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If you've ever been Longbox Junkin' through a bargain bin, I can GUARANTEE you've seen some Marvel 2099 comics. Like Marvel's New Universe, the early "We wanna be Marvel" Image, and just about anything from Valiant or Malibu, Marvel 2099 comics are some of the ubiquitous bread and butter books that can be found in almost ANY bargain bin out there.
But what IS Marvel 2099? Why are there so many of them in the buck-a-book-bins? Are they worth reading? SO MANY QUESTIONS! Well, I've decided to dive into the world of Marvel 2099 over the next few Longbox Junk posts and see if I can find some answers.
Let's tackle the first question first. What IS Marvel 2099?
The basic answer is that Marvel 2099 was a project by Marvel Comics launched in 1992 to showcase the mainstream Marvel Universe 100 years in the future (107 years, actually. But who's counting?). In a nutshell. . .science fiction superhero comics.
The setting was a dark, dystopian, cyberpunk future where powerful corporations basically run the world. The superheroes of the past are long gone (due to some sort of calamity that isn't really explained. . .it has something to do with Doctor Doom) and are pretty much legends of a time called "The Heroic Age". But now a NEW age of heroes is at hand!
Marvel 2099 launched with four original series. . .Spider-Man 2099, Doom 2099, Punisher 2099, and Ravage 2099. Of the four, only Ravage was based on an entirely new character and not a re-imagined future version of an existing character. Not to digress, and we'll discuss this more later, but Ravage 2099 also has the distinction of being Stan Lee's last work on a monthly comic series.
The 2099 imprint was an immediate hit with readers, with Spider-Man 2099 being the most popular title, and remaining the most popular 2099 title to this very day, where Spider-Man 2099 has been in several series post-2099 collapse, and still makes fairly regular guest appearances.
The rest of the 2099 titles were also popular enough that Marvel continued to release 2099 titles until 1998. Another victim of the collapse of the comic industry in general around that time. They were comics that were highly-regarded by fans at the beginning, and hardly-noticed at the end.
Over the next few Longbox Junk entries, I'm going to take a look at the first issues of some of these 2099 comics. First up is the top dog of the bunch, the aforementioned Spider-Man 2099.
It's the only 2099 character that has managed to outlive the imprint itself, and the only one that is even the least bit "collectible" today. And when I say "collectible", what I mean is that a nice clean graded and slabbed 9.6 copy of Spider-Man 2099 #1 will get you about $100. That ain't retirement money, folks.
SO. . .
It's not worth much to collectors, but still seems to be pretty popular.
Now the question becomes, "Is it any good?"
Spider-Man in a dark, cyberpunk future. Let's check it out!
SPIDER-MAN 2099 #1
Marvel 2099 (1992)
COVER: Rick Leonardi
Begin the Future History of Spider-Man 2099
SCRIPT: Peter David
PENCILS: Rick Leonardi
INKS: Al Williamson
90s-TASTIC! My apologies for the poor scan that doesn't properly show off the shiny red foil border. I tried several times and this is the best I could do. I looked online and it seems a lot of people have the same problem. That red foil just does NOT scan well. Trust me, it looks SO good. BUT I DIGRESS!
What we have here is a wonderful portrait of Spider-Man 2099 leaping into action, nicely showcasing the new Spidey's cool costume design! The bright yellow title has a really interesting look and contrasts perfectly with the shiny red foil that you can't really see here. THIS is a cover that jumps out and catches the eye!
It's such a great cover in just about every way (There ARE the weird 90s feet, but nothing is perfect, right?). I just love this cover! I'm not even a Spider-Man fan, but this awesome 90s cover makes me want to get inside and check this comic out, so let's GO!
New York (er. . .NUEVA York), 2099. We begin our tale in progress as the Alchemax Corporate police force called Public Eye pursue a mysterious and highly-agile costumed figure through the towering downtown skyscrapers. He manages to eventually elude them by going to ground and blending into the crowd at a shopping mall. . .
The mysterious figure makes his way home to Babylon Towers, a luxury apartment building owned by the Alchemax Corporation. Here, we learn that his name is Miguel O'Hara and are introduced to his virtual personal assistant, Lyla, as Miguel watches video messages he's received over the past five days.
The messages from his employer Tyler Stone, his best friend Gabe, and his fiancée Dana introduce us to several supporting characters. They are all deeply concerned in one way or another about some sort of serious situation or incident that Miguel was involved in. Miguel ignores the messages and begins making a journal entry. . .
O'Hara is (or WAS) a hotshot genetic scientist working for Alchemax Corporation. He was working on a project to create a superior "Corporate Raider". A genetically-enhanced special operative to do Corporate dirty work. He was basing his research on a figure of the long past "Heroic Age" called Spider-Man, who seems to have been genetically-enhanced with spider DNA somehow.
The head of O'Hara's research department, Tyler Stone, demands that the project be tested on a human subject. Miguel protests that the project isn't ready for human trials yet, but Tyler is O'Hara's superior and insists the trial go forward on a convict that has been chosen.
