by Matthew Jent
Writer: Peter David
Artist: Will Sliney
Colorist: Antonio Fabela
Cover: Simone Bianchi
Everything new is old again.
The Marvel Universe of 2099 debuted in 1993 with four titles, one of which was Spider-Man 2099. The bulk of the series, featuring Miguel O’Hara as Spider-Man battling supervillains and the evil-future-corporation of Alchemax, was written by Peter David.
I love Peter David. He’s a wonderful writer who knows dialogue, structure, and character development. David is a superhero in his own right — when he suffered a stroke in 2012, he broke the news himself on his blog a few days later, and he’s been writing comics pretty consistently since his recovery. It’s flat-out wonderful that David is writing a Spider-Man 2099 comic in the year 2014, the actual 21st century.
That said? It’s a big challenge to take on alternate versions of popular characters, especially the Peter Parker version of Spider-Man. Done right, the creators have to maintain the things that make the character fun and interesting, while adding something new. Ultimate Spider-Man does this by going back to basics. Miles Morales is emotionally vulnerable. He’s sometimes unsure of himself and his powers, and he’s trying to balance real-life with superheroics, just like Peter Parker in his heyday. But he also reflects the times. He struggles with familial expectations Peter Parker didn’t have to deal with, and frankly it’s just nice to see a superhero comic starring a Latino/African-American character.
Miguel O’Hara, the Spidey of 2099 (living in the present-day since a storyline in 2013’s Superior Spider-Man), goes in a different direction. Miguel is … kind of a jerk. It’s an interesting twist on the idea that Spider-Man is a cool guy, while his secret identity is a yutz. Miguel meets three women over the course of this issue, and he’s sarcastic and dismissive to the first, contemplates manipulating another because she might be depressed (which is the superhero-stalker equivalent of “you should smile more”), and nearly kills a third while fighting off the seemingly nameless villain-of-the-issue.
There’s a plot development involving one of these women in the last few pages — not a full-fledged twist, just some good old fashioned forward narrative momentum, as we should expect from Peter David — and it has a lot of potential. It’s unclear if this iteration of Spider-Man 2099 will rise to the challenge of paying off that development, but it certainly points the series in a direction that could be fun and blackmail-y, with everyone working multiple sides.
Miguel has moments of pure Spidey-dom — he has a wardrobe malfunction that’s the highlight of the book — but he ultimately fails to be as engaging a personality as Peter Parker or Miles Morales. When other characters in your own comic book seem a little disappointed that you’re not the real deal? It’s hard not to internalize that as a reader.
Will Sliney’s art in this issue is competent, but not exciting. Most characters look like they’re posing, instead of interacting with one another. He has a good handle on Spidey- poses — Miguel’s fingers are definitely Spider-Man’s fingers when he’s scaling walls, and it’s cool to be able to discern the face underneath his form-fitting superhero mask. But overall, my eyeballs are guided more by the word balloons, and less by the art itself. When out-of-costume, Miguel O’Hara has the unfortunate habit of constantly wearing sunglasses. Unexplained in this issue, they protect and hide his red-colored, light-sensitive, spider-powered eyes. But this results in Sliney’s art making Miguel look like the time-traveling lovechild of Tom Cruise and David Caruso. Which, in my book, is further evidence that he’s kind of a jerk.
This relaunch of Spider-Man 2099 is one-part Spider-Man, one-part Quantum Leap (striving to put right what once went wrong), and one-part condescending anti-hero. If that’s an attempt to hang on to some of the edginess of the Doc Ock/Superior Spider-Man version of the character, it’s a worthy experiment. One of the problems I have with the Amazing Spider-Man movies is that Andrew Garfield seems too cooler-than-thou to be Peter Parker, but he’d make a perfectly infuriating Miguel O’Hara.
Spider-Man’s been around for more than 50 years in real time, and with so many alternate versions of the character, there’s room for lots of different interpretations. It’s not a sin to have an unlikeable main character, but it can be a challenge. I’m inclined to trust Peter David, but even in a world where our pop culture heroes have become Walter White and Don Draper, it’s going to be hard to enjoy a Spider-Man who comes across mean-spirited, condescending to the women in his life, and who never takes off his sunglasses.
In the real-life 21st century, our comics community regularly faces problems with thoughtless misogyny. I hope this isn’t the kind of Spider-Man our community deserves in 2014.
Matthew Jent is a writer from the Midwest now living in Southern California. He writes fiction, criticism, and stuff about Ohio at matthewjent.blogspot.com.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.