Marvel 1985 #1-6
Issue(s): Marvel 1985 #1, Marvel 1985 #2, Marvel 1985 #3, Marvel 1985 #4, Marvel 1985 #5, Marvel 1985 #6
That alone wouldn't be the end of the world, but when he's writing Marvel Universe books, there's the added dangers associated with the fact that he's not all that concerned with getting the continuity right, and he's not so great with characterization, either, relying on very broad strokes that sometimes neglect a lot of the nuance that makes characters interesting. And since he's a popular creator who gets put on high-profile books, those errors aren't easily swept aside.
That said, i recently came to grips with him when i read a commentator somewhere suggesting that he's basically writing big summer blockbuster movies. When you go to see a movie like that, you're really in it for the action, explosions, and special effects. Character development isn't so important, and if there's logical gaps in the story, you don't really mind so much. So thinking about him that way, you can kind of enjoy him.
Still, it was my initial reservations about him, and the fact that i wasn't sure if this series was supposed to be in continuity, that caused me to skip this when it first came out. I've now picked it up in trade format, so let's take a look.
It turns out that even without my "blockbuster" revelation, this particular Millar story needn't have concerned me. There are some continuity problems (we'll deal with them below) but overall, the Marvel characters in this story, while prominent, are actually incidental to the plot. We've got here basically a combination Twilight Zone/Giant Monster story, where a brain-damaged man named Clyde Wyncham brings comic book characters to life (actually, he's bringing in "real" Marvel characters to his universe, but it amounts to the same thing). It could just as easily have been Godzilla monsters, Herculoids cartoon characters, etc.
Toby Goodman, son of Jerry, the childhood friend of Wyncham, has been getting into comic books thanks to his father...
...so he's familiar with all of the characters that are appearing...
...and eventually uses his knowledge of comics to follow Wyncham's portal back to the Marvel Universe and summon help from Spider-Man...
...who in turn recruits a group of heroes to help.
(Click on that first picture above to embiggen.)
Wyncham is convinced to stop when his comic collection, left behind when he was moved to a hospital, is returned to him, and then the Red Skull oversteps his mind-control commands and kills Jerry. (Jerry is later resurrected in the Marvel universe via a method i'm not quite sure i understand. The implication seems to be that if you write about it in Toby's universe, it happens in the Marvel universe.)
(Wyncham is also brought to the Marvel Universe by Captain America at the end of this story. And i was surprised to learn after reading this that he actually becomes a character in the Marvel Universe called the Marquis of Death, part of Millar's Fantastic Four run that i bailed on half-way through when it was coming out in real-time, but i'll have to pick it up now.)
It's a well written, decently paced (not too decompressed!) story with good characterization for the main child character and his father, and a nice nostalgia factor as we watch Toby get into Marvel comics at a time when Secret Wars is coming out (sounds familiar!).
All the bad guys appearing in this series are under the control of the reality-warping mind control of Wyncham...
...so characterization isn't really a problem (and we can also wave our hands around any minor placement issues thanks to that, as well).
The only real continuity problems that i can detect are relatively minor. The first two are pretty inconsequential.
The Secret Wars comic book shown in the "real" universe shows the Wasp wearing a costume reminiscent of her stuff from the 1960s.
That may not even be a mistake; it may be intentionally showing us that the comics in this universe don't depict events entirely as they "actually" happened. While that might undermine the story a little bit (the whole point is that the main character's detailed knowledge of the Marvel people helps save the day, so if there were lots of little details like this that were different, it wouldn't have worked), since it's something depicted in a comic book, we don't need to treat it as fact (there's probably several layers of unintentional irony in everything i just wrote).
Also, issue #5 has Dazzler on the cover in a costume that she won't actually be wearing for another year. But Dazzler doesn't actually appear in the story, and obviously things that are shown on the cover aren't part of continuity.
Somewhat more importantly, we've got some problems with three of the villains. The least troublesome is the Wendigo.
All of the previously known Wendigos are supposed to be cured of their curse at this point, and the next one won't appear for years. I'm not sure why the Wendigo appearing in this series couldn't have been the one that appeared most recently, in Hulk #273. We never actually saw Shaman cure that Wendigo. But at the same time i don't see any reason not to go with the MCP, which created a new Wendigo that only appeared in this series. That makes him Wendigo IV (out of a total of eleven so far! Maybe Shaman or Dr. Strange or someone ought to look into permanently removing that curse. Or open a chain of convenience stores in northern Canada so people don't have to constantly resort to eating human flesh.).
