1985 #1 Review

Posted August 10, 2017 by Jean-Luc Botbyl in Comic Books

Written by: Seth M Sherwood & Michael Moreci

Art by: John Bivens & Seth M Sherwood

Published by: Heavy Metal

On its cover, 1985 positions itself as a spiritual successor to George Orwell’s 1984. That is, in large part, what attracted me to the book. I am firmly in the camp of comics needing more political narratives. DC and Marvel certainly aren’t publishing them, so it seems like money on the table for smaller publisher like Heavy Metal. And 1985 is certainly an unabashed, unforgiving political narrative. For that, it gets some amount of credit from me.

Unfortunately, Seth Sherwood and Michael Moreci have none of Orwell’s tact or subtlety. Creating a fictional US president with the name “Ronald Rump” makes that much clear. He’s an amalgamation of Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump, two individuals who deserve critique, but he exists in the context of a book that otherwise takes itself very seriously. A name like “Ronald Rump” fails to advance that tonal decision, and his rhetoric is equally over the top and silly. Everything else about 1985 is grim, including John Bivens and Sherwood’s art.

Were 1985’s political commentary handled with the gravitas it deserves, I imagine I would be praising it. Instead, Sherwood and Moreci seem to be more interested in the reader taking the rest of the narrative seriously. If that narrative was any good, perhaps 1985’s focus could be forgiven. Instead, the story by-the-books predictable of a crew getting set up for a crime they didn’t commit.

Additionally, the characters all sound the same. Even after a few read throughs, the only way I could tell any of the characters apart was that one of them speaks in a Russian accent. Their dialogue isn’t particularly discernible, and none of them are given significant character traits. Acting like emotionless robots is not the best way to create empathetic characters.

Of course, this is a sci-fi story, so perhaps the twist will be that they were robots the whole time.

Oddly enough, the world is quite the opposite. Bivens’ dirty pencils and rough inks give the world a lived-in vibe. While the technology is fairly derivative, it too is portrayed in such a way that it has character. At one point, the cast attends a massive party that further makes the setting feel like a real place. It’s a shame that the great work done on the art side is consistently interrupted by bland dialogue.

It’s also interrupted by unnecessary internal monologue. The opening sequence of 1985 should be dripping with tension–instead, all that is tossed out the window in favor of an exposition dump. The history of the world and characters we get here is not only unnecessary, it needed to be conveyed in a more natural manner. This way, it feels stilted and intrusive rather than useful.

All of this is a shame, because I went into 1985 looking to enjoy it. I admire the creative team for trying to write a politically charged book, but it just doesn’t work. The art is certainly the high point, though not nearly close enough to redeeming its otherwise poor quality. Hell, I could excuse the unexciting characters if the writing was more concise and the social commentary a little more fleshed out.

It stings to be reading a book like 1985. Making the case for more politically conscious comics is hard when the ones that exist just aren’t that good–and unfortunately, this one is just not very good.

About the Author

Jean-Luc Botbyl

Jean-Luc is a grizzled veteran of We the Nerdy. Most days, he just wonders why he hasn't been formally fired. Follow him on Twitter at @J_LFett to make him feel validated.