The Best of Marvel 2099
Or, How I Learned to Like What I Like
Travis Hedge Coke
I can, with little doubt, narrow down where I learned that there could, easily, be a dramatic difference in quality between two things marketed together. When I was a little kid, anything Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was good. Because, it was Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Any issue of Fantastic Four was gold, whether it was really amazing or just so-so. I was satisfied by the imprint or the big concept.
Peter Lamborn Wilson, when I was twelve or thirteen, pointed out that the main story in a comic was terrible, or at least, blah, but the backup was good stuff. That was Marvel 2099 Unlimited, an anthology book in the Marvel 2099 line.
An imprint, published back in the 1990s, taking place in and after the year 2099 in what could be the future of the traditional Marvel Universe, Marvel 2099 consisted of a variety of ongoing monthly series and the occasional oneshot. Within months of the first wave of comics, I think the idea that you could distinguish quality, that an imprint or world wasn’t all of one quality, was truly crystalizing in my brain. At the same time, I was aware that my friends liked different comics than I did, even in the same niche, and I had to reconcile their tastes and mine being different without anyone being wrong.
Prior to this, if my friends liked something I probably did, too. At most, we’d like different characters or like it for different reasons. But, there could be a crap comic and a great one in the same anthology? In the same line?
Punisher 2099 cracked me up, continuously. Tony Skinner (co-writer) and Tom Morgan (penciler) were great, and Pat Mills is rightly a legend. In retrospect, that Mills was on a normal Marvel book (Marvel also published the US release of some of Marshall Law) is alone an amazing event. At the time, I just knew it read like nothing else at Marvel and was making fun of things I wanted to see mocked and generally did not.
Upping the machismo and the apologist nature of the action story to ridiculous levels, Punisher 2099, was balls to the wall satire where everyone was horrible and everything fell into place because there was a social system that rewarded horrible everyone and everything. A police officer who moonlighted as a vigilante, the comic featured a psychiatrist being tasked to our protagonist, highlighting how dangerous he was, and while confirming his instability, she started sleeping with him and became enamored with his hard-on action star bull.
Other than my younger brother, who argued with me that it wasn’t meant to be funny, no one I knew preferred it to Spider-Man 2099, except for me. My friends liked the Spidey title and, while I tried to, I’d read part of an issue and get tired. Or, I’d make it through three issues and feel unchanged, feel like I’d just slept, basically, through reading them. For me, Spider-Man 2099 did not and would never matter. It didn’t do anything
And, I wanted comics that did stuff to me. That changed me. That moved me or twisted me around and reshaped my life. I was not hugely demanding, but I had a limit.
So, were my friends wrong? Were they mistaken about the quality of this comic they preferred?
They were getting changed, or at least, getting rewarded by the Peter David book they liked. My not enjoying it could not change this.
By the time Warren Ellis took over on Doom 2099, there was no chance something as safe and lazy as a Spider-Man who has a romance with his artificially-willed woman-shaped doorbell was going to click with me. Heck, Doom 2099 under Ellis chased off the penciler he inherited, and since I hold one of his covers as an example of the lowest Marvel can sink in terms of quality, this was good. The book was getting better all the time. But, it was immediately a jump ahead from the previous writer, who was not bad, but also was not amazing.
Len Kaminski’s Ghost Rider 2099, with Chris Bachalo on art, made me wonder, even then, if they were trying to get fired. In an early issue, Ghost Rider charges off to assault fascist police with the declaration that it is “time to carve some pork.” The Comics Code Authority was asleep at the wheel or something. Something. Something was up.
Dr Doom was taking over America from fascists and unveiling Captain America to pacify the people. Punisher was a huge criminal, but you knew he was never going to fail, never going to get busted for real. And, there were short comics in Marvel 2099 Unlimited that were just crazy good. Brutal, weird little shorts that would not fit anywhere else at Marvel. R Gang, a goofy, almost Troma-esque Our Gang pastiche written and drawn by Bob Fingerman. Ned Sonntag’s Kid Current, Online! about more literal-than-usual cyberspace cowboys, complete with digital horses. The Warren Ellis, D’Israeli, and Marie Javins Metalscream stories, with folks in leathers named Painqueen, Necrosis, and, naturally, Metalscream, aka John, aka (in his wishes), Please, Master Don’t Hurt Me, or by his assistant, Litany Kirkpatrick, “Ashtray Head.” Ian Edginton wrote Lachryma, about a holy order of vampire nuns. Kyle Baker drew a Duke Stratosphere short.
These, like the other 2099 comics were edited primarily by Joey Cavalieri, until he was fired and the bulk of the talent left all the books immediately. But, there was Spider-Man and there was an X-Men 2099, other 2099 comics that just didn’t keep me. X-Men had some interesting hooks, but it was a collection of names and designs without a point. The satire of a future Vegas was old to me by the time I was barely in my teens. The possibility an old black woman could be Storm didn’t hold much for me. So what? And, if so, why is the only black woman Storm? That seemed weird to me. Like they were so rare and mythical if you saw one a hundred years later, it had to be the same person.
I didn't care. It was liberating to realize, during those years, how little it mattered. That it, in fact, did not matter.
Not only could I like the stuff I liked, I was under no obligation to understand or keep up with what did nothing for me but bore or annoy me. I did not have to learn it, or retain it. I did not have to get worked up over its events, no matter how “earth-shattering” or “must-buy” they were sold as. The next issue, even, ultimately did not matter as much as the issue I had in my hands, when I had it in hand.
I wasn’t there for comics. I had no duty to be a good consumer. They had to step up to me. Comics, entertainment, media had to give me the time of day. They had to get my attention and reward my time. Or, I could let them go and focus on what did.