The GeeksverseLeaving Proof 279 | A Marvel 2099 Retrospective, Part 1: The Past Through Tomorrow

Leaving Proof 279 | A Marvel 2099 Retrospective, Part 1: The Past Through Tomorrow
Published on Sunday, September 20, 2015 by
The recent reintroduction of the Marvel 2099 brand in Marvel’s ongoing Secret Wars event has revived our interest in the imprint. Join us after the jump on a journey to the decade of pogs, hypercolor t-shirts, and holographic foil covers as we uncover the secret origin of Marvel 2099!

Author’s Note: Click on the links below to read the Marvel 2099 retrospective columns:

As with all the art I post on this site, the images below are being shared in the spirit of fair use.

A future that never was: The Marvel World of Tomorrow

Because of the late 1992 launch of the first comics to be published under the Marvel 2099 imprint, the line is often dismissed as just another one of Marvel’s flailing attempts in the early and mid-1990s to respond to the seismic industry shifts brought about by the founding of Image Comics by former Marvel Comics superstar artists, the revitalization of Dark Horse Comics as a home for premier veteran comics talent, and the migration of many of its most reliable and experienced staffers to long-time rival DC Comics.

Excerpt from the "Stan's Soapbox" article in Marvel Age #90 (July 1990) [Click to enlarge].

Excerpt from the ‘Stan’s Soapbox” article in Marvel Age #90 (July 1990) [Click to enlarge].

However, the origins of the concept that would become the Marvel 2099 imprint actually stretches all the way back to 1990 (and probably even before that), a time when the marketplace was less competitive and unpredictable than the free-for-all that was 1992.

It was Marvel Comics figurehead Stan Lee himself who first tipped readers to the plan to create a version of the Marvel superhero universe set in the future. In the final paragraph of Lee’s regular column in Marvel Age #90 (cover date July 1990), he teased readers with the revelation that he had been working with one of the day’s “most popular writer/artists” to create “a whole new super hero world—based on a unique concept that will give Mighty Marvel an entire array of heroes and villains such as you’ve never seen before!” (Due to the way cover dates work in comics, this particular issue of Marvel Age actually appeared in comics shops in April 1990.)

It was in the following month’s Marvel Age #91 that Lee, in his typically bombastic huckster style, finally announced that he was reuniting with John Byrne—they had previously collaborated on a Silver Surfer one-shot released in 1982—on a graphic novel project called The Marvel World of Tomorrow. According to Lee, the book would feature “a Marvel universe skewed to a different time, with different dangers, different powers, and different dramas.” Byrne would be illustrating and co-plotting the book, while Lee was on board as a scripter and co-plotter.

“Stan’s Soapbox” article in Marvel Age #91 (August 1990) [Click to enlarge].

“Stan’s Soapbox” article in Marvel Age #91 (August 1990) [Click to enlarge].

“Stan’s Soapbox” article in Ghost Rider #5 (September 1990) [Click to enlarge].

“Stan’s Soapbox” article in Ghost Rider #5 (September 1990) [Click to enlarge].

Lee would share an abbreviated version of the Marvel Age announcement in the Stan’s Soapbox column that appeared in Marvel publications cover-dated for September 1990 for good measure.

Now keep in mind, this was all happening at a time before the Internet as we now know it existed, and before “breaking comics news” was a thing. For most readers, Stan’s Soapbox was the only source of reliable information regarding progress on The Marvel World of Tomorrow. In the November 1990 edition of the column, Lee shared two more important details about the work: The Marvel World of Tomorrow was just a tentative working title. The book would be set in “the near future” with a cast of never-before-seen heroes and villains, but with recognizable remnants of current Marvel superhero institutions such as the international super-spy organization S.H.I.E.L.D. (put a pin on that S.H.I.E.L.D. reference, as we will circle back to it later in this article).

“Stan’s Soapbox” article in Ghost Rider #7 (November 1990) [Click to enlarge].

“Stan’s Soapbox” article in Ghost Rider #7 (November 1990) [Click to enlarge].

The topic of The Marvel World of Tomorrow would come up again in the January 1991 edition of Stan’s Soapbox. This time, Lee shared with readers the name of the book’s hero and villain: the protagonist was named Ravage, and the big bad was called Dethstryk. (Remember kids, it was the ‘90s. Everything had to be extreme and hardcore to the max!)

“Stan’s Soapbox” article in Ghost Rider #11 (January 1991) [Click to enlarge].

“Stan’s Soapbox” article in Ghost Rider #9 (January 1991) [Click to enlarge].

In the April 1991 edition of Stan’s Soapbox, Lee promised to reveal the actual title of The Marvel World of Tomorrow in the following month’s column.

“Stan’s Soapbox” article in Ghost Rider #12 (January 1991) [Click to enlarge].

“Stan’s Soapbox” article in Ghost Rider #12 (April 1991) [Click to enlarge].

So the next month rolls around and… there’s no Stan’s Soapbox. The following month brings an April Fool’s Day-themed Stan’s Soapbox with a bunch of joke announcements (Archie Comics buying both Marvel and DC, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles joining the X-Men).

