Sunday, March 28, 2010

1985, Clear Cut Heroes, and...Mark Millar?

In my review of Mark Millar's Kick-Ass, I ended with a question: Can Millar throw off the Watchmen-influenced deconstruction and the emphasis on violence and profanity as "realism" to portray truly heroic characters? His future development of these characters will reveal whether or not he is sincere or a coward.


So imagine my surprise while walking through the comic shop to glance upon 1985.




The first thing I noticed was the retro cover; I honestly it was a product from that time. (The cover art reminded me specifically of the first issue of The Transformers.) But when I saw the name Mark Millar on the cover...well, I was curious...I thought this must be an older book, which it is, but not by much, from 2008. (Just a month before this blog started, actually...something must have been in the air...) So then, I thought that this must be some kind of ironic stab...


I was pleasantly surprised...and just a little confused...


Surely there was something I was missing? Some subtle subtext? I remarked previously that I wasn't even tempted to give him the benefit of the doubt, and then this...So I did some online research, and came across a couple of interviews where Millar explains himself...


What to make of this? Well, I don't feel so bad about doubting him, considering that Millar himself acknowledges that this book was not his usual...modus operandi...His explanation for his dual artistic persona comes off as a bit Jungian; and I have to wonder how one reconciles such views philosophically (and psychologically). I find the political implications revealing ("I hope we've been able to imbue the book with same thing for the Obama era, something shiny and glossy, you know?"). On that topic, I'm not surprised at the "bait and switch." And as an "heir" to the Watchmen legacy, I find it ironic, after pointing out Alan Moore's own return to superhero comics, that Millar has echoed that move (and do I have to point out that 1985 was the last year before Watchmen?) But then there's this: "I think people want to see our characters being heroes again. Clear cut heroes." Is this the same "Mark Millar" who is celebrated in the introduction to his Superman: Red Son for seeing the world in shades of gray? I'll score that as a victory for Ayn Rand! Still, a statement like that doesn't address the fundamentals of what defines a hero, and one man's hero is potentially another man's villain.


But surely it deserves some recognition on a site dedicated to heroes in exile.


With that said, Millar deserves a fair hearing, so here are the the relevant comments in their respective interviews.


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From "World Without Heroes: Millar Talks Marvel '1985'":

"I think it's coming along at exactly the right time because right now superheroes are all fairly cynical and controversial. They're all fighting each other and have some unlikable traits," Millar continued. "And there's something very pure about this. It really reminds you of the comics of your childhood without being old fashioned. Because you're seeing them done in a whole new way it makes you remember why you love Marvel Comics. It's terrifying, but it's also heartwarming; quite an unusual change of pace for me."

From "Mark Millar Takes Marvel Back to 1985":

CB: I’m not sure if this is what you were looking for originally when you went into it, but one of the things I think will be most noticeable to readers when they see the pages is that this has a very silver-age superhero feel to it. Obviously with a title like "1985," it’s set in the year before comics really turned gritty with Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns (both published in 1986). In a lot of ways, 1985 is the last year of purely superhero comics. Did that influence your choice for the time and setting of this title?
MM: That’s a big part of why I chose the year 1985. If you look back at when I wrote Wanted, one of the themes was that the world changed in 1986. That’s when the super villains took over and the world becomes a very dark place. I kind of see it that way. '86 is also the end of my childhood. That’s when I turned sixteen, and it was the end of my comic book childhood in a way. Just like you said, that’s when Watchmen, Dark Knight, and all those matured content books came out.
I really wanted to create a book set in the slightly more innocent Marvel Universe of old. It's where heroes were absolute heroes, and the villains were creepy villains. That’s 1985. It’s the end of that nostalgic Marvel, for me certainly. There is something lovely about writing the heroes as they were when I was a kid. Captain America was Captain America. Spider-Man was Spider-Man back then. It was quite simple then.
And the characters haven’t changed that much in twenty years, but it felt like I was trying to capture the essence of those heroes as they were supposed to be.
CB: To build off your previous response, I'm going to play the devil's advocate here and say you know comic fans. They’re going to be on the message boards after reading this interview saying you are the guy that’s partially responsible for darkening the Marvel U. with Civil War. Is this a chance for you to go back and write these guys as heroes for the sake of being heroes?
MM: Well, absolutely!!! This somewhat stems off my launch last month in Fantastic Four. I very consciously started bringing my writing around to a lighter style. I think Civil War is as dark as Marvel Comics should ever get. The way I look at it, there’s no correct way to write or draw these characters. There are just certain times when it’s appropriate for them to be dark and periods when they should be light-hearted. I feel like we’ve just come out of a VERY dark period in comics, which was great! People have responded so well to the Ultimate line up until Civil War. In retrospect, I see Civil War as a turning point, and now I think people want to see our characters being heroes again. Clear cut heroes.
So 1985 is a response to that. I was writing it at the same time as Civil War, but I remember thinking "this is the next step", ya know? Likewise, Fantastic Four is very traditional as much as it is forward-looking. We’re moving the concept on, but it’s come back to being a traditional superhero comic. 1985 epitomizes everything I love about superheroes, everything I love about the Silver Age. Although it still has a lot of frightening moments, and it’s almost a horror story in a lot of ways, there’s superhero integrity to it that hopefully comes through. In many ways, I think this project is the complete opposite from what people expect from me.
B: And this just shows a different dynamic from you as a writer. It’s a different tone than what people normally expect from a book that has "Mark Millar" on the cover…
MM: Oh definitely. It's probably got all the little nuances and bits I bring with it, but I consciously moved this in a different direction. I’m trying to make people cry with this one as opposed to making them feel sick [laughs].

From "Mark Millar talks Wolverine, 1985, Kick-Ass"

IGN Comics: … Wow. See, that's interesting. I finished going through 1985 last night and noted that it in some ways doesn't feel like a Mark Millar book. Hearing that and recalling what's been going on in this series, it's clear you saved it all up for this. –laughs- I mean from some of the things you've told me…
Millar: -laughs- See I think it's good! You've got to exercise both sides of your brain. I really loved doing Superman Adventures. In a way it was the beginning of my career. But for 18 issues I couldn't even have the word "damn" or anything. Or anything horrible! So I loved doing the Authority and having babies exploding and everything. I love jumping between the two.
1985, for me, is kind of a Spielberg movie. It's The Goonies or a Zemeckis film – 1980s or Back to the Future or something. And Old Man Logan is Mad Max meets Unforgiven or something. Every day is exciting going to work when it's different. I've always been amazed with guys that use the same style all the time because even Fantastic Four I think has a different feel from Wolverine. It's more of a sci-fi… I don't want to say retro, but in a way how the Fantastic Four worked during the Kennedy era, I hope we've been able to imbue the book with same thing for the Obama era, something shiny and glossy, you know? So yeah I just love jumping around between genres.

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