Sunday, November 14, 2021

Forgotten Superheroes (vol.6): Ravage 2099 (pt 3)

(March 1995)

Please take a moment to compare the cover of Ravage 2099 #28 (above) with the cover of issue #1 (here).

This is amazing. In the world of mainstream American comic books, we see something like this about as often as a female superhero without an hourglass figure.

The writers, editors, publishers, and corporate overlords of superhero properties understand that carelessly altering a title character's image is bad business. During the mid-twentieth century, Comic books with Superman, Batman, Captain Marvel, the Flash, et al. on their covers were greedily plucked from newsstands by kids who recognized the characters, had learned what to expect from books emblazoned with their names and images, and were seldom disappointed by their purchases. Mainline superhero comics are comfort food. They're Coca-Cola. You don't change the formula unless competitors are encroaching on your market share, or buyers begin to lose their appetite for the product altogether. Every time a reformed villain reverts his old ways, every time a mourned ally is found alive and well, every time Superman is system restored to his 1986 update, kid Cable gets shunted aside for the return of old Cable, and Stephanie Brown becomes Robin/Batgirl and then becomes Spoiler again, the United States comic book industry pantomimes the New Coke/Coca-Cola Classic imbroglio-turned-success story—except in these cases, the rebranding and de-rebranding aren't motivated by panic, but have been integrated into the business model of a longstanding (but lately metastable) sector of the culture industry.

However: if a successful firm debuts a completely new product—say, Pepsi Blue—and nobody buys it, the smart businessman may be better off retiring it than sinking more resources into redeveloping and reselling something nobody wanted in the first place.


Ravage 2099 revamped its identity twice in less than three years of publication. The only other comic I've read that reinvents itself so thoroughly, so quickly, and so often is Shade, The Changing Man—an artsy Vertigo book that has "changing" in its title, and whose title was its mission statement.

By the laws of comic book physics, Ravage 2099 shouldn't have happened. In most cases, a new comic featuring a new character that gains a large enough readership to justify its continued publication won't risk losing its audience by suddenly turning itself into a completely different book. Conversely, if a recently debuted title isn't working out, it's much less likely to be reworked than cancelled. Today, a fair-to-middling book with no name recognition like Ravage 2099 would be gone by issue #12.

Quirks of circumstance protected Ravage from the editorial axe. First: it was an inaugural title in the Marvel 2099 sub-brand, which the publisher still hoped to see succeed. Even though sales across the line began to flag after the first year, Marvel evidently still believed its investment in a new label was better sustained than squandered, and preferred that attempts be made to resuscitate an underperforming title through sharp course corrections instead of cancelling it to cut costs. This speaks to the comic book industry's inflated confidence during the early-to-mid 1990s. Ravage 2099 was obscure, not terribly popular, and part of a quasi-independent franchise that had lost more steam that it seemed capable of regaining—but comic shops must have been ordering enough stacks of many such books to justify the cost of keeping them going. As long as the increasing discrepancy between supply and demand in an oversaturated market and an abrupt reversal of the speculation boom didn't decimate retail sellers, Marvel saw no cause for alarm. (...)


And maybe that's the basis of my affection for Ravage 2099 and the Marvel 2099 line as a whole. They're inconsistent, full of the regrettable character designs that make "nineties" a somewhat dirty word in superhero comic discourse, and a lot of the time they're pretty dumb. But we can't accuse them of being uninteresting, or of lacking imagination, and it's hard to imagine an experiment like this being attempted, and given more than the length of a limited series to breathe and grow, at any other time but when comic book industry was high on its own supply in the early 1990s.

Anyway, we've come at last to the final chapter of Ravage 2099, wherein our former corporate bureau chief and revenging beast-man Paul-Philip Ravage travels the country, adopts an adorable sidekick, confronts his greatest nemesis, wins a kingdom, and...

Well. You'll see when we get there.


