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!