Now Reading: Marvel 2099

Back in the early 90’s, before the great dark age began, Marvel suddenly decided to start a whole new line of comics that took place in the future. The original 2099 universe died out after only 3 years, but it was never forgotten and some of the characters still pop up every now and then. Spider-Man 2099 even had his own series again for a while there not long ago.

Anyway, let’s talk about the wacky future world of Marvel and its various ups and downs.

Doom 2099 was one of my favorites of the line. A big super-villain suddenly getting his own ongoing title was pretty unusual back in the day, and this one also stood apart from the others by featuring an original version of a character from the present day instead of a futuristic replacement like the rest of the line. They never really explain very clearly how Doctor Doom is still alive in the far future, but whatever.

John Francis Moore, a writer that’s mostly known (or unknown) for entirely forgettable runs on some big titles, does possibly his best work ever here, bringing a surprisingly entertaining tale of a seemingly timelost and semi-amnesiac Doctor Doom trying to conquer a dystopian cyberpunk future.

The later issues of the series also feature some early work by Warren Ellis, who has Doom become the President of the United States. He sets up a lot of interesting things with a lot of potential, but it ends up having a pretty rushed ending since the whole 2099 line ended up collapsing. Still a pretty decent read overall though.

Punisher 2099 is one strange book, co-written by Pat Mills, head of 2000AD and writer of classic stories such as Marshal Law, ABC Warriors, and Slaine. This version of The Punisher actually feels very much like a mash-up of Marshal Law, Slaine, and maybe a bit of Judge Dredd. It wouldn’t be a Pat Mills story without some biting social commentary so here we see a disturbing vision of the future where the police only protect those who can afford to pay their subscription fees. Future cop Jake Gallows gets fed up with this system and decides to dish out his own brand of brutal justice for free. He’s also more than a little bit mentally unstable and naturally, it’s debatable whether or not he’s just as bad as the criminals he punishes.

It’s a very chaotic and over the top book, almost to the point of satire (which is also standard fare for Mills), which will surely not be to everyone’s taste and the art is very 90’s X-TREEEEEEEEEME, but I thought it was a pretty fun series overall.

And then there’s Ravage, the one main 2099 character that wasn’t based on a pre-existing character, though you could hardly be blamed if you thought that he looked suspiciously similar to Grimjack. Surprisingly, Ravage started out being written by Stan Lee himself. Ravage is a very confused character though, starting out as a clean-cut corporate man who literally just transforms into a rugged dystopian tough guy overnight, complete with entirely new behavior and speech patterns. There’s no actual reason for these drastic changes other than the fact that Ravage lost his job and became a fugitive and so instantly became a completely different person. Later he suddenly also gains the ability to shoot energy blasts out of his hands.

The early issues are actually pretty awful. It’s no surprise at all that they had to bring in a new creative team and completely revamp the character after only 8 issues. Pat Mills was given the title and suddenly Ravage lost his Grimjack look and energy blasts and became some kind of weird werebeast. The book improves a lot with Mills, but it still never really takes off beyond average quality. In fact, it starts going downhill a lot again in the later issues, where Ravage suddenly leaves his dystopian future city setting to go run around in the wastelands and jungles outside with his new giant bat companion and transforms yet again into a kind of bad Hulk knockoff. Unfortunately, Ravage is ultimately better left forgotten.

Other than the fact that all the characters are mutants, there’s almost no connections at all to the modern day X-Men or any of their villains in X-Men 2099. It might as well be an entirely unrelated property, but it’s still a decent book for what it is. The problems the team faces are pretty off-beat, and it all feels very different than your usual, everyday superhero team book. It kinda feels more like one of those strange independent superhero teams like Ex-Mutants or something. It never really rises above being merely “decent”, so I don’t know that I’d exactly recommend it, but it’s a lot better than Ravage at least…

There was also a short-lived spinoff series, X-Nation 2099, which focused on a new team of younger mutants. Now THAT one was truly fucking awful. It got canceled after only 6 issues and it’s easy to see why. It’s one of those unbearable X-TREEEEEEEME 90’s teen books where everyone talks like they’re in a bad 90’s toy commercial, and have about the same level of character depth too.

Ghost Rider 2099 unsurprisingly has absolutely nothing to do with the original Ghost Rider. No more supernatural stuff here, instead Ghost Rider is now a high-tech android body inhabited by the mind of a dead hacker who was placed there by a mysterious group of AIs. The tech jargon can be a little silly at times, it occasionally feels like Len Kaminski was just throwing random computer terms in there just to sound futuristic. Despite that, the story is still pretty interesting and it’s all extremely 90’s cyberpunk.

And then there’s the original Spider-Man 2099 series. This was my first and favorite 2099 title as a kid. Does it still hold up today? Ehhhhh…it’s a mixed bag. Peter David writes some interesting scripts, as usual, but the overarching story is just so scattered and directionless, and the art is almost constantly changing and usually it’s not very good. There are some decent stories in here, but that’s about the highest compliment I can give it. Sometimes decent. Far from David’s best work.

This sentiment sums up the classic 2099 line as a whole, really. It has a lot of great ideas with a ton of potential, and occasionally it would get really close to realizing that potential, but it just never quite came together all the way. There are some entertaining stories here, but none of them are what I would call essential.

But wait, it’s not quite over yet!

Spider-Man 2099 returned a few years ago with Peter David at the helm again, was canceled 12 issues in when Secret Wars hit, “replaced” with a Secret Wars 2099 mini-series, and then immediately relaunched yet again for a 25 issue run. Confusing? That’s superhero comics for you.

