In 1992, with Spider-Man celebrating his 40th anniversary, Marvel took a look into the future of everybody’s favorite webslinger. Spider-Man 2099, launched that summer, kicked off a new line of books set in the future of the Marvel Universe, where corporations ruled all, cars could fly, and even the likes of Dr. Doom seemed like a ray of hope.
Spider-Man 2099, the flagship of this line, has enjoyed a following that has long outlived the 2099 books. Created by Peter David and Rick Leonardi, it told of Miguel O’Hara, a scientist for the massive corporation Alchemax, who was fused with a spider in a genetic experiment that would have done David Cronenberg proud. Armed with distinctly different variations on the classic spider-powers, Miguel became a force for good in this future world, battling both corporate forces and foes who sometimes darkly reflected Peter Parker’s modern-day enemies.
The firing of line editor Joey Cavalieri led to a mass exodus of 2099 talent, including David, Leonardi, and such high-profile creators as Warren Ellis. The line continued with the short-lived series 2099: World of Tomorrow, before the loose ends were tied up in the notoriously hard-to-find 2099: Manifest Destiny.
However, 2099 is the idea that wouldn’t die. Since its cancelation, Spider-Man 2099 has appeared as several action figures, in video games, and as a regular in Exiles. The line itself has been revived a few times, in the Marvel Knights 2099 event spearheaded by Robert Kirkman a few years back, and in the forthcoming Timestorm by Brian Reed and Eric Battle.
As part of the latest revival, Marvel is bringing some of the 2099 books back into print, starting with a collection of Spider-Man 2099 in April. We took this opportunity to go back to the future with Peter David and look back at what remains one of his best-remembered works. In the process, we not only got a great insight into the stories and characters of 2099, but also into the process of creating a superhero book.
In the first of a three-part series, we talk with David about making Miguel O’Hara different from Peter Parker, his oddball family tree, and sci-fi swear words. It’s Peter David with everything you ever wanted to know about Spider-Man 2099, but were afraid to ask.
Newsarama: Peter, how do you feel about seeing Spider-Man 2099 back in print?
Peter David: Well, it’s a real nostalgia trip. I mean, who knew? I had no idea that there so much support or interest for the character that people would want to see a collection of those stories, or that Marvel would want to do a trade collection of them. You don’t always have an idea of what people want to see – but there must be some demand for it, because Marvel’s doing it!
NRAMA: How do you personally rank the book among your projects, in terms of the creative experience and fan response?
PAD: The entire experience of working on the 2099 universe is one of my most pleasant memories of working on a creative endeavor. Sitting in a room with a bunch of very talented people, crafting a new universe – not to be confused with crafting the New Universe.
I still remember like yesterday sitting in the conference room with Rick Leonardi. We’d broken into all our little groups, and I was describing what I wanted to see for Spider Man’s costume, and Rick was sitting there and designing it to my specifications. He designed the chest emblem, and the way it reached around, and the webbing that was on the back of the costume. That all came out of that conversation, of Rick and me sitting there bouncing ideas off of each other.
It was a very stimulating creative endeavor. Not one that you typically get to do as a writer, because unless you’re working on a television show--where everyone’s in a room together practically every day, bouncing ideas off each other--writing often results in a great deal of solitude.
NRAMA: I’d like to get into the origins of the book. How did you first come to work on Spider-Man 2099?
PAD: I was one of a number of writers who were invited to pitch an idea for Spider-Man 2099. Marvel had decided they were going to do the 2099 line, and we were given some basic parameters of what the world would be like – some sketchy stuff, such as that it was going to be the corporations who were running the world, which when it boils down, isn’t all that different from the world we know now.
So we were asked to pitch an idea for Spider-Man 2099 in this world that had been sketched out. It was maybe a page worth of information as to what this world was going to be like. And so, I pitched an outline for the Spider-Man of 2099, as did several other writers. I created the character of Miguel O’Hara, came up with the origin, that sort of thing.
I pitched this, and they came back to me, and Joey Cavalieri said, “We read your pitch for Spider-Man 2099, and we’re interested in you writing this.” And I was paid a bonus – I don’t remember how much, but not a ton, probably—adjusted for inflation--comparable to what Siegel and Schuster got for Superman – which was fine because Marvel had created the character of Spider-Man 2099, I had just come in and fleshed out the background. But anyway, I said “Sure, this sounds like fun,” and I got the bonus and the writing assignment.
And I got to write the book that essentially launched the entire 2099 universe.