ACT 3: PAT MILLS & TONY SKINNER & JOE BENNETT & GREG ADAMS


We find Ravage skulking in the shadows of a lousy part of town, trolling anybody unlucky enough to come his way. (It's a little like Timon of Athens set in a futuristic New York instead of ancient Greece, and starring a super-strong horned monster instead of a bankrupt misanthrope.) He's lost everything, realized his anti-corporate crusade will come to naught so long as the public keeps buying what Alchemax and Synthia are selling them, and whatever humanity he retains in the self-imposed permanence of his Beast Mode is more than he wants.

Barrio Man, leader of the superhero-worshipping freegan commune, appears to give Ravage a pep talk and read him the next chapter in his sacred book of superhero prophecies.

Barrio Man tells Ravage to seek out the fabled Valley of the Beasts, a pristine land of beast-people that exists in a dimensionally unstable pocket of space, never staying in the same location for long as it fades in and out of reality. When Ravage discovers the Valley, Barrio Man says, he will find enlightenment and come to understand humanity. (Spoiler: the prophecy is bunk. Probably.)

Meanwhile, Ravage has a persistent but distinct sense of hearing voices. Somebody is speaking directly into his mind, urging him to find and rescue them before it's too late.

Ravage follows the "voice" to a secret Alchemax facility and meets Ferra: a giant, genetically engineered vampire bat with enhanced intelligence and psychic powers. Since she's got nothing else going on after Ravage springs her from captivity, Ferra offers to fly Ravage anywhere he wants to go.


I've got to say: I've become something of a Ferra fanboy (maybe the only one on the planet). No other figure in the annals of adorable superhero sidekicks comes close to being so bizarre. She's clever, she's helpful, she's charming (sometimes even a little flirty)—and she's also an enormous flying rodent that bites people with her horrible fangs and sucks out their blood until they're dead. New penciller Joe Bennett anthropomorphizes her just enough to signal her intelligence and sentience, but never sentimentalizes her with human-femme facial features. She isn't especially attractive, unless you've got a thing for beady-eyed, snub-nosed chiropterans. The dissonance between the Ferra in the dialogue balloons (who enthusiastically tries to explain sonar, and then acknowledges that she's not sure what sonar is either because she's a damn bat and never took a biology class) and the Ferra in the artwork (a hairy monster with blood and slather dribbling from her mouth) is precisely the kind of weird shit I value in superhero schlock.


So Ravage and Ferra explore the wasteland beyond New York for a while. After decades of social and economic instability, provincial America has become a lawless desert ruled by bands of murderous raiders. The human settlements our heroes come across in their search for the Valley of the Beasts are isolated small towns run by cyborg "judges" and demented, flamethrower-wielding cultists who worship fire demons. Honestly, with the way shit is going in the rust belt, maybe this isn't just a British fever dream of the United States. Give Appalachia another forty years of fentanyl and meth, Walmart, no economic investment except what's necessary to keep the coal barons propped up, and a perpetual drip-feed of hysterical culture war gibberish, and let's pretend it's their fault they turn into lunatics.


These issues of Ravage 2099 (#22 through #26) tell self-contained stories that aren't terribly clever or exciting, but still come as a welcome change of pace after a year's worth of comics composed of crisscrossing minor plots that amounted to a fraction of the sum of their parts. When Ravage and Ferra arrive at a Valley of the Beasts—a valley, not the valley, so the search continues—the snide little freak with reality-warping powers they meet there taunts Ravage with some words that possibly Mills and Skinner heard from an editor:


The most relevant plot developments of Ravage's cross-country tour come in issue #25. First: Ravage gets run over by a free-roaming train the size of a fortress. Seems that whenever his healing factor activates, his restored body becomes a little more of what Hellrock and and Ursell's gene therapy made him—which is being quietly retconned from "bestial precursor to Homo sapiens" to "Nutroid." (The more damaged Ravage gets, the stronger he gets?) Here, Ravage takes the first step towards his apotheosis as a turgid obelisk of meat.


