In part three of our Marvel 2099 retrospective: John Francis Moore takes an unquestionably literary approach to Doom 2099, while Pat Mills and Tony Skinner bring the British brand of superhero satire to the American comics mainstream in Punisher 2099.
Author’s Note: Click on the links below to read the Marvel 2099 retrospective columns:
- Leaving Proof 279 | A Marvel 2099 Retrospective, Part 1: The Past Through Tomorrow
- Leaving Proof 280 | A Marvel 2099 Retrospective, Part 2: On Spider-Man 2099 and Ravage 2099
- Leaving Proof 282 | A Marvel 2099 Retrospective, Part 3: On Doom 2099 and Punisher 2099
- Leaving Proof 288 | A Marvel 2099 Retrospective, Part 4: On X-Men 2099
- Leaving Proof 299 | A Marvel 2099 Retrospective, Part 5: On 2099 Unlimited and Hulk 2099
- Leaving Proof 302 | A Marvel 2099 Retrospective, Part 6: On Ghost Rider 2099
As with all the art I post on this site, the images below are being shared in the spirit of fair use.
Doom 2099: The Man Who Would Be King
As we’ve previously discussed in this ongoing Marvel 2099 retrospective, the imprint was more than a forum for standard superhero punch ‘em-up fare that just happened to be set in the future. On titles like Spider-Man 2099 and Ravage 2099, writers Peter David, Stan Lee, Pat Mills, and Tony Skinner—aided and abetted by editor Joey Cavalieri—addressed through the idiom of the future dystopia the public’s post-Cold War anxiety over corporations’ growing influence on government, the threat of man-made ecological disasters, and growing economic inequality.
The costumed drama of the Marvel 2099 family of titles was, of course, directly descended from the whiz-bang antics of Kirby and Lee’s Fantastic Four and other superhero classics of comics’ Silver Age, but it was also informed by the somewhat pessimistic, political speculative fiction of Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. If the archetypal Marvel Comics origin story is the one about how a young superhero learns that “with great power, comes great responsibility,” what unites the costumed adventurers of Marvel 2099 is the realization that “power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
No other Marvel 2099 title embodied this second axiom more fully than Doom 2099, the third of the imprint’s four inaugural titles, launched in late 1992. Not only did it apply to the book’s villains as it did in the other Marvel 2099 titles, it also applied to its enigmatic, Machiavellian protagonist.
Doom 2099’s initial draw was rooted in the mystery of the eponymous antihero’s identity. The future Doom was dropped, quite literally, in the middle of a 21st century Latveria in the grip of a former corporate raider-turned-cybernetic despot named Tiger Wylde.
Moore was no stranger to the kind of bleak future embodied by the Marvel 2099 setting, having touched on dystopian politics and post-apocalyptic corporate culture before in his American Flagg! indie comics collaborations with Howard Chaykin, but the more fantastical context of the Marvel 2099 setting allowed him to interrogate these concepts to almost absurd ends, giving Doom 2099 a somewhat satirical bent.
The true strength of Moore’s run on the series, however, lay in the literary scope of its themes and structure. Moore makes plain the inspiration for Doom 2099’s overarching narrative: The first four issues—which sees Doom humbled in battle like never before by the incumbent Latverian dictator before he regroups and reclaims his throne—feature passages from Henry V. And like Shakespeare’s play, it was Doom 2099’s remit to ask the following questions: Is ruthlessness a necessary attribute for a good ruler? Do the responsibilities of absolute leadership permit a ruler to bypass the common sense morals and ethics that govern other men? Is the security of a kingdom—a nation—worth sacrificing the principles of justice and individual freedom?
Doom 2099 wasn’t just Shakespearean history dressed in cybernetic adamantium-lanxide armor. Moore also wrote stories tackling the concepts of cyberspace and artificial intelligence. These stories frequently revolved around the mystery of the future Doom’s identity, and asked whether a person’s identity can survive the process of being split-off in a divergent timeline and digitization, or if the resulting entity is just a perfect, but ultimately non-identical, simulacrum.
But between Moore’s awkward (even for the time) technobabble and made-up future lingo and artist Pat Broderick’s Lawnmower Man-inspired visualization of future virtual reality avatars and interfaces,Doom 2099’s digressions into the realm of identity philosophy and full-bore cyberpunk were perhaps the weakest portions of what was the most complex, interesting, and challenging of the four Marvel 2099 launch titles. (Writer Len Kaminski would have much more success mixing superheroics with cyberpunk themes in Ghost Rider 2099, which we’ll be discussing in a future installment of the Marvel 2099 retrospective series.)
