Wednesday, 18 November 2015


Mark Millar & Tommy Lee Edwards 1985 (2009)
Attending a comic book convention in North Carolina necessitated a couple of nights in an unusually uncomfortable hotel bed in a room shared with our kid - who apparently requires only two hours sleep - which made it difficult to concentrate on my current bedtime reading, Will Self's Walking to Hollywood, prompting an excursion into something less demanding, namely 1985 which I picked up at the aforementioned convention. This volume collects another title I missed at the time due to being somewhat out of the loop with monthly comics, and yet another story to blur the distinction between fiction and reality. What with Will Self and Michael Moorcock, I seem to have encountered a lot of this breaking of the fourth wall of late without it being something consciously sought out on my part, so it's tempting to wonder whether the universe might be trying to tell me something.

Admittedly 1985 is slightly different in that the fourth wall is broken for the characters of this book whilst their own fourth wall remains more or less intact, which as such prevents it from becoming a variation on Grant Morrison. 1985 is set in a world recognisable as our own but for the sudden and unexpected revelation of 1980s Marvel comics villains turning out to be real. As an exercise in nostalgia this seems initially strange to me given that I haven't had much experience of Marvel since most of the characters invoked here were still in service, so I wasn't really aware of the Shocker, MODOK, or the Stilt Man having passed into comics history, presumably having been replaced with the blood-drenched, katana-weilding assassins of Rob Liefeld vintage; and it was additionally weird reading 1985 in a hotel room above a convention centre packed with comic fans dressed as superheroes, and dressed as highly convincing superheroes. There was one guy who I'm pretty certain was actually the real Captain America, not just some impersonator.

Anyway, 1985 is set right here, and our protagonist is a young comic-obsessive kid who recognises the monsters emerging from the house in the woods because he's read about them in back issues of Spiderman, Iron Man, Avengers and so on. Unlike Grant Morrison's somewhat ponderous Joe the Barbarian, there's no real attempt to rationalise any of this, at least not by real world terms because that isn't really the point, and nor is it grittily realistic superheroes having to go to the bog and pay child support. The point, perhaps peculiarly, seems to be a reminder of the initial excitement at least some of us once had reading comics as kids, before anyone found it necessary to point out that Batman was almost certainly some sort of rubber fetishist. Accordingly the story is told with the determined earthy realism of a Harvey Pekar monologue, underscored by the beautiful, almost photorealist art of Tommy Lee Edwards, then contrasted with the absolutely deadpan intrusion of characters from old comics; and although by rights they should appear absurd, there is no doubt of their being monsters in every sense.

There he was, standing in front of me: A comic book character as real and as awesome as Mount Rushmore or Ronald Reagan. But it's the smell I remember most. Nothing can prepare you for just how bad the Hulk smells.

Thus does it continue, comic book violence replaced by real horror in this, our version of reality, but with a lightness of touch you probably might not expect of Mark Millar, with the appearance of the otherwise ludicrous MODOK presenting a particularly nightmarish interlude.

1985 is nothing profound, although it has no ambition to be anything beyond what it is; but it's a moving and highly satisfying testimony to the art form, and to that which we once took from the art form before some sneering Android's Dungeon employee called us Marvel Zombies and asked had we never heard of Love & Rockets; because apparently you should always feel ashamed for enjoying cheap, populist entertainment. This point has struck me as worth making in so much as the Captain America and X-Men comics I read back in 1985 had a more lasting impression on me than any of the independent cinematic classics I saw that year at art college. Similarly, returning to the point that I read this whilst attending a comic book convention, I couldn't help but notice how all those kids in capes or with purple wigs and fake pointy ears weren't anything like so saaaaad as I had anticipated. On the contrary, it made me feel good to see just how many of them there were, and how much effort had been expended in pursuit of their impersonations, and how happy it clearly made them. In fact, there was nothing saaaaad about them at all. In may ways I felt inspired by their example, and that's sort of what 1985 is all about.

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