Unfinished Business 1985 #5-6

Okay, it's time for me to clear up some unfinished business from last year. First up, a review of the final two issues of Mark Millar and Tommy Lee Edward's 1985.

1985 #6 cover

Story by Mark Millar
Art by Tommy Lee Edwards
Lettered by John Workman

When we last left Toby, he'd ventured into the Marvel Universe to find the only people capable of saving his universe from a rampaging army of supervillains - the Marvel Superheroes. But what Toby doesn't realize is that he's only suppressing the symptoms, and while he's off recruiting the Avengers and the Fantastic Four his father tries to cure the disease by placating poor, brain-damaged Clyde Wyncham. Will he succeed, or will the Marvel Universe wind up destroying the real world?

Obviously, the answer is no. And that does rob the issue of a lot of its dramatic power - there's never really any sense that anything is at stake, that the world is ever really in danger of being destroyed or that the victims of the supervillain rampage are anything more than meaningless cannon fodder.

Maybe, then, there's some compelling character development. Nope. Clyde Wyncham is a brain-damaged weirdo at the beginning of the series, and is still a brain-damaged weirdo at the end of the series. Toby doesn't really seem to learn anything from the experience - maybe he learns to admire his biological father more than fictional heroes, but he never really seemed to have any conflicts with his father in the first place. And while we're told that we'll eventually be surprised by what Toby's dad can do, that turns out to be scraping together an ounce of courage, driving an ice cream truck through a war zone, and delivering some comics to a drooling vegetable. Admirably heroic, but not exactly compelling reading.

How about thematically? Well, I'm not sure there are any themes that are explored in depth. The comic doesn't have much to say about 1985 as a turning point for the Marvel Universe or comics in general. It doesn't have much to say about the intersection of comics and reality. Is the point maybe that Toby ultimately chooses reality over comics? Maybe, but he's never really shown disconnecting from reality in a meaningful way, and ultimately he winds up dropping out of college to write comic books. The one thing that I really take away from 1985 is that the true villain is an over-entitled fanboy who's throwing a hissy fit because his old comics have been taken away, not realizing that he's helping to destroy the one thing that's sustained him for years. Which isn't exactly a novel sentiment anymore, and one that's hard to take from Mark Millar.

In short, this is really just a gimmicky origin for the underwhelming character of Clyde Wyncham. Unless you're a Marvel zombie there's not really any reason to pick it up.

Well, except maybe for Tommy Lee Edwards's art. Then again, that's a bit problematic too. At the end of issue #4, Toby had jumped to the Marvel Universe and I was worried that he hadn't done enough to differentiate it from the "real world." Were my fears unjustified?

1985 #5, p.21985 #5, p. 2

If you compare this to Edwards's artwork from previous issues you can easily see the tricks he's using to distinguish the Marvel Universe from the "real world": the Marvel Universe sequences have a slightly cartoonier style; executed purely with linework and no hatching; a brighter, washed-out color palette; and larger gutters and page borders. But it isn't different enough - the underdrawing and the general approach to the coloring are still the same, and so the transition isn't jarring enough.1

This whole sequence would have had more "oomph" if they'd gone with Millar's original plan of having the real world characters and environments done up as photo comics, while the. On the other hand, I can't imagine that approach ever being cost-effective, even if they were using something similar to the "Rotoshopping" technique from Waking Life. Sure, digital photography makes it a lot cheaper than it used to be, but you're still talking about incurring expenses - hiring actors, digging up period clothes and props, building or renting sets. Possible, but unless this comic starts selling Secret Wars quantities it'd be hard for Marvel to recoup their costs. It'd be signficantly cheaper to just have a cartoonist draw the whole thing from his imagination.

I'm not sure how you'd salvage these sequences, though. You could have someone like Marie Severin do the coloring and separations 1985-style, with big ol' Benday Dots and seriously limited palette, but that would clash with Edwards' linework. You could turn them over to an old bullpen hand like Al Milgrom or Sal Buscema or even John Byrne, but that approach is practically cliched. these days.

This major failing aside, though, Edwards' art is still gorgeous to look at - striking in its holistic approach, remarkable in the way that he suggests the inner life of his characters, and quite unlike anything else Marvel is putting out. If nothing else, 1985 has reminded me that he's an artist worth watching in the future, and that alone makes it a mild success.

  1. Another nitpick specific to this image: none of the background characters in this image are acting properly. First off, they're not actually "reacting" as much as they are "posing" - perhaps understandable if they were rubbernecking at an accident but Toby just fell out of the sky not thirty seconds ago. And second, their sightlines are all off - they're not looking at Toby or the Trapster, but at a point about twenty feet in front of Toby (like, say, a camera). They're very well drawn and surprisingly individualized, but they're not really selling the reality of this panel at all.

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