The GeeksverseLeaving Proof 280 | A Marvel 2099 Retrospective, Part 2: On Spider-Man 2099 and Ravage 2099

Leaving Proof 280 | A Marvel 2099 Retrospective, Part 2: On Spider-Man 2099 and Ravage 2099
Published on Monday, September 21, 2015 by
It’s a study in contrast in part two of our Marvel 2099 retrospectiveSpider-Man 2099 tops the 1992 sales charts, while Ravage 2099 becomes the first ongoing Marvel 2099 series to get canceled. Read up on how it all went down after the jump.

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.

In part one of our Marvel 2099 retrospective, we went over the interesting history behind the development of the Marvel 2099 concept, the fact that it was originally a project tentatively named The Marvel World of Tomorrow, and how its 1991 launch title was supposed to be a 64-page graphic novel by John Byrne and Stan Lee, which may or may not have featured a futuristic version of Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D. We also discussed how Byrne left the project over creative differences and reworked the material he had created for The Marvel World of Tomorrow into an original graphic novel that was eventually published by Dark Horse Comics called John Byrne’s 2112. We closed out part one with a look at the Marvel 2099 launch line-up, as described in the promotional feature that appeared in Marvel Age #117 (cover date October 1992).

Today, we’ll look at Spider-Man 2099 and Ravage 2099, the first two of the four Marvel 2099 launch titles, but first, let’s briefly discuss the original overarching themes of Marvel 2099.

It is far too reductive to describe Marvel 2099 as simply “superheroes in the future.” In certain ways, Marvel 2099 wasn’t very “superhero-y” at all, at least, not at the start. In the world of Marvel 2099, the superheroes of the past (our present) have disappeared due to circumstances that are never fully elaborated on, to avoid contradicting any present and future events portrayed in the mainline Marvel superhero comics and more importantly, to provide the Marvel 2099 creative teams with a fresh canvas on which to paint entirely new narratives, unburdened by the weight of previous continuity.

Marvel Age #117 - 2099 Previews - 08The unifying theme of the Marvel 2099 setting was a future where Big Business has run wild and unchecked. In Marvel 2099’s America, major business conglomerates have partitioned the country into virtual fiefdoms where corporate welfare takes precedence over the rights of citizens. The situation is such that there is an insurmountable, ever-widening gap between the haves and have nots—the economic landscape consists of islands of unimaginable opulence surrounded by a sea of the teeming poor. What used to be fundamental government functions such as military defense, law enforcement, and basic healthcare have all been privatized and turned into profit-driven concerns, and access to these services is pretty much determined by one’s credit rating.

Marvel 2099’s future dystopia looks prescient even now, considering how relevant the anxieties it embodied continue to be—see Greg Rucka and Michael Lark’s excellent Lazarus (from Image Comics) as a current example of a comic that addresses similar themes.

What sort of heroes would such a world produce? Quite a varied bunch, as it turned out.

Spider-Man 2099: Not Your Daddy’s Webslinger

Spider-Man 2099 initially featured a high-profile creative team consisting of Peter David (The Incredible Hulk, X-Factor) at the height of his Marvel Comics popularity on writing duties, Rick Leonardi (Cloak and Dagger, Uncanny X-Men) on pencils, and the legendary, award-winning comics and comic strip illustrator Al Williamson (Weird Science, Flash Gordon) on inks.

The comic’s lead was Miguel O’Hara, a brash young scientist of mixed Mexican and Irish descent—one of the most interesting aspects of Marvel 2099 was its vision of the future demographics of America, as expressed in the names of many of its characters—who decides to end his association with his employer, the East Coast conglomerate Alchemax, when he finds out that a serum that can grant animal-like abilities to humans that he has been developing is being unethically tested on prison inmates.

Spidey209901A ranking Alchemax executive responds by forcefully getting O’Hara addicted to a drug that only Alchemax can legally provide, creating a situation where the scientist must continue working for the company if he wants to feed his dependency—a bit of a heavy-handed metaphor, I’ll admit, but quite intriguing all the same.

Desperate for a cure to his condition, O’Hara uses his experimental serum to rewrite his DNA (the dependency on the drug apparently works on a genetic level), but meddling by one of the management types at Alchemax produces startling results: O’Hara gains superhuman, spider-like abilities, including enhanced strength and durability, the ability to crawl on walls with the use of small spikes on the tips of his fingers and toes, and the power to produce webbing from tiny orifices in his forearms (which, as O’Hara wisely observes in issue #3, “beats shooting webbing out of my butt”).

O’Hara soon takes to donning a costume and fighting Alchemax’s private army goons and other assorted villains.