I've been remiss in writing at length about a comic and saying so little about the artwork. During Ravage 2099's "were-beast" arc, Miehm's pencils may have contributed to the book's overall dullness. Paul Ryan drew the first issues in a fairly standard style for the period, but I don't think I appreciated the straightforward but rich expressiveness of his work until Miehm took over. Miehm obviously draws better than I ever will, but his art has all the conventionality of Ryan's but so much less of its emotive and kinetic dynamism. It's serviceable by itself, but fails to elevate the scripts of an unfocused and lukewarm superhero comic toward anything special.

Maybe the writing hasn't improved much since Mills and Skinner took Ravage out of New York, but Joe Bennett's pencils and Greg Adam's inks put in a lot of work towards compensating for the the decidedly average storytelling in a decidedly average nineties superhero rag. At their best moments, the pair's artwork reminds me of the smooth, high-contrast comic book expressionism of Mike Mignola or Marc Hempel. Issue #25 is less a giant-sized game-changing anniversary episode than a showcase for Bennett and Adams' artwork, dividing most of its pages into three or fewer oversized panels. Not that the contents of their composite splash pages are particularly pretty, but nineties comics weren't about "pretty." 


Issue #25 also features a separate side story about Deathstryk (remember him?) putting a rebellious upstart from Hellrock in his place—and then getting psyched about killing Ravage when the Seeress tells him she's managed to psychically locate him.

While Ravage is busy helping the town of deprogrammed fire demon cultists rebuild and get their act together, Deathstryk drops in, sucker punches Ferra, and threatens to have the town and its inhabitants irradiated from the face of the earth—unless Ravage surrenders himself as his prisoner. Once again, the lord of Hellrock makes the Seeress's warning about Ravage a self-fulfilling prophecy. Ravage has only mentioned Deathstryk once in over a year of publication-time, and paying him a visit on Hellrock must have been exceedingly low on our hero's list of priorities. But, well, schlock is gonna schlock.


As it happens, the Seeress hoped all along that her prophecy about Ravage posing an existential threat to Deathstryk would come to pass, and she's more than happy to help move it along. She's tired of living under Deathstrky's thumb, and has been secretly providing support to an insurgency among the Mutroids. Ravage, she believes, will be her secret weapon when the rebels march against Deathstryk's stronghold.

But first, her agents have to dig him up. Instead of simply holding Ravage's head underwater or dismembering him while he's restrained, Deathstryk plays the supervillain par excellence and decrees that his mortal enemy needs to be humiliated before his execution. He injects Ravage with a concentrated dose of Hellrock poisons and buries him under a pile of toxic waste, expecting him to devolve into a mindless blob. Apparently Deathstryk hasn't been consulting the back-issues, or he'd remember that radioactive sludge was the catalyst for Ravage's transformation from a dude with a hubcap buckler and a pistol into a creature that can actually threaten him physically. And he definitely didn't read the part about how Ravage only gets bigger and stronger and more durable every time his body repairs itself from mortal damage (say, from being injected with radioactive sludge and then buried under it).


It also apparently reduces his human intelligence and lucidity, just in case this book wasn't already too obviously emulating the Hulk. He's super strong, nigh invulnerable, and increasingly confused. And the more confused Ravage gets, the stronger he gets(?).


However, the degradation of his faculties renders him susceptible to the Seeress' mental juju. If she says he wants to kill her enemies for her, he believes he wants to kill her enemies for her.


I'm adding so many excerpted panels here because I'm genuinely disturbed by the extremity of Ravage's metamorphosis. (1990s comics, EXTREME!!!, etc.)

To the best of my knowledge, Hulk comics never dabbled in body horror vis-à-vis Bruce Banner turning into his gamma-charged alter ego. Most of the time, the Hulk looks like a huge bodybuilder with green skin and a bone structure proportionate to his muscle mass. A young boy reading Hulk comics probably imagines how much fun he would have turning big and green and being the strongest there is. Ravage's gigantism, on the other hand, is terrifying and painful for him, and the deterioration of his intellect doesn't turn him into a childlike galoot, but a gibbering invalid. No child ever wanted to be Nutroid Ravage. Given Mills and Skinner's proclivity for satire, I suspect they intended this as was a kind of proto-Venture Bros. parody of a beloved comic book character, warping the gimmicks of a beloved comic book hero into a nauseating caricature.