Perhaps in an effort to free up Moore so that he could focus on his work on the popular X-Men 2099 (a second-generation Marvel 2099 title Moore helped launch in the summer of 1993), editor Joey Cavalieri gradually transitioned Moore off Doom 2099 and in issue #26 (February 1995), a young British writer named Warren Ellis—who had been scripting the previous two Moore-plotted issues—was installed as the series’ sole writer. With series original artist Pat Broderick staying on, the switch from the Moore era to the Ellis period was seamless.
Ellis led the title in the same general direction it was seemingly headed under Moore, with Doom growing increasingly fixated on the idea of taking over a North American continent overrun by mega-corporations, for the good of its own citizens. This culminated in the One Nation Under Doom crossover event that began in Doom 2099 #29 (May 1995) and ran through all the Marvel 2099 titles for the rest of the year, with Doom overthrowing the corrupt North American corporate ruling class, only to replace it with his own paramilitary dictatorship.
If Moore-era Doom 2099 had Henry V for its inspiration, under Ellis, the book took on the darker, more personal, and more tragic tones of Macbeth, with Doom playing the role of the monarch who, consumed by ambition, sacrifices his friends and the rule of law in the pursuit of power.
By having Doom recruit Marvel 2099 superheroes as officials in his new government, Ellis also added to the criticism—as voiced by writers such as Larry Hama, Alan Moore (in Watchmen), and Frank Miller (in The Dark Knight Returns)—of the traditional superhero, operating outside the law and forcefully imposing order on society based on what he believes to be a superior personal code of morality, as a concept with quasi-fascistic undertones.
Thematically consistent, tightly plotted, generally well-executed, and with genuine implications on the shared setting’s continuity, One Nation Under Doom was one of the best examples of a comics crossover event in a decade just lousy with the things, and still stands to this day as one of the narrative high points of Marvel’s troubled mid-’90s period. It was perhaps inevitable, then, that everything that came after One Nation Under Doom would feel like a coda.
Despite being generally well-received by readers and critics, One Nation Under Doom did not generate the kind of sales buzz the executives at Marvel—which had already begun the fiscal decline that ultimately led to its declaration of bankruptcy at the end of 1996—wanted to see. Ellis, supposedly at odds with the direction management wanted to take the Marvel 2099 stable, left the title with issue #39 (May 1996), and was replaced by Tom Peyer. Broderick was no longer the title’s regular penciler at this point, having been replaced by the capable Steve Pugh two issues into One Nation Under Doom. Marvel 2099 editor Joey Cavalieri was soon let go as part of a cost-cutting reorganization, a decision that did not sit well with the imprint’s freelancers (as noted in our Spider-Man 2099 article, Cavalieri’s firing led Peter David to quit writing Spider-Man 2099 in protest).
With Marvel’s rapidly declining fortunes, Doom 2099’s inevitable cancellation was to come sooner rather than later. Moore was brought back to write Doom 2099 #43–#44 (July–August 1996), the series’ final two issues. Moore tried to balance the demands of providing long-time readers a sense of closure while still leaving the door open for subsequent creators to use the Doom 2099 characters in a planned, downsized Marvel 2099 imprint to be helmed by editor Bob Harras.
Unfortunately, Moore never got around to settling, once and for all, the true identity of the future Doom, although he did establish that the character was not a time-displaced version of the present-day Victor Von Doom.
Despite the somewhat unsatisfying end to the series, Doom 2099 is perhaps the definitive Marvel 2099 title, having come closest to fulfilling the imprint’s full potential as a hybrid of thoughtful science-fiction and entertaining superhero comics.
Punisher 2099: Life on the Edge
Punisher 2099 #1 hit stores in December 1992 (due to how cover dates in comics work, Punisher 2099 #1 had a February 1993 cover date), the fourth and final entry in the inaugural Marvel 2099 publishing slate. Astoundingly, it still managed to rank number seven on Diamond’s Top 300 list of best selling comics of 1992. The first issue went to a second printing and overall, it was December 1992’s second-best selling comic in the direct market, behind only Venom: Lethal Protector #1, which was also published by Marvel.
The British comics duo of Pat Mills and Tony Skinner were initially in charge of the title’s writing, while the original art team consisted of penciler Tom Morgan and inker Jimmy Palmiotti. As with the eponymous lead of Spider-Man 2099, Punisher 2099’s protagonist did not have any direct ancestral links with his 20th century predecessor and was, for all intents and purposes, a brand new character dressed in familiar branding.
Still, Punisher 2099’s Jake Gallows did share certain fundamental design elements with Punisher’s Frank Castle. Like the latter, Gallows had lost his family to crime, the experience unhinging him and turning him into a homicidal vigilante. Also, while nominally a superhero, Gallows did not possess any superpowers, instead relying mostly on firearms and other equipment to dispense his own brand of extralegal, lethal sanctions.
