What bigger tragedy is there than the best thing the Halloween franchise has mustered since the first movie being a comic? Oops, gave away my opinion in the blurb!
Monster War sounds like a Godzilla movie. In fact, I’m surprised there hasn’t been any Godzilla movie with that title. They’ve skirted the title plenty of times and they definitely have the plot and setting for it. So again, come on, Toho. What the hell!?
Sadly, what I’m talking about is not Godzilla. Had it been, I’d probably be in a better mood all things considered. I love Godzilla! Have all my life. Even before I saw a Godzilla movie for the first time, the idea alone enticed me so much that I had the movie sketched out in my head. And since I’m a fan to this day, needless to say my first exposure did not disappoint.
But that’s Godzilla. This is Monster War from 2005.
I mean, really? Come on…
Two things before I even talk more about the comic itself.
One, the only reason I read this… thing is because it had minor impact on another story I was reading and I was curious how things ended up the way they did. That’s how I tend to find new comics to read, references to other things or ads. Hell, it’s how I ended up buying Project Superpowers Chapter 1 Hardcover Edition without even reading it first, the ad said it all: hardcover. I love hardcovers, more comics should be collected in hardcovers, it’s the ultimate in collecting. Point is, I’m a bit like a leaf on the wind and I sort of go wherever I’m taken and in this case, I ended up in the Top Cow universe.
The second thing I need to get off my chest right away is that I don’t read Top Cow comics. To me they feel very much like a leftover from the nineties and I don’t like their character designs nor art. I know that’s a bit unfair, to generalize like that but I have yet to see a Top Cow comic that changes my mind. And from that you should not have a tough time guessing this certainly hasn’t changed my mind.
So understand that I’m coming into this comic not really getting the whole picture nor really wanting to. In retrospect I probably could’ve gone without reading it but that’s life. Hindsight is 20/20.
“Monster War” is a 2005, four issue crossover event between Top Cow characters and Dynamite’s, uh… monsters, I guess. I’m not really sure what Dynamite brings to the table in this case since it doesn’t really seem based on anything they’ve done or at least not that I’ve read but I could be very wrong, I have a lot of Dynamite’s library to get through still. Regardless, Top Cow brings their busty babes and Dynamite brings the age old classic monsters.
Dracula has been revived by Mr. Hyde and together they plan on taking over the world, of course. But when the Magdalena (a stripper warrior priest of some sort) is called into action, it sets off a chain of events that draws three additional warriors into the fight: Witchblade, Lara Croft and the Darkness. But what the four don’t know is the scope of Mr. Hyde’s plan because if they fail, it’s the end of the world and the beginning of a new one. One born out of darkness.
“Monster War” is a mess from beginning to end. Especially if you don’t know the characters but even then the story structure is flawed. It jumps around erratically to the point where I got lost several times, the flow of time is extremely difficult to grasp and throughout all of it character motivations are muddled at best. Mr Hyde wants to reshape the world because he’s evil or something and the heroes are… uh, heroes, I guess. Lara Croft is definitely the main character here even though she only receives top billing in one issue and Jackie Estacado (Darkness) and the Magdalena barely figure into the story. Which is odd because Magdalena is sort of central but overall she never does much of anything.
Except becoming a Damsel in Distress almost immediately. But I’ve never read her comics so I dunno, maybe that’s her MO, fooling them into thinking she’s utterly useless then kicking their ass when they’re not looking. She just never got to the last part in this comic.
Sara Pezzini (Witchblade) is kind of central to the plot but much like Magdalena never really does much with her time except exist. Sure, she gets into a few fights here and there and they’re impressive, I’ll give it that. The action does work surprisingly well for being, well, a comic. But in terms of story and agency, Lara Croft drags that particular wagon by herself. Primarily because she’s been saddled with Jekyll, Hyde’s more benevolent side physically split from his dark side (sort of killing that metaphor brutally, thank you very much).
Jackie, on the other hand, feels completely unimportant in the grand scheme of things and just kinda shows up towards the last issue, does his thing and then the comic ends. His main motivation seems to be that Dracula drank the blood of his whores (no, really) and that won’t fly with Jackie Estacado, no way, José. I suppose he wants to stop the violence from spreading any further but again, he’s only in this story because Dracula attacked one of his brothels.
No, the spotlight is definitely on dear old Lara Croft and it was quite the blast from the past seeing her in her, shall we say, classic shape and form. She’s definitely the character with the most to do as she saves the Magdalena, gets the full story from Jekyll, only one to fight the wolfmen, she finds Frankenstein’s monster and no doubt pays for all the traveling. The only thing she doesn’t do is kill Dracula (or Hyde but then none of the “four” do) but you have to leave something for the others, I guess.
This comic probably would’ve been better as a Lara Croft miniseries because it honestly doesn’t need any of the other characters given Croft’s treasure hunting profession. But even the most used character in the story never really gets decent characterization. She finds Michael, aka Frankenstein’s monster, frozen in ice and bam, she’s involved, never really questioning things along the way.
Overall the comic just never does much of anything except give me a rather unwelcome throwback to the nineties. Especially when it comes to the art. I like sexy women. I’m a straight guy so women are sort of my thing and it never bothers me if they’re easy on the eye. But… this isn’t attractive to me. It was, once, when I was a young teenager but I’ve grown up… sort of. All I can think of when looking at the art is:
“Why does using the Witchblade make her clothes fall off? Surely it could go over or under her clothes?”
