Current Reviews


Marvel 1985 #3

Posted: Tuesday, July 15, 2008
By: Thom Young

Mark Millar
Tommy Lee Edwards
Marvel Comics
Editor's Note: Marvel 1985 #3 arrives in stores tomorrow, July 16.


Iíve mentioned in past reviews of various series how odd it is to do monthly reviews of what are essentially chapters of a novel. This oddity became clear to me again as I sat down to write my third review of Marvel 1985. What can I write about the third chapter that differs significantly from what I wrote about the first two chapters of this novel?

The illustrations by Tommy Lee Edwards remain the strongest part of the series, and the problems I had with Mark Millar's dialog in the first two chapters remain problems in this third chapter. If you read and enjoyed the first two installments, then you will probably enjoy this third issue.

End of review, right?

Of course not, I'm nothing if not a long-winded sort who can find something new to write about after poring over the issue in a detailed analysis.

Okay, as I mentioned in my reviews of the first two issues, Millar's story is essentially one in which fantastic characters from the Marvel universe (specifically, several super-villains and the Hulk) crossover into our "real world" universe. It's an interesting concept, and it has kept me coming back each month even though Millar's "real world" dialog doesn't sound natural.

Fortunately, the unnatural rhythms and the forced exposition are not as prevalent in this issue. There are still a few instances of poor "real world dialog," but they're so minor and inconsequential that pointing them out is something that would only be of use in a creative writing workshop or a meeting between Millar and his editors.

Still, given the real world setting that this story is supposed to have, it's a bit surprising that more care wasn't paid to such details as dialog and historical accuracy. Of course, since those elements are details rather than broad strokes, they really only show up when the story is subjected to a close analytical reading rather than given a casual or cursory reading for sheer entertainment.

Given my two real world jobs, it's difficult for me to read anything passively anymore. For instance, even when I thought I was simply enjoying the experience of looking at Tommy Lee Edwards's double-page panel of Fin Fang Foom sitting in the harbor of a lake, the passive experience didn't last for more than a minute before I started analyzing that image in relation to the story--and that's how I came to discover an obvious historical inaccuracy in the series.

Before I get into that, though, let me just state for the record that Edwards has provided a very beautiful image of the gigantic dragon. Foom is sitting in "Oak Ridge Lake" against a backdrop of a small town nestled into hills that are covered with trees ablaze in their autumn colors. It would be a great image to have as a print that you could hang on your wall.

Despite not being a regular Marvel reader, I've always been fascinated with Fin Fang Foom because of his place in the history of Marvel Comics. He debuted in Strange Tales #89 in 1961--two months after Atlas Comics officially became Marvel Comics, and one month before the debut of the Fantastic Four.

Stories with monsters like Fin Fang Foom were what Atlas Comics excelled in publishing in the 1950s, and that story in Strange Tales #89 signifies the end of Atlas Comics. Even though the name change had already occurred, "Marvel Comics" really began the next month with the release of Fantastic Four #1.

Millar's use of Foom in this story surprised me because I had mistakenly thought the dragon had only appeared in two other stories since his introduction--in Astonishing Tales #23-24 (1974), and in an issue of Iron Man in the early 1990s.

He actually appeared in about a year-and-a-half's worth of Iron Man issues in the early 1990s. While I haven't read them, it would seem Foom was practically a member of Iron Man's supporting cast during that time.

Anyway, those stories were in the early 1990s, which is obviously after 1985--so the dragon's appearance here comes as a bit of a surprise since he had entered into hibernation at the end of his two-issue appearance in 1974. However, that's not the historical inaccuracy.

As I was admiring the two-page spread of Foom sitting in a lake with the fiery colors of autumn behind him, I suddenly remembered that earlier in the story Edwards had given us an image of leafless trees in the parking lot of the apartment complex that Jerry (the father of our protagonist, Toby) lives in.

So, is the story set in late fall? After all, the trees up by Oak Ridge Lake where Foom has decided to vacation have very colorful leaves. However, the trees in the town have lost their leaves--indicating winter either has or is about to set in. As I flipped through the pages, I saw some panels with autumnal colors, some panels with barren trees, and even some panels that seem to show green-leaved trees apparently in the midst of summer.

I then decided to flip through the first issue (I didn't have the second with me), and I noticed the same thing--some panels with autumnal trees, some panels with barren trees seemingly in the midst of winter, and some panels that seem to show green-leaved summertime trees. What was going on here?

Ah, now here was something for me to analyze and write a great deal more about!

If the story is set in the fall, then I suppose we might have a situation in which all three could be possible--some trees in their autumn regalia, some trees that had managed to lose their leaves earlier than most, and some evergreen trees that show indistinct patches of green behind the characters (though some of the green trees in Edwards's pictures seemed decidedly deciduous).

Okay, so the story seems to be set in the fall, but would that be the fall of 1985--as the title of the series and some of the captions clearly state? If so, then the comic book series that Toby was looking at in the first issue should have been Secret Wars II rather than an issue of the first Secret Wars series.

A quick re-check of the first issue revealed that Toby was indeed looking at a newly released issue of the first series when he was in the comic book store--Secret Wars #10, to be precise. That issue had a cover date of February 1985, which means it would have come out in stores in November of 1984. Thus, the story would have to be set in late fall of 1984, not 1985.