The assault on Deathstryk's citadel begins! With Ravage as their champion, the Seeress' forces make short work of Deathstryk's army. Ursell, the Mutroid scientist who saved Ravage's life way back in issue #4, tags along with Ravage and the rebels, planning to cure the hero's out-of-control mutation and put his mind back together while the Seeress isn't paying attention.

Elsewhere, the recovered Ferra wonders what she can do to rescue her pal, and bumps into Tiana/Hela. Receptive to the bat's telepathy by virtue of her techno-Asgardian enhancements, Tiana is ready to tell both Ferra and Ravage to go kick rocks—until she learns that Deathstryk is involved. As a Strong and Independent Female Character, Tiana nurses a bit of a grudge over the abduction episode from issue #3. Now that she's got super powers, she's glad for an excuse to fly to Hellrock and settle the score with her former captor. 


Ferra and Tiana become pals, and I'd like to believe there's an alternate universe where the Marvel 2099 line survived longer than three years, Ravage 2099 was a hit, and Ferra and Tiana got to star in their own book, like Cable and Deadpool or Sam and Twitch.

Unfortunately for our heroes, Deathstryk is securely ensconced behind the walls of his fortress, and has just executed his Master Plan. After all this time, we finally get some backstory for Hellrock. It began as a sensible and almost benignant Alchemax project: the company constructed an immense underground machine on a small island in the Atlantic which generated a "reverse induction ion field," drawing pollutants out of the world's oceans to accumulate and fester on its shores, where they'd be effectively quarantined. Deathstryk has finally figured out how to monkey wrench the machine so as to reverse the ion field, propelling centuries' worth of concentrated industrial waste back into the ocean, where the currents and water cycle will distribute them across the globe. Unless the machine is repaired, the humans who don't succumb to the toxins will be turned into Mutroids.

A plot summary for the arc's climax would be tedious, so let's make it quick. Ravage breaks into the fortress and takes on Deathstryk, with whom he's evenly matched. Tiana fights the Seeress, who's about as much of a jerk as Deathstryk. At some point Bennett starts drawing the Seeress without her hood over her face, and things begin to get confusing: he makes the mistake of giving the Seeress the same hairstyle as Tiana and similar markings around her eyes, and the colorist compounds the blunder by forgetting which woman is which and swapping the palettes of their outfits. Good luck telling one from the other when they're sharing a scene. Maybe Marcos Tetelli assumed penciling duties for the book's last three issues after professional embarrassment compelled Bennett to bow out.


Stan Lee, like any good comic book author who writes by the seat of his pants, understood the utility of plot teases: little clues that don't foreshadow so much as plant seeds that can be harvested for story ideas at the writer's convenience. For instance, when Ravage returned to New York from Hellrock, he monologued about how he needed to find the one man who could figure out his fire hands and help him control them. Mills and Skinner let this one wither on the vine. They did, however, remember when Deathstryk put down a would-be usurper, and the Seeress expressed concern that if left alive, the upstart might discover Deathstryk's secret. I doubt Lee had anything specific in mind at the time; it was something he could figure out later, and create a little intrigue in the meantime.

Deathstryk's secret, as devised by Mills and Skinner, is his former identity as the last democratically elected President of the United States, with the Seeress as his first lady. After the transnational corporations took over and set up a sock-puppet federal government to half-assedly keep up appearances, the couple relocated to a bunker on Hellrock (I guess an uninhabitable toxic waste dump of an island is a pretty good place to hide), where they used TeChNoLoGy to inoculate themselves against the pollutants, give themselves super powers, and plot their revenge against the world.

I'm sure there's some kind of political commentary to be read in this, but I'll be damned if I know what.

Moving along: the ion induction field machine is repaired, turning Hellrock back into a garbage magnet, but at the cost of the Seeress and Ursell's lives. Ravage and Deathstryk punch each other. An Eco squadron lands on Hellrock to investigate the situation. Ravage and Deathstryk punch the Eco squadron.


