Let’s have some fun and compare and contrast terrible derivative characters (Part 1) – The Punisher 2099 #1
A few weeks ago I was sifting through the comic book detritus in my home office, striving in vain to bring some order to the chaos, when I came across a couple of first issues from Marvel’s old 2099 line of comics. Two books I’ve never read, and probably never would in a million years if not for this blog. Yet there they were, right next to each other in a pile. Made for each other. Kismet. And here we are, with me about to dive into the first installment of what promises to be a hard-hitting two-part series to determine which is the better of this twin bill. Or worse — maybe we should score this like golf, with the lowest negative score winning. We’ll work that out later. Suffice it to say, I SUFFER FOR MY ART, AND YOU MAY HAVE TO SUFFER WITH ME.
If you recall, the most memorable part of Marvel’s misguided attempt to forge a future-verse was how clunky many of the century-later translations of their characters were. Doom 2099. Hulk 2099. Was there a Speedball 2099? I mean, really. The entire premise, that in 2099 humanity would be so enamored of what happened a hundred years before there would be a revival of the icons of the past (they would literally form the basis of new religions in this world to come), was ridiculous. Just imagine something similar happening in our recent history. Was there a Teddy Roosevelt 1999 that I missed? Annie Oakley 1999? No. Been there. We’re through with all that, and have long ago moved on. But not in the Marvelverse. They just can’t get over what happened before, even though they were apparently over it pretty well until new versions suddenly started cropping up all over the place.
STUPID. (I tell you what, though, I can’t wait for Fatty Arbuckle 2017. We’re only a few years away!)
The only chunk of that misbegotten experiment with legs was Spider-Man 2099, and that was mainly because of the root character’s popularity and the variant costume. Most of this sub-universe was garbage. Nevertheless, there was a product line that had to be filled out, and it was practically etched in stone that certain grim, hyper-popular characters in vogue in the early 1990s were going to get the 2099 treatment. And now we get down to the nitty-gritty, the two resultant debut issues which will be the focus of this Special Eyewitness Action News Report. Because when the Punisher and Ghost Rider get dreadful high-tech makeovers, it’s a recipe for clichéd storytelling disaster, and, like a red asphalt wreck on the side of the highway, it’s hard to look away.
We’re going to tackle Punisher 2099 today because it was published first, in 1993, while Ghost Rider 2099 made its debut the next year. And GOOD GOD ALMIGHTY, IT IS TERRIBLE. I’m not the biggest Punisher aficionado, though it’s sometimes nice when he finds himself in Riverdale or featured in one of the greatest cover paintings ever to grace a comic magazine. But even I’m offended by this treatment. Frank Castle’s stubbly mein would glower darkly if he had lived to see what his name became. As it is/was, he was likely rolling over in his skull-adorned grave when Jake Gallows took up his mantle.
Yes, the new Punisher’s last name is Gallows. If this naming convention had been followed more often, we might have had characters like Peter Webb and Tony Spark. And Frank Cill. (Cill my landlord. C-I-L-L my landlord!)
Before we delve into the mess of a story (Script: Pat Mills and Tony Skinner, Pencils: Tom Morgan, Inks: Jim Palmiotti), let’s first deconstruct the costume seen in full on the cover (a cover printed with a shiny reflective border and thick, price-augmenting stock). AND WHAT A COSTUME IT IS. In case you want a closer look at the upper half, here we have it again — the red accents are a bit more muted inside:
Glad to see tights and Liefeldian thigh-holsters lasted until 2099. Excelsior. And what the hell is the point of the skullish kneepads? I’ll let the toothy loincloth/codpiece slide, as it forms part of the requisite stylized skull emblem, but the legwear is a bridge too far. Instead of striking fear in the hearts of future criminals, it would likely generate more of a “good heavens you are a douche” reaction. Just a hunch.
And you have to love his poofy jacket (which is futurey body armor). The lapels and shoulder pads make it look like something right out of a 1980s Talking Heads video. PAULA POUNDSTONE’S BLAZER 2099.
Mr. Gallows works by day as a police officer, one whose advice is sought in this first issue by fellow future-cops befuddled by the new Punisher’s hyper-violent war on crime. One of the things that makes him so hard to track down in this camera-riddled era — with all the cameras we have around now, imagine how omnipresent surveillance will one day be — is that he uses a device that scrambles his face, allowing him to maim and kill in broad daylight without using a mask. And he doesn’t just settle for bargain basement pixelization, or even the blue dot that covered Mike Tyson’s dick in that classic SNL sketch. No, he goes for a goofy two-dimensional skull:
We get the senses-shattering origin of future-Pun right here in the first issue. It’s presentation is a bit confusing, as it’s told in flashback, but there’s nothing within the story to let you know that what you’re seeing is a flashback. You just kind of vault right into it without warning. Maybe some ruffled edges around the panels would have helped. Something, anything, because you’re thrown in, and you’re left thinking “Wait, he’s becoming the Punisher now? I thought he already was the Punisher. I HATE THIS COMIC BOOK.” (It’s also possible that I wasn’t reading the text with the Talmudic intensity a project like this so richly deserves. If so, my bad.) Anyway, Gallows has a similar impetus as Castle, as a day at the zoo (a zoo with dinosaurs — JURASSIC PARK 2099) with the family turns ugly when his brother, sister-in-law and mother are all killed by a white-haired villain who cooks them with a microwave gun. Here’s some of the carnage:
Note Mom’s necklace. The Gallows folks are members of the Church of Thor. Yes, in Marvel 2099, Mjolnir will one day trump the cross. Move over Jesus, there’s a new hammer-swinging deity in town, though this faith sure didn’t do the Gallows clan a damn bit of good.
The murderer, Kron Stone, is apprehended, but in this corporate dystopia those with wealth and power are only a debit card swipe away from freedom:
This sends Gallows into a frothing, life-altering rage, and he decides to become a vigilante, modeling his new persona on the author of a certain war journal he discovered in the police archives:
Apparently this old paper journal was given a liberal dosing of Walter “Rorschach” Kovacs trenchcoat stains. Maybe it was taken to the Gunga Diner one too many times.
And that’s pretty much how the story ends, with the last panel being another stiff, full frontal of our “hero” and his giant guns. That’s all this thing is: a lame gun delivery system.
I’ll hold off on any deeper commentary until the Ghost Rider 2099 post. but a few things can be said here. First, the art is unappealing, and that’s being charitable. Maybe my tastes are the ones that are skewed, as the style you see in the above scans was standard back in early to mid-1990s Marvel — like a hacky interpretation of Mark Bagley. Maybe the market demanded stuff like this. But to these eyes, it’s rigid and awkward and rushed and goofy looking. Again, being charitable.
The story? There are two scripters credited, which leaves one wondering what the division of labor was at the helm, especially seeing as the wafer-thin plot in this premier was so numbingly predictable, with nonexistent pacing that lurches like a new driver learning to shift gears. It might be that they were tripping over each other, in a classic variant on the old “too many cooks in the kitchen.” In any event, this is poor storytelling. There’s not much to work with, granted, but still…
Okay. Enough. Stay tuned for the second part of this painful feature, which should be posted sometime next week. Scores shall be settled. Until then, just ponder whether or not things can get any worse. They can’t, can they? CAN THEY?