Marvel 1985 – Mark Millar

Marvel 1985This has disaster written all over it. Fictional superheroes in the real world, our world, the one you are reading this from. Like a Smurfs live action film this can’t be good.

But wait, it actually is. Cleverly set in 1985 this world is far enough removed from our own so as to still feel fictional. It also pushes the nostalgia buttons of anyone who was around then. By reminding you of a period when you first read comics and still believed in heroes it sucks you in to empathise with the 13 year old protagonist. We all wondered ‘what if’ at one time didn’t we?

Millar is famed for his anti-super hero work with Kick Ass and similar projects so it is nice to see him present a more optimistic tale. It isn’t actually about the supers either. We follow a boy struggling with growing up and his father who is also still struggling to grow up. There is a mystery and a hefty spoonful of human drama, albeit with a slightly Scooby Doo ending.

The art is much darker and grainier than modern Day-Glo comics, perhaps to hark back to a four-colour age. The covers are great tributes to that period and there are some famous comics that appear within the storyline too. A trip to the actual Marvel Universe is rendered in a different, softer style that really hits the spot.

There is a lot of humour and wisdom in this volume and this is a side of Millar’s talent you rarely get to see these days. This succeeds because it is about people and in some ways about you, not about the spandex cavalry.

Thumbs Up!

American Jesus – Mark Millar

The idea of Mark Millar doing a comic about Jesus might have every priest running for the hills but this really isn’t what you would expect. Here is a sincere and open look at the teachings of Christianity and how they relate to our world of today. It is also a quiet meditation on childhood and nostalgia that really rewards the indulgent reader.

The art is superb with a plain and simple charm perfect for its child protagonist. All the characters are distinct and there is real life in this deliberately two-dimensional style. The colouring is also wonderfully appropriate with a light and gentle touch.

There is an insightful interview with the author and artist, two ‘afterwords’ by members of the cloth and script and art pages with brief commentary. This is a superb read all the way through but the ending is just off the scale brilliant. A classic Double Thumbs Up!

252/113

Tomorrow: The Tourist – Brian Wood

Kick Ass – Mark Millar

This is a pleasing tale that explores the concept of why people don’t put on masks and become super heroes. A high school kid does just that and has to deal with the consequences as well as dealing with school, friends, family and relationships. This isn’t a sugar-coated fantasy. This explores the real truth of our violent world and why people are too afraid to stand up for themselves and others.

The storytelling switches between narration and action and starts with a cool flashback. There are some great setups and payoffs and it is an excellent piece of writing. The art is great and very appropriate having a real teen feeling that captures life surrounding kids today. There is a lot of gore however and the cartoony feel helps defuse this. The lettering actually stood out with an unusual but highly readable font selected for the narration. There are little touches like turning narration boxes into diary entries to help differentiate who is speaking.

There are an awful lot of pop culture and comics literature references and if you get them you will smile and if you don’t they should just slip over your head unnoticed. It is very refreshing to read such a grounded examination of the superhero mythos and of our current society. Millar does nail his politics to the flagpole and also promotes his other comics within the story which feels a little jarring but not often enough to spoil the immersion. One of the protagonists has an unusual motivation (very different from the film version) that, whilst striking, didn’t feel right to me. There is an obvious setup for a sequel in an “Unbreakable” style.

Definitely a Thumbs Up!

80/285.

Tomorrow: Defoe 1666 – Pat Mills. PLUS bonus review: Temporary (Cubes and Ladders) – Damon Hurd & Rick Smith

Aztek – Grant Morrison and Mark Millar

This could be a great story from a great author but it suffers from the same thing many DC titles do and that is Gratuitous Cameo Syndrome. This is an interesting tale of an Aztec trained warrior trying to blend into American society inconspicuously whilst awaiting the arrival of the impending apocalypse. This would be a neat little concept as our hero commits all sorts of social bloopers and we get to laugh with him at how ridiculous both he and society are in equal measure. Sadly the book has to be invaded by other name brand DC characters that just seem to pop up to get someone a royalty cheque. It’s annoying but not insurmountable.

The world is good and really helped along by the art. It is present day but has that Dick Tracy/ Batman feel. You could almost think you are reading one of the original Detective Comics issues as the style and palette are very similar. I liked this ‘timeless’ touch. The villains have a very Al Capone feel to them and may have been exiled from Gotham City. There is some good characterisation and you can really feel for Aztek when he isn’t bleating about his membership to the JLA or whatever super team. There are some good laughs including the Superhero Registration form he is made to fill in by the police department. It was that genius gag that secures this title the Thumbs Up!

11/354. Tomorrow: Avengers: Next

WANTED – Mark Millar

Some works move you, some works give you pause for thought. This one spits in your face then tells you to cut your hair and get a job. But you could just follow along passively as a good little reader and enjoy this entertaining romp. It has a great hook after all.

What would happen if super villains took over the world? Not the one dimensional, death-ray constructing, megalomaniacs of other comics but cold, calculating, Machiavellian minds. It certainly makes for an interesting place. Then what would happen if Average Joe Loser woke up to find himself head super villain. Ultimate power and NO responsibility. Hell yeah!

An enjoyable story but who is it really about? In the words of Spartacus “I’m Wesley Gibson.” “No, I’M Wesley Gibson!” Mark Millar could very well be our new Jonathan Swift. A really cracking read with excellent art! Thumbs Up!

2/363. Tomorrow: Batman – The Killing Joke