I Love the 90′s: Ghost Rider 2099 #1-3
There’s a lot that you can say about Marvel Comics in the 90′s that I’m not going to bother saying right now. What I do want to talk about is a tiny, tiny piece of the not-so-great line known as Marvel 2099. Quite simply, the first three issues of Ghost Rider made my damn head explode when I was 14 years old and it still holds up for me more than 15 years later.
First things first: Len Kaminski wrote the whole 25 run, but I’m focused on these first issues because Chris Bachalo was doing most of the art (it was Bachalo on breakdowns and Mark Buckingham on finishes). This was my first real intro to Bachalo’s work, in a way. While I’m pretty sure that Generation X came first, this was the book that made me realize that I would love his art for the rest of my life.
Like I said, I was 14 when I picked this up. I had no idea who Neal Stephenson was, and Neuromancer was just a book on my best friend’s dad’s bookshelves, which meant that I stayed the hell away from it. I’d never heard the word cyberpunk before, and this was well before anyone had gotten sick of the genre. So it didn’t matter to me that Kaminski basically cribbed from Gibson and Stephenson in order to create the world of Ghost Rider 2099.
In short, Kenishiro “Zero” Cochrane (I swear this is a name right out of Snow Crash or something) is a hacker, steals some info from an evil corporation, puts it in his brain, gets chased, gets shot, uploads his brain into cyberspace through a payphone, gets his brain picked up by the cyberspace Invisibles, and agrees to fight the power in exchange for being turned into THIS:
(Go ahead and compare that to the last page of Cry for Justice. Vengeance > Justice.)
Just so we’re clear on what’s happening here, he got his mind put into a super-crazy Ghost Rider robot with a badass hoverbike and chainsaw hands. If the image above and the paragraph preceding it don’t do anything for you, then you probably don’t have any business reading this blog.
First of all, Zero Cochrane is a total badass. He’s a punk, hates authority and wants to destroy the system. And he’s totally right, because the world he lives in completely sucks, and in a strangely prescient way, it’s probably the same world we’re headed for in 100 years or so. But he also approaches the world without any fear whatsoever. The opening sequence that has Cochrane turning into Ghost Rider shows that when faced with impending death, he pretty much just says “screw it,” plugs his head into the system and flies away. The computer gods who save him want to turn him into a counter-culture figure to resist the corporate overlords, and he’s basically the perfect candidate.
Exhibit A: A nice little Howard Beale/Michael Douglas in “Falling Down” moment. I’d say there’s a little bit of Holden Caulfield in there too, except I hate Holden Caulfield. But here’s the thing – if Holden Caulfield were in the future, a hacker, got turned into a badass robot and didn’t suck, he’d be this guy:
Of course, the first thing he does after becoming Ghost Rider is go on a killing spree after the guys who took him down, so I guess the CEO’s come later. They’re all working together anyways. But I digress.
It takes a certain kind of skill to create a plausible fictional world that’s meant to be taken seriously, and Kaminski pulls this off within quickly. Transverse City is a monstrous urban landscape of techno gangwar, suffocating under corporate control. It’s pretty much Robocop’s Detroit or Freejack’s New York City, but 100 years worse. My favorite device that Kaminski uses to get us into Transverse City is a secondary narrator in the form of a Zagat’s Guide and a book called “Concrete Islands: A Survivor’s Guide to Surface Travel in North America”. Read into the title of the latter just a little bit and it’ll tell you just about everything you need to know about the current situation; read the descriptions provided by the fictional guide and you have a complete picture.
The other aspect to creating these types of universes is dependent on language, most specifically slang. Futuristic books always try to find some clever way to replace swear words with acceptable “future swears,” (what is it the Legionnaires always say? Conde Nast or something?), and that happens in this book, too. Actually, it’s the one piece I’m not in love with, but I find it kind of charming. The word “glitch” seems to be an all-purpose replacement curse word: “what the glitch?” “son of a glitch!”. Actually, it’s pretty great. BUT: the best part of the language of the book is the way that Zero Cochrane talks. Check out the sequence from when he uploads his mind into cyberspace.
First of all, the art on this page is awesome. Also, I transcribed the text from this page:
Went into cyberspace amped, input to the max. I was going for total meltdown. Leave Jeter nothing but a head full of fried wetware and a slagged implant. Direct feed, no buffer. A charge like a hotline to God. Zipzap flash slickbright chrome ripping through the matrix at supersonic speed. Neural feedback hit, metabolic overload back in the meatware, fevered tissues aflame with mycotoxin. I was a burning liquid metal comet boiling the data flow plume of binary stream. They could see me all the way to Chiba City. All the way to orbit. Quicksilver tsunami of thermonuclear wildfire, never been anything like me. Keep cyberjocks talking for years. I was it, man. History.
Put simply, Zero’s inner monologue sounds something like Neal Cassady on future acid. How many books were talking like this in 1994? How many books talk like this today?
The lettering is one of the first mainstream books covered by Starkings and Comicraft, and it’s pretty fantastic as well. They manage several several fonts at once, and all of GR’s speech and thought bubbles have this funky-ass outline:
Text gets stretched and distended for dramatic effect throughout the book and it totally works. You can check out some great examples in the image of Zero destroying the TV’s. And check out some pretty great sound effects here:
Back to the art. I’ve been a Chris Bachalo fan as long as I’ve been reading comics, and I confess that there was a time that I would have to double-check the credits whenever Mark Buckingham was working on a book because I had a hard time telling them apart. So having them together on this book is pretty great for someone like me. It feels like every page is exploding in this book and Ghost Rider is about to cut your head off anytime he’s on panel. Everything is pretty crowded on the page throughout the three issues and some might see this is a short-coming, but for me it’s reflective of the notion that Transverse City is probably crowded as hell.
There’s a lot of other great stuff about these issues. There’s brief moments that read like Raymond Chandler, the corporate bad buys of D/Monix are so believably evil that they actually remind me of the CEO’s of today. The book is also incredibly well-paced. Kaminski gets through Cochrane’s origin in less than 10 pages, and it just keeps moving from there. I’ll confess that I’ve never really been able to read much past the 4th or 5th issue, but I plan on it someday. Once Bachalo left and then Buckingham, the art wasn’t really able to keep me around, but these first three issues are tight as hell. They’re one of those gems of the 1990′s and if you can track them down, I highly recommend it.
Also, there’s a robotic rasta bartender :
And it felt like everything came out on time.