Spoilers ahead for 2099 Alpha #1.
2099 Alpha #1
Written by Nick Spencer
Art by Viktor Bogdonavic and Marte Gracia
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
The dream of the ‘90s is alive and well - the year 2099, that is. And as our decade winds to a close, writer Nick Spencer and artist Viktor Bogdonavic ring in 2099 Alpha #1 with a resounding “shock!” While this extended one-shot might not necessarily be the most user-friendly introduction for readers unfamiliar with the future of Marvel Comics, it is a fast-paced and well-produced trip down memory lane for those who grew up reading the adventures of Nueva York.
From Norse gangs to the Public Eye to the iron grip of Doom 2099, Spencer dives into this semi-dystopian future with gusto, and it’s some of the best writing I’ve seen from the writer in some time. Opening with choice quotes taken from the history of the Marvel Universe, there’s a sense of scale and scope as we watch a young mutant stumble upon the hammer of Thor, and that’s just the beginning of Spencer’s tour of 2099. Narrated by the despotic Doom - who has chained the Watcher himself - we meet a number of soon-to-be futuristic heroes, from Alchemax employee Miguel O’Hara to Public Eye foot soldier Jake Gallows to newcomers like Conan 2099 and a forlorn H.E.R.B.I.E., an adorable robot risking certain death as he tries to find his long-lost fantastic family.
Of course, some of these cameos are more effective than others - Conan and the Punisher feel more like set dressing for the rest of the world, while Miguel mulling over his future before becoming Spider-Man 2099 evokes the classic Peter David/Rick Leonardi stories. For my money, however, Spencer’s best successes are with Zero Cochrane - the future Ghost Rider 2099, who navigates a lawless world operating on the highway - and with H.E.R.B.I.E., who is surprisingly heartbreaking as he looks for his mother. Spencer’s take on Doom is also superb, but it does require a little bit of prior knowledge to understand some of the twists - granted, convoluted backstory is part of the 2099 universe’s DNA, but it’s something that will appeal more to veteran readers than newcomers.
It also doesn’t hurt that Spencer has some superb artistic collaborators. Artist Viktor Bogdonavic has been steadily rising up the ranks the past few years, and he proves that he’s ready for the big leagues with 2099 Alpha #1. There’s an old-school Capullo vibe to Bogdonavic’s scratchy lines, but his sense of storytelling is really something that deserves praise - the reveal of a mutant child’s third eye is genuinely unsettling, while a victim hanging with a Thor hammer around his neck shows the world of 2099 is not playing around. It’s also because of Bogdonavic’s expressiveness that this book sings - he makes H.E.R.B.I.E. so vulnerable-looking and sad that you instantly feel something for what had previously been a Z-list joke. Colorist Marte Gracia lends so much mood to this far-flung future, especially with a harrowing flashback of Miguel O’Hara getting his powers for the first time, or the eerie glow from the Watcher’s eyes as they’re literally pried apart for knowledge.
If there’s any critique to be leveled at 2099 Alpha #1, it’s that it’s very much setup rather than showcasing many of the 2099 heroes in action - the timing feels like just before the launch of the original Spider-Man 2099, which Spencer leans into admirably, but some readers might cry foul that we’re not seeing fully realized version of Ghost Rider 2099 or Punisher 2099 yet. That also makes for a slightly steep learning curve for people - if you grew up in the ‘90s and have a cursory knowledge of the 2099 lineup, you’ll be up to speed, but if you don’t know about Doom 2099’s convoluted history with duplicates and memory shenanigans, you may be a little behind the curve. (That said, if you’re following Spencer’s work elsewhere in Amazing Spider-Man, you should be all clear.)
Given that Alpha issues are often for completists only, Spencer and Bogdonavic deliver some superb work for 2099 Alpha #1, in part because they’re able to flesh out this futuristic world just as much as the characters that reside in it. Spencer has ably constructed a strong launchpad for the five upcoming 2099 one-shots, and thanks to some sterling production values from Bodgonavic and Gracia, you’ll enjoy this narrative that connects them all. Despite the dangers that lurk within, the future remains a joy to behold in 2099 Alpha #1.