Miguel reluctantly agrees and performs a modified trial run on the convict meant to enhance his DNA for increased strength by combining it with an ape. The experiment goes badly and the convict is transformed into a twisted mutant with superhuman strength that attacks Miguel, but dies quickly after breaking free. Miguel is horrified, while the other scientists are pleased with the progress.
Miguel is so shaken by the incident he was forced to take part in that he immediately goes to Stone's office and resigns from Alchemax. Tyler seems sympathetic to Miguel's reasons for resigning and even shares a drink with him.
Unfortunately for Miguel, Tyler reveals soon after their toast that the drink contained Rapture. . .an extremely powerful and highly-addictive drug created by Alchemax. A drug that bonds with the DNA and makes escape from addiction to it almost impossible. And since Alchemax is the only one who manufactures Rapture, Tyler is certain that Miguel will "reconsider" his resignation.
Horrified by the thought of becoming a chemically addicted slave to Alchemax, Miguel tries to fight the effects of the Rapture and fails. He violently attacks his fiancée when she tries to calm him down. Miguel reveals how he's been tricked into being addicted to Rapture. Dana understands, but is unable to help him.
Miguel resolves to not become a slave. He comes up with a desperate plan to sneak back into his Alchemax lab and subject himself to the DNA combining process he's been working on. The experiment has Miguel's DNA profile encoded in its files, so he can replace his Rapture mutated DNA with a copy of his own clean and unaltered DNA.
It's a good plan, and it seems to be working. Unfortunately for Miguel, another scientist on the project finds O'Hara during the process. The scientist, Aaron Delgato, is a rival of O'Hara's and believes that he's been pushed aside and his contributions to the project ignored while Miguel takes all the credit.
Delgato sabotages the experiment by shutting off the safety overrides and injecting a random DNA profile into the process. . .the spider DNA O'Hara was hoping to use to create an enhanced Corporate Raider.
The sabotaged equipment explodes, but the sequencing had completed. Delgato is stunned to see O'Hara stagger from the wreckage. . .somehow alive! He confronts Miguel, gloating about how Stone will put O'Hara away forever for destroying the lab, but is horrified to discover that Miguel O'Hara has been mutated by the experiment into a horrific human-like creature with fangs and claws. . .Dun-Dun-DUUUUUN!!
The End. . .To Be Continued.
It's plain to see that Marvel learned some lessons from their failed "New Universe" initiative a few years prior to Marvel 2099. They weren't taking any chances THIS time around! Marvel hedged their bets by rolling out Spider-Man 2099 first, with legendary modern comic veteran writer Peter David on the story. And they were absolutely right that the magic was there this time!
I'm not a big Spider-Man fan, so I know Peter David more as an Incredible Hulk writer (where he had an award-winning TWELVE YEAR run), and I could definitely see shades of the Hulk in this story of science gone wrong. I'd go so far as to say that this seems more like a proxy Hulk story than a Spider-Man story at all!
Yeah, it's DNA manipulation instead of Gamma Rays, but the same sense of scientific body horror is present in Miguel O'Hara's origin. And THAT'S what I really like about this story. David didn't take the easy path of making the 2099 Spider-Man a clone or a descendant of Peter Parker, but something entirely different.
Instead of a wisecracking teenager learning that "With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility", we get a desperate adult scientist trying to save himself from becoming a chemically addicted corporate slave in a horror-tinged origin story that really seems more like one for a Spider-Man VILLAIN.
It works! This is a GREAT origin story that ends on a cliffhanger that makes me want MORE!
On the art side of things, Marvel further hedged their bets on Spider-Man 2099 by putting veteran artist Rick Leonardi on the job. I know Leonardi more for his DC work (and the original 4 issue Cloak and Dagger series), but Marvel definitely picked the right man for the job here!
His pencils are the PERFECT compliment to the science fiction horror story being told here. There's some superhero action frontloaded in this issue, but this tale really needed someone who could make the NON-superhero parts that are the majority of the issue sing just as fine.
Those of you who have been reading Longbox Junk for a while now know that I have boiled down my requirements for a good first issue into the following TWO things: Does it introduce new characters and their situation well? Does it make me want to read more? For Spider-Man 2099 the answers are yes and yes!
Marvel hedged their bets on this book being what was going to kick off Marvel 2009 with a bang and they were absolutely right. Their choice of Peter David and Rick Leonardi as the creative team gave this comic (and Marvel 2099 in general) a of a running start!
In this issue, we get a great science fiction horror story with shades of the Incredible Hulk as a new character's origin. The setting is solid, the conflict rings with horrible truth, and the main character is interesting enough that I want to read more.
Spider-Man 2099 #1 is a win from cover to cover and fully deserves a Longbox Junk gold seal of approval. If you're a fan of horror-tinged cyberpunk science fiction then check this one out even if you aren't a fan of Spider-Man! It's been collected, it's online, and you can even still find copies of #1 in the bargain bins (I found one just last week in a two dollar box), so it's not hard to find.
Up Next. . .
Spider-Man 2099 got our little trip into the dark future of Marvel comics off to a good start. Now it's time to get into the gritty, violent streets of the city.
What happens when a cop on the edge discovers the journal of a certain Frank Castle 100 years in the future? Let's find out in the first issue of Punisher 2099!
Be there or be square.