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[Retrospective]Marvel 2099 #1's

Bobby DerieBobby Derie Registered User regular
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As a young'un, I liked Marvel better than DC. That is not to say I in any way disliked DC, because even four-year-old-me learning to read was enthralled by Batman. Marvel, to me, has always been the company that has taken more and bigger chances than DC, and something in me responded to that. Marvel 2099 is a good point: it was Marvel deciding to delve headlong into an entire alternate setting in a cyberpunk future 107 years from 1992, where all the old heroes and villains are long dead or disappeared, rendered down into legend. A world without heroes, ruled by powerful and corrupt megacorps in a fractured, media-driven future. Gleaming futuristic towers and trash-strewn, poisoned alleys filled with the dying poor; freeways that span continents, a global Matrix that could scarcely be imagined at a time when AOL discs were the future of the internet.

It wasn't the first cyberpunk comic. That was probably Shatter, which deserves a retrospective of its own.

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First computerized comic! On an Apple II!

It wasn't even the best futuristic-take-on-characters comic, that was probably Robin 3000, which also deserves its own retrospective.

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P. Craig Russell is your penciling god, human.

But Marvel 2099 was much more ambitious (and probably commercially successful) than either. And when I say that Marvel takes chances, I mean it; these series for the most part featured revamps of traditional characters - and not always the most popular ones - in a future never even hinted at in any other Marvel comic at the time (okay, okay, apparently there was a shot of Spidey 2099 in Amazing Spider-Man #365 or something) - and these were completely different characters. That sounds like I'm making a mountain out of a molehill, but you have to go back to Joseph Campbell and "The Hero with a 1,000 Faces" - even if you've never read Campbell's books, you can just get the gist of the idea from there: different cultures tell the same (or nearly the same) stories, with many similar hero-archetypes. Comics works the same way - through Batman in the Middle Ages, and he's still Batman (or Batknight, the Dark Knight, whatever). But with comics, it's more like "1,000 Heroes with one Face." Spider-Man is not Peter Parker; Spider-Man is anyone that acts in the way Spider-Man is supposed to act. They may call themselves Miles Morales or the Superior Spider-Man or Scarlet Spider(s), but they're still understood as Spider-Man. And Marvel was betting on that for the 2099 line - that people would be excited about a non-Peter Parker Spider-Man or non-Frank Castle Punisher. They were betting, in no small part, on innovation to carry them through. And when you remember how many people crapped their pants at Doc Ock in Spider-Man's webbed booties, you can see that this was not a mild bet - and they did it six times.

That isn't to say that Marvel 2099 was tremendously great on all fronts; I would be shocked and amazed if there was ever a setting bible. The whole line didn't always connect, especially in the early days, and a lot of the characters - especially the new ones, not the revamps - petered out in a morass of increasingly poorly-plotted, poorly-drawn stories as the whole series collapsed in on itself like a black hole of suck. But in those early days, when it had flowered and all things were bright and shiny (very shiny - I love those metallic foil covers) and new, they were full of promise and interesting in a way that showed Marvel really had some guts behind it. So, let's do those six metal-foil one-shots.

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The standard-bearer for the line, Spider-Man 2099 #1 is an amazingly good comic, especially for '92. I might pick on the artist a little, but it's fairly tight little comic. Miguel O'Hara is Mexican-Irish genius geneticist and a proper asshole whose geeky hobby is the late 20th century; he even bases his gene-chamber thingy on the teleport pod from The Fly. There's no kindly Uncle Ben in this scenario, no stacks of wheat-cakes: O'Hara is forcibly addicted to a hideous drug and in trying to fix it blows stuff up. He is infinitely more monstrous than Peter Parker ever was, he lacks any of the innocence of Parker's character, he's a self-absorbed boob...and that makes him perfect. You see, Peter Parker already went through the grand sum of his defining character arc by issue #1. Parker went from bookworm to "Money!" to "Uncle Ben!" and "With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility." in about a single story. O'Hara completely lacks the decent upbringing (more or less) and positive role models; he doesn't even have the sense of loss that Parker has to drive him. So Miguel O'Hara has a much longer, harder, and overall more interesting road ahead of him to decide how and if he's going to live up to the legacy of his namesake - and that is actually a major aspect of the Spider-Man 2099 series while it lasted: the mantle of a legend.

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Punisher 2099 #1 had something of an easier time of it; while not everybody could be a Spider-Man, a large part of the appeal of vigilante fiction like the Punisher is the idea that anybody could be a vigilante; it's escapist fiction without the same fantasy power trip of superpowers. Frank Castle may have become a legend (and, in the early 90s his brand was growing), but his motivations were far less noble and much more visceral than Spider-Man: justice. Jake Gallows was a cop in a future where "paying" for your crime literally meant a fine that could be paid off with your credit card, and the ultrarich maniac who brutally murdered his family joked as he paid it. Punisher 2099 immediately set the tone by featuring brutal methods with a vast arsenal of high-tech weaponry. Young me found this cool at the time (hey, I was digging the Punisher Armory too), but it highlighted the general lack of depth to the Jake Gallows character - not that you see this in the first issue, because Jake is assigned to track down the Punisher when he's the Punisher. If Garth Ennis wrote this, Detective Soap would be castrating rapists on the side.

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Not what you're best at, Soap.