I was about to type out an explanation of Deathstryk's defeat and death after a protracted struggle, but I'm not even sure it's worth it. Maybe it's better to just pretend that Ravage punched him and punched him and punched him until he gave up...?

Okay, whatever. Some time before she began maneuvering against Deathstryk, the Seeress programmed some variety of machine to activate in the event of her death and initiate a posthumous double fuck-you to her husband and overlord. The first thing it does is somehow depower him; the narrative physics of the operation are elaborate and opaque even by the standards of comic book gibberish. Depriving Deathstryk of his weapons might have been worth doing from the get-go, but fine—Maybe the Seeress had plans for what she could do with a full-power Deathstryk if the rebellion went her way and I'm not going to speculate about this; Mills and Skinner were pulling it out of their asses and that's okay, that's the job if you're writing a monthly superhero comic.


The second thing the Seeress' revenge machine does is sabotage the subterranean engine generating the ion induction field, causing an energy buildup that will blow the whole island the fuck up when it goes critical. The Seeress is a jerk.

Ravage, ignorant of the Seeress' plan to eradicate the ground from under him, revels in his victory. Without direction from a psychopathic autocrat, the Mutroids aren't quite sure what to do next. Taking orders from Ravage seems like the most sensible thing, and Ravage tacitly assumes the proverbial throne of Hellrock. Some of the Mutroids begin to remember their former human lives and look forward to living in peace.

The visiting Eco representatives modify Ursell's equipment to perform a procedure on Ravage that shrinks him back down to his "hairy buff dude with horns and fangs" form. Our debulked hero-king shares a moment with Tiana where they ponder the possibility of a future together.


Yes, everything's looking up for Paul-Philip Ravage...until Mindrot, the horrible alien monster that's been sleeping at the bottom of the ocean for eons, wakes up and attacks Hellrock!


Mills and Skinner conclude issue #32—and their run on Ravage 2099—by abruptly killing off Ferra and breaking my heart.


ACT 4: IAN EDGINTON, MARCOS TETELLI

The closest thing I've found to an explanation as to why Mills and Skinner left the book after its penultimate issue is in a brief interview with Tony Skinner on doom2009.com:

[Interviewer:] Why did you leave the 2099 books? Particularly Ravage; you and Pat wrote all of the post-Stan Ravage issues except the very last issue. Were you aware that the book was going to be cancelled?

Tony: I didn't write the last one? Ha! Ha! Anyway, it became clear to all involved that the 2099 universe had stopped laying golden eggs. Things wind up fairly swiftly with Marvel when the gravy stops flowing... Reasonable; they are a business like any other. I liked Ravage: he got to say and do some cool shit. There was always lots of other work and those guys have lots of writers. There were no bad feelings that I'm aware of.
So, no...that's not much of an explanation at all. But for whatever reason, Mills and Skinner left the specifics of Ravage's fate up to whomever editor Joey Caliveri selected to replace them on issue #33. (Of his time working on the Marvel 2099 line, Skinner says it was "all just stories for cash," so I doubt he and Mills felt like they were giving away their baby.)

The series' final issue is authored by Ian Edginton—another Brit, whose previous work in the US included the Terminator: The Enemy Within and Aliens: Rogue miniseries published by Dark Horse, an issue of Blade, and some side-stories in a few Marvel 2099 books. Somehow or other, this relatively new writer assigned the task of delivering a one-issue coup de grace to an ongoing series succeeds in giving this clusterfuck of a serial a pitch-perfect and even poignant ending. It's almost certain he was following an outline passed on to him by Caliveri or even Mills and Skinner themselves—but regardless of whose idea it was, Ravage 2099's ending is so bleak and so fucking weird that it probably wouldn't have been allowed to happen in any other book but a Marvel 2099 title, or during any other comics era but the 1990s—and only in a brutal, cynical, circus act of a serial like this one could it actually work.

So: Ferra is dead. The Mindrot alien kills the Eco squadron next. Ravage, Tiana, and a small horde of Mutroids give battle to the monster, but can barely scratch it. Just as their struggle begins to look hopeless, they're saved by Doom ex machina.