“Why is Lara Croft posing like that? It offers no strategic value what so ever and it doesn’t look comfortable.”
“Why does Jackie get full on armor and Sara barely gets to cover her nipples? Surely she wants more armor than that!”
I wonder if there’s still a huge market for comics aimed at prepubescent kids these days what with the Internet and all but they’re clearly doing something right ’cause they keep publishing comics. I’ll give them this, their action scenes did work really well which is where comics tend to fail. More often than not comics tend to fall in one of two categories: combat that stretches for pages or combat that’s over way too fast. Top Cow seems to be in their right element here ’cause that is the one bit of praise I’ll give this miniseries. Sure, it can get a bit messy at times but then comics have an awful tendency to get muddy art when combat is involved.
So no, I didn’t like this miniseries all that much but you might have gathered that already. I found it to be a complete waste of a perfectly good idea and I still struggle to see what Dynamite brought to the table. Yes, the monsters but surely those are in public domain so it’s not like Dynamite was sitting on any sort of license. The only thing I see them adding was the follow up to this story but that’s a blog post for another day. I’ve got lots to cover there.
Every now and then I fall out of love with things I’m very much in love with. Some times I just can’t bring myself to watch Korean movies or maybe I won’t touch that game console for a month or more. I suffer from the problem that I tend to overindulge on things, leading to me wearing that particular love of mine out, needing it to grow back.
In essence, this is what happened with comics. After having spent a ridiculous amount of time reading up on Marvel 2099, I simply didn’t have the energy to get invested in anything from either of the two major studios. That’s not me saying I don’t think they put out anything good, it’s just that their particular brand of comics tend to get old real quick for me.
And I tend to overindulge, doing silly things like reading pretty much everything they put out. I recently set myself the challenge of catching up to present day Marvel by reading from where Civil War ended. In case you’re curious, I’m currently in 2010.
But lately I have found that there’s another company worthy of my adoration. I’ve always been aware of other comic companies and at times even sampled some of their wares. But my focus has always been on the big two. Up until recently when I discovered Dynamite Entertainment.
Though it’s a very short time ago, I don’t remember how I first came across Dynamite. Judging from what I read first, it was either because of the Grimm comics, a tv-series I happen to enjoy a great deal, or their Flash Gordon comics. Either way, curious about their other works, I tracked down their site, hard work in today’s age, and discovered they had a huge library that appealed greatly to my taste buds. Their main bread and butter is taking old heroes that have fallen to the wayside or into public domain and dusting them off for another outing: Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers, The Shadow, The Phantom and any number of other heroes have been revived through their efforts. Some you’ll recognize instantly if you’re older than twenty and others are downright obscure even to me, knower of unimportant stuff.
Needless to say, I was fascinated and pretty much all reading of Marvel material halted in an instant with only Agents of Atlas passing the muster for being read. So what have I been helping myself to instead? Well, the still on-going Doc Savage and Turok are great reads in their own right and finally managed to finish off my first exposure to Black Bat. But primarily on my mind lately is Damsels.
Damsels is the story of Rapunzel albeit told a little differently and perhaps a little bit more modernly than you might remember it. Here she’s an amnesiac woman out to find out the truth about herself and regain her former life. What she doesn’t know is that she’s really a princess who’s been replaced by an evil witch intending to take over the world. During her journey she finds other women in similar positions and a dark conspiracy starts to rear its ugly head. Soon they find themselves fighting not just for themselves but for everyone in the world.
Damsels was written by Leah Moore and John Reppion and the art was done by Aneke and covers by Joseph Michael Linsner (for the most part). It managed to reach 13 issues before coming to an end and has one spin-off and a one-off to its name to this day (more on these further down). It began September 2012 and the final issue was published in February 2014.
So, with all of those boring stats out of the way, what IS Damsels really? Without sounding too political, it’s a feminist empowering piece turning several classical fairy tales on their heads with women taking the more proactive role normally reserved for men. Gone are the timid princesses only there to be rescued and married and in are women who don’t take no shit from anyone. And, despite what some people may think or feel about the subject matter at hand, Damsels actually pulls this off really well. The change never really feels forced and the women are not the “I don’t need no man!”-stereotypes which pieces like this often falls back on. Instead the women all feel like actual people with wants and needs of their own. And not all of them are necessarily the good hearted women we often associate with these fairy tales.
All stories pick up after the fairy tales has supposedly ended. Rapunzel is already rescued from the tower, Sleeping Beauty has woken up and the Little Mermaid has already met her Prince Charming. But where they go from there is never certain. The Little Mermaid takes a particularly dark turn along the path and Rapunzel’s story doesn’t end where you think it might. And Sleeping Beauty and Little Red Riding Hood… well, let’s just say they really don’t need men in their lives anymore.
Overall the first eight issues or so are really great. There’s a nice buildup of characters over time and you get a pretty good idea of who these people are and what their intentions are. The threat is ever present and the art does a fantastic job giving the world life. It manages to go through a number of famous fairy tales that all somehow manage to further the story and there’s a very witty but sardonic twist to all of them.
However, then the comic goes downhill. Issue eight is a definitive ending. The forces of good overcome the forces of darkness, Rapunzel gets her man back and they all live happily ever after. If you think that sounds like a spoiler then fear not for the comic continues for another six issues.
The vehicle comes to a complete stop and then has problems getting started again, having numerous false starts before simply giving up.
Warning, from here on out, there will be spoilers. Skip the next part if you don’t want to know the ending to Damsels.