Similar situation for Leap-Frog. The Leap-Frog in the Marvel Universe at this time is reformed and retired, and his son is using his old costume as the goofy super-hero Frog-Man. Both Frogs will appear after this series. But there's a Leap-Frog that appears in this series as a villain, and he's killed.
There's a similar problem in Code of Honor #3, and the MCP solves the problem by inventing a new Leap-Frog for just those two issues. I'm fine with that.
The most problematic villain is Dr. Doom. Doom is dead twice over at this point - he was never supposed to be alive in Secret Wars to begin with, and then he was seemingly killed or at least taken away by the Beyonder at the end of that series. That mistake will eventually be resolved by revealing that Doom was plucked out of time. Which raises the question of when in Doom's sequence of events does he appear in this series? And believe me, he's here. He's the one villain who is able to resist Clyde's powers, and he's actually written pretty well.
But the MCP doesn't even list him as appearing in this series. I don't know if this is due to something from Millar's Fantastic Four run that i'm not aware of, if they're just taking the easy way out and going for the Doombot explanation, or just punting on the issue for the time being. Until i learn otherwise, i'm going to list Doom as a character appearing and assume he's plucked out of the timestream some time after getting taken away by the Beyonder, and then returned there right after this series ends.
On the heroes side, we have a similar problem with a Giant-Man appearance. Pym, of course, wasn't playing super-hero at all at this point, so it's odd that he would be here in one of his oldest personas. But considering the hodgepodge group of heroes assembled, maybe he just happened to be around at the time and realized they needed a hand. Like Doom, the MCP doesn't list him, but i'm including him. Henry Pym is mentioned by name in this series (in two asides in conversations between father and son as they discuss the merits of knowing super-hero trivia) so i'd also be hesitant to assume that it's someone else using Pym Particles, as well.
It's worth noting that all of the villains are stone-cold killers in this series.
Pretty much the whole town where this story takes place is wiped out by a series of villain attacks. It's clearly due to mind-control but I think it's also meant to represent the fact that the villains are in the real world and therefore unrestrained by comic book convention.
As for the art, it's got a sketchy quality to it (the faces are particularly bad; check out the cover to issue #5 again for a really bad example) and it's definitely geared more towards pin-ups than good storytelling...
...but i still like it.
I admit i'm influenced by a blurb on the trade paperback by Walt Simonson, telling me that it's good.
I do have a problem with the coloring, which, like most modern coloring, has way too much brown and everything is really muddy. An attempt is made to make the events that take place in the Marvel Universe more brightly colored, but it winds up being more of a pastel that isn't any better.
A note on why this series is called 1985 but i've got it placed in 1984: Secret Wars started coming out in 1984, and it basically takes place in between issues of the characters' regular series. However, it was published for a year, so from a publication perspective it ended in 1985. So in the "real world" where this 1985 series takes place, it's 1985, but for the characters it's during their 1984 issues. It's not as complicated as it sounds. Due to Marvel's sliding time scale and such, it's not really 1984 for these characters anyway. The publication dates are meaningless to them; it's just a way for me to organize things by when the books came out.
A few of the villains listed below (i think all of the Wrecking Crew except Bulldozer, plus Morbius, and Hobgoblin) are only mentioned, but not actually shown on panel.
Quality Rating: B-
Chronological Placement Considerations: The assumption is that the Marvel characters appear here sometime soon after Secret Wars, since that's what's "happening" in Toby's universe in the comics at the time. And that's borne out, especially on the hero side, both by who's appearing and what state they're in. Spidey's in his black costume, the Hulk has Banner's brain (but no giant crutch)...
...Storm has a mohawk, etc. Of the good guys, Spider-Man's life is seen in the most detail (and it's not much), so we can use him as the anchor, and the MCP places his appearance here after Marvel Team-Up #141, which works well. You can probably find more problems than i've listed above if you dig into the villains. The Red Skull's appearance might raise an eyebrow if you consider that he's supposed to be aging to death right now, for example, but it's not entirely unworkable. Morbius (only mentioned) should be cured at this point. Ultron shouldn't be appearing here since he remains on the Battleplanet after Secret Wars, so this could be Mark Twelve or just a random duplicate body. And in all these cases you can blame any discrepancies on Wyncham's powers.