NRAMA: How much did you get to flesh out in terms of the overall universe?
PAD: All the stuff about Miguel, I came up with – all the powers, the background, the personality aspects, that was me. In terms of building up the world itself…1) that was years ago, and I didn’t know there was going to be a quiz. (laughs) 2) Much of what made up the universe resulted from group meetings and get-togethers and ideas batting back and forth. I don’t know.
For instance, I think – I think – I was the one who came up with the notion that there was an underbelly to New York, that the older city had been built over, but that there were still people living in the lower part. I think I came up with that, but I can’t be absolutely sure.
NRAMA: I was curious about the mock-swear-word “shock,” because that sounds like something you’d come up with…
PAD: I don’t think that was me. I think that came out of the meetings. And the concept of “shock” was a shortening of “future shock.” If it was set in the future, you would say “shock.” I don’t know if it was particularly brilliant or clever, but that’s where it came from. But if you want to credit it to me, be my guest!
NRAMA: That was my first sci-fi swear word. It was the “frak” of its day for me. Of course, then I found Red Dwarf, and it was all “smeg.”
PAD: It beat the hell out of “felgercarb,” if you remember that one.
NRAMA: (laughs) I do. I’d like to talk about the development of the character of Miguel O’Hara. You’ve said elsewhere that you wanted him to be the reverse of Peter Parker.
PAD: Pretty much every place where Stan (Lee) zigged, I zagged. Which is not to say that Stan did it wrong – quite the contrary. But my feeling was, if we’re going to make him a character unique unto himself, then we have to take all the choices that Stan Lee made with the original Spider-Man, and do the exact opposite.
So whereas Peter Parker is a high school student, Miguel is a fully-realized adult working in a laboratory. Whereas Peter was shy and reticent and didn’t know how to talk to girls but talky and outgoing as Spider-Man, Miguel O’Hara was a fully-confident wiseacre with a fiancée…and as Spider-Man, relatively mute.
If you look at Spider-Man in Spider-Man 2099, he didn’t talk all that much. My attitude was that he was simply concentrating. Whereas Peter Parker was always making wisecracks to keep himself steady, Miguel was absolutely dead silent, because he was focusing on what he had to do.
NRAMA: You also predicted some of the evolutions of Spider-Man’s abilities, doing more of a Jeff Goldblum-in-The Fly-type origin…
PAD: Yeah, I couldn’t come up with any reasonable reason why he would have mechanical web shooters. I tried. And then I thought, you know, “Why can’t he develop spinnerets? As long as I don’t have webs shooting out of his ass…” So I put the spinnerets in his arms.
By the same token, to have him do something other than swinging around town on web lines, I gave him the glider material on his back, because I was reading up on spiders, and I was fascinated by the concept of parachute spiders who essentially floated around on the air. So I said, “Why not give him a costume that lets him float through the air on air currents?” So generally, he ricocheted off walls and floated, rather than swinging from one building to the next.
NRAMA: You mentioned earlier how you and Rick developed the costume together. What was the inspiration for that design?
PAD: The inspiration for the costume came from Miguel’s background. When I decided to make him of mixed heritage, I started doing research on both Mexicans and the Irish. In my research, I came across the entire festival of the Day of the Dead, and I thought, “That’s perfect!”
In my mind, I wanted a reasonable reason for him to have a costume with a death’s head skull on it. I liked that image; I liked the idea of a death’s head skull with spider legs coming out of it. It was like taking the black widow image to the next level. And the notion of death being associated with the Day of the Dead festival helped everything fall into place. Plus it give him a reasonable rationale for having a costume lying around!
The concept that he could just sit there and sew up a costume also didn’t make a whole lot of sense. So why couldn’t it be that he had a costume that he could throw on at a moment’s notice when he wanted to create another identity for himself.? When all those elements came together with the Mexican Day of the Dead, I went with it. Like I said, it was a combination of all these things put together.
An interesting thing is that a year after the book came out, we were riding the Mexican ride at Epcot Center at Disney World. It was the first time we’d ridden it, and there on the screen was a guy jumping around in a costume that was almost a dead ringer for the costume of Spider-Man 2099! So I went, “Okay, I did get it right!”
NRAMA: You brought up Miguel’s mixed heritage. Granted, that’s something you see a lot in the everyday world, but it hadn’t been done often in comics, particularly superhero books, at that point in time.
