Travel back in time to the 80s with me. A time of excess, a time when video killed the radio star, a time when the country pretended to be good, all the while sowing the seeds for chaos and ruin. Travel to “Marilyn Manor,” an 80s piece for which the period is a setting, rather than a nostalgic honey pot, for which I am eternally grateful.
Written by Magdalene Visaggio
Illustrated by Marley Zarcone
Colored by Irma Kniivila
Lettered by Jane Heir
Where were you in ‘81? When the White House goes dark for 17 days in August, the president’s spoiled daughter and her best friend Abe—who claims to be possessed by the spirit of Abe Lincoln—throw a rager at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, unearthing long dead historical figures and government secrets that are better off buried. Sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll séances, and secret passageways lead to time-bending mystical romps where past and present collide. But at what cost to Marilyn Kelleher, the world at large, and music television?
Uniting the red-hot Eisner-nominated talents of writer Magdalene Visaggio (Eternity Girl, Kim and Kim) and artist Marley Zarcone (Shade, the Changing Girl, Effigy) for the first time, MARILYN MANOR explores identity, classism, appropriation, and friendship. It’s a rollicking, neon party gone out of bounds when we need it most—set just in time for the greatest pop cultural marriage to date: MTV.
The central conceit of “Marilyn Manor” is both more and less bonkers than it sounds. At its core, it’s the age old “party while the parents are away” plotline of your typical teen movie. But then you find out where the party is being held, and who the parents are. And then, minor spoilers, you find out the reasoning behind the party, that Marilyn’s best friend is possessed by the spirit of Abraham Lincoln, and the fact that there’s a secret sex room as used by JFK and Marilyn Monroe, and possibly others, complete with a purple dildo that has, hopefully, been washed, which is where things start to get a get a little more surreal.
Zarcone has proven quite adept at rendering the surreal, her style favoring the warping and exaggeration of reality, which helps give the comic a dreamlike, performative quality. Helping set this tone is the opener, wherein Marilyn is talking to the camera — the literal one being held by Abe — framing the many round cornered panels as TV screens, thus turning any panels that do the full-bleed into moments of heightened reality, breaking the boundaries and thus becoming larger than life.
It’s a real treat to get more of Zarcone’s art since “Shade the Changing Woman” wrapped. The way she draws people, they always have a fire in their eyes, an intensity that is hard to describe and even harder to pin down. Perhaps it is due to the tiny dot pupils that sit in their eyes. Perhaps it’s because of the simplicity of their designs, a minimalistic approach to definition that emphasizes shapes to convey form, which in turn allows the colorist to shine. And what would this comic be without Kniivila’s coloring. Saturated and varied, once again capturing the excess of the era, Kniivila’s coloring sets the mood for the entire issue. Just look at the lighting on page 10, the reveal of the stairs behind the Madison bust, or the varied reds & pinks of the Marilyn/Abe “dream” sequence.
Despite, or perhaps because of, all of these goings on, issue #1 remains cohesive and coherent, with a clear goal and a few different statements of intent. There’s the romantic, with Abe pining for Marilyn. There’s the social, with the purpose of the party to spread the ideals of peace & love and understanding by way of magic. There’s the personal, of Marilyn getting back at her parents for the ways in which they (failed to) raise her. And then there’s the political, the agent of stasis, in the form of the White House Chief of Staff, who will, most likely, be the primary antagonist of the mini-series.
Critically, “Marilyn Manor” #1 does everything a first issue should do in setting the stage while also providing a reason to continue with the series so that by the final page, the stakes are set, the questions are posed and the show is about to kick off. If there’s one thing I could complain about, it’s that the center of the issue is filled with dialog. It serves the work, and the teenage characters, but it can get a little overwhelming, overshadowing the art and revealing to us only small new bits of information.Continued below
The abundance of words also harms the letterer, as they have to work to fit it all on the page with the mostly unvaried balloons, with short, fat tails, and standard sans-serif fonts. It’s noticeable especially when they share panels with Zarcone’s sound effects, which have a more playful feel to them. There are moments, however, when this works to the comic’s advantage, when the smaller balloons can sit and frame an important detail, such as the bust of James Madison. But, again, these are minor complaints that can be easily overlooked thanks to the strength of verisimilitude the dialog crafts.
I’d be remiss if I closed out without talking about how “Marilyn Manor” sets itself in the 80s without feeling like we’re being dragged down a nostalgia trip laced with references that would go above my head but not any 80s kids. Background details and fashion choices cue us into the era as much as the “Somewhere lost in the early eighties…” caption from the start does, and it’s never gratuitous or more than scenery dressing. Nostalgia is easy to traffic in, and while there is a component to baked into the concept — the rager as rebellion is a very 80s movie thing — it’s merely another setting to tell a story that is new and strange and wondrous and the perfect fit for the Black Crown crew.
Final Score: 7.9 – Black Crown continues to make strange, off-beat, resonant titles and “Marilyn Manor,” from members of my two favorite “Young Animal” titles, is no exception. A hell of a good time, it’s only going to get weirder from here and I cannot wait.