Fantastic Four 2099

By | Thursday, April 30, 2020 2 comments
Fantastic Four 2099
Matt Kuhns has thoughtful piece about the old Ghost Rider 2099 series. I've never read that series, but I did pick up smattering of the 2099 titles back in the day. One of Kuhns' passages stuck out to me though...
The Ghost Rider is not there to “play in a sandbox,” the Ghost Rider is there to make big, hands-on changes to a world filled with things he doesn’t like.

This is a possibility available for any fantasy fiction, including all superhero comics and especially a sprawling “imaginary story” like the 2099 line. The great majority of major superhero comics are ultimately informed more by preserving an existing order than by changing it, though.
It strikes me that that is the biggest failing of Fantastic Four 2099, moreso than any other title in the line. While most of the 2099 titles featured characters that took up the mantle or were inspired by their 1990s namesakes, the Fantastic Four of 2099 were... the Fantastic Four. They seemed to have been literally plucked from the timestream and dropped into the 2099 world. Nothing about them seemed any different than what you could read in Fantastic Four. Fantastic Four 2099 took the exact same team and just dropped them into a different environment.

(This was later revealed that they were actually constructs made by Uatu, and not the original Fantastic Four. But even the Fantastic Four of 2099 did not know that, and they fully believed themselves to be the original characters. I'm not sure if that was part of the plan from the start or this was a later idea.)

So not only was Fantastic Four 2099 about maintaining their status quo, but they were effectively maintaining the status quo of the source title they were expressly supposed to break from.

Now, personally, I like that concept. The Fantastic Four are generally explorer characters, but they explore from a solid base of operations and go off exceptionally prepared. Often thanks to whatever gizmos Mr. Fantastic has packed into their vehicle. There's backup equipment and redundant operational functionality; they can head off into completely unknown dimensions and rest assured that they'll have a safe way home. So the idea that the team is thrown into a situation in which they have no fore-knowledge and no equipment, where they can only and exclusively rely on their own powers and wits is one that intrigues me. And, in fact, some of the issues on their own are pretty good in that respect (Karl Kesel always writes a darn good FF, and the art in #2 is by the incomparable John Buscema!)

But that doesn't need its own title. As Kuhns pointed out, Fantastic Four 2099 just didn't "have any persuasive sense of a reason for existing." It was just the same book. In point of fact, in January 1996 when Fantastic Four 2099 launched, the main Fantastic Four book was wrapping up a story in which Mr. Fantastic had been time-displaced and forced to live by his powers and wits alone. A notably different execution between the two, of course, but the point being that there wasn't a huge difference between the two conceptually. For a team who's rooted in exploration, Fantastic Four 2099 largely did the opposite of that by largely retreading old ground.

The whole 2099 line went down in flames when Marvel fired line editor Joey Cavalieri, and several of the writers left in solidarity. All of the titles were cancelled almost immediately and replaced with a single 2099: World of Tomorrow title that tried to wrangle all the various storylines together. That book was cancelled after eight issues.

For as good as some of the 2099 titles were (Spider-Man 2099 ran for an impressive 46 issues) and broke new ground with the character concepts, Fantastic Four 2099 was disappointingly built off a very different concept that didn't really stand apart from its namesake.
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Anonymous said...

Comment: way back in the day, I wrote to Karl Kesel and asked him what he would have done with the book. It was entirely his intention that this would have been the original FF, plucked from a very obvious moment in John Byrne's run (one of the issues makes it obvious where). He also mentioned that the reference to the "Tzar of the Negative Zone" was going to be a really old Blastaar. So, there you have it.

Matt K said...

Yeah. To be completely honest, I felt at the time and still feel today like the series actually got better during the last few issues which were thrown together by a replacement team. At least some things happened, compared with the aimlessness of issues 2-5.

Re: the origin of FF 2099, I wonder if there was ever one, fully thought-out plan. I can't find anything online, now, but I swear I read once that this team was going to be the four-man crew which wandered into a Negative Zone storm, in 2099 Genesis. The idea was that some artifact had "recorded" the original team on one of its visits, a century before, then "wrote over" the four techs when they stumbled upon it during the storm.