Friday, November 29, 2013

2099 A.D. Apocalypse #1: "Midnight in Hell"

**** (four of five stars)

A news satellite shows "corporate forces" destroying the White House several weeks earlier.  An anchor's voice intones over the video that the station will be presenting a program detailing Doom's rise and fall.  In the news room, a producer for the station (NYFAX) asks one of the guys working the monitors if the anchor, Jack Whitlow, is doing the voiceover live.  The tech guy responds derisively, saying that Whitlow's in "the bathroom with his works..."  The producer, Ruth, gets a call that a reporter, Mirielle, wants to go live in  the Lower East Side.  Ruth goes to get Whitlow from the bathroom to handle the introduction while the station prepares to cut to Mirielle as she follows the Punisher fighting S.H.I.E.L.D.  In the bathroom, Whitlow takes his "works" (a.k.a. drugs) as Ruth pounds on the door.  Whitlow says that he's preparing for his adoring people and Ruth tells him that his "adoring public" is all in his head.  Whitlow exits the bathroom, telling her that it was a cruel crack; Ruth tells him that it's true.  Whitlow tells Ruth that truth has no place in show business and Ruth "reminds" him that they're a news station.  Whitlow tells her that news is show business.  She tells him that he should be nicer to his producer and he retorts that he would be if he weren't already sleeping with the executive producer.

On the Lower East Side, Mirielle follows the Punisher, remarking that she was just trying to find a story to make her rent.  Ruth informs her that they're ready to go live and Mirielle tells her that they'll have to amp up her voice since she'll need to whisper to avoid the Punisher discovering her.  Whitlow does the introduction and they go live, as Mirielle watches S.H.I.E.L.D. officers drop from the sky.  The Punisher opens fire on them with real bullets, killing them (since their armor is built to withstand laser beams).  S.H.I.E.L.D. returns fire but the Punisher escapes down an alleyway.  However, two S.H.I.E.L.D. agents ambush him at the end of it.  He kills both of them, leaving Mirielle shaken since she's never seen anyone die before.  Mirielle vamps, pontificating that the Punisher came at a time before Doom, when a "black card" bought a citizen safety from the law and the Public Eye sought to enforce the law, not impose justice.  Ruth wryly comments that she's seeking her 15 minutes of fame and the newsroom starts taking bets on whether the Punisher will survive the battle.  He then uses a special gun (a "modified scorch bore") to take down several agents at once.  The newsroom continues to root for him, but the mood turns when a wave spider arrives.  Gallows meets it with his gun held high, but it incinerates him.  The newsroom is in shock.  They cut to commercial, with Whitlow wishing Ruth luck in finding a way to spin a state execution on live TV.

Uptown, Miguel returns home, with a narration box informing the reader that it's been a year since he became Spider-Man.  Lyla shows him a recording of the execution of the Punisher when suddenly, "Captain America," now President, breaks into the news feed.  He announces the execution of the Punisher and notes that "creatures" like him have been "debasing the delicate system of American life."  Stressing that he wears a "uniform," Cap proceeds to say that the American people will no longer tolerate these creatures that wear "costumes."  At NYFAX, the guy at the monitor notes that the government is sending a kill order as a rider on the signal broadcasting "Cap's" speech.  He hands Ruth a copy of the Presidential Decree on the Death to Superheroes as Mirielle approaches the Punisher's body.  However, she's interrupted as an armored man near her escapes two agents with guns.  She tries to train her cameras on them when she's pulled behind a wall by a woman.  The woman tells her that the armored man, Galahad, is actually robotic armor developed by Stark-Fujikawa that responds to the mind control of her lover, Ethan Shields.  She tells Mirielle that the agents are killing Ethan since they're using HERF (high-energy radio frequency) blasts on the robot to overload the computer systems.  Mirielle asks why S.H.I.E.L.D. is attacking and the woman hypothesizes that Stark-Fujikawa sold out Ethan.  She tells her that Ethan is physically at Stark-Fujikawa, since he has no immune system and thus has to live in containment.  She says that Ethan only wanted to help people as the fight continues around them.  She tells Mirielle that Ethan is connected to Galahad by a "neurally-implanted telefactor chip," so the HERF blasts are traveling across the link and "boiling his brain in its own juices."  Ethan and Galahad fall and Mirielle escapes the scene with the woman.

At NYFAX, an assistant hands Ruth a file on Galahad; he appeared a few months earlier and, in his five subsequent appearances, acted in a "Heroic-Age pattern of risk/sacrifice."  She says that she can't put it on the air; when the assistant asks why she can't, Ruth says that "Rogers" ordered the heroic movement destroyed and hypothesizes that Stark-Fujikawa sold out Galahad for brownie points with "Rogers."  She tells the newsroom that any coverage of Galahad should reflect S.H.I.E.L.D. taking out a dangerous subversive.  Whitlow argues that they should cover it as a murder.  Ruth asks when he started giving a damn and he says that "Rogers" has moved the goal posts and that news now has use.  Suddenly, the screen goes blank and a new signal appears with unlock codes at the top of the signal; it shows some sort of fortress in a desert.  The guy at the monitor says that the feed is an "operational recording" and that either S.H.I.E.L.D. has commandeered their feed (unlikely) or they're getting bounced the feed deliberately.  Whitlow says to go live with it, since they wouldn't bounce the feed if they didn't intend for NYFAX to use it.  NYFAX prepares to go live as S.H.I.E.L.D. attacks the fortress.  The assistant pulls a file, saying that it's the location of "Metalscream," an alleged "magician supported by radiation evaluations not seen since the Heroic Age."  Metalscream appears outside the fortress and Whitlow narrates that it's the first documented use of magic in 100 years.  Metalscream curses S.H.I.E.L.D. for killing his 16-year-old assistant with their "stupid missiles."  He uses magic to throw daggers at them, but they use technology to tamp down the radiation, destroying the dagger.  Metalscream says that they've taken away the magic and an agent prepares to shoot him in the head, saying, "No such thing as magic."