It seems like an innocent page enough but it really is the beginning of the biggest sin Damsels could possibly commit: it ruined the ending. After issue eight, it’s clear they wanted to spin the series off into a completely different thing. Rapunzel leaves her husband after realizing she didn’t want him back after all and joins up with a cadre of witch hunters who think she’s totally cool. Talia (that’s Sleeping Beauty) and Red Hood decide to return to Talia’s kingdom and reclaim it from the surviving evil witches. The Little Mermaid is revealed to have become a servant to the witch of the sea. And the remaining Princes gather up an army to march on the witches.
And one of these tales will be the ending… pro-tip, it’s the one with no women in it.
Yup, Damsels completely shits the bed and discards all of its female cast for the final issue and the Princes are the ones who sort of saves the day… by nullifying everything that has come to pass, basically resetting the story to a somewhat happier one. Which is completely against the point of the series or at least as I have perceived it.
Instead, Rapunzel never goes on her big journey and instead has her “one true love” served up on a platter before her. A guy who during the course of the journey mostly took the form of an ugly frog man who fell in love with a troll woman and it was super duper sweet. And they never shared much more than strong friendship, mind you, so this potential love ending comes out of nowhere.
I have heard John Reppion say that it wasn’t meant to be seen as a romantic ending but rather two friends setting out on a quest again but that’s not what comes across. Instead, after the Princes have rolled time back to the beginning of the story, Heinrich (the frog guy who is now a handsome human again) and Rapunzel share a lingering look and then the story ends.
To be honest, I felt… betrayed. Like others have said, it’s not an ending and while others might not have taken it as hard as I did, there is a general feeling of “Is this it?” that sort of sets the comic way back. I do blame Moore and Reppion for this but at the same time I have to acknowledge that they ended it the only way they could. There simply wasn’t enough time or issues to finish the story properly when you suddenly drop three issues. And I imagine the ending would’ve been awesome because it truly was gearing up to something epic. And most of the pieces were in place.
But… what we got instead was disappointment.
Spoilers end here!
But that’s not where Damsels really end. No, we have more material to dig into, starting with Damsels Giant Killer.
Rather than a sequel or a spin-off, Giant Killer is actually a prequel, detailing the events that left one of the Princes orphaned. The story itself is a new look at Jack and the Beanstalk with a less than happy ending. Because we already know how it ends. But in true Damsels fashion, it puts a more feminine spin on the classic tale, replacing Jack with Jaquelin and somehow also manages to throw in a giant, magic-powered armor designed to slay giants… and it is awesome.
I didn’t expect to enjoy it as much as I did. It’s written by Moore and Reppion again but the art was done by Dietrich Smith this time around and I honestly think the issue is better off for it. Not that I think Aneke is bad and it could simply be that Smith had cooler stuff to work with but the art stuck in my mind far more here than previously. The only thing I’m not too crazy about is the cover by Chrissie Zullo… quite honestly, I hate it and thing it’s ugly but I’m sure it appeals to someone.
Other than saying it’s pretty cool, check it out, there’s not a great deal to actually say about Giant Killer. It’s one issue with a self-contained story that wraps itself up nicely at the end. A neat little detour thought it won’t last you long.
Now Mermaids on the other hand!
This time around, Damsels have been taken out of Mooreppion’s hands and given to Matt Sturges with art by Jean-Paul Deschong. It details the story of The Little Mermaid, now exiled from her home because of the events in Damsels (I assume but since that whole story was deus ex machinaed out of existence, I’m not sure when it actually takes place). Left alone on an island far from civilization, with only her broken and bruised heart as company.
That is until an exiled prince is left on her island and the two form an unlikely bond of vengeance and the mermaid dares to dream of loving someone again. But this is a tale of revenge, death, love and betrayal and there are no real happy endings. Only brutal farewells.
Damsels Mermaids, to me, is everything Damsels should’ve become after the eighth issue: a collection of short series depicting various fairy tales and legends told from a new perspective and with new, darker twists. Though, honestly, some fairy tales don’t really need much darker tones than they already have.
The art is overall gorgeous and the story told very well, leaving us in the same position as someone who can see the future but unable to do anything about it. The comic doesn’t hide the fact that the Little Mermaid is in for a rude, heartbroken end once again but rather lavishes in it. Her broken heart is the point of the story, to hide it would be wrong.
This story is also deeper into mythology than fairy tales, especially Greek mythology with names such as Atlantis and Scylla popping up during the journey. And the axis mundi play a major part in the story. That alone makes the story speak to me on a much deeper level since that’s lore that I know practically by heart since I was a little kid.
But there’s also that part where the mermaid battles sharks to save a little seal pup. That alone elevates the series above what Damsels managed. So much so that I would recommend this over Damsels.But a large part of why I recommend it is that the ending makes a whole lot of thematic sense. The Little Mermaid was never really a happy story no matter what Disney tried to tell us. It was a story about love and death, like so many fairy tales are (or rather were before they were made kid friendly) and that carries over to this story. Though it doesn’t share the story with H.C. Anderson’s original, it’s clear that they looked at that more for inspiration than the Disney movie.
I would love to see more series like this from the Damsels universe: shorter series that focuses on a single character or so rather than a huge, epic war that just peters out into nothing eventually. It allows for more precise story telling without having to fluff it up which I find is a perpetual problem with ongoing comics. Though I enjoyed the story they wanted to tell about Rapunzel after the not so happy ever after, it should’ve been reserved for its own, future miniseries. But that’s a soapbox I don’t want to get up on right now.
