Marvel at 80: Marvel 2099
Editor’s note: Ironically, while writing this article, Marvel announced that November of this year will feature a 2099 branded book (or books) of some kind. It seems almost fitting that this article was underway at the time.
It had been only a few years since Jim Shooter’s failed attempt at a new comics universe had ended with a whimper. The New Universe had been shut down and packed neatly away in the proverbial toybox of Marvel. However, Stan Lee had an idea for another subline for Marvel Comics. Marvel had told stories about the past and present, but what about the future?
Initially announced as a single comic with Stan Lee and John Byrne, “Marvel: The World of Tomorrow” would never materialize. Instead, Marvel would focus on a broader aspect. Beginning with a futuristic Spider-Man, the comics would eventually expand to feature new heroes, evolutions of old concepts, and a general dystopian future to thrill audiences of the mid-90s.
When the idea had evolved to a larger one, Editor in Chief Tom DeFalco specifically chose recent hire and editor Joey Cavalieri to head the project. Having just come from DC, he was thrilled to leave his mark on Marvel. One of the ideas that Cavalieri came up with was a gradual launch - to repeat the slow rollout of new characters over the course of months (or years) rather than all at once like the New Universe had so disastrously done earlier. Stan Lee kept with the concept and had made his own character that he would write. This left three new character slots that Cavalieri wanted to fill for the first wave of this new line. Spider-Man and Punisher were hot properties and became no-brainers. The final slot went to a different choice. Editor Ralph Macchio brought it up during a meeting: Doctor Doom. It would be a different book to have a villain as a protagonist, and it would show a different side to Doom… if it was the same Doom, that is.
Joey Cavalieri held a massive meeting to make sure that everyone had their pitch and their say to try and build this new world. Eventually, it was hammered out that America was controlled by Mega-Corporations, and had splintered into multiple sub-countries thanks to their influence. Spanish and Japanese had become more prevalent and blended with English in America, the police were now privatized nationwide, and crime had spread everywhere. In an amusingly prescient turn, cash was out, and electronic payment was in; and both computers and cell phones had become micro-sized.
Marvel would show off a preview of a new future-based comic in Amazing Spider-Man 365. The first three issues of Spider-Man 2099 were displayed to the public, and it featured a wild and crazy new world. Flying cars, modern slang, and even the new Spider-Man looked drastically different! It would be another month before the book was released, but sales were fantastic. Exact copies sold are hard to find, but Spider-Man 2099 was one of the top-selling books of 1992 alone.
The Spider-Man of the future was Miguel O’Hara, a Latino-Irish American who worked for Alchemax. Despite working for one of the corrupt mega-corporations, he was a shockingly clean research scientist with no skeletons in his closet or drug addictions. Until his boss, Tyler Stone decided to drug him with one of the most addicting drugs on the planet to make sure Miguel remained on board. Desperate to cleanse himself, Miguel tinkered with his DNA… and a jealous rival within the company decided to mix in the DNA of a Spider for the lulz. Considering Miguel was also trying to re-create the lost heroes of 100 years ago, this winds up granting him similar powers to Spider-Man. Organic webbing, enhanced vision, fangs with a venom toxin, claws to climb surfaces, and the traditional enhanced strength and reflexes made a more monstrous Spider-Man for a different future.
Written by Peter David, this Spider-Man was still very quippy. However, he was more of a drier wit heavy with sarcasm and didn’t mind admitting when he was freaked out of his mind. Joining Peter David were Rick Leonardi on pencils, Al Williamson on inks, Steve Buccellato on colors, and Rick Parker on Letters. Together, the book looked remarkably sharp. Intense details and bright colors shone on the reader, and David didn’t mind doing his fair share of world-building. As you can see above, the heroes of 100 years ago had evolved in the world’s view. Thor was worshiped as if he was a modern religious god, and other heroes were fondly remembered for similar reasons.
With Spider-Man and his supporting cast a smashing success, it was time for Stan Lee’s creation to take flight.
Jean-Paul Ravage was CEO of ECO, a company owned by Alchemax that worked to fight corporate and governmental polluters. Since it was the early 90s, this actually made a more significant deal of sense than it does now. However, he was quickly framed for murder by the shadowy board of executives as he began to question the methods used by the company. Injured in his escape and calling himself Ravage now, the man would equip himself in a local junkyard, using cogs as shuriken, an old kevlar vest, and outfitting a garbage truck as his vehicle. Ravage would also fight mutants from the offshore island of Hellrock, an island for dumping radioactive waste and criminals that would result in horrific monsters.
