Writer: Mark Millar

Art: Tommy Lee Edwards

Publisher: Marvel Comics

Those who frequent the comics news and gossip websites will know that Mark Millar’s 1985 has been coming for quite some time, in a variety of guises. Originally conceptualised as a photo-frame book, the basic premise is that Marvel’s super-villains have found a way to ‘our’ earth / universe, one that of course is not equipped with super-heroes to defend it. Set, oddly enough, in 1985, it takes place at the end of the first Secret Wars storyline, and will no doubt deal with how a world without super-powers reacts to this unprecedented invasion.

Now, I must admit to being not all that keen on the idea of comic-book stories that rely on the concept of a multitude of universes or timelines of which ours is a part, where there are a multitude of ‘other’ Earths that are in principle the same, albeit with some variations – it all gets a bit muddy and convoluted. Once we start getting into Earth 616 and all that kind of stuff, it just seems that the integrity of the Marvel Universe is being questioned somewhat (not that this kind of story pervades the Marvel Universe as much as it might at some other publishers.) In the wrong hands, it can also be used for cheap storytelling, allowing any possible ramifications to be ignored as ‘off-world.’

However, it isn’t often that Mark Millar’s hands are the wrong ones when it comes to stories of this scale. Things kick off really nicely with a brilliantly orchestrated first scene, drenched in comic-book nostalgia but still establishing pivotal plot points, and we are introduced to our main point-of-view character, Toby. His background is fairly formulaic (and a little reminiscient of Millar’s other mini-series, Kick Ass?)- an introspective and withdrawn teenage boy whose parents are divorced, and comics are his only escape. It may be a little clichéd, but Millar actually does the emotional character-development stuff really well, building subtly as the story progresses. Besides the above, all seems fairly normal in Toby’s life – until, while visiting an old house with his father, Toby is convinced that he sees the Red Skull at the window…

This first issue is a slow-build, but it has all the ingredients for a great story as things develop, with a wonderful sense of pacing and suspense throughout as super-villains slowly come into focus; it is a dark story, but with just the right mix of humour and a nod to the past that long-time fans will love. The final scene is also paced brilliantly, setting up plenty of action and exposition for the next issue. This actually feels like one of Millar’s most natural efforts – he just intrinsically knows how to write a good story. It is nostalgic, but not at all cheesy, grim in places but at the same time not out of keeping with the traditions of the era.

The original idea to utilise photography as the basis for the artwork in this project was certainly interesting, reminding me of the horror stories that used to appear in British annuals like the Eagle in the 70s and 80s – but to be honest, I have no idea how that was ever going to work to tell a super-hero story. Of course, it could have been a mix of line art and photography (for example); it would certainly have been pretty innovative, and I’m all for that. However, I never quite got on with these photo-book tales even back then – it felt too much like reality rather than an artistic interpretation of it. Now, I don’t wish to suggest that photography is not an art form, but it just never worked for me in a comic-book sense. So, up steps Tommy Lee Edwards to replace negatives with charcoal. I am a relative newcomer to Edwards’ work, but what I have seen I have been immensely impressed with, and I always felt he was an excellent choice for this project. His artwork carries a sense of realism and is down-to earth, but it is also visually very stylish and distinct. Suffice to say, he doesn’t disappoint. ‘Our world’ looks exactly as it should, and the appearance of the super-villains is rendered perfectly in keeping with the world he has created – they look larger than life, spectacular, menacing, but fully believable, which is not at all easy to pull off.

Knowing the quality of the creators involved makes me almost ashamed to say that I was really pleasantly surprised by this issue. The concept could so easily have come unstuck in its delivery, but the feel and pacing of this particular issue is just spot-on. This has all the makings of yet another Millar success story, while propelling Edwards stock as a comic-book artist even higher. Who said nothing good happened in the 80s?!

Rating: 8/10

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