Anyway, this run of Spider-Man 2099 is easily the best thing to ever come out of the 2099 universe. Unfortunately, it also relies heavily on references to Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2099 history, so I imagine that it’s probably not very new-reader friendly. Great for long-time fans like me though. A weird and complicated long-running plot that features a lot of convoluted time-travelling and alternate realities, but I’m all for that sort of thing.

Ultimately, I don’t think I’d recommend most of the 2099 world to anyone but the most die-hard Marvel fans that were looking for something off-beat and obscure and were willing to overlook a lot of flaws. It was an interesting experiment to see what superheroes might be like in a dystopian cyberpunk future, but overall I’d say it was a failed one.

Now Reading: More Alan Moore stuff

My personal Alan Moore marathon continues with V For Vendetta, my other favorite Moore classic. While not as intricately designed as Watchmen, it still tells an impressively complex tale of a fictional “future” (you know, the futuristic late 90’s) where Britain has become an Orwellian fascist nightmare and one person’s bizarre, but effective plan to start a revolution. It’s certainly a much better story than the clumsy, watered down film version, but let’s not start making those comparisons or we’ll be here all day. I would simply say this is another “must-read” comic for just about anyone.

Another one that’s a bit like the earlier days of League of Extraordinary GentlemenTop 10 is about a city where everyone has superpowers, with the focus being on the superhuman police force that has to deal with all the crazy situations that arise from a bunch of people with powers all living together. None of it is particularly complicated, but it’s all extremely well-paced and written, with a great cast of characters. It’s a shame that it was such a short-lived series, as it set up such a huge, interesting world with so many possibilities.

As usual, the original From Hell is quite a bit different than the movie version. I actually kinda like the movie, but it’s definitely a very different version of the story. The comic spends most of the time focusing on the killer and his strange motives. There is a cop who finds the killer, but he’s not at all like the Johnny Depp character and there’s no more tragic romance subplot. The original story strongly suggests that the killer has some kind of strange visions of the future and that his magic-related reasons for the killings may not have been all in his head. It’s also got some very graphic sex and violence scenes, so watch out!

Promethea is an odd one. It starts out as a familiar enough tale of superheroism, but suddenly veers into some incredibly in-depth and complex material about the interconnected nature of existence and just about everything contained in it. The pacing could maybe be a bit better, as a good 40% or so of the plot, right in the middle/end, just turns into essentially an incredibly long lecture about magic/physics/reality/the mind/etc. It’s intresting stuff, but it kind of jumps off the rails of the actual plot of the book and becomes so dense and dry at points that it feels kind of like you’re suddenly reading a textbook or manual. You just have to keep in mind that Moore‘s beliefs on the presence of magic in the history of the world are a bit…literal, so to speak. Other than that, a fun and fascinating read.

That’s enough Alan Moore for now. Time to move on to other worlds…

Now Reading: Watchmen

It’s hard to imagine that there’s anyone left that hasn’t at least heard of Watchmen by now. I’m sure there are still plenty of people who still haven’t read it though. Well, let me tell you, everything you’ve heard about it is absolutely true. You’d be hard pressed to ever find a comic that’s more perfectly constructed and paced, with the writer and artist working in such unison that there isn’t a single wasted panel or word. It really is a masterwork of the medium, with incredibly fascinating characters and a deep and disturbing plot that’s really more about simple, inherent human nature and the different ways that everyday people react to fear, than superheroes.

It’s amazing, and also maybe more than a bit depressing, that the underlying political and social themes that were relating to the Cold War nuclear scare of the 80’s here, still so closely resemble the current mood of the American masses.

Anyway, anyone that has any interest at all in comic books, even if superheroes aren’t normally your thing, should really check this out someday. It was an exceptional work of art back then, and it’s still one now. Personally, even having read it probably over a dozen times throughout the last several decades, still notice something new in its pages every time I pick it up.

Now Reading: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen was never what I would call one of my favorite Alan Moore stories, but even the least exciting Moore stories are still pretty damn good. Basically, it’s a bunch of 19th century literary characters teaming up like a group of old-timey superheroes because in this world every work of fiction was apparently based on a true story. The original team consisted of people like Mr. Hyde, Nemo, and Allan Quatermain. The first two volumes are surprisingly simple for a Moore story. Sure, there’s layers upon layers of literary references scattered throughout each moment, but the main plot is very straightforward stuff. Still an excellent read, but it wasn’t until later that things started getting really dense and weird.

Things got much stranger with The Black Dossier, which was like a bizarre scrapbook filled with various prose short stories and short comic bits, all from different time periods ranging from over 1000 years BC to the 1940’s. It deals with magic, immortals, and the mysterious fourth dimension. It even includes some 3D glasses for some special bits in the end. It can be a bit dry at times, sometimes feeling more like a history textbook than a fictional narrative, but it’s certainly a unique presentation, and it adds some crazy new twists to the premise of The League. 

The third volume (because Black Dossier didn’t count as such for some reason) returns to a more standard comic book format, but continues the themes of strange extra-dimensional entities and a complex plot that spans multiple time periods. It’s a very different kind of story than the original 19th century League, but it also has ties to every story that came before it. It also features the introduction to the new Nemo, who would end up becoming the focus of the final League-related stories. It serves as a good enough ending for the saga, wrapping up most pre-existing plot threads, though still leaving enough people still standing that a sequel would be possible, though that seems extremely unlikely at this point.

The Nemo Trilogy is really more of a spinoff, covering a few key adventures throughout the life of Nemo’s daughter. It’s a bit more like the original volumes of League, as in it’s just standard straightforward adventure stuff where Nemo and crew fight against Lovecraftian horrors and Nazis and such. Not a bad read, but pretty simple stuff compared to the rest.

I’ve noticed that there were several references to and encounters with the Cthulhuverse across several of these stories over the year too. Moore sure seems to think about Cthulhu a lot, not that there’s anything wrong with that…