Hot off creating their own alt-Marvel Universe in last spring’s “Age of X-Man” crossover, writers Zac Thompson and Lonnie Nadler are turning their eye to Marvel’s future – specifically the year 2099.
As part of the 2099 setting’s 25th anniversary, Nadler and Thompson, along with artists Matt Horak and Eoin Marron, will introduce an updated version of Punisher 2099 that speaks directly to the seeds currently being planted for our own real world future.
Newsarama spoke with Thompson and Nadler ahead of Punisher 2099’s November 27 release to dig into how the new 2099 looks compared to the one we know, what’s at stake for a future version of a gun-toting vigilante, and how that squares with building a better future.
Newsarama: Zac and Lonnie, as the masterminds behind “Age of X-Men” you’ve revisited classic Marvel stories in spirit before – but Punisher 2099 is a more direct continuation of the cult favorite 1990s line. How’d you come to this, and what’s it like traveling to the future?
Lonnie Nadler: We were told fairly early on in the process that Nick Spencer was working on bringing back the 2099 universe for Marvel’s 80th anniversary because our editor, Darren Shan, knew that we were fans of the original titles. Once Nick had outlined this remodeled version of 2099 we were brought on board to help build it out further alongside a group of other, rather seasoned, writers.
Though Zac and I had experience with event worldbuilding from our “Age of X-Man” stint, it was still intimidating to be on calls with people like Gerry Duggan and Chip Zdarsky because they’re guys I’ve looked up to for years. It was a surreal moment, just kind of a realization of, “Oh. Now I’m at the same table as these guys. I better not say anything stupid.”
At the same time it was exhilarating because you could feel the passion everyone was bringing to their respective titles. It was clear that we all wanted to help redefine the future of Marvel, and update the 2099 universe to reflect more contemporary themes, and to stray from typical cyberpunk aesthetics and tropes in order to offer something with a bit more originality by modern standards. I’m a big science fiction reader and getting to marry that with my affinity for Marvel heroes has been incredibly rewarding.
Zac Thompson: As Lonnie said, it was all pretty intimidating and wonderful. It was a collaborative process from the get-go where everyone would hop on the phone and talk about this massive sprawling future and what corner of the world we wanted to build out. A lot of it was deciding what the overarching story would be and how these characters figured into it. Everyone was coming at the world with the idea of how to modernize 2099 and still take the things that worked so well in the original.
So in many ways its a celebration of the past by telling a story about the future. It’s not very often you get to worldbuild with some of the best minds in comics and we didn’t take the opportunity lightly. Everything from the way the city is designed from cyberspace got an update in these talks. Fans are going to go nuts when they see all the wonderful things we’ve weaved into this new future.
Nrama: This version of 2099 is a bit different from the original line. The solicitation for Punisher 2099 implies there could be a new vigilante on the streets of Nueva York. What can you tell us about that?
Nadler: I think people will be surprised to see just how different this 2099 is. While Nick made sure to keep familiar elements in tow, his goal, and ours, was to give readers a more robust and realistic vision of the future. The last 2099 books were made almost 30 years ago and so naturally their predictions are a bit dated. What we get instead is a 2099 that reflects contemporary ideals, fears, and questions.
Speaking specifically for our Punisher title, Zac and I were concerned with engaging in conversations about classism, the fluidity and multiplicity of identity, dependence on technology, and corruption within systems. Taking from the Warren Ellis school of thought, there’s an overload of heady ideas jammed into 30 pages and it’s all in an effort to offer readers a new take on the Punisher mythos while engaging them in serious discussions about where we’re headed as a society. Thought provoking, but with no shortage of action.
Thompson: Beyond that we wanted to look at surveillance in the future. What does it mean when every action is monitored and scored? Given the current erosion of our privacy at the hands of tech giants it only seemed logical that this was the direction of the future. We were really interested in what happens when surveillance becomes sous-veillance or the idea that everyone is watching each other at all times. What do you do in a world where there are eyes everywhere? And how does that change something like the Public Eye police force, and The Punisher? In keeping with all of that, we wanted to update the idea of the revenge fantasy that The Punisher embodies in that context. We found a pretty interesting way to shake things up.
Nrama: What’s your personal history with the 2099 setting? Are you coming to this story as fans?
Nadler: I absolutely loved Spider-Man 2099 when I was a kid solely based on his costume. It was one of the few books I collected at the time because I was very young and didn’t even fully understand that this was not Peter Parker. However, when I got older I dove into the 2099 catalogue again and there were so many wild ideas thrown around that I instantly felt this sense of nostalgia for it. These were daring books, unafraid to offer novel takes on heroes we know and love.
It wasn’t until I read Ellis’ run on Doom 2099, though, that I really started to understand the appeal of this timeline. He took something that easily could have been a cheap sci fi villain story and treated it with a sense of gravitas that made it unique and bold and unlike any other sci fi we’d seen at Marvel before. That’s very much the spirit Zac and I tried to capture here. So what you get is Punisher mixed with our penchant for Philip K. Dick and Ghost in the Shell.
Thompson: I’ve always adored the 2099 world. I was rabidly consuming my older brother’s comics as a kid, and he was a huge 2099 fan. I grew up at the perfect time for it, and Spider-Man 2099’s costume really spoke to me. The claws, the big skull on the chest, the dark blue all of it - not to mention the heavy nods to David Cronenberg in the origin story.
From there, 2099 became my quintessential future - the year where I envisioned everything was going to change. I’ve kept that love with me for years and never in my wildest dreams did I think we’d be part of bringing it back.
