Written by Peter David
Penciled by Rick Leonardi, with Kelley Jones
Inked by Al Williamson, with Mark McKenna
Colored by Steve Buccellato & Noelle Giddings
Lettered by Rick Parker
Only 89 more years until this becomes the Spider-Man of today!
Years back, when I bought my first comic book, Marvel’s 2099 line was brand-spankin’ new, just hitting comic shop shelves for the first time. I kind of dismissed it; a callow attempt to milk more cash from the Spider-Man and Punisher names, I assumed. (I’m sure there’s a joke in there about how little I knew about comic book companies and their attempts to squeeze every dime out of a property.) A couple years later, having discovered the writing of Peter David via his work on The Incredible Hulk (and I think Aquaman by that point, as well), I decided to revisit the absurdity of future versions of Marvel’s heroes.
As he’s done with most of his superhero work, Peter David proved to me the validity, and more importantly, the fun of the Marvel 2099 line. (Or, more accurately, he proved that he could write entertaining stories in most outlets; Karl Kesel’s too-brief FF 2099 remains the only other 2099 title I’ve read even a page of.) One day, maybe a year and a half after I joined the party, Peter departed Spider-Man 2099 and the character disappeared from my radar, fondly remembered, but filed away in long boxes somewhere and never revisited.
When Marvel announced the Spider-Man 2099 trade paperback collection, I suppose I could’ve just dug out the issues (I did complete Peter’s entire run, despite not starting the series until issue 32 or 33), but I like trades better anyway, particularly meaty ten issue trades, so I splurged, hoping it would hold up.
It really didn’t seem like such a gamble, after all. Peter David is, in my frank opinion, probably the most consistently entertaining writer in the superhero game, and has been for longer than he probably likes to admit. The Peter David Hulk trades (still collecting issues before my time as a reader) hold up; he remains, to date, the only writer to find what I consider a compelling take on Aquaman or Supergirl (or Banner’s alter-ego, come to think of it). A few titles, Captain Marvel, Spyboy and Young Justice, for example, never achieved consistently high grades with me, but still managed to entertain more often than not. (I even read Soulsearchers for several years, until my evolving distaste for the serial format overwhelmed my appreciate for the work itself; I’ll still argue that it’s the publisher’s job to put out material I like in a format I want, rather than my role to support them by buying what I dislike. But I digress…) In recent years, I never did read Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man due to its crossover launch, and X-Factor faded from my sights after only two trades (mostly due to the distracting inclusion of too-frequent X-Men story elements; the character work was, I felt, some of the strongest of Peter’s career). And I’m not much of a Stephen King fan. So Peter’s comics haven’t really come across my reading pile much lately. I’ve always felt that he manages to acknowledge the past without being excessively beholden to it; I recognize his characters (a failing that makes many superheroes unappealing to me) without feeling that gross this-is-how-I-wish-it-had-been-when-I-was-twelve nostalgia (which makes the rest unappealing) that usually repels me from superhero comics.
Anyway, Spider-Man 2099, yeah, it holds up. It’s pretty good stuff.
Here’s the deal: In the year 2099, Miguel O’Hara is a hotshot genetic scientist at the powerhouse corporate entity Alchemax. Due to various unethical and duplicitous machinations by his boss Tyler Stone, he opts to attempt to genetically purge himself of a chemical addiction, and winds up being gene-spliced with a spider (a theory he’d mocked up himself, inspired by – you guessed it – an image of the original Spider-Man). Miggy, a cocksure egotist who’s as un-Parker-like as it gets, takes his new powers, his reclaimed sense of right, and his newfound disgust with corporate power, and he sets out to stick up for the little guy.
Peter David does a great job crafting Miguel into a very different character from Peter Parker. Not only is his personality his own, but his professional and social class, his family (a brother, a fiancée, a recently deceased abusive father, a mildly insane, overly dramatic mother) and his temper all mark Miguel as his own man. The ten issues compiled to create this book take him from petulant, self-absorption to a point where, having killed and having nearly been killed, Miggy is ready to (try to) become the man he’s capable of being. By crafting a hero who does the right thing, but not always for the right reason, and not always in his personal life, Peter David’s given us a multi-faceted protagonist who you can admire, yet still sometimes manages to be less than heroic on occasion.
In recent years, Rick Leonardi’s art has become very loose and, to me, unappealing, though his talents as a storyteller remain. In 1992, on Spider-Man 2099, his work has a sketchy quality, but – perhaps he was a different artist then, or perhaps having Al Williamson as an inker made a huge difference – the characters remain consistent and effectively modeled. Attention to paid to the future technology, as Leonardi creates a cyberpunk cityscape that manages to grittily reflect the miles-apart economic classes while still giving us flying cars and miles-high skyscrapers. And props to Leonardi for a great superhero design; S-Man’s costume is badass. Alas, page layouts are somewhat less consistent, as the aerial combat is often difficult to follow. Kelley Jones’ art on a one-issue fill-in doesn’t really fit the tenor of the series.
Reading it now, there are a few moments that, I assume, acknowledge other 2099 titles. Tyler Stone’s son, Kron, appears as an urn full of ashes, with no explanation (if there are more Spider-Man 2099 collections, he re-appears in “young Miguel” flashbacks and, alive again, as a major villain), and the future Doom and various other corporate powers stick their noses into Stone’s business affairs ever so slightly. Those are minor instances, and don’t add anything to Miggy’s story. I don’t recall the entire series very well, but I think few of them have much, if any, impact on Peter David’s story. Fortunately, those occasions are infrequent and easy to overlook.
David and Leonardi lay down a lot of solid groundwork here, with a compelling her, a great supporting cast, and a fresh world full of surprising economic, religious and social structures. I love superhero comics that reflect real world idealogies, even if just to provide flavor for the background in which the punching occurs. The first two villains, Venture and The Specialist, aren’t quite memorable, but the updated Vulture fits the bill as a classic baddie. In truth, the corporate machinations are the real antagonist, and it’s the world-out-of-control quality that makes the series worthwhile. Well, that and the great work Peter David does with Miguel, Gabri, Dana, Kasey, Tyler and the rest of the cast. Memorable characters make for memorable stories. So it’s fun, it’s different; I like it. Spider-Man 2099, folks, check it out.