The signal shifts to "Gammadion," the "ex-Californian region."  Whitlow refers to Galahad's murder as another live execution of the "extraordinary people" who disguised themselves so that they could help the people without being hunted.  He says that they're now being hunted for the crime of reminding the people of magic.  The images on the screen show the Hulk hiding in an abandoned building.  Whitlow IDs him, saying that he's the "last wild man of the American West, the independent man."  He informs the viewers that the Hulk was instrumental in the destruction of the studio system that terrorized the "isolationist state."  Whitlow notes that the kill order issued by President "Rogers" seems to have been in place before his address, since he figures that it took S.H.I.E.L.D. a while to corner the Hulk.  Whitlow notes that, ignoring the moral aspect, it's barely legal at best, more or less a firing squad.  He asks the viewer to feel what the Hulk is feeling.  After the Hulk lost everything to "the quake and the bomb," Whitlow rhetorically asks, as the Hulk attacks, if there's anything left for him for which to fight.  As S.H.I.E.L.D. kills the Hulk, other agents invade NYFAX, revealing that the bounced signal was a set-up to see if NYFAX would bite.  Whitlow tells Ruth that show business is "how you make the truth mean something" and then addresses the audience, telling the people that, if the fear hasn't gotten to them yet, they still have options to do the heroic thing and disobey.  S.H.I.E.L.D. kills Whitlow and announces that the employees of "un-American" news outlets are being interred to later face firing squads.

The Review
Ellis seems a natural fit for the 2099 world and he doesn't disappoint here.  I thought the use of a (formerly independent) news channel as the lens through which we see "President Rogers'" declaration of war on the superhero community wasn't only clever, but effective.  I've often complained that 2099 writers miss the opportunity to draw larger conclusions about 2099 politics and society in their stories, but Ellis bucks this trend, using the news station to show how the freedoms that Doom extended are now revoked.  I can't imagine anyone finishing this story without a sense of anticipation and apprehension, wondering where we go from here.

The Really Good 
The news crew's focus on the extrajudicial nature of "President Rogers'" actions was interesting, since it showed how quickly the people of 2099 America had gotten used to the basic freedoms that Doom had granted them.  Based on Mirielle's comments about the Punisher bringing back justice before Doom came to power, Doom certainly seemed to have created a set of political rights that the citizens of 2099 America hadn't enjoyed in a long time.  I mean, I doubt that most 2099 Americans would've complained about the government or even the corporations abusing their authority in the early issues of the various 2099 series; they would've just accepted such behavior as a fact of life.  As a former political-science major, I thought that Ellis is giving us a fascinating commentary on the nature of these sorts of political rights.  Doom's rule is -- at least, indirectly -- lauded as a return to a set of values, like freedom of the press or right to a trial by jury, that the 1990s authors of these series would've espoused (as I also mentioned in my review of Waid's story in "Spider-Man 2099 Special" #1).  Ellis makes it clear that people quickly got used to the "new" freedoms that Doom extended, getting to the idea that certain rights are natural.  As I said, I've always felt that the best 2099 stories use the futuristic premise to reflect on current realities and Ellis really does a spectacular job of it here.  The fact that it's Dr. Doom championing the American way of life makes it all the more clever, obviously.

The Good
1) I liked the fact that Stark-Fujikawa sold out one of its own superheroes in order to curry favor with "President Rogers" after he announced the kill order on all superheroes.  It's exactly the sort of step that you'd expect a corporation to take and, frankly, a reminder that the nastiness that Doom kept in check has been lurking in the background the entire time.

2) I thought both the Punisher and the Hulk's deaths were handled really well.  First, it's the extrajudicial murder of the Punisher (himself a proponent of such measures) that fires up the NYFAX crew over the lack of justice.  Then, it's the murder of the Hulk, the last independent man, that inspires Whitlow to exhort the American people to resist the attempt to put them under the heel of the government and the corporations.  Both deaths serve a purpose that matches the spirit of the characters.  It's very well done.

The Unknown
Although I understand why anyone trying to run the United States would want the superheroes killed, I'm hoping that we get a more full explanation of Herod's plans are.  I'm assuming that "Doom 2099" has gone into more detail, but Marvel can't assume that we've been reading that.  Hopefully, "2099 A.D. Genesis" gives us greater insight into the behind-the-scenes struggles, particularly confirming that he's working for the "corps."

The Bad
I wouldn't really call this complaint too "bad," since it's a minor lament.  However, I felt like Ellis was a little too flexibly in having Whitlow go from a drug-using TV star to a freedom-proselytizing Chronkite wannabe.  Whitlow was actually an interesting character, but I felt like Ellis could've put a little more work into showing us that transformation.

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