Monday, September 16, 2013

2099 Unlimited #9: "Night of the Impaler"/"The Secrets of Spider-Man 2099"/"Steel Rain"/"The Dump"

** (two of five stars)


Public Eye officers burst into Miguel's laboratory, demanding that he come with them.  With co-workers watching with a mixture of suspicion and sympathy, Miguel is marched down the hallway, wondering who discovered his secret identity.  He's then presented to Stone, who reveals the reason why he had Miguel arrested:  some "reliable information" indicated that an aggressive corporate head-hunter firm was coming to poach him.  Although Stone claims that he knows that Miguel is loyal to Alchemax, he declares that he's not taking any chances.  Miguel asks why someone would try to steal him from Alchemax and Tyler informs him that he simply knows that some intercepted intelligence said that they were after an O'Hara.  The Public Eye officers then take Miguel to his home where he'll be under house arrest.  However, they're attacked en route by the head hunter, Vlad the Impaler, who destroys the flybike that one of the escorting Public Eye officers was using.  Unwisely, the other officer (the one carrying Miguel) fires on Vlad in revenge for the loss of his partner, but Vlad disarms him and grabs Miguel.  However, upon scanning Miguel, Vlad realizes that he's not after him.  Vlad hurls Miguel from him and Miguel breaks his bonds in free fall so that he can shoot off a Web-Line and stop his fall.  Miguel is then collected by the remaining Public Eye officer, who brings him home, where a message from Tyler confirms Miguel's hunch that Vlad is actually after his brother, Gable.  Tyler informs Miguel to stay home and not do anything "foolish" to try to warn Gabe.  In reality, Miguel's options to do so are limited, since other Public Eye officers are on the scene (and rummaging through his apartment).  When one of them finds his Spider-Man costume, Miguel convinces him that it's a Day of the Dead costume and then sends him and the other officers to the kitchen for food.  He then has Lyla release a tryptophan gas in the apartment so that he can escape while they sleep.  (He exposits that the tryptophan function came with the apartment as an anti-insomnia device.)  Instructing Lyla to tell them that he's in his lab when they awaken, Miguel heads downtown.

His thoughts exposits that head hunters track down talent for a client, kidnap talent and sell them to the highest bidder, or hold them for ransom.  Since they're often "rough customers," Miguel is worried about Gabe, who he discovers just as he's being attacked by three thugs.  Miguel makes short work of them, only to discover that they're not head hunters but Fenris gang-members.  Miguel instructs Gabe to stay put while he collects Gabe's stuff from the Thorite camp where he's been saying, since he figures Vlad has probably staked out the place.  At the camp, Vlad finds his target, a young boy whose parents are preparing him for a scholarship interview so that he can go to school uptown at Alchemax.  Miguel saves the boy's father from Vlad's attack and then chases Vlad into the sky, using his Web-Lines to grab him.  But, Vlad uses his spears to cut himself free, sending Miguel plummeting to a nearby rooftop.  Vlad doesn't recognize Spidey, mistaking him for a rival head-hunter, and plans on killing him.  The young boy, who's hanging from a tower by his cape, feels badly that Spider-Man could die for trying to save him and hurls his helmet at Vlad, ruining his aim as he hurls his spears at Spidey.  Vlad grabs Spidey and attempts to use his tentacle ribs something to him, but Spidey uses one of the spears that Vlad shot at him to fry his circuits.  He then fills Vlad's "ROM drive" with Web-Fluid, sending him careening uncontrollably into the sky.  Meanwhile, the boy's cape snaps and Miguel catches him while he falls.  Telling Spidey that he's "Gedde O'Hara," Miguel realizes that he's the "G. O'Hara" that Tyler said was Vlad's target.  Miguel returns home to discover that Lyla has won the officers' clothing in a rousing game of strip "Go Fish."

In an indy city-state called Hollowpoint (an artificially created "shunt" island in the "intercorporate waters adjacent to the Alchemax seaborder"), a spy named Dawn contemplates dying if she gets caught.  She's there because Hollowpoint is developing a new "combatech and c-space raiding gear" and Alchemax wants her to steal it so that Hollowpoint doesn't get an edge.  However, she's really there because she's a wet engineer working in secret and hoping no one will steal her advances in "liquid machinery."  She exposits that, 20 minutes earlier, a cop tried to arrest her for crimes against the state.  He decided that she was resisting arrest, but, before he could kill her, she manages to grab his gun and shoot him in the face, since his "hardbonded bodysuit" is proofed against his own gun, but doesn't cover his face.  She races home, where she called her boss, who informs her that he's been demoted and someone named Payne Northedge has taken his place.  Her boss breaks into Payne's secret codes to help her escape from Hollowpoint, but discovers that Payne signaled to Hollowpoint that she was there.  Her boss tells her that someone is coming and then the line goes dead.  In the present, Dawn exposits that she's been building a wetsuit, "Steel Rain," which replaces the wearer's blood with the suit itself.  Calling it the terror of Stark/Fujikawa for its military and police applications, she decides to activate it on herself, since she had sunk exchange ports into herself for small tests.  She begins the transfer, which will give her an armor with four basic settings, and marvels at how cold she feels.  Hollowpoint guards attempt to break into her building, but she sets it on fire.  The guards fire on her, but she's proofed her armor against their repulsor beams, since Stark/Fujikawa has been using them for a century.  She uses her spitgun to kill one of the guards with "globules of wetmetal" and then her chaingun to disrupt the atomic bonding of things around her, killing the rest of the guards in the ensuing explosions.  She then takes to the air to return to New York and find Payne, seeking revenge for him making her leave her blood and innocence in Hollowpoint.