Stan Lee, of course, was the scripter and plotter for the first seven issues, with only plotting the eighth book. The rest of the art crew would change often, but Ravage was co-created by artist Paul Ryan. While Spider-Man had a solid status quo, Ravage almost had the opposite. On the run, Ravage would lose an eye, gained the ability to shoot lasers from his hands, and eventually find himself heading to Hellrock to find one of his friends. There, he would mutate into a different form.
The following month, Marvel unrolled their third new character of the future: Doom. The twist, though? This Doom was the real deal!
Launched by writer John Francis Moore and artist Pat Broderick, Doom’s 2099 incarnation believed himself to be the one, real Victor Von Doom. Christie Scheele added colors, and John Costanza worked on letters. Appearing from a time hole ripped in reality, he wore the classic canon Doom outfit, until a fight with Latveria’s current dictator Tyger Wylde ruined what Doom had brought with him.
John Francis Moore would take a different angle to Doom as a character. Rather than delve into the magic and modern sciences Doom had been known for so far, the book would blend the two with cyberspace in the most Ditko way possible. Pat Broderick works magic with his pencils, making the prediction of the Internet look like something out of the earliest tales of Doctor Strange. This wound up building the world of 2099 up into a kind of magical future where VR actually paid off and merged with cyberspace in the way only comics and movies dreamed of.
The early issues of Doom also focused on Doom gaining new armor and retaking Latveria. Doom as a freedom fighter is an interesting angle, and the book even took the time to show us an updated Wakanda and how internet assassins could work. With three of the four books running, it was up to the Punisher to finish off the first line of comics.
Jake Gallows is an officer for the Public Eye. A privatized police force, the book takes on almost 2000 AD feel. With police protection a paid service rather than a guarantee, the poor are ignored, and the rich get away with literal crimes against them. One such criminal, Kron Stone, slaughters Jake Gallows’ family in front of him, convinced he’s doing the right thing by eliminating a family “pretending” to be happy. When the law lets him get away with a slap on the wrist, Gallows has had enough. With some inspiration from the past…
...Jake Vows to resume his work.
Started by writers Pat Mills and Tony Skinner, they are joined by Tom Morgan on pencils, Jim Palmiotti on inks, Ian Laughlin on colors, and lettered Ken Lopez. The book delves deeply into the justice system of 2099, straddling the line of social commentary and black comedy. Further, Gallows’ family were devout followers of Thor, allowing the comic to explore the concept of religion in 2099 as far as the comics code authority would allow a book to do. As the book continued, Mills and Skinner would dig into the psyche for Jake Gallows, as his strong sense of justice would interfere with the mask he wore for his everyday life. This Punisher even started out wanting to merely punish, granting the super-rich jail sentences in a customized prison rather than death… which lasted only a few issues before the ultra-violence began to affect his mental state.
As the four primary books of 2099 rolled on, each explored this new world in ways that both fascinated and compelled new readers. However, fan demand was incredibly strong for more, so two new books came along in 1993.
2099 Unlimited was a quarterly mag, which focused on an anthology format. At times, the book would focus on some non-David tales of the future Spider-Man, while others would tell unique tales about obscure characters. However, the flagship character of Unlimited was the Hulk.
Made by writer Gerard Jones and artist Dwayne Turner, this future Hulk was a man named John Eisenhart. A reporter in the independent country of California, John found himself investigating the Knights of Banner, a religious group dedicated to purity of body and mind. When a bust he helped set up went bad, a young Bannerite named Galahad set off an illegal gamma device and dosed John with enough gamma radiation to turn him into the lizardlike Hulk of the future.
The final book to join in 1993 was pretty much a given. The X-Men would be the first “team” book to join 2099, and it would be a far cry different from the year 1993. The dream of Charles Xavier had died with him, but so had the fantasies of Magneto. Instead, the Mutant revolution was run by a pacifist named Xi’an Chi Xan, who had the power to destroy anything with his hand (the first-ever case of a secondary mutation would appear later, giving him the power to heal with the other). Along with him were the typical speedster named Meanstreak, a metal-changing fellow named Metalhead, and a few unique characters for the time.
While the book did have a varied cast, it had a focal character of Skullfire. Timothy Fitzgerald was new to the team and acted as the fish out of the water to help introduce the reader to the weird world of Mutants in 2099. While rather plain and ordinary at first, an encounter with a psychic vampire would make him a little more unstable and action-oriented.
