*Title an actual question asked of me in the ninth grade by a senior. Wish I was making that up. And I was reading the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
As has been mentioned before, I am a recovering comic nerd. My current bookshelves might only have a select half dozen graphic novels on display, but my parents’ basement holds over a half a dozen filing boxes holding over 2,000 single issues, dating back to my grade school days up to mid-2006, when I had to give up the habit.
Why give them up? Price, primarily, but the editorial direction of most of the major publishers had started to lose me once things moved from an almost ’boutique’ feel with books operating in their own world, to the re-establishment of company-wide continuity tentpoled by one big crossover event after another. But one never really drops a habit like comics, and my current profession allows me to stay in the loop with what’s coming out without spending a dime. And that was how I got my hands on Mark Millar and Tommy Lee Edwards’s 1985.
This book is I think, one of the last things I saw teased on the news sites before I got out. At the time, lips were sealed, only to say that it was a personal story for Millar, and that it might be a fotonovela [a comic illustrated with photographs]. I try not to give Millar much time of day, as his publicity-baiting comes off like hucksterism to me and most of his ‘edgy’ work is juvenile at best [He’s never getting off the hook for having Hank Pym spray The Wasp with bug spray in The Ultimates. Oooooh, that’s good domestic violence!], but I always liked Edwards and was intrigued by all the teasing of a ‘real world’ Marvel story set in the era that I first discovered comics: black suit Spider-Man, Frank Miller Daredevil, Secret Wars type stuff. So when the trade showed up at work, I spent my next few breaks making my way through it. So how was it?
A wasted opportunity.
The story follows a boy named Toby Goodman. Toby loves comics, to the disappointment of his mother who fears Toby will end up just like his directionless father. Toby’s father fears the exact same thing, and urges Toby to accept his mother’s remarriage to the financially stable Hart. But Toby would rather hang out the local comic shop, filled with accurate portrayals of both the aging superhero fanboy and the angry alt-comics fan who bitches about capes and tights keeping the artform from getting the respect it deserves. It’s in the midst of this delicate [and well rendered] family drama, villains from the Marvel universe start to appear in Toby’s hometown, summoned by ‘The Master’ to perform some heinous task and promised our world, a world without superheroes, upon its completion. Of course, Toby finds himself in the middle of the mystery of the villains’ appearance, and appoints himself as the only one who can solve it. Since he reads a lot of comics. Eventually Toby finds a door to the Marvel Universe and brings all the heroes to his town to take out the villains, as his father hunts down the person responsible for their appearance.
My initial thought on the first two thirds of the book was that it was a decidedly un-Marvel book. Crossing parallel worlds, the appearance of comic book heroes in the “real world”? That’s a DC move if ever there was one. And it’s a DC book that shows what a let down 1985 is.
In 2004 DC/Vertigo put out a book called ‘It’s a Bird…’, a semi-autobiographical story by Steven T. Seagle about a guy who gets asked to write the Superman comic but turns it down because he doesn’t feel any connection to the character. What follows is a thoughtful meditation on who Superman is, what he represents, all while telling the story of ‘Steve’ and his family’s history of Huntington’s Disease. Sounds like too much of a thematic stretch, but Seagle and artist Teddy Kristiansen make it work. I can’t help but feel that ‘1985’ could have been like that. It could have told the story of the people while including an examination of that era of Marvel heroes and what they meant in the historical context. I’ll even allow that Millar is a good enough writer to pull it off.
Instead, we get another generic smash-em-up battle with no real tension because once it becomes evident the plot’s going by the numbers, nothing ever really feels at stake. The one thing that saves the book from being a total write off is the work of Edwards, who gives the book the required darkness, and gives the covers that Bill-Sienkiewicz-New-Mutants feel.
I can’t say the book was an awful read, but I walked away from it feeling terribly disappointed that the story dropped the ball so spectacularly, and more disappointed that I wasn’t surprised that it had.