The last great idea of Marvel 2099 was the One Nation Under Doom event: not exactly a proper crossover, but a linewide status-quo change that had repercussions for every book. Doom conquers the United States and installs himself as President. He's no believer in democracy—but then again, neither were the megacorporations in control of an effectively defunct federal government. Among his first acts as POTUS are nationalizing Alchemax and the other megacorps, revoking the "black cards" that give the super-rich unlimited credit and access, lifting information controls in cyberspace, permitting public protests (during regular business hours), and dispatching a fleet of environmental maintenance platforms to undo some of the damage wrought by decades of totally unregulated capitalism.

As a more or less benevolent dictator, Doom makes some undeniable improvements to the country, and some of the people who benefit most from his takeover are his former allies from the Fall of the Hammer crossover. Miguel O'Hara gets to sit in the CEO's office at Alchemax. Jake Gallows gets appointed to lead SHIELD. The X-Men get to live in Halo City, a sanctuary for mutants.

Ravage, however, gets the shaft. 


With repairing the global ecology high on his list of priorities, Doom turns his attention to Hellrock and judges it beyond any possibility of remediation. Even his environmental maintenance platforms can't clean it up. Its very existence is a liability. It has to go, and so do its inhabitants: a small nation of quasi-human abominations with violent tendencies, faded minds, and toxic biologies are going to be a headache, no matter where they end up. Doom deems it better to euthanize them than risk the outcome of making them refugees.

A gigantic aircraft approaches to inundate the island with liquid adamantium, flash-freeze it, and then fit it with anti-gravity modules to send it (and the remains of its unfortunate denizens) out into space. Like Alchemax, Doom goes big or goes home.

Objecting to Doom's plan, the newly enthroned king of Hellrock faces off against the self-declared President of the United States. Tiana jumps ahead of Ravage and attacks Doom with the full might of her Hela alter-ego. Doom, now having access to all of Alchemax's secrets, knows the failsafe trigger word that shuts down the nanotech powering their engineered Aesir. Hearing it whispered in her ear strips Tiana of both her Hela powers and her status as a Strong and Independent Female Character, reverting her to a Damsel in Distress as she plummets to her death.


The enraged Ravage (somehow) hulks out again, and assails Doom with a mob of angry Mutroids. As he takes a moment to recover from a plasma blast to the face, Ravage makes an impassioned speech on behalf of Hellrock's wretched citizenry, emphasizing the shreds they preserve of their former humanity, even after being turned to monsters by Alchemax's depraved policies. If they're going to die, then they'll die with dignity! They'll go down fighting!


Doom says "ok bye," activates his thrusters, and tells his people to proceed with the adamantium deluge, leaving Ravage and his hideous followers to their demise. 

This is it: the superhero comic that pretended for almost three years to have some sort of environmental message to deliver, makes good on that promise at last—and the message is a dire one.

First, some speculation. It seems Mills, Skinner, Caliveri, et al. originally guided Ravage 2099 toward a softer ending. Instead of leaving Ravage and his followers to die, Doom would zap them all into another dimension, where they'd be out of the way but possibly alive (and available for future stories, should the need arise). Maybe that's why Mills and Skinner had the Seeress rig Hellrock to explode: Doom could drop in, announce that the island is approximately forty minutes away from blowing up and poisoning the entire planet, and send Ravage and the Mutroids into Dimension X before proceeding to encase the giant dirty bomb in unbreakable metal and fling it into space. Maybe Ravage would feel a mite sore about being cast into interdimensional exile, but given the urgency of preventing an imminent global catastrophe, he'd have to admit that Doom had few options and not much time to act, and in the final analysis he'd probably rather be a banished king than a dead chump.

Instead, the writers and/or editors opted to take the ending down a darker route (and possibly at the very last minute), which necessitated waving away the Seeress' countdown with the explanation that Doom repaired the ion induction field generator before facing Ravage.

