Welcome to Longbox Junk, the place to find all the comic reviews you never asked for!
Last time out, I jumped into the future world of Marvel 2099 by taking a look at the first issue of the line's greatest success, Spider-Man 2099. It was the first title put out in the line and Marvel definitely hedged their bets on it kicking off Marvel 2099 with a bang. Their bet paid off. Simply put, it was a great start!
So let's continue our little trip into the future by taking a look at a series that walked the line between grim social commentary and dark comedy. Where Spider-Man 2099 #1 gave us a brief look at the heights and horrors of the ruling Corporations, the comic at hand dives down onto the gritty streets below the skyscrapers, where law enforcement has become a paid commodity usually only available to the wealthy.
A bit of research tells me that Punisher 2099 was actually the fourth and final original 2099 title to be launched, so I'm writing these a bit out of order. I didn't know that when I started. Ravage 2099 and Doom 2099 were the second and third launch titles. I'll get to them soon.
But for now, let's see what happens when a cop on the edge discovers Frank Castle's war journal 100 years down the road from when the original Punisher roamed the streets, shall we? WE SHALL!
PUNISHER 2099 #1
Marvel 2099 (1993)
COVER: Tom Morgan
SCRIPT: Pat Mills & Tony Skinner
PENCILS: Tom Morgan
INKS: Jimmy Palmiotti
Like the Spider-Man 2099 cover, I have to apologize for the poor quality of my scan. I TRIED to angle it a little bit to better capture the flavor of the foil border. . .the dark blue here was even WORSE scanning than Spidey's red. I guess it SORT of worked. You can at least see a little more of the intricate detail embedded in the border this time. These 2099 foil border covers are great, but super hard to scan.
BUT I DIGRESS!
Getting past the cool border, the cover itself. . .well. . .let's just say it's SO 90s that even the 90s are like, "Hey, can you tone it down a little?". It's nicely done, but it definitely hits every checkbox that there is for cliché hyperactive 90s art. The pouches, the shoulder pads, the exaggerated musculature, the weird feet, the crazy looking guns. . .and more. It's all there!
This cover is the sort of cover that someone could easily point at and say, "There. THAT'S the 90s." and most comic fans wouldn't disagree. I'm not saying it's a BAD cover at all. If you were there collecting comics in the 90s, this is the sort of thing that's LOADED with nostalgia. A sort of " so bad it's good" feeling. But enough about the cover. Let's get inside!
We begin our tale following a man as he desperately flees from a gang of "Street Surgeons", criminals who steal organs from living victims and sell them on the black market. The terrified man tries to call the police ("Public Eye" a corporate-owned law enforcement agency) and is told that his account is delinquent, leaving him at the mercy of the Surgeons!
The Surgeons are interrupted during their assault by a hulking man, armored and bristling with weapons. He easily takes down multiple gang members by himself, brutally killing them all and saving their terrified victim.
We switch scenes to the next day, at Alchemax Corporation's Public Eye headquarters. The Chief and his staff are reviewing video from multiple brutal attacks that have been carried over the past few nights. The perpetrator is a mysterious vigilante using some sort of technology to hide his face that they have so far failed to crack.
Special Agent Jake Gallows has been brought on to the case to assist. They review the case with him. . .all the victims were criminals who had already paid their fines and been released. They try to figure out the vigilante's motivations, but can't come to a solid conclusion.
After the meeting, some of the other Public Eye officers are talking about Gallows, and we learn that he recently suffered a tragedy. Gallows' mother, brother, and sister-in-law were all killed and Gallows himself severely wounded by a psychopathic gang during a day at the zoo (shown to us in flashback). Now, Gallows is the only surviving member of his family.
After Gallows recovered from his wounds, the leader of the gang who killed his family was caught and put on trial. It turned out to be Kron Stone, brother of Tyler Stone (from Spider-Man 2099, remember? If not, then check out my review of Spider-Man 2099 #1 HERE
), one of the top executives of Alchemax Corporation. . .who are also the owners of Public Eye.
After being found guilty in court, an unrepentant Stone flippantly paid his massive fine on the spot with his Corporate "Black Card" (basically unlimited funds for extremely privileged Corporate executives). Gallows flew into a rage and attacked Stone in the courtroom, only to be saved from arrest himself by his fellow cops.
After the trial, Gallows was convinced that the legal system no longer works. There's no real justice when someone can just buy their way out of a conviction right in the courtroom.
