The GeeksverseLeaving Proof 29 | “Marvel 1985″ TPB review

Leaving Proof 29 | “Marvel 1985″ TPB review
Published on Wednesday, June 22, 2011 by
Marvel 1985
  • (Marvel Comics, 2009; 176 pages; reprints Marvel 1985 #1-6, originally published July–December, 2008)
  • Writer: Mark Millar
  • Artist: Tommy Lee Edwards
  • Letterer: John Workman
  • Cover Price: $19.99 US

I started picking up comic books again when I was thirteen years old… after two years of trying to be a normal person.

My parents’ divorce and a random issue of Iron Man was all it took to reel me back into this simple world where every problem could be solved in twenty-four pages.

This is how readers are introduced to the character of young Toby Goodman, Millar’s precocious protagonist in this somewhat unconventional tale that manages to thoughtfully touch on the universal themes of adolescence and parenthood. Make no mistake, for better or worse, Marvel 1985 is still a superhero story at its core, but it’s one enriched by a level of coming-of-age pathos such as that found in much of Stephen King‘s peak 1980s work, the popular 1984 fantasy film The NeverEnding Story, and the very best episodes of Steven Spielberg‘s Amazing Stories.

Marvel 1985 takes place, at least initially, in a world where superheroes are confined to the pages of comic books. This isn’t Millar’s first attempt at superhero metafiction: 2003’s Wanted was situated in a similar setting and features somewhat related themes and partially veiled industry commentary, but Marvel 1985 trumps its predecessor by featuring a more tightly integrated plot and sympathetic characters. Millar, perhaps the most polarizing superhero comic book writer since Frank Miller, is in excellent form here. He effortlessly jumps from one genre’s tropes to another—going from coming-of-age drama, to superheroic fantasy, to horror, and back—and expertly juggles the various subplots involving Toby’s deteriorating relationship with his mother and stepfather and increasing social withdrawal, strange superhero sightings around town, flashbacks to the 1960s featuring Toby’s biological father that shed light on present events, and numerous other small side-stories. Millar skillfully weaves this disparate mess of elements together and builds towards a bombastic (if somewhat rushed) climax and appropriately sentimental epilogue.

Stephen King’s influence on Millar’s writing for the mini-series should be obvious to any reader familiar with the bestselling author’s work (artist Tommy Lee Edwards makes the comparison between King and Millar’s writing for the mini-series in this 2008 CBR interview). The intersection of growing adolescent pains, horror, and fantasy; the highly self-aware protagonist/narrator; the small town setting; and various plot devices featured in Marvel 1985 are hallmarks of King’s It, The Body, The Regulators, and lesser known work such as The Word Processor of the Gods, The Monkey, and Umney’s Last Case. Like King before him, Millar deftly employs a conversational narrative tone pioneered and mastered to great effect in horror and fantasy by SF Hall of Famer Ray Bradbury, something I’d like to see more often in Millar’s work. Despite being steeped heavily in Marvel Comics superhero lore (and the subset of that lore extant in 1985 at that), Marvel 1985 is accessible to even the superhero comic book novice, requiring of the reader only a superficial familiarity with Marvel’s most popular properties and a very basic understanding of superhero comics and the niche they occupy in popular entertainment (which are nonetheless communicated between the lines in the story).

For the keen-eyed and the well-read however, Millar throws in any number of nods beyond the homages to King and Bradbury. One important scene is obviously inspired by English author W. W. JacobsThe Monkey’s Paw, and one can’t help but speculate on a possible connection between Marvel 1985‘s antagonist and The Beyonder from Marvel’s Secret Wars.

Tommy Lee Edwards’ atypical comic book art style contributes to the sense that this isn’t any ordinary comic book. It is somewhat reminiscent of Alex Ross‘ tendency towards rigorous naturalism but is much more dynamic, putting it in the same rarefied category as the sequential art stylings of John Paul Leon and Leonardo Manco. He also manages to switch stylistic gears at key points in the story without breaking up the storytelling rhythm, comfortably going from softly rendered scenes to heavily stylized Scott Kolins-esque line art as required. Marvel 1985 was initially pitched as a fumetti photonovel-style comic book, and I think all readers will agree that having it traditionally illustrated was the right decision.

All in all,  Marvel 1985 is an excellent read, regardless of where you stand on the Mark Millar divide. It’s an unabashed love letter to the superhero comics medium and the emotional bonds shared between fathers and their sons. Highly recommended.

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