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Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Panel Vision - Comic Book Futures

With Marvel’s Secret Wars event still raging I’ve been thinking a lot about future timelines within comic books.  The weird thing about comics is that despite the completely blank canvas the future provides writers, they tend to produce a lot of similar imaginings for what tomorrow holds.  The general way things fall is stuff like a post-apocalyptic possibility, a utopian future, and something in between.  As such I decided I would highlight a bunch of possible futures from DC and Marvel that deserve more attention.  

 MARVEL 2099
Marvel 2099 is one of the better-known futures I wanted to highlight but it still deserves way more love than it gets.  2099 was a Marvel imprint from 1992 set in the futuristic year of 2099, meant to explore what the Marvel universe would look like at the end of the next century.  For the most part it was a success with Spider-man 2099 as a major success alongside Doom 2099.  The futuristic world of 2099 was pretty engaging overall, featuring a strange universe that combine late ‘80s cyberpunk with early ‘90s cool anti-establishment cultural.  It featured stuff like the villainous Alchemax corporation basically owning the US, a new major religion revolving around Thor, a new Ghostrider with chainsaw on a flying motorbike, and Dr. Doom as the savior of human freedom.  I actually think 2099 is superior to the much more well-known and beloved Batman Beyond universe, which drew from 2099 for inspiration in a lot of aspects.  This is because as much as I loved Batman Beyond it never managed to eclipse its TV show in terms of quality and never really developed its universe and characters beyond Gotham’s boundaries like 2099 did.  

Believe it or not the team of space rogues you know from Guardians of the Galaxy the film aren’t actually the original Guardians of the Galaxy.  The original team came from a comic book event in Avengers known as the Korvac Saga.  They were a band of genetically engineered freedom fighters from the future.  In the future humanity has been enslaved by an evil reptilian race known as the Badoon and the Guardians of the Galaxy are our last saviors.  Most of them are genetically engineered beings designed to work on different planets like Charlie-27, a man designed to withstand Jupiter’s gravity, or Martinex, a crystal being designed to channel thermal heat on Pluto.  Their universe was bizarre but engaging with a major emphasis on 20th century stuff kicking around to cause trouble like a giant horde of evil Iron Man suits brewing in space like a cross between Skynet and the Borg. 

This one is a bit more obscure as it was only featured in a Grant Morrison JLA comic and an episode of Batman Brave and the Bold.  ‘Knights of Tomorrow’ is a future where Bruce Wayne and Catwoman settled down and had a son together.  Their son is the current Robin, working alongside Dick Grayson as Bruce & Selena guide them from the Batcave.  It’s similar in some aspects to Batman Beyond only with the added bonus of more actively addressing Bruce’s gallery of rogues and associates.  What’s more the main story told in Knights of Tomorrow is a unique take on the Return of the Joker that manages to jettison a lot of that films more problematic aspects.  Overall it’s a universe that needs more exploration especially given the nature of superheroes to run towards legacies and generations like this one.

The second in my trilogy of Grant Morrison futures and another one to come from his JLA days in the late ‘90s, DC One Million was a distant future in which humanity had colonized all of our solar system.  The Justice League still exists only now its members are made up of representatives from all of the various planets.  The DC One Million universe is incredibly rich and engaging because of how many tie-ins were involved in the event to say nothing of Morrison’s own obsessive emphasis on detail.  Every little aspect of heroic reality is continued and enhanced here, like Superman having a lineage of descendants, a new Batman acting as warden of the prison Pluto, to the Amazons colonizing Venus.  It’s an incredible series that definitely deserves an ongoing as part of DC’s latest initiative. 

The final Morrison entry, this time coming from his phenomenal run on Batman, Batman #666 presented us with a darkly pre-apocalyptic future in which Damian Wayne sold his soul to the devil to be the best Batman he could be.  Morrison’s vision of a Gotham lost in a world of advanced technology coupled with environmental collapse and moral decay is a Hell to behold.  It’s full of incredibly inventive and menacing villains while Damian has proven himself one of the best Robins of all time over the course of Morrison’s work.  I’m honestly kind of surprised this version of Batman hasn’t gotten more exploration as it ties in well with a lot of current trends that dominant the character’s stories.