We then follow Gallows to a hidden place where he and his best friend, Matt Axel, have been storing weapons, armor and equipment for months, waiting for the right moment. That moment has come.
Among the items they've been illegally collecting is an old journal found in the police archives. . .the journal of a man named Frank Castle, but called The Punisher. A journal that now inspires Jake Gallows to become something more than just a cop in a failed system. . .
. . .it inspires Jake Gallows to become a new Punisher for a new age!
The End. . .To be continued.
Okay then. Punisher 2099 #1. Let's break it on down!
The overall impression I get from reading this comic is the same impression I got from the cover. This is a comic that IS the 90s. The narrative offers an overheated, ultra-violent tale of the sort that pretty much defined many 90s comics that came in the aftermath of the Image explosion onto the scene.
That is to say, where Image can be seen as desperately shouting "We want to be Marvel!", at the same time, Marvel (seeing the sales numbers of Image titles) was also shouting "We want to be Image!" in a strange Ouroboros that eventually collapsed the entire comics market.
Punisher 2099 #1 is a gloriously over the top example of the ongoing battle for readers between Image and Marvel that was taking place at the time it came out. And in hindsight 30 years down the road, it was a pretty good effort.
The writers Marvel brought on were British veterans of comic book science fiction dystopia, with work on A.D. 2000's Judge Dredd, as well as Marshall Law and Third World War. You can definitely see shades of Judge Dredd and Marshall Law in Punisher 2099. The choice of writers was a brilliant one for Marvel.
Similar to those British dystopian works mentioned above, the surface veneer of ultra-violence rests on a hidden layer of dark and subversive humor. I'm not sure if comic fans of the time went much deeper than the surface layer, but there are some pretty nasty jabs at the American fetish for violence (while at the same time, trying to enforce a broken sense of ethics) to be found. This can be seen more so in future issues as one reads beyond the first, but there ARE a few hints of the British brand of subversive humor here and there in this issue.
The dark, somewhat exaggerated and almost nightmarish art delivers a solid punch of violence, but stumbles during non-action scenes. Like the story, it positively reeks of the 90s, so enjoyment of the art style will be pretty much based on the reader's tolerance for the signature over-the-top art that defined the 90s. In MY opinion, it's not the best art of the 2099 bunch, but it's the sort of art that an action-packed narrative like Punisher 2099 needs.
BUT, ALL THAT ASIDE. . .
This is a first issue of an ongoing series. There are TWO things (in my humble opinion, of course) that make what I consider a successful first issue. Does it introduce new characters and their situation in a new reader-friendly way? Does it make me want to read more? TWO things. Is that really too much to ask?
The answer to both of these are YES. Maybe not as an enthusiastic yes as I gave Spider-Man 2099, but this comic DOES introduce Jake Gallows and the gritty streets of his future dystopian world quite well. And as a big fan of both Punisher AND Judge Dredd, the Mighty Marvel Mashup of them that is Punisher 2099 makes me want to read more.
If you're a fan of dark, dystopian science fiction with an ultra-violent edge like that found in Judge Dredd, then you will like Punisher 2099. It's basically an Americanized version of that popular British character. Becoming even more so as the series goes on.
If you're expecting intricate storylines and deep narrative, then you're going to be disappointed. This is the sort of comic where you can literally see what you'll be getting with a look at the cover. It's over the top comic book junk food, but it's GOOD over the top comic book junk food. A deliciously violent guilty pleasure.
This a comic book of its time. That time was the early 90s and the competition between Marvel and Image for readers. Of the 2099 line, Punisher 2099 is probably the most frozen in that era (except maybe Ravage 2099, but we'll get THERE in a bit) as regards both story and art.
If you have some nostalgia for 90s comics, then Punisher 2099 will be a decent read. If you shudder with horror at the mention of the "Dark Age of Comics" that was the 90s for a lot of comic fans, then you'll probably want to steer clear. Like I said above. . .look at the cover. That's what you're getting.
This series has never been collected, but the individual issues are extremely easy to find in back issue bins. Over the years I've collected almost the entire run (I think I'm missing 5 or 6 of the 34 issues) just from digging through bargain bins.
Up Next. . .
MORE Marvel 2099!
It was Stan Lee's final ongoing comic series.
Unfortunately, it's also commonly regarded as the worst of the 2099 line.
Let's take a look and see if we can find out why.
Be there or be square.