Of course, if the story is set in November 1984, then the title of the series and the captions in the story are wrong. Indeed, most of Secret Wars was actually published in 1984--with the final issue coming out in January of 1985.

Oh well, if this series had been called Marvel 1984 then I would have undoubtedly been writing critiques that point out that it doesn't contain any allusions to George Orwell's dystopian novel beyond its title--and I would have certainly gone on and on about that.

Anyway, getting back to the issue at hand, which is the third issue. After my initial theory that the appearance of the Marvel super-villains was all happening in Toby's stressed out mind was shot down (by the events depicted in the second issue and by my colleague, Mark Hayman, pointing them out to me), I decided that there are three possibilities for what's happening in this series.

First, that we take the story at face value--namely, that Marvel super-villains are actually crossing over from their universe to invade Toby's hometown and slaughter its citizens. In other words, it's not happening in Toby's mind; it's really happening in the "real world."

Second, if Toby isn't imagining this invasion, maybe he's nevertheless causing it. Maybe he's actually a mutant who can cause his fanboy fantasies to become reality. In fact, Toby even asks his father, Jerry, if he's the cause of the super-villain attacks because he reads too many comic books (playing off something his mother told him in the second issue, if I remember correctly).

It's an interesting notion, but we haven't really been given a sense that Toby has any sort of mental superpower that would cause characters from his overactive fantasies to actually materialize. However, then I put two and two together (or actually first and second) and hit upon what I believe is actually happening in this story.

In fact, after I came to the realization, it seemed so obvious that I imagine other readers have already figured it out. I was then told by Mark Hayman that Millar and Marvel have essentially revealed in their publicity for the series that my "theory" for what's happening in the series is correct. I'm shocked! Why would they give away "spoilers" in their publicity?

Oh well, here's my theory anyway.

Editor's Note: Possible spoiler below this point if Thom's theory is correct.

Jerry's childhood friend, Clyde Wyncham, is the one who is the cause of the Marvel super-villains invading this "real world" universe. It's clear that Millar is holding back on what happened to Clyde Wyncham--specifically, on what caused him to be placed in a psychiatric hospital for the past 14-plus years.

We know that Jerry and Clyde collected comics when they were kids in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Additionally, we learned in this issue that Clyde's father died in or before 1964 (since that was the date of the flashback in which Clyde and Jerry were discussing the recent death of Clyde's father).

Millar titled the second chapter (second issue) "Clyde Wyncham"--an apparent indication that we're to take Clyde as being significant to the events in the overall story and not simply as a background character that explains why Toby's father has essentially been a bit of a deadbeat ever since something traumatic happened to Clyde.

We learn in a flashback scene in this issue that whatever happened to Clyde happened in or before 1971. In that flashback, Jerry mentions the incident in vague terms to a woman who is probably Toby's mother. Thus, something happened to Clyde between 1964 and 1971, and whatever it was sent him into a catatonic state and caused him to be institutionalized in a psychiatric hospital.

Millar is building up the mystery and will eventually reveal what that traumatic event was. It must be significant. Perhaps he was driven to catatonia by some tremendous mental superpower he received in the late 1960s after a bad acid trip, and now he's causing manifestations of the super-villains he read about as a child to slaughter the residents of the town because of some injustice they committed against him.

To check my theory that Clyde is projecting his own childhood fantasies as agents of destruction, I decided to see if any of the Marvel characters who have appeared were created in the comics after Clyde suffered his trauma (since he shouldn't know of any characters who were created after 1971).

As far as I can tell, all of the Marvel characters appearing in this series were created in the 1960s. Thus, they could all be characters that Clyde was familiar with before he became catatonic.

However, as I was checking to see which characters have appeared, I came across this dialog between Mole Man and Dr. Doom:
Dr. Doom: Living out here in this miserable hovel with you and your idiot cohorts? I think not, Mole Man. In fact, nothing could be more repulsive to me.

Mole Man: But it's only for a little while . . . and once we've done the great man's bidding, this world will be ours for the taking. They don't have any superheroes. Don't you understand? There's nobody here to protect them.

Dr. Doom: He's playing with you, fool! Controlling your thoughts, like all those other idiots he dragged through here, but Doom is nobody's puppet . . . his mutant powers have no influence over me.

Mole Man: He ripped a hole from our world to his, Victor. You can't disobey him. Think of the consequences.
I took note of this dialog when I first read it two months ago, but I didn't pay close attention to it. It now seems obvious, though, that the mutant who ripped a hole between universes and dragged the Marvel characters into "his" universe is none other than Clyde Wyncham.

His body may be sitting in a catatonic state at the psychiatric hospital, but he's communicating with the Marvel villains in some way, and he's sending them on missions of wanton destruction against his hometown.

I'm disappointed in a way. I was really hoping the theory I floated in my review of the second issue was correct--that the super-villains were coming here to sell licensed merchandise from their universe as anachronistic collectibles in our universe. Also, that the Sandman attacked the couple who lived on Maple Street because he wanted the man's anachronistic computer game technology.

Oh well, there's still the mystery of why this series is called Marvel 1985 (and has captions indicating that the year is 1985) when it's actually taking place in 1984.

What did you think of this book?
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