Rick Leonardi was an inspired choice as the series’ artist, given his role alongside fellow artist Mike Zeck in designing the black costume (suggested by fan Randy Schueller) that the mainline Spider-Man character wore in the comics for a significant portion of the 1980s. Leonardi’s design for Spider-Man 2099 features a similar minimalist bent, avoiding the clutter of the classic Spider-Man suit and brilliantly using negative space to suggest the eyes on the character’s distinctive cowl. (If you’re wondering about the skull motif on the Spider-Man 2099 costume, the explanation is that it was adapted by O’Hara from a get-up he once wore to a Mexican Day of the Dead celebration.)

Consistently entertaining and well-drawn (Leonardi and Williamson would illustrate the first 25 issues of the series), Spider-Man 2099 was Marvel 2099’s longest-running and most popular title. The first issue was the best-selling comic of September 1992 according to figures from Diamond Comics Distributors and Capital City Distribution, the two biggest North American comics direct market distributors at the time. Spider-Man 2099 #1 was ultimately ranked as the fourth-highest selling single issue of 1992 according to Diamond’s year-end chart, behind only Superman #75 (the much-ballyhooed “Death of Superman” issue), WildC.A.T.s #1 (from Jim Lee and the then-fledgling Image Comics), and Marvel’s own Venom: Lethal Protector #1.

Spidey2099MeetsSpidey00The comics industry crash of 1993 contributed to the rapid decline of Marvel 2099 comics sales (and all comics sales in general), but despite taking a significant dip in preorder numbers, Spider-Man 2099 still remained one of Marvel’s better performers, with issues #5–#9 all charting in the Diamond Top 300 list of best-selling single issues of 1993 (issue #5 ranked highest at 169th place, while issue #9 barely made the cut at 286th place).

Spider-Man 2099 sold well throughout the duration of its publication lifetime, and was ranked at number 76 for preorders as late as June 1995, the last month that Diamond distributed Marvel titles for that year. (After June 1995, Marvel titles were distributed exclusively by Marvel’s own Heroes World Distribution—this would be the case until 1997, when Heroes World closed in the wake of Marvel’s bankruptcy and the publisher signed a new distribution deal with Diamond.)

Spider-Man 2099 also spun off an annual, an anthology special, and a paperback graphic novel (Spider-Man 2099 Meets Spider-Man) that featured what was, at the time, the only instance of a Marvel 2099 character meeting his present-day counterpart.

Despite stable sales, Spider-Man 2099 was canceled in the summer of 1996 with issue #46, along with the remaining Marvel 2099 titles, as Marvel sought to cut costs and consolidate its publication base in preparation for going into Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Writer Peter David was no longer around by then—he left the title after writing Spider-Man 2099 #44. As David recounted in his “But I Digress… ” column in Comics Buyer’s Guide #1269 (13 March 1998), he quit the title “to protest the firing of [Marvel 2099 line editor] Joey Cavalieri.”

These past several months, however, have seen David reunited with Miguel O’Hara, as he has been writing a second Spider-Man 2099 series launched in 2014. It was also recently announced that David will write a third Spider-Man 2099 series, set for release next month.

Ravage 2099: Man or Man-Beast?

Ravage 2099 was the second Marvel 2099 comic to see print and the only one among the imprint’s four inaugural titles released in 1992 to feature a protagonist with no legacy ties to a present-day Marvel Comics character.

As those of you who’ve read part one of this retrospective will recall, the hero for The Marvel World of Tomorrow was supposed to be named Ravage. Byrne subsequently left the project over artistic and creative differences and eventually created a graphic novel called John Byrne’s 2112, published by Dark Horse Comics in late 1991, from the material he once intended for The Marvel World of Tomorrow. Was Ravage 2099, then, the result of the Marvel 2099 development group salvaging what remained of The Marvel World of Tomorrow, minus Byrne’s contributions? Without access to the original project’s working materials, we can only speculate.

Ravage209901_page00There do seem to be some fairly noticeable, if loose, parallels between Ravage 2099 #1 (December 1992) and John Byrne’s 2112. Comparing the two and seeing where they overlap might even give us a general idea of what the Marvel World of Tomorrow graphic novel would have been like.

For example, both comics feature paramilitary corporate organizations—John Byrne’s 2112 has the private security firm Safeguard, Inc., while Ravage 2099 has the armed environmental policy enforcement agency ECO (a subsidiary of the corrupt Alchemax megacorporation, introduced to readers in Spider-Man 2099 #1). Both comics’ protagonists are officials in said organizations—John Byrne’s 2112 has freshly minted Safeguard agent Thomas Kirkland while Ravage 2099 has ECO commander Paul-Phillip Ravage. And both titles have their respective heroes follow similar character development trajectories—Kirkland and Ravage start out as naifs who find themselves betrayed by the companies they so loyally served, eventually having to take up new identities in order to face the challenge of combating the crimes perpetrated by their former employers.