PAD: Nope. Again, we’re talking about the culture of a world 100 years in the future. I thought that it made sense to underscore the mixed-race heritage, which becomes more and more and more prevalent each year. So I wanted to have a character with mixed heritage, and the way to do that was to give him a name that was as mixed as could possibly be.
Plus, you know, you’re looking for names that hadn’t been used that much, and I don’t think there had ever been a hero named “Miguel” before. And to a certain degree, I based the name on (actor) Miguel Ferrer.
NRAMA: I did not know this, but it makes sense – you two are friends.
PAD: I actually asked him, and he said, “Okay!” He loved the idea of having a superhero named after him. Not only that, but the other thing I liked about the name “Miguel” was that it was flexible, because there were different ways that people could address him that said something about their relationship to him.
For example, his mother addressed him as “Miguel.” His fiancé addressed him as Miguel. His brother called him “Miggy.” And his boss, Tyler Stone, always called him “Mike,” which is the Hispanic-to-English version, if you will. And it always drove Miguel nuts, and underscored the divide between Tyler Stone and Miguel.
The funny thing is, when I introduced his brother calling him “Miggy,” I received a little bit of flack on that from Joey Cavalieri, because he said “Miggy” was a ridiculous nickname for “Miguel.” And I told him that that was Miguel Ferrer’s nickname – his friends, including myself, all call him “Miggy.” So…it turned out Joey was watching a TV show, and there was a character named “Miguel,” and another character called him “Miggy,” and Joey was finally convinced.
NRAMA: That brings us into the supporting cast. Miguel had…one of the more interesting families in comics. Let’s start with his brother, Gabriel, who was almost more of the kind of person you’d expect to become Spider-Man.
PAD: That’s exactly it. I liked the idea of giving him a brother because, again, zigging where Stan zagged. Peter Parker had pretty much nobody. There was Aunt May, you know, but she was very frail, and when Spider-Man glanced her way, she looked like she was about to go into cardiac arrest.
I liked the idea of Gabe being introduced very early on as a confidant for Miguel, who would find out in very short order that he was Spider-Man. And he found out pretty damn quick, if I recall. The audience knew that he was in on it pretty quickly. Again, it was just a matter of looking at what had already been done, then doing something that was contrary to it.
So as opposed to Peter Parker, who would be sitting there alone every issue with no one to talk to, no one to unburden himself to, Miguel has a brother who has his own set of problems and his own difficulties, but he’s someone Miguel can talk to about Spider-Man and what’s going on in his own life.
NRAMA: And of course there was Gabe and Miguel’s mother, who…talk about zigging where Stan zagged.
PAD: Conchata, right. Well, my feeling was that he had to get the fiery Mexican disposition from somewhere. I wanted there to be a female presence in his life, and there was no reason his mother shouldn’t be in his life. And what I liked about his mother was that she was a total nutcase. To a certain degree, even though she was Mexican, I wrote her as a Jewish mother. What was fun about Conchata was that she was a strong woman with a very strong personality, and she had no problem with Spider-Man, as opposed to her son.
In fact, the reason he didn’t tell her he was Spider-Man was because she’d start telling him everything Spider-Man needs to do – “Oh no, you mustn’t do this, you should do this.” She wouldn’t have a heart attack, she’d be going, “This is what Spider-Man should be doing today, this is what he should be involved with.”
NRAMA: Continuing with the supporting cast, who did you ultimately prefer as the woman for Miguel – Dana or Xina?
PAD: You know, I actually liked Xina. She was named after a girl I knew in high school, whose name was likewise Xina. I had nothing against Dana, it wasn’t a matter of Xina being more qualified for Miguel, but she seemed more able to keep up with him.
SPOILERS FOR THOSE READING ONLY THE TRADES
NRAMA: That’s interesting, because I remember reading the issue where Dana dies, and thinking that it was the duller, Gwen Stacy-type character who died, leaving Spider-Man to…well, the Mary Jane-type character.
PAD: Yeah. I wasn’t really thinking about it consciously. I’d actually toyed with the idea of Miguel eventually marrying Dana, but the more time I spent with Xina, the more I liked her. And I felt like I killed off Dana in order to keep Xina around, but in the end, it just came down to a matter of dramatic necessity. The dynamic between the three of them felt like it had to come down to something huge, and as a result, I knocked off Dana. If nothing else, I thought knocking off Dana would have more of an emotional impact on Miguel than knocking off Xina would.
Next: Who was the Goblin 2099? Who was the Net Prophet? What was it like teaming Spider-Man 2099 up with Peter Parker…and who did he almost team up with?