But would I like to see more from Damsels? Absolutely, as long as it’s more along the line of Mermaids rather than the core series itself (which I doubt we’ll be seeing brought back any time soon). A story revolving around how the Little Red Riding Hood came to be who she is? Absolutely. More stories about her and Talia as they first meet? Please, give it to me. A story about an epic war that never goe- NO! NO! No more of that.
As I write this, these very first words, I do not yet know how this will play out. That may seem strange but this is my blog, not a higher work of art and as such I am not restricted by your puny rules about writing. Like planning or plotting or anything like that. Or thinking. So I don’t know how long this will be or if I’ll split into parts. That’s the glory of writing a blog, I can pretty much wing it and see what comes out. So if you read my blog and thought “Wow, this guy’s writing is very weird.” then there’s a possible reason. One of many possible reasons you might think that, I might add.
So, “Marvel 2099”. What the hell is it? Well, to understand that we have to travel back to the nineties. Because that’s where “Marvel 2099” began, ran and ended. Revealed first as “The Marvel World of Tomorrow” by Stan Lee himself, it later got the name “Marvel 2093” before it was finally titled “Marvel 2099”. Although there were many writers involved, including the man himself Stan Lee and other well known names such as Warren Ellis, Tom Peyer and Chuck Dixon, the real credit for this series goes to editor Joey Cavalieri who was in charge of 2099’s continuity and damn is it a tightly written continuity. Although every series sports vastly different stories, you can really tell that they all take place on the same planet with characters mentioning any big things happening elsewhere. But I’ll definitely get to that later.
It’s difficult to say why they actually made 2099 at all. Unlike today, where they spill the beans about their plans years in advance, back then all you had to go on was PR pages and the odd interview or column. In other words, they weren’t really into sharing their innermost industry secrets back then like we do today.
But we also need to discuss what it isn’t. And in this case it’s not Marvel 2099, Marvel 2099 or Marvel 2099. The very first exposure I ever had to 2099 was through “Marvel Knights 2099”, five issues that gave us a look at a potential future and showing us what our well known heroes were up to a hundred years into the future. It featured a Daredevil who was torn between his heritage as a Fisk and the hero his grandfather battled in the past, a Punisher unwilling to take up his family lineage, the awakening of Black Bolt after 100 years in suspended animation, a new Black Panther when Doom invades Wakanda and a young hero who befriends Reed Richard’s brain while at the same time juggling school and a girlfriend with his superhero life… yeah, it’s basically Spider-Man but with a new moniker.
So imagine (all the people) when the first thing I found out after deciding to finally read all of “Marvel 2099” was that neither of these five issues have anything to do with “Marvel 2099″… are you seeing why it might be a bit confusing?
The one big issue here is that every subsequent time that they’ve revisited 2099 they’ve had to split it into a new timeline, the major problem being its greatest boon: the tight continuity. Snatching Spider-Man or Doom or Hulk or any other 2099 equivalent from their timeline would unravel the tapestry that is Marvel 2099. And even removing a minor character like the Hulk (yeah, imagine that, a Marvel universe where the Hulk is minor) could potentially change the outcome of this universe. Because that’s another thing that Marvel 2099 has that many other universes in Marvel’s great catalog doesn’t have: an ending.
Unlike the behemoth that is Ultimate Marvel, Marvel 2099 ran from 1992 to 1998 although one could say it really ended in 1996 with the cancellation of all currently running series and combining them all into one single ongoing series. This was as much due to declining sales and interest in the line as to the great comic crash of 1996 (although it was more a “nineties” crash), signifying the end of the Dark Age of Comic Books (no, I do not believe in the Iron Age of Comic Books, it is a myth!).
Now that we’ve established what it is and what it isn’t, when it ran and who you should thank/hate for it, WHAT is Marvel 2099? Well, Marvel 2099 is a look into one of many potential futures of Earth-616, the main universe of Marvel where all its heroes are running around doing their thing. When you read Spider-Man or Captain America or any of the one million X-Men comics, this is the universe where it takes place, Earth-616. The real Marvel 2099 is Earth-928, Marvel’s Cinematic Universe is Earth-199999 and Ultimate Universe is Earth-1610. And if you think that they gave MCU “199999” for show… they really didn’t.
In 2099, heroes no longer exist. They went “extinct” a very long time ago during the “Age of Heroes/Heroic Age” and during the passing century, companies have taken over the leading roles to the point where they dictate the fate of the world. Money is king and the people that has no money practically don’t exist while those that have a lot of money can buy their way out of anything, including murder. But as if by some divine intervention, heroes suddenly begin emerging again, starting with the arrival of a new Spider-Man, someone starting the work of the Punisher again and a man claiming to be Victor von Doom himself hurtled through time. And this is just the beginning.
When Marvel first launched 2099, they did so with four titles. Spider-Man 2099, Doom 2099 and Punisher 2099 were all takes on already existing heroes while the fourth introduced a new hero created by Stan Lee himself, Ravage 2099. Right from the start you can tell that it’s a cleverly planned universe as each comic can be seen as handling certain aspects of the world we must now get to know. Spider-Man gives us an insight in the difference between the Haves and Have Nots, Doom shows us how the world is ruled on a global level, Punisher paints a dire picture of a corrupt law system and Ravage reveals what a toxic and destroyed world we live in.
