Friday, 11 December 2015

What If... Essential Spider-Man 2099 volume 1?

Another in this look at hypothetical Essential volumes...

Essential Spider-Man 2099 volume 1 would contain issues #1 to #14 and annual #1 plus the Spider-Man 2099 stories from 2099 Unlimited #1 to #3. These are otherwise available in Spider-Man 2099 Classic volumes 1 & 2. It would be a slightly slim volume but the alternative would be to stop half-way through the "Fall of the Hammer" crossover between the-then five 2099 titles. The writing on the regular series and annual is by Peter David with one back-up story in the annual by Ian Edginton. The art on the regular series is by Rick Leonardi with individual issues by Kelley Jones and Tom Grindberg, whilst the annual is drawn by Ron Lim, Tom Grindberg and Malcolm Davis. The 2099 Unlimited stories are written by Evan Skolnick and drawn by Chris Wozniak.

Marvel has a long history of creating alternative new universes of titles that try to offer a line of comics that are at least somewhat detached from the regular Marvel universe. Other examples over the years have included the New Universe, the MC2 line set a generation into the future and the Ultimate universe. Each has tried to balance the aims of being attractive to existing Marvel fans whilst also being new reader friendly by detaching the characters from what can seem an overwhelming existing universe. How far they go and just what connection they have to the regular universe has varied over the years. Here the idea was to look ahead approximately a century to a world where the heroes were now legends of history but some might take up their mantle. Marvel were not the first to set heroes in the year 2099; it was the year Judge Dredd's stories began. But around the start of the 1990s there was a burst of future set prediction that tried to anticipate the next century - and so far the results show that usually it didn't predict it very well.

The New York of 2099 is a cyberpunk dystopia of the kind common in 1980s and 1990s science fiction. Corporations are in charge with their own police forces. Social divides are ever starker between those living in the high rise hi tech skyscrapers with no end of technical comforts and those living in "Downtown", the ground level rundown old part of the city which includes the Grand Central railway station. There are flying cars, computer holograms, genetic engineering and specially addictive drugs amidst the standard future technology. Concerns of the 1990s are projected forward, whether it's an obsession with virtual reality technology or showing a world where tobacco has been banned. Notably though there are some omissions, particularly smartphones with cameras everywhere which would make a secret identity even harder to maintain. It's a vision of the future that is at once both optimistic about technological advancements but also cynical about the world they will bring with them. It also contains the well worn science fiction cliché of a religion based upon past interventions though there's more logic to it than most as it's based upon worship of Thor, albeit with other heroes such as the original Spider-Man sharing some of the adoration which becomes a minor running theme here.

The era's links to the original "Heroic Age" are mixed but there's absolutely no need to be familiar with individual stories or characters to follow this series at this stage at least, though a cameo by the Doctor Doom of 2099 suggests this is not the case for every character in the line. As is often the case with new universes created in one go there were attempts to provide a broader coherent structure to the whole 2099 line but it's not particularly intrusive here and thus this currently series stands on its own two feet. But it still draws its influences from the main Marvel universe with a successor to the biggest name hero plus over more subtle elements ranging from unstable molecule clothing now being commercially available, albeit expensively, or a foe using the name "Vulture". The precise details of how the "Heroic Age" ended or why the heroes didn't stop the world going the way it did are left unexplored.

There's no link at all between Miguel O'Hara and Peter Parker. Miguel is neither a descendant of Peter (as far as we know though his mixed Irish and Hispanic heritage would suggest against it), nor is he someone who stumbles across a cache of costumes and equipment. Thus the original Spider-Man is just a figure of history and legend. There's also a seemingly conscious desire to do things differently with the origin and powers but subsequent developments in not only the regular Marvel universe but also the Ultimate line and both sets of movies now mean that far from being a radically different origin, this is instead a forerunner of things to come. Just as radiation was the amazing science of the early 1960s that drove the original Spider-Man's origin, so too was genetic engineering the amazing science of the 1990s which now creates Spider-Man 2099. In both cases it's frankly nonsense but then a lot of science fiction takes contemporary scientific advancements to spin tall tales out of them. Also reflecting contemporary concerns is the role of an amoral corporation whose developments and flaws cause the accidents that lead to the hero's powers. It should come as no surprise that Ultimate Spider-Man and both sets of movies, all of which came in the next couple of decades, have used a similar combination of genetic engineering and corporations to empower their Spider-Men. Equally of note given the controversy when it later happened to Peter is the use of organic webshooters. No more is Spider-Man restrained by web fluid running out at the worst possible moment or the shooters jamming or even foes deliberately crushing them. Together with a stylised costume that has a very different look and focus we get that rare thing, a Spider-Man for a new age whose existence in no way threatens the original one we all know and adore.