Back to Marvel this time for a more obscure entry, Killraven was a comic from the ‘70s during much of Marvel’s 2nd expansionary push.  These were the days when Marvel was branching out again into horror comics as well as fantasy books, especially barbarian fantasy.  That’s sort of where Killraven fits though his genre is better defined as science fantasy, specifically sword and planet fiction.  Killraven is basically an unofficial sequel to H.G. Wells War of the Worlds, set in a world where the tripod Martians have conquered the Earth.  Killraven is the champion of a human resistance assisted by a few additional aliens.  His stories were always a great combo of scifi ideas with barbarian fantasy aesthetics and even featured the first interracial kiss in color comics.  Killraven was actually slated to return as part of Secret Wars with his world of ‘New Mars’ being featured prominently on the Battleworld map but he’s yet to make an actual appearance. 

Camelot 3000 was a limited series from DC comics that came about during DC’s churning cauldron of bizarre experiments and innovation that was the 1980s.  The basic idea is pretty much what’s printed in the title; in the year 3000 the Knights of the Round Table and their foes are reincarnated.  It’s basically an excuse to produce Arthurian characters with futuristic scifi technology but that’s a noble goal if ever I heard one.  The series had a lot of cool and creative elements and walked hand-in-hand with a lot of other DC weirdness at the time like Alan Moore’s Swampthing, the kind of comic that would eventually help lead to the rise of DC’s Vertigo imprint. 

These guys are actually an old concept from the early ‘60s when DC was still publishing anthology scifi action adveture comics.  The Atomic Knights were a group of noble warriors operating out of an irradiated future America full of weird animalistic aberrations.  The Knights used advanced technology and energy incorporated into armor that looked distinctly archaic and rode around the apocalyptic wastes on horse sized Dalmatians.  The whole concept is the kind of high concept wackiness approached with stone faced sincerity that populated so much of DC’s silver age of comics.  Despite their relative obscurity in the public eye DC has returned to the Atomic Knights concept multiple times over the years, most recently appearing in the various Bludhaven related series in the run up to Final Crisis as well as getting their own universe in Grant Morrison’s Multiversity.

One of Jack Kirby’s most underrated creations, though that’s not saying much given Kirby invented the Fantastic Four, Captain America, Thor, The Hulk, and the New Gods.  Kirby produced OMAC when he came to DC and was asked to write what amounted to “Captain America but in the future.”  So he came up with the One Man Army Corp, a satellite coordinate super-being that fought for the faceless men of the global peace agency in a future full of technological horrors.  So much of OMAC’s future is incredibly iconic that it almost demands to be readdressed, things like the friend in a box or the idea of being able to rent a city.  Most of all I’d like to see a return to the classic OMAC design and an emphasis on the world of his original adventures as Keith Giffen and Dan Didio already did a good job creating a contemporary analog to them with their OMAC comic. 

Even better than OMAC’s bizarre and terrifying futurism is the world of Joe Simon and Jerry Grandenetti’s Prez.  Prez is a beautiful diamond of insanity that could only be produced in the unique era of 1973-1974.  The book is rife with political passion, inspired to righteous anger by the presidential election of 1972 and informed by the fading ideology of ‘60s flower child liberalism and ‘70s inclusivity.  All of this political rigmarole ends up smothered over in the kind of completely nonsensical high concept material that comics had been fleeing from since 1968.  It’s the kind of insane world where an 18 year old president is the most sane and logical part of its mythos, a world where that President fights robotic exploding man-sized chess pieces or negotiates peace deals with wolfmen.  It’s political farce meets acid trip at a rock the vote rally. 

I know what you’re thinking but bare with me: yes, 2001: A Space Odyssey was both a book and then a film.  However, after it became a film Marvel comics optioned the rights to produce a comic book adaptation of the film…sort of.  Most of Marvel’s adaptations ended up more like continuations of the story based on extrapolations from key elements, a fact made even worse because Jack Kirby was tapped to adapt it.  Kirby is a great writer but his “adaptations” are always incredibly weird, like how his world of Kamandi was meant as a soft-core adaptation of Planet of the Apes.  In the case of 2001: A Space Odyssey Kirby did adapt part of the film, in particular the key idea of an alien sentient obelisk influencing humanity’s development going forward.  It’s an incredibly metaphysical comic with a huge scope, tracing the obelisk’s influence on humanity as it percolates own through generations of DNA.  The whole idea of the comic is seeing this unknowable alien intelligence gifting simple concepts to ancient cavemen and seeing how the dominos fall for those concepts to shape the world of our future.  Best of all this is still technically in Marvel continuity as the character of Machine Man, a cult classic character at Marvel, was introduced through the 2001: A Space Odyssey comics.  

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