Marvel 1985: A realistic superhero story

Marvel 1985 by Mark Millar Marvel 1985 by Mark Millar

In Marvel 1985, Mark Millar tells us the story of comics coming to real life. Young Toby Goodman sees the Red Skull one day, and wonders if his eyes might be deceiving him, but after he sees a few more Marvel characters, he realizes that the super-villains from the Marvel Universe are invading our reality. He encounters the Hulk at one point, but mainly it’s the bad guys coming to his small town: Ultron, the Blob, Sandman, and many more villains appear and begin to kill indiscriminately. But things really seem bad when the planet-destroying Galactus shows up. We begin to wonder who the mastermind is behind this invasion.

Why is this story so good? Because it’s grounded in the reality of a young boy’s daily struggles: Toby’s parents are divorced, and he doesn’t like his stepdad. He seems to get enjoyment only by escaping through comics, going to the comics shop, and hanging out with his dad, whom his mother views as a brilliant but lazy and worthless bum. The story is mainly about Toby’s daily life, so when the Marvel characters show up, it reveals a contrast between “reality” and fantasy. And when Toby tries to tell others what he’s seen, he’s treated just as we would react to any boy with such stories. Even we, as readers, wonder if what we are seeing is all in Toby’s imagination.

I also like that the father’s story is central to the six-issue series: The father is clearly embarrassed that he keeps having to trade down in his quality of vehicles until he’s driving an old ice cream truck. Toby tries to tell his dad it’s cool, but we know his father wishes his son would see him in a better light. We also are given backstory on the father. We get a glimpse of his dating his ex-wife back when they were young, and even more important to the story, we find out about his best friend, Clyde, and what happened one day back in the early 1960s, when the dead came to life. The connection between this event and what’s happening in 1985 is all made clear by the end of the story.

Mark Millar is hit-or-miss writer for me, and his Marvel 1985 is definitely a hit. I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough to find out the secret behind the events, but what really makes this story great is the voice of Toby. Somehow Millar is able to write a realistic superhero story: While reading Marvel 1985, I believe in the reality presented to me, and I feel convinced Marvel’s universe has somehow connected with our own. I highly recommend this story, even if you don’t know that much about the Marvel universe, because in the end, it’s primarily a coming-of-age story about a young man.


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BRAD HAWLEY, who's been with us since April 2012, earned his PhD in English from the University of Oregon with areas of specialty in the ethics of literature and rhetoric. Since 1993, he has taught courses on The Beat Generation, 20th-Century Poetry, 20th-Century British Novel, Introduction to Literature, Shakespeare, and Public Speaking, as well as various survey courses in British, American, and World Literature. He currently teaches Crime Fiction, Comics, and academic writing at Oxford College of Emory University where his wife, Dr. Adriane Ivey, also teaches English. They live with their two young children outside of Atlanta, Georgia. Read Brad's series on HOW TO READ COMICS.

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