“Age of Innocence”

Written by: Mark Millar
Art by: Tommy Lee Edwards
Published by: Marvel Comics

The 80s were such a boom decade for comics, one which many of us fondly look back upon as the good old days of comic book collecting. It was a more innocent time. Comics were all of 60 cents an issue when I started collecting. Many titles experienced creative resurgences: X-Men, The New Teen Titans, Swamp Thing, Daredevil, Secret Wars (ushering in the age of stunt marketing and company-wide cross-overs).

In 1986, Frank Miller gave us The Dark Knight Returns and Alan Moore began Watchmen. So yes, that year holds special significance to the avid comic book collector. It was when the medium grew up, when comics got darker. So 1985 was the last year comic books were … fun.

The comic book 1985 is told through the eyes of Toby, a young boy who collects comic books. Toby comes from a broken home, caught between his divorced parents. He’s also a young boy many comic book collectors can relate to. He spends his days lost in his fantasy world, imagining what it would be like to be a superhero. His mom rips up his comic books (or in my case, burning and throwing them out). He’s often distracted from school work (I’m not saying my grades necessarily suffered). He has a 20 book a month habit (hey, someone had to buy Dazzler. A twenty book a month habit cost $12 back then, as opposed to $79.80 now)

Now we’re writing the books. Mark Millar brings us 1985, a book with a simple conceit: what if, in 1985, a group of villains burst into our universe.

“I guess I wanted to believe in Spider-Man because my mom and dad had let me down as much as Santa Claus.” –Toby

The book tends to bring out the nostalgia in long time comic book readers. In 1985, comic books, and the essence of what it meant to be a hero, seemed more pure. Comic books have taken a rather dark turn in the last couple of decades, wanting to be gritty and relevant. Part of this era of “being real” and dark involves the deconstruction of the myth of the iconic hero. We love heroes, but it’s like we hate the example they set so we have to prove that they are no better than us. We constantly compare ourselves to one another anyway, but it’s as if we are trying to find a kind of redemption by trying to show that everyone, especially our heroes, has feet of clay.

And this book got me to thinking about what draws us to the idea of super-heroes. As we look around our culture, we find that we don’t have many heroes; in fact, we live in the age of the anti-hero. Heroes ought to offer hope, the possibility of what we could be. They are meant to inspire us to use our giftedness to be a blessing to the world. To find meaning and purpose in the mythic adventure we call life. Which isn’t to say that there aren’t intriguing tales to be told with anti-heroes, or within shades of gray, just that those aren’t the only stories – we don’t need to keep tearing down heroes in order to tell them.

In a way, 1985 reminded me of a previous mini-series, Marvels, where the beginning of the age of super-heroes is told from a human perspective. 1985 is fun for any reader, but the attention to detail by artist Tommy Lee Edwards is its own joy. You will be transported by to the year and be thankful for it.

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