Miguel is very different from Peter, often seemingly deliberately so. His story begins in adulthood (and one of the downsides of the name "2099" is that everything has to take place in a single year; a problem that should have been spotted after the experience of the Iron Man of 2020), working as a scientist for a corporation and already engaged. Most of his family are still alive though his father is already dead and his relations with the rest of the family are all tetchy. Miguel is quite a wise-cracker unmasked whereas as Spider-Man he's mostly silent. And there's less of the traditional morality, enhanced by Spider-Man having retractable claws that don't just allow him to climb walls but can also be vicious and even lethal in battle, using his claws without care for wounds and even letting foes fall to their deaths. The 1990s was very much an era of dark anti-heroes and it's unsurprising that this approach manifests itself here. But it comes with a risk. There's more to Spider-Man than the name and powers derived from a spider and reading through these stories it's hard to feel that Miguel is a valid spiritual successor to Peter and worthy of the name. Now that scenario is not an invalid approach in itself when it's tackled head on to establish whether or not the new lead is worthy of the mantle of the old and indeed what is the very essence to qualify. But there's none of that here. Instead the series is drifting towards simply using the name as a hook to bring readers in.

It's not completely there though. There are a number of developments that try to recreate some of the feel and spirit of the original Spider-Man stories for a new age. A strong attempt is made to develop an interesting supporting case, starting with Miguel's fiancée Dana D'Angelo, though curiously the stories in 2099 Unlimited instead show Miguel involved with a lady called Anna Coye. The similarities of the names suggest that Evan Skolnick was probably working off an early set of notes that were subsequently modified but it's also a sign of weak editorial control when the 2099 line was presented as a more joined up and co-ordinated universe than was normally the case. The other main woman in Miguel's life isn't human but a computer called Lyla, who interacts via a holographic projection that is currently in the form of Marilyn Monroe and who appears to be developing feelings for Miguel. Rounding out the initial main cast is Miguel's younger brother Gabriel, who tries to reach out to him despite disagreements over corporate ethics. The two O'Hara men have dated some of the same women over the years such as Gabriel's current girlfriend Kasey Nash, making for some interesting situations. It gets even more complicated when Kasey falls for Spider-Man. Later on we're introduced to Conchata, Miguel and Gabriel's mother, and see their father George in flashbacks. It's a tense family history with each parent having different expectations for each of their sons and how it's left Miguel bitter until now. However these characters so far lack the charm and excitement of a traditionally well done supporting cast.

There are a variety of foes, some with more lasting power than others. At the core of the series is the struggle with the Alchemax corporation and its chief executive Tyler Stone, with Miguel resenting his employer ever more and indeed he gains the Spider-Man powers when seeking to escape the drug addiction control Stone forces upon him. Foes Alchemax they deploy include the bounty hunter Venture in the origin three parter. They also control the Public Eye, the privately run police force of the era. When Sergeant Estevez fails to kill Spider-Man he is summarily dismissed and all his possessions seized in severance, leaving him trying to regain his job by achieving the kill. Rival corporation Stark-Fujikawa deploys the techno samurai the Specialist. A joint project between the two produces Siege, who uses SItuation Emergency GEar, showing that the future still has awkward names devised purely to generate a pronounceable acronym. Siege doesn't last long, becoming cannon fodder to introduce the mysterious Thanatos, an enhanced warrior dressed in something resembling ancient Greek armour and waging war on Alchemax. He also comes with his own pre-existing foe, the equally mysterious dimensional wandering Net Prophet. At the lower level Downtown, the deprived part of the city, contains the Watchdogs gang and the Vulture 2099, a sign of societal degeneration who has turned cannibal. The annual introduces the Fenris Gang, another grouping though it's underdeveloped at this stage, and Chernobyl, a 20th century Soviet agent caught in suspended animation when his submarine sank. The stories from 2099 Unlimited largely stand alone and develop Mutagen, a foe obsessed with preventing the transmission of genetic diseases and seeks to achieve this by killing carriers so they don't do what he did to his daughter. There's also a completely forgettable mad scientist who is killed off in his debut story without leaving any sense of a lost opportunity.

This series and supporting stories certainly make a good effort to develop both the characters and the world around them, and there are some other good developments such as the Spiderite movement, an offshoot of the Thor worship, with many followers dressing as Spider-Man to various degrees of trouble. There's also a lot of hints that Miguel's identity is not as well hidden as the traditional superhero's, injecting a degree of realism into the classic scenario. But overall this is a very lacklustre series primarily riding off the back of the name "Spider-Man". Peter David makes a strong effort to bring the characters to life but too often they fall flat, as though in trying to be original too much of what makes the original Spider-Man work is deliberately ignored. The result is a series that just fails to excite at this critical starting stage. 2099 hasn't dated at all well and on its own merits this series doesn't stand out as one needing collecting. Recent revivals have, however, generated more interest in the character which could make a hypothetical Essential a useful release.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...