Touted as the series marking Stan Lee’s return to the monthly grind of making comics, Ravage 2099 sold well at first. Paul Ryan’s art, who pulled double-duty as the regular artist on Fantastic Four, was also a big part of the comic’s initial appeal. According to information published by Styx (a now-defunct Canadian comics distributor), Ravage 2099 #1 had the fifth most preorders in western Canada for comics scheduled for release in October 1992, ahead of Image Comics’ Spawn #8 and Marvel’s Incredible Hulk #400 (but behind Spider-Man 2099 #2, which was ranked at number three).

In addition, according to Diamond Comics Distributors’ year-end Top 300 sales chart for 1992, Ravage 2099’s premiere issue was the 25th best-selling comic across North America. (It’s worth noting, though, that Spider-Man 2099 #1 was ranked fourth, Punisher 2099 #1 placed at seventh, and Doom 2099 #1 rounded out the top twenty.)

For any number of reasons, Ravage 2099 just couldn’t replicate the kind of sales generated and sustained by its peers in the Marvel 2099 stable. All four original Marvel 2099 series saw an unmistakably steady reduction in orders as the months wore on, but by the end of 1993, Ravage 2099 had dropped out of Diamond’s year-end Top 300 charts entirely. That isn’t just a steep decline in sales—it’s damn near a vertical drop.

It’s easy to lay the blame on Stan Lee for Ravage 2099’s failure. One could argue that his true value for Marvel by that time was as a corporate figurehead, and spending all those years in California as something of Marvel’s liaison with Hollywood, he no longer had his finger on the comic industry’s pulse. After all, didn’t he just come off scripting another fiasco, Marvel’s botched superhero-to-pop music crossover Nightcat, before he started work on The Marvel World of Tomorrow?

The early Lee-scripted issues of Ravage 2099 have a certain charm to be sure, but they also give one the impression of a writer whose stylistic and storytelling sensibilities are rooted in an earlier era, and the comic’s muddled, occasionally ham-fisted ecological message didn’t do it any favors. One of the biggest hurdles that Ravage 2099 had to clear, however, was that it offered little to set it apart, thematically, from the much, much more popular Spider-Man 2099—both comics featured former Alchemax employees who wage a vendetta against the corporation after uncovering its corrupt nature.

As for the Ravage character itself, despite some solid design work by artist Paul Ryan marrying a post-apocalyptic aesthetic with the superhero trends of the day, the conceit of a gun-toting future vigilante had been co-opted by Punisher 2099’s Jake Gallows. Ravage 2099 was lost in the shuffle, competing against Marvel 2099 peers that were arguably better at the things Ravage 2099 was supposed to offer readers.

Lee and editor Joey Cavalieri did what they could to jumpstart Ravage’s popularity. At one point, the character developed superpowers in the form of the ability to project energy blasts from his hands.

While many readers suspected all along that Lee’s return to writing monthly comics was a temporary state of affairs, his departure from Ravage 2099 was probably accelerated by the title’s struggles. In issue #8 (July 1993), British sci-fi comics veterans Pat Mills and Tony Skinner, the writers on Punisher 2099, were brought on board to co-write Lee’s final issue on the series.

The following issue then had the writing duo introduce a radical redesign for the eponymous character. Owing to a further mutation, Ravage was now a man-beast, complete with claws, fangs, horns, superhuman physical attributes, and the ability to revert to a normal human appearance at will.

The drastic change hinted at desperation—it looked at the time like an attempt to reinvent Ravage in the mold of Marvel’s cash cow du jour, the X-Men’s Wolverine—but it worked. In the Ravage 2099 letters page, reader opinions were mostly positive regarding the character’s new look and powers. Equally important was the addition of artist Grant Miehm, whose playfully stylized approach to the visuals helped Ravage 2099 stand out from the rest of the Marvel 2099 pack.

The Mills-Skinner-Miehm run, spanning from issue #9 to issue #21, had Ravage playing the dual role of an ecologically-minded executive in public and a murderous vigilante in his private life. It is the series at its best, featuring a self-aware, almost absurdist, take on the “Marvel Futureverse” premise, high-stakes melodrama, and a delightfully unapologetic approach to superhero violence. Make no mistake, Ravage 2099 in the hands of the Mills-Skinner-Miehm trio was no Watchmen, but it was the kind of solidly entertaining work that had the series’ small, loyal following sticking around month after month.

All these changes were not enough to revive Ravage 2099’s fortunes, however. The comic was canceled with issue #33, in the middle of the imprint-wide One Nation Under Doom crossover event. In a move that caught the book’s loyal readers off-guard, Ravage was actually killed off, drowned by Doom 2099 in liquid adamantium and then jettisoned off to space. An ignominious fate for Marvel 2099’s first original lead character, perhaps, but a better one than the slow, drawn-out mess of half-baked ideas and iffy execution that would befall the Marvel 2099 line in its latter days.

On the next installment of our Marvel 2099 retrospective: We complete our survey of the inaugural Marvel 2099 titles with a look at Doom 2099 and Punisher 2099.
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