The fly in the ointment of environmentalist politics, thirty years ago and today, is that for all the seriousness of climate change, ocean acidification, deforestation, etc., most of us (unless we're living on the Maldives) can only reckon with the problem on an intellectual level. Our political leaders, scientists, and the media can repeat as many times as they'd like that civilization is likely to collapse if the average temperature of the plant increases by more than three degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, but so long as the majority of people aren't having their lives upended by events with a clear and immediate connection to anthropogenic climate change—which would mean being able to look out their window and see climate change looming in the horizon and swallowing up the city or countryside like The Nothing in The NeverEnding Story—they're not likely to change their habits or collectively mobilize on their own. It's the old "frog in a slowly heating pot" scenario.

As originally planned, Ravage 2099's ending gives the allegorical environmental time bomb a palpable urgency it simply lacks in the real world. If the media reported irrefutable evidence that the oceans would all rise by ten feet the instant oil began flowing through the Keystone XL pipeline, there'd be no debate or dithering about its construction. The thing would be shut down within twenty four hours.

But that's not how the ecological crisis is playing out, and Ravage 2099's writers and editors wisely made its ultimate threat one whose solution could theoretically be deferred till later. Hellrock is contained now, and if Alchemax were still running the show, that would be enough.

But who knows when the situation might change? What if the ion induction engine fails on its own? What if another rogue actor tries to weaponize it and succeeds? What if a natural disaster puts it out of commission, or an active volcano erupts beneath it? What if the island somehow comes to life and goes on a rampage like Godzilla? (Anything can happen in a comic book, after all.)

Practical environmental policy must be proactive instead of reactive, and decades of characterization have established Doom as nothing if not practical and proactive.


Look: I'd be thrilled if the United States enacted the sweeping legislation of a Green New Deal. I'd be beside myself if an international schedule for carbon and methane emissions reduction was observed and enforced. My number one hope for American politics is for the ecological crisis to start to be treated as a crisis. But I have no illusions about the incapability of our current political milieu to take the drastic action that needs to be taken—and I'm also aware that drastic action, should we somehow agree to take it, won't be easy or fun.

Let's imagine that our political establishment, as it currently exists, determines to act. And let's be realistic about it. Something happens, some undeniable and visceral mass experience of an approaching tipping point has made everyone as ready for radical environmental legislation as we were for an invasion against Iraq in 2002–3. Fox News and the New York Times are in agreement. Dissenters are ignored or deplatformed. Even Senate Republicans are too scared to vote nay.

Being realistic means acknowledging that sacrifices are going to have to be made. Doing this right entails restructuring the economy, regulating or outlawing a slew of products and services, renovating infrastructure locally and nationally, and so on.

It also means accepting that these changes are going to screw people over. Not everyone, of course—after all, any such initiative will be predicated on the understanding that none of us are safe if we allow society to be convulsed by the runaway effects of climate change. But there will be people, and maybe not very many, whose lives are disrupted and made measurably worse by the reorganization. And if we're being realistic, it ain't gonna be the scumbags who made billions of dollars creating and aggravating the problem in the first place. (Not without a coup d'état or armed revolution, and we've already said that this is happening under the current political order.) It will most likely be some group that's at or near the bottom of the totem pole that gets the worst of it. For instance, not everybody who earns their living mining coal, working on oil rigs or in refineries, or pumping gas is going to be gently ushered into a new career installing solar panels where they earn a better wage than before.

Sure, the undiluted pitch for the Green New Deal promises to take care of them. Call me cynical, but I'd expect that a lot of unemployed workers in Appalachia, the Gulf States, North Dakota, etc. would be advised to "learn to code," encouraged to take advantage of low-interest loans for boot camp tuition, and then left to fend for themselves in the labor market. Not that pinioning the fossil fuel industry isn't in everyone's best interest in the grand scheme of things—but that would cold comfort for the laid-off oil rig roustabout who gets put on a waitlist for a job building wind turbines two states away from where his family lives.

I'm aware that I'm catastrophizing here; my point is not everybody would be thrilled about what the transition entailed for them personally. And since any Green New Deal is clearly a political impossibility right now, it's all hypothetical and moot. 


