.
The story is too slight to be stretched over 6 issues. We see the same thing repeated over and over - boy struggles with reconciling his divorced father's situation of no money compared to his mother and step father who do have cash, he retreats into comics, then witnesses a Marvel character appear in real life. After a while it becomes predictable, and frankly the boy and his father's story just wasn't strong enough to sustain a full 6 issues.
Also, the build-up about his father's "dark past" and "that one day" is such a cop out in the end, revealed in a couple of pages in an offhand way as to seem like nothing in the overall story.
Then the superheroes - the villains seep over to the real world until the final issue and then the heroes show up and save the day. All the characters are bland and do the usual superhero things, minus any dialogue, and the whole book is tied up neatly with an admittedly kind of cool ending.
Overall it's quite a bland and unexciting read with some, at times fantastic art, other times too inky and scratchy as to be annoying. The superhero storyline is never really pulled off and the real world story not nearly interesting enough to hold up the book - "1985" is far from Millar's best and by no means an essential read for comics fans.
But wait, it actually is. Cleverly set in 1985 this world is far enough removed from our own so as to still feel fictional. It also pushes the nostalgia buttons of anyone who was around then. By reminding you of a period when you first read comics and still believed in heroes it sucks you in to empathise with the 13 year old protagonist. We all wondered ‘what if’ at one time didn’t we?
Millar is famed for his anti-super hero work with Kick Ass and similar projects so it is nice to see him present a more optimistic tale. It isn’t actually about the supers either. We follow a boy struggling with growing up and his father who is also still struggling to grow up. There is a mystery and a hefty spoonful of human drama, albeit with a slightly Scooby Doo ending.
The art is much darker and grainier than modern Day-Glo comics, perhaps to hark back to a four-colour age. The covers are great tributes to that period and there are some famous comics that appear within the storyline too. A trip to the actual Marvel Universe is rendered in a different, softer style that really hits the spot.
There is a lot of humour and wisdom in this volume and this is a side of Millar’s talent you rarely get to see these days. This succeeds because it is about people and in some ways about you, not about the spandex cavalry.
Unfortunately my fears were confirmed as IMHO 1985 is one of must dull, boring and unimaginative stories I have read in a long time. I've read worse books than 1985 but a lot of them have one or two redeeming scenes or characters or dialogue but I struggle to think of a single positive thing to say about this book. I disliked the art immensely (though i admit it did convey a very 80s vibe). The characters were dull, cliche or irrelevant. They felt two dimensional and the dialogue was uninspired and bland. The marvel characters were almost devoid of all personality (though to be fair I understand why, I still think it was mistake). I didnt really care about anyone in the book. The ending seemed rushed and was rather obvious.
The story failed to adequately expand on the product description,
"The most powerful super-villains in the Marvel Universe gather their might to wreak havoc in the one place they've never before set foot - the real world! As mankind's enemies cut a swath of destruction with unprecedented ferocity and ruthlessness, the fate of the planet rests in the hands of one person: Toby, a 13-year-old boy who holds the key to uniting his comic book idols - the Marvel heroes!"
That is pretty much, the only 6 issue story in two lines. I think the premise was inherently unsustainable as a story 6 issue story and the whole thing felt like a bloated and drawn out "What If?" issue rather than proper story. This due to the fact that 1985 is just basically super-powered villains destroying regular people. Not only is this such a one way contest as to be rather boring, but the way it was depicted was so lazy, too many panels of some bad guy killing some people with some caption saying just saying the villains name. No or little build-up, context or consequence. However I did like the Galactacus appearance, very scary and ominous. Some might argue 'yeah, but thats how it would be if this happened for real' but i dont think the book realistic enough in other areas to back that argument successfully. For one thing I think the damage that would be caused by this villains would be more devastating than shown in the book.
Some reviewers have mentioned the Marvel in jokes peppered throughout the book and how only a true Marvel aficionado will appreciate this book. Well as a collector of 20 years I think I qualify and yes, i get the jokes but (a) their not that funny, and (b) so what? My view is fisrt and foremost write a good story, if you cant get a few in-jokes or nods and winks to us fanboys in there then great, by all means do. However in -okes and homage do not a good story make in itself. I feel like parody and irony has gone too far in modern comicsthese days and some writers are getting away with poor stories just by being 'post-modern' (to use a phrase that is so vague and ambiguous it almost meaningless but i think/hope people know what I mean). I used to applaud people like Ennis, Morrison, Ellis and Millar (and maybe Bendis...) for pushing the boundaries and challenging what comics could and should be, but as inevitable even these self-style comic subversives have by the virtues of their own success become the very 'establishment' that they once challenged. The result is books like 1985, Nemisis, Crossed and Jennifer Blood. Titles that 10 years ago would have been new, fresh, edgy or even shocking but now seem tame, dull or stale....
I almost didnt write this review because I'm sure that it will be shouted down as everyone else seems to like so much but in my opinion the book was so bad I just felt the need to make my feelings and thoughts heard.
Ps as bit of fan-boy pedant two minor things bothered me
(1) Magneto appears on the back cover but I'm pretty sure he doesnt actually appear in the book, why?
(2) Why was Hulk fighting Juggernaut? Im pretty sure that at the time Hulk was a good guy so why was he the only hero brought through?
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