Review by Frank Plowright
1985 is Mark Millar’s love letter to both the comics he grew up with and the power of inspiration. At times it over-ladles the message, but anyone who’s shared his teenage obsession with comics – it’s no coincidence that Millar was sixteen in his chosen year – will find much to love and cherish here.
It begins on ‘our’ Earth, with teenager Toby Goodman in 1985 a product of a separated relationship, who hates his new efficient and successful step-father. His birth father Jerry is a dreamer, one who read Marvel comics as a kid and passed the love of them to Toby, and a man who harbours a secret about a traumatic local event during the 1960s. There’s a remote and spooky house on the edge of town, and Toby thinks he sees the Red Skull looking out of the window as new owners arrive to convert it.
As daft as it sounds, and Toby’s aware of that, he did see the Red Skull. Shortly afterwards there are more sightings of odd characters who’ll be familiar to Marvel readers, and Toby finds himself with a ringside seat as the Hulk takes on the Juggernaut in the woods. There’s some nice foreshadowing as Jerry explains to Toby that there’s no job in the world where knowing Giant-Man’s secret identity is an asset, and eventually the Marvel villains no longer bother concealing themselves, and their real world rampage is horrific. Millar escalates the scenario until we have a planet-threatening occurrence, with the authorities powerless. Toby knows what to do, though, as he’s read the comics.
Tommy Lee Edwards explains his artistic process in a lengthy back of the book article, and he’s excellent throughout, not just in defining small town USA, but in depicting just how monstrous filtering Marvel villains into it could be. Many fine sequences delve into spoiler territory, but as a single image the Werewolf rampaging through a nursing home takes some beating for sheer horror. Actually Modok at the swamp about equals it. Edwards has a thick line that sometimes produces a muddy effect, but as can be seen from the single chapter occurring elsewhere, that’s a matter of stylistic choice. He also colours his work, and in places that’s not quite as effective as the strokes of colour distract.
Fine moments abound. There’s an evocative sequence involving the Lizard, in Marvel world terms a relatively minor threat, a superbly sleazy and grasping comic shop owner, Jerry’s innate heroism, and a decent explanation. The plot doesn’t work completely, as events required to ensure the visual thrills have no logical explanation once the curtain has been drawn back (why was the Hulk fighting the Juggernaut?), but in the end that’s irrelevant when weighed against the accumulation of fine moments.
1985 could be viewed as the flip side to Marvels, where heroes were presented from a human perspective, and it’s every bit as good.