Under a dictatorship like Doom's, maybe the pain would be distributed more equitably in terms of culpability for creating the problem—say, by expropriating the wealth of the billionaire class that got us into this mess, and using it to subsidize the infrastructure investment that would provide work and wages for those whose jobs were obsolesced by divestment in fossil fuels. But some of the losers would still be selected from the bottom. Even an apologist for the USSR or the PRC—and I wouldn't necessarily call anyone insane for being one—must concede that those nations' economic and social revolutions immiserated and killed a whole lot of the people that communism was intended to help.

But that's the reality principle. That's progress. That's problem-solving on the national scale. That's omelettes and broken eggs.

This, at last, is Ravage 2099's bleak environmental message: doing what's necessary to resolve the crisis means being prepared to accept responsibility for the sacrifices that other people will be demanded to make of themselves. Somebody is going to have to be comfortable with confronting some part of the world as an unyielding tyrant, even as they serve the rest as their wise and forward-thinking steward. To believe otherwise is naïve utopianism.

Or maybe I'm reading too much into it. Who knows?

In any event: in the end, all Ravage can do is impotently scream at Doom until he's swallowed up in a flood of molten metal.


Hmmm. Maybe the Barrio Man misread his own prophecy. Maybe the Valley of the Beasts was actually the blighted dells of Hellrock. The prophecy said Ravage would discover the meaning of humanity, and, well, Ravage certainly did learn a thing or two about humanity today.


And that's the end of Paul-Philip Ravage. If you can think of a starring-role comic book hero whose final words before his death were less dignified than "dooulp plup glup," I'd certainly like to know.

Ravage 2099 slyly communicates the last tragic couplet of its final act in a language that only readers of the Marvel 2099 line would be fluent. Notice the Shakespeare quotation at the bottom left of the image below. When John Francis Moore debuted Doom 2099, he concluded the first issue with the famous opening lines of Shakespeare's Henry V. He continued to close out every subsequent issue with a pertinent quote from the classics, and Warren Ellis observed the custom after Moore passed him the authorial baton. It's the veritable signature of a Doom 2099 installment.

Underscoring the totality of its titular hero's destruction at Doom's hands, Ravage 2099 essentially ends as an issue of Doom 2099. Doom didn't just humiliate and murder Ravage in the name of ecological restoration: he conquered and subsumed his book. The effect is surprisingly brutal, and I wouldn't have expected that a comic that's proven time and time again how dumb it can be should end on such a grim and eloquent coda.
 

2 comments:

  1. Well, Ravage seemed like as big a trainwreck as you can get but, at the same time at the very least they had the guts to end it on that note and not just keep a never ending status quo...( Glances at most DC and Marvel Comic leads at the moment. ) And for all that...STILL does not seem as grim a finale as that whole Ultimate's Ultimatum lol.

    As for the stakes with what it will take at the moment to advert climate Armageddon ...its quite depressing seeing that to many are either to greedy or to lazy to make even the most sightist effort, but after seeing how many have gone ballistic just over measures to fight the Pandemic...its become quite clear it would take a real Justice Leauge forcing humanity to take the measures to ever take it off.

    If to many refuse to take action on the Mega rich now because they still think most billionaires are all but gods that should not be defied...it really does look like it will take till the world is going through one of those disaster movies before enough unite and " Asgard" is stormed...sigh.

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  2. I enjoyed reading this overview of Ravage 2099. To me, the initial arc of the series sounds more interesting than the bizarre narrative changes that you describe in your second and third posts. The bleak ending, however, is far beyond what I'd expect to see in a Marvel comic, and I'm amazed that got published.

    I've long been interested in Marvel's comics, but I've never been able to get very invested in them (or most Western comics aside from some classics like Watchmen and Sandman). I read a few of the Chris Claremont era X-Men comics, which I liked but not as much as I enjoyed the 90s X-Men cartoon I grew up with. The ever-changing authors and artists is very distracting to me, as I'm more accustomed to manga, where the author and artist are usually the same person (and often only change if someone literally dies).

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