The next month comes and there are still no updates on The Marvel World of Tomorrow. And the same goes for the next month, and the month after that, and so on and so forth. It doesn’t take much for The Marvel World of Tomorrow to fall from the public consciousness, given the roller coaster that was the comics industry of the early 1990s. In a matter of months, Marvel would go from reaching a new world record for most copies of a single issue sold (eight million, a record that stands to this day) with writer Chris Claremont and artist Jim Lee’s X-Men #1 to seeing both Chris Claremont and Jim Lee leave under a cloud of acrimony (the former would end up working for DC Comics, the latter would co-found Image Comics with several other disgruntled Marvel artists).

So what happened to The Marvel World of Tomorrow?

John Byrne shed some light into the situation in 1993, writing in the introduction to the John Byrne’s Next Men, Book One paperback that Stan Lee had indeed recruited him to work as the lead architect on a Marvel “Futureverse” project. Byrne did start work on a 64-page graphic novel featuring a future setting extrapolated from Marvel’s then-current superhero universe. When—citing the need to maintain his artistic integrity—Byrne became convinced that he had to “take back that part of the work that was exclusively [his],” he simply excised the Marvel superhero elements from the project and retooled what was left into an original graphic novel. That graphic novel was subsequently published in late 1991 by Dark Horse Comics as John Byrne’s 2112.

Excerpt from John Byrne's introduction to the John Byrne's 2112 hardcover graphic novel (November 1991) [Click to enlarge].

Excerpt from the introduction to the John Byrne’s 2112 hardcover graphic novel (November 1991) [Click to enlarge].

However, nothing truly goes to waste in the creative petri dish that is the collaborative comics environment, where the DNA of discarded concepts and designs can combine and recombine to produce in artists and writers the motivation for an “original” creation. Remember how Stan Lee mentioned in one of his 1990 Stan’s Soapbox columns that S.H.I.E.L.D. would be a fixture in The Marvel World of Tomorrow? Squint hard enough and 2112’s private military contracting company Safeguard, Inc. could pass for a privatized, future version of Marvel’s elite espionage agency.

2112SafeguardInc

Page detail from John Byrne’s 2112 [Click to enlarge].

Squint some more and Tannen (a.k.a. Agent Red), 2112’s gruff, one-eyed super-soldier deuteragonist, starts looking like he was partially inspired by Marvel’s Nick Fury.

Page detail from John Byrne's 2112 [Click to enlarge].

Page detail from John Byrne’s 2112 [Click to enlarge].

While Byrne may have left with his portion of The Marvel World of Tomorrow, Marvel still wanted to pursue the commercial potential of a line of comics set in a futuristic Marvel superhero universe. As comics historian Sean Howe wrote in his excellent book Marvel Comics: The Untold Story:

With pressure to beat 1991’s astronomical sales figures, [Marvel Editor-in-Chief Tom DeFalco] and the editorial staff focused on its big launches…

[… ]

A discarded Stan Lee/John Byrne project about Marvel characters in the year 2099 was retooled into an entire new line of comics: futuristic versions of Spider-Man, the Punisher, and Doctor Doom provided plenty of collectible product.

Perhaps learning a lesson from Lee’s premature reveal of The Marvel World of Tomorrow, Marvel didn’t take the wraps off what would be called its Marvel 2099 imprint until August 1992, a month before the first Marvel 2099 title was to hit the stands. Marvel Age #117 (cover date October 1992) featured a multipage spotlight piece introducing the first four Marvel 2099 titles—Spider-Man 2099,Doom 2099, Ravage 2099, and Punisher 2099.

This coincided with the appearance in Marvel publications of third-party advertisements for preorders for the first issues of the titles.

1992 10 Entertainment This Month (ETM) ad

The Marvel Age article does acknowledge Byrne’s involvement in Marvel 2099’s early development, but also makes it clear that the framework for the imprint had been rebuilt from the ground up after his departure by editors Tom DeFalco, Mark Gruenwald, Bob Harras, Ralph Macchio, and Fabian Nicieza. It is true that there are some loose thematic and plot parallels between John Byrne’s 2112 and Ravage 2099 #1, but the fact that Marvel did not sue Dark Horse Comics for the contents of John Byrne’s 2112—or conversely, that Dark Horse Comics did not sue Marvel for the contents of Ravage 2099 #1—leads me to think that whatever similarities they shared due to their shared origin in The Marvel World of Tomorrow are minor and largely inconsequential in the face of how much they differ everywhere else. Former DC editor Joey Cavalieri was brought on to be the lead editor of the entire Marvel 2099 group of titles, with Sarra Mossoff serving as the line’s overall assistant editor.

When Spider-Man 2099 #1 finally appeared in shops in September of 1992, Marvel’s long-gestating “World of Tomorrow” was finally a reality.

In part two of our Marvel 2099 retrospective: It’s a study in contrast as we take a look at the first two of the four inaugural Marvel 2099 titles—Spider-Man 2099 tops the 1992 sales charts, while Ravage 2099 becomes the first ongoing Marvel 2099 series to get canceled. Ya’ll come back now, you hear?
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