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Taylor Swift’s “1989” in Comics

by  in Comic News Comment
Taylor Swift’s “1989” in Comics

The CBR crew (well, two or three of us, anyway) have a soft spot in our hearts for American treasure Taylor Swift, whose fifth studio album “1989” was released this week following much anticipation. To celebrate the event, we’re offering a unique look at the album, a review of sorts benchmarking each track with a notable event in comics from the eponymous year. Though it’s only been two years since “Red,” “1989” is in many ways the “Five Years Later” album, paralleling the “Legion of Super-Heroes” relaunch that picked up in a very different spot in the futuristic heroes’ lives. Here, as has been oft repeated, is a singer breaking from her roots seeking to forge new ground; another analogy might be the landmark “Avengers” #300, which introduced an all new line-up. After a few listens, though, we hope this version of Ms. Swift sticks around a bit longer than the team of the Captain, Mr. Fantastic, Invisible Woman, Thor and Gilgamesh.

1. Welcome to New York

The album leads off with a fun, poppy, ridiculously optimistic tune about arriving in the City. That sounds a lot like Jubilee, who made her debut in “Uncanny X-Men” #244. A good portion of Jube’s fan base comes from her role in the 1990s X-Men cartoon — a bit like how Taylor began as a country star but now draws mainly in the pop world. The arrival in New York can be emblematic of this shift, entering a new world, and so it makes sense that this is the first track of the album. Of course, if T-Swift follows the Jubilee track, we can look forward to a vampire album somewhere down the line.

2. Blank Space

One of “1989’s” strongest tracks, “Blank Space” is dark, sexy, mischievous — somewhat moreso than Crimson Fox, who was introduced in “Justice League Europe” #6. Fox debuted deep into the “Bwahaha” era of the League, but at a time the Giffen/DeMatteis team had begun to expand–“JLE” being the first major spinoff–and find new bearings. The initial mystery of Crimson Fox surrounded the new heroine’s secret identity; it ultimately turned out that she was actually two different women — both of whom, in Taylor’s words, might be described as “a nightmare dressed like a daydream.”

3. Style

Daniel Clowes’ “Eightball” launched in 1989, and has never has gone out of style. Nor has Tim Drake, who would replace Jason Todd as Robin that same year. While Clowes may chafe at the comparison, Drake undeniably has “that James Dean day dream look in [his] eye,” continuing as a DC universe heartthrob to this day.

4. Out of the Woods

“Out of the Woods” was the second single released from “1989,” and marked a clear turning point for Ms. Swift, revealing exactly how different this album would be from what came before. That is not its only similarity with Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman.” The song evokes a terrifying, labyrinthine environment, echoing the structure of Dream’s realm and the structure of Gaiman’s series as a whole. There is hope, and fear, and love, and perhaps, just maybe, we’ll make it through.

5. All You Had to Do was Stay

Batman’s “Death in the Family” concluded in January 1989 with the death of Jason Todd. Ignoring repeated warnings from the Dark Knight not to pursue his birth-mother alone, the rebellious Robin showed off his detective chops, ultimately enjoying a brief reunion before getting beaten to death and blown up by the Joker. Could it have been avoided? “Hey, all you had to do was stay.”

6. Shake it Off

The first single from “1989,” “Shake It Off” is cheery, self-referential, and inexplicably catchy — a bit like Giffen-DeMatteis’s “Justice League International,” which became “Justice League of America” that year and also spun off “Justice League Europe.” “Shake It Off,” like the “Bwahaha” Justice League, knows what it is and knows it won’t be for everybody. But for those who like it, for those who get it, it’s a treat.

7. I Wish You Would

The year before Taylor came into the world, DC experimented turning its flagship “Action Comics” into a weekly anthology series, banishing Superman to the sidelines, when he appeared at all. Fans said “I wish we could go back / And remember what we were fighting for,” or something to that effect, and in 1989 the Man of Steel was back in “Action,” which returned to its monthly schedule. The song, too, marks a transition into the more somber, reflective second half of the album, perhaps reflecting Superman’s all-business attitude.

8. Bad Blood

“Hey! / Now we got problems / And I don’t think we can solve them / You made a really deep cut / And baby now we got bad blood.” It’s almost like Taylor is writing about the massive Marvel crossover “Inferno,” which saw the demons of Limbo launch a massive assault on the Earth, leading to significant changes for Illyana Rasputin. In the end, order was restored, sacrifices were made, but Illyana is still a bit of a devil. “Time can heal but this won’t,” indeed.

9. Wildest Dreams

In 1989, Tim Truman created “Hawkworld,” a radical reinvention of the Hawkman mythos, yet retaining several of the classic elements. “Wildest Dreams” is “Hawkworld,” being the song closest to Taylor’s previous pop outings yet still reinventing what that sort of song should look like. “Hawkworld” also created several continuity problems for DC, since several heroes had already met the previous versions of the Hawks in the post-Crisis universe; likewise, “Wildest Dreams” may interfere with the “all-new T-Swift” narrative, but it’s still a pretty good song.

10. How You Get the Girl

Under the pen of William Messner-Loebs, Wally West was the Fastest Man Alive in more ways than one — this was the “Wally as playboy” era of “The Flash.” But 1989 also saw the introduction of Linda Park, the woman who would eventually marry Wally during Mark Waid’s tenure on the series. Their relationship developed over years, and in some ways turned “Flash” into a romance comic. How did it all progress? Something like what’s described in “How You Get the Girl,” maybe the best love song on “1989.”

11. This Love

James O’Barr’s “The Crow” launched in new publisher Calibre Press’s anthology series in 1989, and “This Love” would fit well on the soundtrack to the film that was ultimately made from the comic. It’s quiet, meditative, melanchology, of a piece with Jane Siberry’s “It Can’t Rain All the Time.” Not for the shearing, crashing action sequences, but could score those moments when Eric looks out from the page, the desolate streets of Detroit behind him, his mind full of a love intimately remembered.

12. I Know Places

“Gotham by Gaslight” led off what would become the Elseworlds line of alternate history. “I Know Places” pairs nicely with the Brian Augustyn/Mike Mignola jam both in terms of seeking out hidden, undiscovered corners, and also with the seeking and mystery of the story itself. Bruce Wayne himself might have said, “They are the hunters, we are the foxes,” as he attempts to solve Jack the Ripper’s crimes even as he falls under suspicion himself.

13. Clean

Rain and transformation are themes common to “Clean” and “St. Swithin’s Day,” Grant Morrison and Paul Grist’s obscure tale of rebellion. While Swift’s final song of “1989” (not counting the bonus tracks) compares a bad relationship to addiction, the Trident Comics series instead followed a young man who seems intent on assassinating British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Both stories resolve themselves into more or less happy endings, though to different effects.

Taylor Swift’s “1989” is available now worldwide; many of these comics are available in trade paperback collections or digitally on comiXology.

Special thanks to Marvel’s Executive Director of Television Communications Arune Singh for the inspiration of this piece.

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