Continuity Insert? Y
My Reprint: Marvel 1985 Trade Paperback
Inbound References (4): showAbomination, Absorbing Man, Baron Zemo (Helmut), Batroc, Blob, Bulldozer, Bullseye, Captain America, Captain Marvel (Monica Rambeau), Colossus, Cyclops, Doctor Octopus, Dr. Doom, Electro, Fin Fang Foom, Galactus, Hawkeye, Henry Pym, Hobgoblin (Roderick Kingsley), Hulk, Human Torch, J. Jonah Jameson, Jane Foster, Jarvis, Jester (Jonathan Powers), Joe 'Robbie' Robertson, Juggernaut, Klaw, Leap-Frog II, Lizard, Mandarin, Marquis of Death, Melter, MODOK, Mole Man, Morbius, Mr. Fantastic, Mr. Hyde, Nightcrawler, Omnivore, Paste Pot Pete, Piledriver, Red Skull, Rhino, Roberta, Sabretooth, Sandman, Sauron, Shocker, Silver Surfer, Songbird (Screaming Mimi), Spider-Man, Spider-Woman (Julia Carpenter), Stilt-Man, Storm, Thing, Thor, Thunderball, Toad, Ultron Mark Twelve, Venom Symbiote, Vulture, War Machine, Wasp, Wendigo IV, Werewolf By Night, Wolverine, Wrecker
Karl Lykos should be cured of being Sauron at this point but we can ascribe this to Wyncham's powers.
Posted by: Michael | November 20, 2011 6:40 PM
haven't read this story of course. just a quick question, is it clear that spidey is wearing the symbiote here? just because he refers to his "wearing his web cartriges" in that panel above? Makes me thing it might b e the cloth version of the black costume.
Posted by: Anonymous | March 26, 2012 11:02 PM
It has to be the symbiote, since Peter doesn't lose the symbiote until the Casket of Ancient Winters storyline, and this story takes place before the Casket storyline (e.g. Storm has her powers).
Posted by: Michael | March 26, 2012 11:13 PM
I take Spidey asking the kid "What if I hadn't been wearing my web-cartridges?" more as a teaching point for the kid than him discussing his equipment.
Posted by: M Wolfe | February 6, 2013 7:39 PM
Or it could have even been a joke, since he actually DIDN'T have them!
Posted by: Max_Spider | July 3, 2013 3:44 PM
I noticed that Smokey (Jackie Gleason) wasn't mentioned as a character appearing.
Posted by: Vin the Comics Guy | April 4, 2016 9:40 PM
I actually cried at the end of this series. I thought this comic was terrific. Millar's other MU stuff...maybe just a little less so. That's as polite as I can get on that subject.
Posted by: Adam Dale | April 5, 2016 12:09 AM
I loved this book, and love pretty much all of Millar's early Marvel work. The editorial direction at the time was fewer convoluted backstories and endless subplots, better art, and a little more bad-ass attitude for the heroes. There were missteps, to be sure, but overall I thought it worked really well.
It occurs to me that the biggest continuity error here, the inclusion of Hank Pym in his old Giant Man outfit, may have been a miscommunication between Millar and Edwards, since the rest of the characters are for the most part correct for the time. Millar probably said "Giant Man", meaning Bill Foster, and Edwards thought he meant Pym.
Posted by: Andrew | January 29, 2017 1:50 PM
@Andrew- but Bill's powers weren't working at this point either.
Posted by: Michael | February 4, 2017 8:19 PM
Well, that would still be a more reasonable error than putting Pym in his original outfit with his old powers. But at the end of http://www.supermegamonkey.net/chronocomic/entries/marvel_two-in-one_81-82.shtml the Thing "thinks" Foster's body can't take the strain, and when he does become Giant Man again in http://www.supermegamonkey.net/chronocomic/entries/west_coast_avengers_annual_3.shtml he says "There's no pain!", not "I'm not dead!", so it could be argued that he still had his powers, but it was dangerous to use them.
Posted by: Andrew | February 5, 2017 7:19 AM
Would this series be considered "in continuity". After all Millar's FF run could have a tenuous link with current continuity itself. I guess that deite reusing a character or two, this seems like one of those "one-off projects" that wpuldn't be considered to have actually happened. A Marvel version of an "Elseworlds" tale in other words.
Posted by: Jon Dubya | February 5, 2017 2:55 PM
"Also, issue #5 has Dazzler on the cover in a costume that she won't actually be wearing for another year. But Dazzler doesn't actually appear in the story, and obviously things that are shown on the cover aren't part of continuity."
I think Dazzler's cover is a joke which you featured the panel for. 'Either you preorder this title or you go home with Dazzler.'
Posted by: RW | May 18, 2018 8:57 AM
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