As of February 1993, Marvel 2099 has made it their first year, expanded to five books (albeit one as a quarterly magazine), and were doing well on the sales chart. To celebrate, it was decided that there would be a crossover event to tie the books even closer together.
In the pages of Spider-Man 2099, Alchemax unveiled their new floating city, called Valhalla. When unstable engines threatened to crash the palace on New York, a pair of heroes stepped out of the past to save everyone. Thor and Heimdal have returned from Asgard and would take up residence on Valhalla itself. The world, plainly, went nuts as Thor worshippers all tried to move up to be near their God. However, something was fishy in the state of Asgard 2099. As Loki and Baldur also made themselves known, the heroes of 2099 began to uncover the truth: Alchemax had made these new Asier through nanotechnology and modifying civilians who met the right profile. Unfortunately, this also meant that the new Asgardians were beholden to a corrupt corporate ideal, and were also thuggish in their mannerisms.
The event didn’t take up more than a single issue of each comic at the time, making it relatively easy for fans to collect. The plot ran smoothly between issues, but characterization wound up feeling off at times. Spidey would go from objecting to killing to punching the Punisher to snap him out of a literal mental Blue Screen to have him kill two of the Asgardians with a plasma launcher. It wasn’t entirely out of character, but little moments like that left the book feeling disjointed.
Spider-Man 2099 would continue with the issue-by-issue stories, but would eventually spoof the Clone Saga by introducing Flipside. A robot meant to mimic any hero who comes near, it recognized Miguel as a blend of Venom and Spidey of the 90s. As such, it was murderous and lighthearted at the same time… and this was also happening during an extended trip across the country that saw Spidey fall into a Mad Max tribute.
Ravage would find himself continuing to mutate, becoming more beast than man. After a long fight against Deathstryk on the radiated island of Hellrock, Ravage would take control of the island as it’s a ruler but would lose his humanity and what was left of his “normal” friends.
Doom, having claimed Valhalla for his own base of operations, would find a new goal for his future life: world domination. Doom would find himself in the Savage Land, as well as across Europe in order to attain this goal, before turning his gaze on the shattered remains of America itself.
Jake Gallows’ mental state continued to deteriorate as the Punisher book went on. He would become more extreme, over the top violent, and even began to consider his Jake Gallows persona as another person. He would fight his long-thought-dead son and even find out his robotic partner in his cop life was a gold-obsessed serial killer.
The X-Men of the future would wander off into the deserts of Nevada to be left alone but would find themselves running into the previous mutant dreamer of the future, an old man named Zhao. Driven crazy with age, Zhao had modified mutants into pale replicas of the original 5 X-Men. The resulting fight would corrupt the pacifistic Xi’an back to his thuggish self, and he would join the Theater of Pain after running away. Skull fire also found himself entering into a whirlwind romance with La Lunatica, the psychic vampire who had messed with his head earlier.
Marvel 2099 was still running strong with some real critical acclaim by 1994. As such, some new books were added to the roster to expand on the universe even more.
Created by Len Kaminski and his art team of Chris Bachalo and Mark Buckingham, the Ghost Rider of 2099 roared onto the newsstands in May of 1994. The first issue was also colored by Christie Scheele and lettered by both Richard Starkings and John Gaushell. Kenshiro “Zero” Cochrane was a net jacker, a person who would live most of their life in the near-magical 2099 Internet. This life was cut short when Zero’s body was killed when he was online. Rather than ending, Kenshiro was rescued by the secret online AI cabal known as Ghost works.
Seeing society degrade over the years, the group known as Ghostworks was now concerned with mankind surviving into the future. As such, they preserved Zero as code and offered to help him not just get revenge, but also live on and help mankind. Cochrane’s mind would be downloaded into a robot body modeled after the original Ghost Rider.
December of 1994 would bring the Hulk from the pages of 2099 Unlimited and into his own magazine as well, with an ongoing plot to try and keep California free from the other former fragments of the USA.
By this time, while the line was running strong, a few books weren’t selling as well as others. Rather than simply end the books, Joey Cavalieri also wanted to hype up the other books at the time as well. Rather than make another tie-in event, it would be a motion to change all of the books at once. Doom was gunning to rule America, but what if he succeeded?
Part two of 2099, One Nation Under Doom, is coming soon.