So with that in mind, we set out to tell a Punisher story that would set fans imaginations on fire. Big ideas, big action, and big worldbuilding. All in the service of an ever expanding world and imagination. If someone reads this and falls in love with the world like I did all those years ago - my work as a comic book writer will be done.
Nrama: We’d like to imagine a future 80 years from now where a character like Punisher wouldn’t be necessary. When writing a story like Punisher 2099, what are the principles about the Punisher you’re keeping in mind across eras and characters?
Nadler: I’m glad you bring this up because this was a real consideration Zac and I had when crafting this story. There’s a lot of problematic stuff that comes with the Punisher given conversations surrounding gun violence in the United States right now, but I think Matt Rosenberg said it best, and I paraphrase, the thing about the Punisher is that he’s wrong.
So, our driving questions became, what does a new Punisher look like 80 years from now? How does he deal with violence? What does punishment look like in the future? Who is it that really deserves to be punished? Who should be doling out the punishment? And, finally, what does revenge look like at the turn of the next century? It was a delicate balance between answering these questions and still making sure this character represents the Punisher, more or less. I can’t say much else without spoiling the issue.
Thompson: That is the single biggest driving force of the issue. Lonnie and I spent a ton of time breaking down how to update everything the Punisher stands for while also ensuring we captured the themes core to the character. The result is something that no one is expecting, but something that speaks volumes about where (we think) we’re headed in North American society.
Nrama: You’re working with artist Matt Horak and Eoin Marron. What makes them the perfect collaborators for Punisher 2099?
Nadler: When we heard Matt was coming on board to draw this, Zac and I were seriously elated. Not only does Matt have experience drawing the Punisher on a fantastic run, but he’s also the kind of artist we love. Matt isn’t afraid to experiment with layouts. He has a real talent for adding small details to stretch out moments, to linger on actions, and that’s exactly the kind of visual representation required for a nuanced science fiction world. Matt took our script and really understood the core principles we were getting at and managed to elevate them on every page.
Eoin Marron also stepped in to do a few pages, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention his work here. We’ve worked with Eoin before and for such a young guy, he works like a veteran. His style is not dissimilar to Matt’s and the pages he put out for this are also just a perfect fit. I’m really happy with how this one came together.
Thompson: Matt is one of the most versatile storytellers I’ve ever worked with. With every page of this book, he took what we had on the page and unpacked it - adding detail, making the action flow, and elevating everything. We’re indebted to his skills. And as Lonnie said, with a fantastic background as a Punisher artist on his resume, we were overjoyed at the chance to create this new Punisher 2099 adventure together. Matt’s one of the best, and some of his pages in this issue are going to blow minds.
And yes, Eoin Marron stepped in to help and honestly we couldn’t be more thrilled with his work either. Eoin worked on our creator-owned series Her Infernal Descent and he’s legitimately one of the best artists in the business. More people need to hire him as soon as possible.
Nrama: What’s this version of the Punisher up against in this one-shot?
Nadler: Largely himself, in the simplest of terms. Of course there are plenty of other foes for him to deal with like a robot gone haywire and an uprising of Thorites, but as the issue goes on, those aspects come to mean less and less when he realizes where the true antagonism lies.
Thompson: Lonnie pretty much hit the nail on the head.
Nrama: What aspects of the 2099 mythos are you most excited to dip your toes into?
Nadler: For me it’s really just the idea of doing science fiction at Marvel. I know a lot of people tend to think Marvel books are already science fiction, but they’re really more on the fantasy side of things if I’m allowed to be fastidious about genre for moment. Fantasy deals with the imagination and presents the fantastical without rational explanation. Science fiction involves the use of actual scientific principles or theories to examine a possible future or world. The original 2099 understood this and was way ahead of its time in dealing with issues of cyberspace, hacking, government corruption, corporate monopolies, etc. It’s that same spirit we are trying to capture here.
Thompson: For me, it’s the chance to take all the things I loved about the original 2099 and update them in new and challenging ways. Cyberspace, the public eye, Thorites, face scramblers, flying cars, and androids...just to name a few. It’s so exciting to envision a new and dynamic future for the Marvel universe.
Nrama: How does the experience of creating a story to tie into a somewhat larger tapestry, as you’re doing with Punisher 2099 #1, compare to the experience of building one of these events from the ground up, as with “Age of X-Man”?
Nadler: “Age of X-Man” took over mine and Zac’s life for a full year. It was pretty much all I thought about every day. It was a blast, it was rewarding, but at times exhausting to be responsible for an entire new plane of existence. This time, we’re just along for the ride and happy to be part of it. We’d obviously love to do another big event some day to apply some of the things we learned after doing it so early on in our careers, but for now, it’s nice to partake in a world that we helped to design but didn’t engineer from the ground up.
Thompson: As Lonnie said, it was refreshing to not have to lead the charge this time around. We learnt so much from “Age of X-Man” and we applied everything from that experience into how we approached 2099. I like to think we’re developing some real solid worldbuilding chops and it’s always exciting to build new worlds with super talented writers and artists. I’ll honestly remember both experiences for the rest of my life.
Nrama: For fans of Punisher 2099, what can you promise from this anniversary one-shot?
Nadler: You’ll see familiar faces, concepts, and language, but a lot of wild new stuff as well. There are plenty of easter eggs hidden away for diehard fans of the original, but, as I said, our concern was taking this character in a new direction so as to best represent the future of Marvel heroism.
Thompson: Surprises! We’re playing with your expectations and trying to surprise new and old fans alike. This is both a celebration of 2099, and a bold step toward a new dawn for Marvel’s future. You’ve never really seen comics like this, and I can’t wait for people to take a peek behind our crazy sci fi world. There’s so much to unpack on every page that readers will be coming back to these one shots for a while.