En route to New York, two Alchemax "Edgerunner" border-patrol jets identify her as a foreign body.  Before they catch her, she enters a stealth mode and drops off their screens.  Dawn enters a dive and lands on a rooftop in New York.  Finding some clothes, she discovers that Northedge has wiped his logs and her boss has gone missing.  Noting that he never knew her, Dawn decides to show him "what he sold [her] for -- Steel Rain."  She tracks down Northedge's address, a junk yard located in the middle of a clique of Freakers who act as his bodyguards.  Apparently also on site are the Priory of Iron, a "paramilitary sect of combat surgeon-engineers and metal fetishists."  Dawn runs a program to hide her presence, since she doesn't want to hurt anyone other than Payne; however, she trips an alarm that she didn't expect them to have.  She discovers her dead boss tied to a burning car just as she's attacked by the guys responding to the alarm, enabling her clash mode to repel them.  She uses her chaingun, but it's not enough to kill everyone.  She switches into her riot mode as the Priory is firing depleted uranium-shells at her, which her onboard computer tells her that she can't survive.  She's then attacked by the leader of the group, Saint Carcrash, who notices that she doesn't have any guns in riot mode.  He attacks her with his Wolverine-esque "adamantium lanxide blades," cutting into the wetsuit.  Carcrash gets the upper-hand, telling her that his "hide" is laced with flakes of an adamantium derivative.  However, Dawn deploys her "blue beams," which she notes were used by labs to cut adamantium derivatives in the first place.  Carcrash -- completely dismembered -- calls for help, but Dawn leaves him, discovering a Shudderbox, which exists outside time.  Dawn somehow enters the room, knowing that Payne is there by reading his "Kirlian aura."  Payne opens fire on her, telling her that it was all just pure business:  Hollowpoint offered him money and, since he opines that her life wasn't "real important," he sold her.  Dawn then uses her microwave ability to burn him.  As the junkyard burns behind her, she notes that, now that she quit, she's going to sleep in late in the future.  

The Review

Meh.  As I note in "The Bad," I've been really disappointed in the writing in these "2099 Unlimited" issues.  The Spidey story is completely forgettable and Ellis spends so much time in the "Steel Rain" story focused on finding new and innovative ways to use futuristic terminology that he forgets to tell a good story.  At its best, this series has the potential to give birth to dynamic new characters for the 2099 world, like Hulk 2099 (even though the scripts on those stories left something to be desired).  At its worst, we get the author using the opportunity to write a futuristic story to deliver a never-ending stream of techno-babble that gets in the way of enjoying said new character.  This issue is full of the latter, unfortunately.

(To be honest, the story that most stuck with me is Rick Parker's five-page cartoon at the end, where two guys discover a stash of comic books that they decide to burn for fuel.  One of them takes a couple of the issues to learn how to read and we later see him totally engrossed in them.  It's actually a somewhat sad and sentimental rumination of the emphemeral nature of possessions but also the power of comic books to capture the imagination.  You can imagine him carrying around those comics, the only ones that he'll get.  It makes me appreciate my 5,000+ collection more and understand why I'm so attached to it.  Too bad that this story is stuck at the end of a bad issue.)

The Good

1) I wasn't a huge fan of the Spidey story, since it's a pretty basic story.  But, I thought it was interesting that Tyler arrested Miguel to prevent him from getting obtained by another company.  It totally feels like something that Tyler would do but also something that would be a completely acceptable practice in the 2099 world.

2) One of the interesting things I find, in general, about the 2099 line is how well the authors do in predicting technology that would later be commonplace.  OK, sure, we see a computer with a floppy-disc drive in the "Steel Rain" story, but she also mentions "monatomic" computer chains, which essentially presages nanotechnology.

The Bad

1) I continue to be disappointed in the writing in "2099 Unlimited."  Of the four issues that I've already read, I only gave one three stars, with the others getting two.  Looking over those reviews, I'm generally cool with the plots of the stories, but the scripts really leave a lot to be desired.  Collins does a decent job in the Spider-Man story in this issue, but the dialogue and monologue in the "Steel Rain" story were clunky at best.  In retrospect, I remember thinking this way about a lot of the "Unlimited" titles from the '90s.  I always wanted them to be showplaces for new talent, but it seems like the "new" part of that equation meant that the authors were still too green to deliver on the promise that these issues held.  (Interesting enough, Warren Ellis wrote the "Steel Rain" story, so I can't blame it entirely on a novice problem.  But, I've actually always had problems with Ellis' dialogue, so it sort of makes sense.)

2) Why exactly were the Public Eye officers rummaging through Miguel's apartment?  OK, Lyla posits that they're bored, but Miguel is still Alchemax royalty.  He hasn't done anything wrong, as Tyler admits, so it's not like they've got broad license to treat him as a threat.

3) I'm not sure why Payne sold out Dawn.  She says that she's there to steal "combatech and c-space raiding gear," but later she notes that Payne sold her for "Steel Rain."  It actually makes sense that the combatech is Steel Rain, except for the fact that Dawn initially said that she was doing her real work in secret, making it seem like they're two separate things.

4) I also have no idea how Dawn gets into the Shudderbox.  She mentions that blue beams are actually "focused tachyon-guns" and that tachyons "travel backwards in time three seconds after their release."  Therefore, I think she somehow used the tachyons in the blue beams to enter the Shudderbox, which she describes as a room "that for every other second is two seconds ago."  However, it's really, really unclear.  By this point in the story, I was used to a certain level of techno-babble, so I just sort of went with it.  But, it would've been nice to have been able to focus on the final confrontation without being distracted by, "Wait, what about the tachyons?"

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