Of the four initial comics, only two of them are worth a read. Although each of the four series offer interesting views of this futuristic world of flying cars and space travel, two of the series are prime examples of everything wrong with nineties comics and the remaining two are good examples of what made 2099 an interesting read.
Ravage and Punisher is your average “grimdark” nineties comic about burly men with far too much muscles dispensing justice like real men: hot lead and fists to the face. They’re also highly inconsistent, especially Ravage who starts out stereotypically enough with Stan Lee himself at the helm for eight issues but after that he devolves into pure travesty, becoming as if a joke, a parody of everything wrong with the nineties comics… TO THE EXTREME!!!
And the same can be said about this year’s incarnation of Punisher. Although he starts out realistically enough, given plenty of character and evolution, at some point they simply went overboard, portraying him as a complete lunatic. He’s also the least interesting character since he’s just another Punisher. This stands in direct contrast to Spider-Man and Doom who are similar to their original counterparts but extremely different in other ways.
Spider-Man is definitely my favorite of the four, partly because Miguel O’Hara is so very different from Peter Parker. Whereas Peter is meek, shy and humble, Miguel is a very brash, rude and overconfident character. And he’s a bit of a player, having at one point stolen his brother’s girlfriend and women seem to fall for him like he was the sexiest man alive. He also stands together with Doom as the most fleshed out character with a huge supporting cast to… well, support him and their stories, both past and present are fleshed out in greater detail.
Doom on the other hand is exactly like his original counter part. In fact, whether he is or isn’t the real Victor von Doom simply misplaced in time is a big mystery in the comic and very interesting to boot. Both in the sense that it’s a question Doom has to struggle with and in the mystery in itself. Doom is also a very sympathetic character with a clear goal and the choice to make him a headliner was a very good one.
Doom and Spider-Man would go on to have a huge impact on the 2099 universe and became much of the driving force behind the universe, particularly Doom himself whose aspiration to conquer the world hasn’t dulled, rather increased seeing the state of the world today.
Despite being heavily interconnected, 2099 comics only had one cross-over, a five-issue story spanning the initial four comics and X-Men 2099 called “Fall of the Hammer”. This is actually sort of surprising since events were all the rage during the nineties and growing in popularity, a plague we have yet to be rid of in the Modern Age.
But it does lead me straight into the next topic: X-Men 2099. And… it’s a hard comic to love but it’s also very difficult to hate it. Unlike previous series, X-Men 2099 isn’t so much a re-imagining as it is a completely new thing like Ravage. But whereas Ravage was something new entirely unconnected to 616, the X-Men of 2099 aspired to BE the new X-Men. As such it tells the story of a mutant gathering a group of mutants to fight for mutants’ rights in the coming 22nd century.
We start following the team shortly after they were established and at first things seem perfectly fine. The team goes through a typical “getting to know each other”-phase but then the series gets a bit troublesome. Almost as soon as the team has gotten together, they practically break apart and go off on their separate adventures in different directions of the country. And it takes a LONG time for the team to get back together again and then the team roster has become something else entirely. It’s like the comic tried to tell the story of a modern X-Men comic but only had one comic to do so in which leaves it feeling fragmented and you ultimately unfulfilled.
And strangely they don’t leave much of a mark on the universe at large and despite spawning an additional mutant comic, X-Nation 2099, their impact on the world at large is negligible.
X-Nation’s lack of impact is excusable considering its short run time but X-Men 2099 really doesn’t have that excuse.
And the same can be said about my third favorite comic of Marvel 2099: Ghost Rider 2099.
But whereas X-Men dealt with much loftier themes in general, Ghost Rider’s lack of impact on the 2099 world isn’t surprising as the scope is entirely different. This time around, Ghost Rider isn’t a spirit of vengeance but rather a robot with a human soul, as it were. The story follows Kenshiro “Zero” Cochrane after he was killed but given the opportunity to come back, working for a mysterious cabal of AIs hiding on their version of the Internet, I suppose. Initially out for revenge for his death, Zero decides to take down the corporation ultimately responsible for much of the city’s suffering.
Ghost Rider 2099 is a surprisingly well written, gritty re-imagining of the classic character. Zero doesn’t really start out as a sympathetic character but eventually grows into one as he helps out those less fortunate. His relationship with his father is also used very well and his supporting cast, although generally a bit too grim for their own best, feel like despicable but real humans.
And his smaller scope also helped to keep his story isolated for the most part and focused entirely on one character’s struggle. Unfortunately he never had the chance to grow as much as Spider-Man or Doom because of 2099’s abrupt cancellation and the same fate befell two other comics: Hulk 2099 and Fantastic Four 2099 (as well as the previously mentioned X-Nation 2099).
I’m not going to go into any great depth with these because they didn’t even last ten issues. Fantastic Four would go on to be featured heavily in The World of Tomorrow but Hulk was one of three comics canceled before 1996, together with Punisher and Ravage as well as 2099 Unlimited which was a collection of smaller stories about smaller heroes. Like I said earlier, Ravage did have the distinct pleasure of being written out in his own series unlike Punisher and Hulk who were killed off in a one-shot called 2099 A.D. Apocalypse together with a few more unfortunate heroes from Unlimited.
This was done primarily as a cost-cutting measures since Marvel was hemorrhaging money at this point and the comics canceled weren’t overly popular. But that aside, let me tell you, if you read nothing else from 2099, Apocalypse alone is worth the read. It’s told in a very condensed way, letting us see these heroes lose their lives on live television like a normal citizen would. It’s effectively written with great art and fantastic mood.