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The first original character/title not based on a previous one, Ravage 2099 endeavored to be an eco-comic. Given cyberpunk tends to emphasize the future as a dystopia where the world is polluted and the sky burns, this isn't a bad idea, and I actually very much liked the first issue. It was sort of like Captain Planet if the Planeteers didn't have their magic rings, but had to recycle and repurpose weapons from the refuse of the future. Which could have led to an intriguing Junkyard Batman-like feel, but quickly was subverted by Ravage mutating into a superhuman bruiser. Worse, Ravage was the hardest character (and title) to work into the rest of the 2099 'verse, and showcased the unfortunate lack of cooperation in the early line.

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Doom 2099 is my favorite, and arguably the single best 2099 series. They even let Warren Ellis have a crack at it at one point. But the first issue by itself, though confusing, is very solid. Doom (is it Dr. Doom? This is a question of identity that the series plagues us with.) arrives in Latveria 2099 - to find it a corrupt Eastern European casino-state. In his shambling and broken armor, Doom tries to take charge, and is immediately trounced, only to hook up with the Gypsies and Latverian resistance.

This is good on a lot of levels: one, they remember all the stuff that makes Doom a great character. He's pretentious, intelligent, iron-willed, stalwart in the face of pain, always keeps his word, cruel to his enemies, and all in all possessed of a great flawed nobility; a black knight by any stretch. In a space and time without any heroes to deal with, Doom yet manages to fall back on one of his oft-forgotten roots - the Gypsies of Latveria - and rapidly acclimates himself with this new century. It's a fun process to watch, as Doom basically picks up the pieces and works to reclaim everything that he's lost.

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This is arguably the most ambitious of the #1s; it's a very different take on the character of the Ghost Rider, dropping all the mystical trappings and doubling-down on the cyberpunk; you could fill a good reading-list with just the name-drops from the first issue. The art (at the beginning, at least) was atypically highly stylized compared to the other 2099 series, which like Ravage it didn't cross over much with. I really dig the concept - I think as a revamping of the Ghost Rider concept, replacing the mystical Spirit of Vengeance with a cabal of artificial intelligences and a cyborg body were actually really good decisions. The dialog might have been a bit on the cyber-campy side and the whole series petered out unresolved in two years, but I really do enjoy the first issue:

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Somebody might disagree with me, but I really think X-Men 2099 #1 is where the line really started to go downhill. Or maybe that's just hindsight. The problem with the X-Men 2099 isn't that it's yet another proliferation of the X-titles, like a meme that escaped SCP containment, it's that it was completely and utterly unoriginal. It's the far future, mutants are still an embattled minority, oh look here's a heroic band of mutants under a quasi-messianic leader/wise-man to lead them. Even the characters tended to be slightly-altered expies of familiar X-Men characters. At least with Punisher 2099, there's new weapons, new crimes, digital surveillance and countermeasures, a system of justice that's literally broken to play with; the X-Men 2099 are...eh. Well, at least they're not teenagers in school dedicated to saving the world, I'll give them that much. The mutants of 2099 are embattled and dwell in this weird criminal underground; the main character doesn't even want to really be there. But from pretty much the first issue, we're getting Chris Claremont-level attempts at plot thread generation without Claremont's ability to render believable or interesting characters, so the whole thing pretty much falls flat. The best I can say is that it does give us one bad-ass line:

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You can't hurt a man made out of adamantium - but he can hurt you!

Even given the relatively recent return of Spider-Man 2099, the 2099 was pretty much a failed experiment - but it was an experiment! These things happen. It was also a pretty good experiment, at least starting out. It gave us some interesting characters (I love Ellis and D'israeli's Metalscream 2099), and gave us a couple lasting changes to the Marvel universe (Doom #13, I'm looking at you.)





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    Dizzy DDizzy D NetherlandsRegistered User regular
    It also gave us some prototypes for later Ellis' characters (I remember at least an Engineer and a Doctor prototype).

    Unlike you, I quite liked X-Men 2099. Mostly because it after the initial arc, immediately decided that status quo was a dirty word and mixed things up. It definitely improved once Doom takes control of America. I still have to laugh at the cover of issue #3 though: "One of these X-Men will die!" Yeah, let me guess.... the one that wasn't on the poster in issue #1?

    Ravage 2099 is an interesting title: Stan Lee and Pat Mills, both comic book legends and neither managed to do anything interesting with the series.

    Doom 2099 is definitely by far the best of the whole package though.

    I can't remember much about FF 2099 (were they the originals like Doom?), Hulk 2099 (only his appearances in Exiles years later) and X-Nation 2099.

    Steam/Origin: davydizzy
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    Bobby DerieBobby Derie Registered User regular
    And I'm completely biased; I thought the X-Men had gone off the rails in the 90s, and as fun as they can be, they've never really been sane enough to interest me for long stretches of time.
    Ravage 2099 is an interesting title: Stan Lee and Pat Mills, both comic book legends and neither managed to do anything interesting with the series.
    Mills, while a fantastic writer whose work I enjoy very much, has a very mixed history of trying to break into traditional American comics. They never quite seem to work, unfortunately.

    The Unpublishable - Original fiction blog, updates Fridays
    Sex & the Cthulhu Mythos
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    ZavianZavian universal peace sounds better than forever war Registered User regular
    Doom 2099 was definitely my fav, though I was sad to see it deteriorate after Ellis left, especially the art. I continued reading into World of 2099, which was pretty subpar, though I thought 2099 Manifest Destiny was a good end cap. I really wish they bring back Doom 2099, I wouldn't have thought it possible but they did just resurrect Spider-Man 2099

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    cshadow42cshadow42 Registered User regular
    You forgot X-Nation 2099, and 2099, World of Tomorrow

    *sigh* I had 98% of a complete collection of 2099 comics, but then I sold them to pay for a divorce lawyer.

    MTGO Handle - ArtfulDodger
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