Last week, it’ became official, and it’s officially no surprise to anyone that it will happen in the Spring, just before the next movie comes out: Peter Parker is returning. Dan Slott and Humberto Ramos have been killing it with this book. Slott’s been writing Spider-Man now longer than anyone, ever. And he’s still full of ideas, still keeping it fresh. This is an example where I trust the logic in the reboot, even if it irritates me that they are renumbering Amazing Spider-Man with #1 instead of #701. I’m an old-fashioned fan of sequential numbering. Sue me.
But at the same time, the Ultimate Universe is getting a complete facelift…And talent lift. When the UU launched 15 years ago, it was a grand experiment in updating Marvel heroes in the modern era. But with so much time passing it’s…Not modern anymore. And the stories have gotten stale. It really started with Ultimates 3 when Jeph Loeb killed everything and told stories that didn’t make any sense.
In April, after Galactus eats a bunch of stuff, the Ultimate U will be reborn with just a few books. Frankly, all of these titles have potential—mostly because of the people attached to them:
- Ultimate Spider-Man. Brian Michael Bendis has written every issue of this comic, and he’s stay on board for the reboot along with artist David Marquez. This is one of Bendis’ best titles, and always has been, so there’s no reason to break it. It’s the one thing in the Ultimate Universe that’s never been broken.
- All-New Ultimates. Mike Morales, the man behind the Ultimate Spider-Man’s mask, will lead a new team of young heroes in a book to be written by indie favorite Michael Fiffe. Fiffe’s “Copra” book has been praised by pretty much everyone as a great update of DC’s Suicide Squad concept. Personally, the book didn’t excite me—but I didn’t hate it. The art will be by Amilcar Pinna, who did some nice work on X-Men: First Class (a very underrated title). The team is pretty female-centric, and all teenagers: Kitty Pryde, Spider-Woman (who will now go by the name Black Widow, even though she’s still red), Bombshell, Cloak and Dagger. It appears to be a street-level book.
- Ultimate FF. The Fantastic Four haven’t had an Ultimate book in a while, and this one will be written by Joshua Hale Fialkov—who is currently writing for the Ultimate Universe—with art by Mario Guevara. I’m a fan of Fialkov’s writing, but I haven’t loved his Ultimate work. So, we’ll see. It looks like the foursome, based on the cover, are Falcon, Susan Storm, Iron Man, and Machine Man. Since the first two titles feature Spider-Man, we can assume this will be the “big threats” type book. Also, because there’s no Avengers. At least, not yet.
I’m reserving judgment on this. Marvel appears to be rebooting its titles regularly now, and I’m not against that concept, but so far the reboots haven’t improved the overall quality of Marvel’s comics. They still have a large number of good, solid reads; a few gems like Hawkeye; and a bunch of run-of-the-mill titles that are about as good as the best DC books out there. Marvel is still the leader in superhero storytelling (although a few upstart books are definitely giving Marvel a run for its money), and it makes sense that they’re trying to be the leaders in marketing as well.
In the 1990s, Marvel was failing. Flailing, actually. It was owned by the head of Revlon, who didn’t are about comics and cared even less about the creators. The most popular in the industry left to form Image, Valiant, and other independent companies, while stalwart mainstays like Chris Claremont found themselves relegated from lofty, powerful positions to mere freelancers. In an effort to put Spider-Man, Ghost Rider, and Punisher in more comics, Marvel launched the 2099 line.
And it was actually pretty good.
Or, at least half of it was.
The line debuted with four titles. Spider-Man 2099 was given to Peter David and Rick Leonardi, a Spider-Man A-team. David was famous for killing Jean DeWolff, and Leonardi illustrated the main Amazing Spider-Man title for years. It was a good launch, and a good comic.
The book starts with Miguel O’Hara working and designing products for a big corporation, Alchemax, run by a vaguely evil-ish old white dude. As a result of the company’s research, Miguel gets his powers. Sound familiar? That’s because both Ultimate Spider-Man and The Amazing Spider-Man movie borrowed heavily from this narrative. And even more interesting: Marvel launched its 2099 with Spider-Man, and also launched its Ultimates line with Spider-Man.
Peter David does a great job at creating a distinct universe, one that isn’t full of cyphers of folks who surround Peter Parker in the 616, but he also pays appropriate homage through the character of Lyla, O’Hara’s constant computer-hologram companion…
Yes. We’re off to a good start. 1 for 1. Then came Ravager, written by Stan Lee, and nothing (nothing!) could make me read that. You should also avoid it.
But Punisher 2099 and Doom 2099 on the other hand…
As part of my irregular “evolution of the Punisher” series, I always intended to read at least a few issues of Punisher 2099. It’s really the only major take on the character that I haven’t looked at yet. But, while I was at it, I thought about Spider-Man 2099—a well-reviewed book by one of my favorite authors, but one I’ve never read, or even really thought about reading.
Spider-Man 2099 was a crisp, fast-paced romp—much like the tone of Ultimate Spider-Man, which introduced the Ultimate line of books a decade later. Doom and Punisher are quite different, and each in their own way are great examples of how to reimagine a major character.
Doom 2099 in many ways was the most interesting. Unlike the other books, this title actually stars the “real” Doctor Doom, who is time displaced and arrives in 2099 Latveria confused and angered by what has happened to his country. In this way, writer John Francis Moore turns Victor Von Doom into a future version of Captain America: A man out of time, a symbol of what his country once was, and a champion of the values of the past.
It even turns him from a megalomaniac into a protector:
Doom 2099 stands in stark contrast to Punisher 2099. The latter is extremely similar to the Punisher of the 616, even down the ominous character name (Jake Gallows). But where Doom is a time traveler, Gallows finds the original Punisher’s War Journals, and uses them to create his own vigilante identity and avenge wrongs done to his loved ones. The similarity of storyline and character should not dissuade you from reading the book, however: Punisher 2099 is, based on the first half-dozen issues I’ve read so far, one of the best Punisher stories ever.
The author, Pat Mills, came to Marvel from writing Judge Dredd—a horrendously violent antiauthoritarian book about a lawman who serves as judge, jury, and executioner. Similarly, Punisher 2099 is a police officer who wears the white skull shirt on his off time. The writing, as you can see above, is gritty and tough—and very well done. But it’s flourishes that make this book so neat: Punisher has his own prison in the basement, and a gallows–how is it the 616 Punisher never did that?
Other interesting aspects of this new universe: The people of the 2099 worship Thor (who hasn’t appeared on Earth in years) as the one true God–a stark contrast to the need for vigilante justice. And Hulk is truly bestial.
The launch was successful enough that X-books followed, as well as a Ghost Rider who was basically the same as every other Ghost Rider: He looked cool, but his comic sucked.