Unfortunately, it really was the beginning of the end. Apocalypse was published in December 1995 and by August 1996, all series taking place in 2099 were canceled. Marvel, in a cost-cutting action, fired the leading man behind 2099, Joey Cavalieri and in protest many of the writes on the 2099 team, some of the brightest and most talented writers in the industry, left. To try and save the line from going under, they launched X-Nation 2099 and Fantastic Four 2099 but even that didn’t help it as in September the same year, 2099 was condensed into a single comic called “The World of Tomorrow” where after a worldwide flood caused by invading aliens, all surviving heroes are forced to work together to save the world and preserve mankind.
But by 1997, Marvel filed for bankruptcy (hard to imagine the very same company today is raking in the dough by the billions) and World of Tomorrow was murdered in its crib by the eights issue, leaving a multitude of plotlines entirely unresolved. And it was an abrupt end too, the last issue continues to hint at various things going to happen and heroes left in a very Adam West’s Batmanesque “Next time on World of Tomorrow. Same World of Tomorrow channel, same World of Tomorrow time.” hook.
And it’s a damn shame because it was shaping up into something really fun and decent. While some plots are resolved, like the fate of three fourths of the Fantastic Four and that whole aliens are invading thing, others are left woefully unexplained. Ghost Rider simply disappears though the final frame promises his return.
And the comic itself suffers from many of the same problems as X-Men 2099 did: not enough pages to tell all the stories they wanted to tell. Again the surviving heroes are split up and sent out on their own adventures: the Thing together with a few surviving X-Nation members go to Mars, another pair surviving X-Nation kids have to face off against their old nemesises (nemesi? Bad guys, alright!) while Spider-Man goes off to try and cure the techno-organic virus that the aliens are using to conquer Earth. And these are just a few examples, there’s more!
Basically there’s too many plot threads to tie up and not enough pages for it. Perhaps the series would’ve eventually transformed into something more coherent and less splintered but with only eight issues to its name, it leaves you very, very cold.
So that’s it, right? No more comics to the 2099 name, right? RIGHT!?
Unfortunately in 1998, Marvel did attempt to give the universe its due. In Manifest Destiny, we get to see what happened after the final issue, at least to some degree. Not all plots are resolved but they do their best. Unfortunately it’s also a horrid mess that could definitely have used some Joey Cavalieri magic with his continuity editing because dead heroes are suddenly back like the Punisher and they introduce ANOTHER Fantastic Four… I think, it could be the same one but considering we last saw Ben Grimm dying on Mars… eh?
It did answer one big question, though, which was on everybody’s mind during the original run: where were all the aliens? Earth-616 is teeming with alien life up the wazoo but throughout most of the run, very few aliens are ever seen and most of them are suggested to have been on the planet for a very long time. The explanation being that the Earth has been sealed off from the rest of space because humanity poses such a big threat (no, seriously, we do, Earth-616 is where teenagers are randomly given the power of mass destruction… TEENAGERS WITH NUKES… that’s not a bad mix, right?). And it also deals with Captain America having been frozen to preserve the noble lineage of heroes into the future… oh, and then he gets frozen in space and returns a millennium later… so with this issue, Captain America has officially been frozen and thawed out THREE TIMES!
And that’s following a plotline in Marvel 2099, a big one, where the same premise was used jokingly! What the shock, guys!? Oh, and Captain America becomes Thor… just… it’s… guh… And Moon Knight shows up… ON THE MOON! With the Inhumans! As does Uatu!
But even ignoring the plotholes of heroes suddenly being alive again and the ridiculous premise of Captain America, the original no less, being back from the dead, the whole one-shot just stinks of shoddy writing not to mention being obnoxiously idealistic. And despite being a final goodbye, it has the audacity to ask even more questions we’ve been asking… like what the hell happened to Asgard? Even after opening back up to space, NOTHING!
So don’t read Manifest Destiny. The eighth issue of World of Tomorrow was a better send-off than Manifest Destiny and that left plotlines unresolved, for shock’s sake.
So, finally, what do I think of Marvel 2099? Well, if you’ve read this far then you know my more intricate details about the world itself and some of the comics and hopefully I’ve inspired you to check some of this stuff out. But if you’re looking for a more boiled down opinion… well, much like my opinion of X-Men 2099, it’s hard to love it but it’s possibly even harder to hate it. Yeah, it has some huge duds like Ravage and Punisher but it also has greatness like Spider-Man and Doom. Sadly the biggest flaw is that it ended before its time, cut down both due to bad timing and executive meddling. When Cavalieri left the project in 96, much of the quality writers went with him and that hurt. A lot. And Marvel’s financial status didn’t help much either and the big decline in interest for comics in large helped to sink it further.
Marvel would eventually attempt to create alternate but continuous universes and achieve much greater success, the prime example being the Ultimate Universe which is still going though one might argue about the quality of it. For me, Marvel 2099 stands as an interesting if not wholly successful experiment that would eventually form the basis for Marvel’s future attempts at doing something similar. And yes, I know that this wasn’t their first attempt at it but it’s the one that stands out the most to me.
And no, I hadn’t seen Linkara’s reviews of the first issues of the initial four comics but it did come up during research. We do share pretty much the same opinion about those four comics but maybe he explains it a little better than me, go check ’em out if you’re curious.
