Shiny Shelf


Marvel Knights 2099

By Mark Clapham on 04 October 2004

Marvel have just released five books under the Marvel Knights imprint, set in the year 2099 (date of a previous set of Marvel spin-off books, lest we forget). The titles are ‘Inhumans 2099′, ‘Daredevil 2099′, ‘Punisher 2099′, ‘Black Panther 2099′ and, because there always has to be a token newcomer, ‘Mutant 2099′.

Ignore the fact that this is supposed to be an event to celebrate five years of the Marvel Knights imprint, or the 2099 brand. The five comics in this one-week event are really ‘What if Robert Kirkman created the Marvel Universe?’, a chance to show off the newly Marvel-exclusive wunderkind by getting him to write five one-shots, reinventing Marvel properties as he sees fit.

I like Kirkman on the basis of ‘The Walking Dead’ alone, as it’s a truly excellent book, and he’s clearly a writer whose work elsewhere is worth a look. The way Marvel is treating him suggests he’s their ‘new Bendis’ (or, God help us, a new Millar). In spite of the hype, and the fact that I love one of his books already, Kirkman’s superhero work has so far remained a mystery to me. I never really fancied ‘Invincible’, his ‘Jubilee’ series has the stale odour of Marvel Age about it, and as for his run on ‘Captain America’ – well, as he’s following the cruelly kicked-out Robert Morales, I was never going to reward Marvel for such poor behaviour by reading the usurper’s run.

Which is all slightly beside the point. For these one shot’s Kirkman is blessed with a fine batch of artists including Pop Mhan and Karl Moline, and covers aping classic Knights’ covers from Dreamwave Studios, so the visual side of things is covered. That brings us to the writing. These books have a lot to do in 22 pages, sketching out a future version of the Marvel Universe and bringing new characters to life while trading on the appeal of earlier versions. Unsurprisingly from a writer who consciously embraces mainstream American pop culture, the one-shots are almost all about family relationships and inheritances of various kinds.

The results are all solid, but variable in the level of excitement they raise. ‘Punisher 2099′ is definitely the dullest, and is based on the thinnest premise – the daughter of Frank Castle and Elektra teaches her son, their grandson, to take on the Punisher legacy. It’s all a bit absurd – the idea of Frank Castle having another family surely defuses the very point of him being the Punisher? For similar reasons, it’s hard to see the Punisher as a ‘legacy hero’ in the JSA nostalgia mode, for similar reasons – why would a whole family follow one man’s very personal obsession? Maybe that’s the point, or the joke. The premise of the Punisher’s grandson being squeamish could have been quite funny, but as it is the idea is pitched too straight. Ultimately, the Punisher is a nutter, his daughter’s a nutter and its hard to get worked up either way about whether Punisher Jr Jr takes on the mantle.

‘Daredevil 2099′ works along similar fanboy lines, but has somewhat better results, at least partially because this future Daredevil is following in the footsteps of more interesting characters. The idea of the Kingpin’s grandson becoming Daredevil is pure fanboy nonsense, but combining the two men’s characteristics is fun, and there are some decent twists – this Daredevil uses technology to make up for physical ineptitude, as he’s too lazy to train. It all unfolds pretty much as you’d expect, but there’s a nicely downbeat ending, wherein you realise that Sam Fisk’s good intentions are ultimately hollow. Karl Moline’s art is worth a mention – we know he can do a future cityscape easily enough after ‘Fray’, but he also brings some dynamic layouts and character designs to the table, including a great redesigned DD costume.

Moving on to the crazier stuff, ‘Black Panther 2099′ seems to be a conscious effort to do a Grant Morrison pastiche, with a crazy combination of mysticism, symbolism and legions of Doctor Doom robots flying over Wakanda. Kirkman’s idea for the future Doom is wildly different, but no less valid, than that used in the old ‘Doom 2099′ book, and there’s a neat subtext about the corruption of decent causes. Following Morrison’s recent catchphrase, the book is insanely supercompressed, with weeks and months passing by in panels. Out of all these ‘MK2099′ books, this is the one that really scores as a decent comic in its own right, rather than an extended gag book. Kyle Hotz’s art brings an ornate look to both Wakanda and Latveria which is at once ancient and technologically complex, perfect for both fictional lands, and his sense of horror fits the grim storyline.

In a genre full of means of immortality, it’s always tempting when doing one of these flash-forward jobs to include some of the present day characters, still rattling on in the future. Kirkman picks a couple of the Inhumans to fill this role, which is a good choice as they’re pretty mystical and alien characters anyway, cutting through all that ‘Futurama’ culture shock stuff you’d have to do with, say, Peter Parker. Oh, and just to really isolate it, this one’s set in space. Part of the joke seems to be that, while Black Bolt is cryogenically preserved, the descendants of his generation have become mundanely human, leading a dull soap opera existence. The gag of having weird creatures coming out with daytime TV dialogue would be more effective if a lot of Marvel writers weren’t churning out an irony-free version of this combination all the time. There’s a good ending, but this is very much a follow on to established ‘Inhumans’ continuity – if you couldn’t care less, you won’t care here. Having read the Jenkins/Lee ‘Inhumans’, I enjoyed it enough, although I’m not that fussed either way.

Last up is ‘Mutant 2099′, the obligatory new character and token X-book (of sorts). It’s a very cartoony book, not just in terms of art but in terms of writing. This is not necessarily a bad thing – juvenile fantasy is the bedrock of superhero comics, after all – but the combination of Stan Lee pastiche story, open artwork, future setting and continuity nods is disturbingly reminiscent of Tom DeFalco’s ‘MC2′ books. Yes, you do well to shudder. It’s not bad as far as these sort of things go, but the lead character and basic premise are utterly generic, and the book is too stuck in its own idea of ‘classic’ Marvel storytelling to do anything interesting in itself. There are some clever twists in the story, and it’s all quite charmingly done, but to be honest I’m getting sick of comics that lovingly recreate the comics of the author’s youth in modern dress.

So, a fairly mixed stack of titles. None of them are a complete write-off, but only ‘Black Panther 2099′ steps out from the high concept and makes a convincing case for itself. The ‘Inhumans’ and ‘Daredevil’ books are pretty decent if you like this sort of thing, while ‘Mutant’ is OK and ‘Punisher’ should be avoided. I said earlier that Robert Kirkman is a writer to watch. That seems to still be the case – not just in that readers should watch out for his next title, but that his publishers and editors should watch what he’s planning to write, and point him in the right direction. If he sticks to writing stuff with depth and complexity he’s a great writer, but allow him to indulge his cuddly, kid-friendly side and the results are just too bland and derivative. Hopefully Marvel will push him in the right direction, allowing his talent to develop and produce better, more consistent work than this.


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By Mark Clapham

Mark Clapham is a Devon-based writer and editor. You can find out more about him at the egotistically named markclapham.com.




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