A closer examination of Mills’ previous forays into superhero comics reveals Punisher 2099’s true heritage, however. The comic may share the name of Marvel’s premier gun-toting executioner, but its real precedent in terms of its themes, dystopian future setting, and satirical approach to vigilante violence is Mills’ work on the 1987 Marshal Law limited series, published under Marvel’s Epic Comics.
Jake Gallows’ pathological combination of vengeful moralism and murderous intent echoes that of Marshal Law, a character that can also be considered an extreme Judge Dredd pastiche (Mills had also previously written Judge Dredd strips for the 2000 AD comics anthology), as well as the Persecutor, a thinly-veiled Punisher parody and the primary villain of 1989’s Marshal Law Takes Manhattan one-shot.
Indeed, Punisher 2099—built around the story of Gallows, an officer of the Public Eye (a subscription-based private law enforcement firm owned by the corrupt Alchemax business conglomerate) who finds that his corporate superiors are also in charge of his city’s organized crime element—seemed to draw inspiration from a number of what were then Mills’ most recent comics works.
Besides Judge Dredd and Marshal Law, it could also be argued that the comic shared certain character design and plot elements from Finn (a 2000 AD strip written by Mills and Skinner, published in 1992) and Accident Man (another early 1990s Mills/Skinner collaboration, this one a strip that appeared in the British comics anthology Toxic!). It also bears noting that Marvel 2099, a future where corporations have taken over the business of governance, echoed the setting of Third World War, Mills’ powerfully subversive speculative fiction serial which ran from 1988 to 1990 in the British comics anthology Crisis. Intentionally and by circumstance, Punisher 2099 was definitely of a piece of Mills’ work from that era.
Punisher 2099 was entertaining enough read on its own merits, however. The surface narrative offered the kind of overheated, ultra-violent adolescent power and revenge fantasy that attracted juvenile (and young-at-heart) readers whilst also providing older readers a black comedy full of gallows (ha ha) humor.
By taking the piss out of 1990s American superhero comics and action hero cinema, Punisher 2099 criticized the American entertainment industry’s fetishization of violence (particularly gun violence) and its ridiculously reductive sense of ethics, even as it simultaneously indulged in them. On the visual side of things, Tom Morgan’s brash design, rendering, and visual storytelling choices, reinforced by Jimmy Palmiotti’s muscular ink line, matched the over-the-top, anarchic energy of the writing.
Perhaps because of its ties to the Punisher brand, Punisher 2099’s satirical nature was overlooked or misunderstood by many of its readers, if the letters pages from the period are an indication of the audience’s general opinion of the series. Below is the letters page from Punisher 2099 #12, showing the typical responses from what appear to be the series’ largely prepubescent and adolescent readership:
Be that as it may, it would have been impossible for the older reader to miss the satirical slant of the book given sequences such as the one reproduced below, from Punisher 2099 #17:
Punisher 2099 sales got off to a roaring start, but like its Marvel 2099 launch title peers, it was unable to sustain its position in the market for very long. All four of the Marvel 2099 launch titles saw a significant fall in sales in the period between October 1993 and October 1994—for example, Doom 2099’s total paid circulation went from 296,900 to 172,300 over the period, a 42 percent drop. Punisher 2099 was hit especially hard by this trend: total paid circulation for the series was a robust 313,908 as of October 1993 but that number was down to 120,615 a year later, a decrease of over 60 percent.
Morgan left the series after issue #19 (original inker Palmiotti left a few issues earlier), replaced by Simon Coleby, who brought a decidedly different aesthetic sensibility to the comic. While Coleby was certainly a capable replacement, the fan-favorite Morgan’s departure probably didn’t help flagging sales.
Mills and Skinner stayed on as the series’ writers until Punisher 2099 #29, two issues into the One Nation Under Doom crossover. Taking over for them was Chuck Dixon, a veteran of the various mainline Punisher comics and in terms of the politics of his work, the diametrical opposite of Mills. If this radical creative team change was intended to appeal to the readers of the regular Punisher comics, Dixon wasn’t really afforded much of an opportunity to do so—the writer was kept on only long enough to shepherd the series through its portion of the crossover, and the book was canceled with issue #34.
Jake Gallows’ story continued in the Warren Ellis-penned 2099 AD: Apocalypse one-shot, where he was killed off a third of the way into the comic.
Dixon did write a two-part story entitled “Strange Blood” that went unpublished, although complete scans of the black & white pages have surfaced on a number of sites. Illustrated by Argentine artist Enrique Alcatena, this story gives us some idea of how Dixon would have treated the title had he been able to spend more time on it, away from the crossover context.