As for what’s next on the blog… who knows, it’s a blog!
So a while back I mentioned that I had just read a comic but that I wasn’t quite ready to give my opinion on it because it was so fresh in my mind. While that may seem contradictory when it comes to reviewing, I like to give my brain time to naturally sort my memories and thoughts before throwing them down on paper… or digital journal… or whatever. So, with a few days passed since the last issue was read and inbetween reading Spider-Man and watching funny cat videos on Youtube I thought I’d finally give my impression of “The Twelve” and why I think it’s an amazing comic.
Well, I guess that’s kind of my impression and review in a nutshell, I think it’s amazing.
But before I start telling you about why this comic is great, since this is my first time reviewing a comic I think it only fair that I give a short history on my comic reading. Like most boys growing up in the eighties and nineties, comics were a thing but not really a major thing, at least not where I grew up. It’s certainly true that I knew very well what Superman, Spider-Man, X-Men, Batman and so forth was but I can’t really say that I read it with any regularity. I read more Donald Duck growing up than any other comic mostly because that’s what my dad was willing to pay for on account of everyone in the family being able to read it.
Neither Spider-Man nor Batman would garner much attention from my sisters or dad himself.
So I read most of my comics at friends’. I remember one of my favorite was a Venom comic with a whole story or arc collected in it, something about him going into the underground and saving a bunch of hobos or something. And whenever I could get my hands on some cheap comics at flea markets or yard sales then I’d totally buy ’em. But other than that, as a kid, my history with super hero comics was fairly limited. Most of my exposure to these epic heroes came from cartoons and it was how I was introduced to many of the main heroes that I today read regularly in comic form.
Then in my late teens I started reading comics on a more regular basis. I even started subscribing to Spider-Man and X-Men to sate my need. It was just around the time that companies were starting to get serious with super hero movies with stuff like Hulk and Fantastic Four and other such movies. I don’t remember exact year when I started but I do remember reading up to Civil War, where I took a several years long break from comics. Then a few years back, when I started university and started hanging out with a bunch of other really geeky nerds I started reading comics again, starting with Civil War so I had quite a bit of slack to pick up.
And for the record, I read both Marvel and DC and think neither is better than the other right now. They both have pros and cons, is all I’m gonna say.
So, The Twelve. First issue released in 2008, it was created by J. Michael Straczynski and Chris Weston. Straczynski is probably most well known for some his Hollywood scripts and Babylon 5 but he’s a fairly prolific writer in comics as well, having written quite a lot of Spider-Man and helming the reboot of Squadron Supreme. Weston on the other hand worked a lot on Judge Dredd and 2000 AD before moving over to the US market with things like Swamp Thing and JLA.
If you don’t know what any of these names mean, don’t worry, because that’s pretty much the extent of what I’ll mention.
So what is The Twelve? The Twelve is a story of twelve Golden Age heroes who are cryogenically frozen by Nazis at the end of World War II when the heroes helped take Berlin. While sifting through the ruins for more Nazis to punch, they’re ambushed and forced into hibernation, the plan being to brainwash and use them as their own soldiers when the Nazis come back out of hiding. Unfortunately for the Nazis, and The Twelve, they don’t get very far before being caught by the enemy and executed. Sealed away in an underground bunker, the heroes remain on ice, sleeping their endless sleep.
Sixty years later, just after the end of Marvel’s Civil War event, construction in Berlin unearth the long forgotten tomb and find to their surprise that the heroes are still alive and well if still sleeping. Upon being woken up, the heroes are taken in by the US government and given one year to acclimatize to their new world and figure out what they want to do with their lives. Housed under a single roof, we get to follow the twelve through the eyes of Richard Jones, aka the Phantom Reporter, as they come to terms with the new world, what they have lost and what the future might hold for them.
One thing you must understand about comics is that Marvel has probably a few thousand heroes no-one knows what to do with. The 1930-40s are often referred to as the Golden Age of comics and you couldn’t take two steps without running into a new super hero. For every Batman or Captain America there were quite a few that only appeared for maybe one or two issues and then promptly disappeared.
The Twelve is basically these guys come back to life. Various bit part heroes given new life. To a comic nerd this is absolutely fascinating, one of the best part about the comic is that they’ve included some of the issues where the characters originally appeared and that alone is worth the buy as it gives you a pretty interesting view on how they did comics then compared to now. And this is reflected in the super heroes as well. Let’s just say that there were a lot more “Punishers” running around back in the day compared to today when we have… well, the one and maybe a few others. DC have a few more hardcore vigilantes up their sleeves but overall, the approach to catching crooks and bank robbers has changed.
In fact, the comic makes a point of it when one of the heroes end up in trouble when his guns (yes, he uses actual guns) are revealed to be the weapons used in a murder back in the forties. As the cop points out, yes, the guy was mob and total scum but murder is murder. So he ends up in jail. In the forties, shooting a bad guy who was “ruining the greatness of America by existing” was rewarded with medals, not jail time.
And the main character, the Phantom Reporter (must be said out loud every time and with a echo in your voice), is no slouch either, having run around punching guys to death. But it’s harder to match knuckle imprints, I imagine.
There are more interesting things as well, such as the costumes sucking balls. Don’t get me wrong, I love the hell out of them because they’re crazy retro. But take a look at some of these heroes:
Those are three different heroes. The Phantom Reporter, Mr. “E” and The Witness. Calling them bland is an understatement to say the least so the duo had to work extra hard to make them distinguishable in their rebirth.
And surprise, they did a pretty good job. To a certain degree they are definitely limited by the source material and no amount of small redesigns will ever help the fact that many of the heroes are simply dull to begin with. Mr. “E” is just a woefully dull hero to look at and looks like any other hero from that age, heavily inspired by Zorro or similar masked heroes. The only thing that saves The Phantom Reporter from becoming “woefully dull” is that he’s a focal point of the story and as such his costume doesn’t just receive a redesign but it’s also updated to fit more modern standards. The same can be said about the Blue Blade but for… other reasons rather than combat reasons.
Other characters, like Captain Wonder here or Dynamic Man, rocks pretty much the same outfit as they did back in the day with minor variations here and there. Others don’t really wear their outfits much at all like the Fiery Mask while others didn’t really have much of a costume to begin with like Excello.
And Electro is… well, he’s Electro, he’s a robot.
And then there is the question of the only female hero on the team: Black Widow.
“But wait! I know this one and I know for a fact that she wasn’t frozen in ice or whatever at the end of World War II ’cause she was in all those movies recently.”
Ah, yes, see, this is where Marvel likes to get confusing. First, in Mainstream Marvel Universe, aka Earth 616 where all the main comics take place, Black Widow is actually a title and not necessarily a name. While Natasha Romanoff, played by lovely, lovely Scarlett Johansson in the movies, is the best known I think there are actually something like… three Black Widows running around at this time. But don’t take my word for that, it tends to change quickly.
And secondly… we’re not talking about these Black Widows. No, the very first Black Widow to appear was actually an anti-hero/villain powered by Satan himself going around killing dudes who owed Satan his due, often with very messy results. And she is, of course, drop dead gorgeous… in more than one way.
Before your thoughts run rampant, please do remember that her power comes directly from Satan and she can kill you with one touch. Make sure it’s worth it, is all I’m saying.
So, that’s a rundown of the heroes as unspoilerish as I can muster because the beauty is in the details. The series circulates around two things: a murder mystery and the heroes coming to terms with the past in the present. Suffice to say, not everyone lives at the end of issue 12 but hearts will be broken, debts to society repaid and ways will be mended all the way. Those who can try to reunite with their families while others have to accept that their loved ones have all passed away. But all of them must find their own place in the new world.
The whole story is primarily told through the eyes of Richard Jones, having been asked by the Daily Bugle to write about the differences of then and now. The comic goes into topics such as racism and segregation although it does so with great care, playing as much on your own expectations as on the obvious, setting you up for a fall you’re not gonna see coming. We also get to follow the heroes in their struggles with accepting how the future actually turned out, noting that it’s not what they were promised. There are no flying cars or skyscrapers reaching miles up in the sky or jetpacks to take you from the store to home in no seconds flat.
“I’m just going to keep going until the future catches up with me.”
They fought to free the world from war, tyranny and crime and then they wake up in the world as is, a world in their eyes almost worse off.
However, the comic isn’t perfect. The mystery, for one, is too obvious and it shouldn’t take you very long to figure out what’s going on. And this is both because the mystery in itself is fairly basic but also because the creators make the clues far too obvious, not settling on either visual or written hints but both and fairly blatantly. Sometimes comic creators tend to forget that comics are also a visual medium and overstate things in thought balloons or explanatory squares. In some areas The Twelve isn’t so bad while at other times it’s quite lazy. The motives behind the killings is actually quite fascinating but it’s undone by a weak reveal that most people saw coming a mile away.
My only other gripe with the comic is that there’s not enough story while at the same time too much story. There’s eleven characters (not counting Electro) and they try to give each of them their time in the spotlight to deal with the world but with any character not central to the mystery, this tends to happen in the periphery, not affecting the story as a whole. As such they feel pretty useless and forgettable. Out of the twelve characters advertised, only five or so play a significant part in the mystery while the others serve to highlight the tragedy of what they’ve gone through and how they need to adapt.
The issue I have with this is that the comic would be more interesting if it had picked one track or the other. A comic more dedicated to the mystery could’ve been a fascinating read, a “whodunit” with super heroes. But on the other hand, seeing twelve golden age heroes adjusting to the world today would ALSO be a fascinating read, given how different our era is from their era. But splitting its focus between the two doesn’t do either justice. The character studies feel like they’re interrupting the mystery and the mystery stops most of the characters to fully develop and grow.
And then there’s the last issue… well, I’ll just say I didn’t like it. It felt too much like cleanup and not enough like part of the story. Don’t get me wrong, it’s fun to see what everyone gets up to and where they find their places in the world but… there’s just something terribly off about it and serves to highlight that most of the comic worked as a setup for the Phantom Reporter, a payoff we’re likely to ever see much of. I’d love to see a continuation on this but I doubt we ever will.
Ultimately the comic is still good or even more than that. I said earlier that I think the comic is amazing and I stand by it. The idea itself is fascinating alone to make me love it and the care and love for these heroes of old is genuine. Most of the writing is expertly done and I’d expect nothing else from Straczynski, having been a fan of Squadron Supreme and much of his Spider-Man work (yes, even THAT thing). The artwork is very competent and mixes old with new very well, like you’d expect a comic celebrating the old.
I tore through the comic in no time flat, falling absolutely in love with it from issue one and even though the later issues falls behind in quality, probably thanks to the three, four year window between releases, it’s still definitely worth a read. Because even at its worse, it’s leagues above your typical comic.