'Marvel's Spider-Man' Co-Writer Christos Gage on His 5 Favorite Future Marvel Stories
The super scribe behind '2020 Machine Man' and 'Iron Man 2020' details some Marvel classics!
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When writer Tom DeFalco and artists Herb Trimpe and Barry Windsor-Smith unveiled the Iron Man of 2020 in their 1984 MACHINE MAN limited series, the future that housed Arno Stark seemed ages away. Flash forward to January of this year and tomorrow has become today. A different incarnation of Arno has taken center stage in IRON MAN 2020 from creators Dan Slott, Christos Gage, and Pete Woods. The updated Armored Avenger will serve as the centerpiece of an event over the next several months also involving the likes of Ironheart, Wolverine, and even Force Works.
For his part, Gage can recall his initial exposure to the modern Marvel Universe being encroached upon by a visitor from further down the timeline: “[It was] MARVEL TEAM-UP (1972) #45, where Spider-Man uses Doctor Doom's time machine and teams up with Killraven to fight the Martians in the future where they've conquered Earth. I wasn't even five years old and it blew my tiny little mind!
“It's certainly possible to fill a story with cool, futuristic elements, but if there's no human connection to it, it's just an intellectual exercise,” he opines. “The great thing about the Marvel Universe is that you have immortal characters, so you can always run across Thor, or Vision, or someone else from the present day who can add resonance and a link to the world we know. But it's also possible to tell a story with brand new characters if you care about them and what they're trying to do—we saw that with the original Guardians of the Galaxy, for example. Once you've got that, then you can have fun extrapolating things like whether Wolverine is still around and what he's like now.”
As he gears up to explore what 2020 actually turned out to be with Arno Stark, we asked Gage to reflect back on his favorite Marvel stories from the past that attempted to gaze in a crystal ball—and to share what elements he’ll bring to the fore in his own work.
Days of Future Past
One of the earliest iconic looks at Marvel’s doomed destiny, this dystopian epic played out in 1981’s UNCANNY X-MEN #141-142, from the classic creative team of Chris Claremont and John Byrne. Katherine Pryde barely escapes a world dominated by the mutant-killing Sentinels and projects her psyche into the past—our present—in the hopes of stopping the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants from causing this catastrophe.
“It was just so ambitious,” raves Gage. “You had the future storyline and the present day storyline running concurrently. You had the Brotherhood, the Sentinels, and all the X-Men. You had a future New York that was both more advanced and, in some ways, more backward. And in the future everybody was getting killed! I mean, if it came out today, this story would span at least a year and have multiple crossovers, but Claremont, Byrne and [inker Terry] Austin fit it into two issues! And it was brilliant!
“The philosophies the X-Men and their enemies subscribe to are all about the future—humans and mutants coexisting peacefully, mutants subjugating humans, humans exterminating mutants. So you can go to the future and see what would happen if one worldview or the other came to pass. Is it utopia? Is it dystopia? Or is it both!?”
The brainchild of Roy Thomas, Neal Adams, and Gerry Conway, Killraven, “Warrior of the Worlds,” debuted in AMAZING ADVENTURES #18, circa 1973. Young Jonathan Raven escaped the gladiatorial pits of a 2001-era Earth subjugated by Martians and attempted to spark a resistance again his alien overlords. Howard Chaykin, Mary Wolfman, Don McGregory, P. Craig Russell and more would contribute to the early Killraven canon.
“It's interesting because for a while I don't think [Killraven] was meant to be part of the mainstream Marvel Universe,” Gage speculates. “But after a while it became clear it was the same world, and there was that MARVEL TEAM-UP issue [I mentioned]. Then in the '90s Jim Valentino really spelled it out in GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, as I recall. But what that early approach did is get readers invested in a brand-new cast of characters, so when Spidey came along, you still cared about Killraven.
“[The Martians] were so creepy, and you never got a very good look at them, but when you did they were slimy and disgusting. I think that made them a tremendously scary, unknowable villain for me. And, of course, the P. Craig Russell art is just so gorgeous.”
In 1992, the House of Ideas launched a new initiative with Marvel 2099 that posited a tech-dominated landscape about a hundred years hence where updated iterations of Spider-Man, the Punisher and Doctor Doom as well as new characters such as Ravage battled corrupt corporations, religious zealotry, and other unique challenges. Eventually takes on the X-Men, Ghost Rider, Hulk, and others would join the party.
Looking back at his own experience with 2099, Gage “thought it could be really cool, and a lot of it was, but I think I was hoping there'd be more present day Marvel characters showing up. There was some teasing of that with the Thor worshipers, but I think the creators wanted it to stand on its own. About a year into the books' runs I had to cut back on my comic buying for financial reasons—I was a starving student—so I stuck with the Marvel Universe I'd always known and dropped these books, but as I've gone back and read back issues, they're really cool.”
Also in 1992, amidst his unparalleled run as writer of the Green Goliath, Peter David enlisted peerless artist George Perez to help imagine the barren wasteland of INCREDIBLE HULK: FUTURE IMPERFECT over two oversized issues. The torrid tale catapulted Bruce Banner forward where he encountered Maestro, a sadistic extension of his alter ego who had wiped out all superhuman opposition in order to rule the world with a savage fist.
“The creative team of Peter David and George Perez is what brought me in, and they didn't disappoint,” says Gage. “I'm a sucker for stories where a hero has to fight an evil future version of himself. It's not too big a stretch to see Hulk turning out that way, if he lets his anger take over. If you showed me a story where, say, there was an evil future Steve Rogers, I'm saying, ‘Nah, it's a hoax.’ But with Maestro—that tracks. It's like when you're a teenager and swear you'll never grow up to be like your parents but then you get older and damned if you aren't acting just like them.”
Beginning in 1999, Alex Ross and Jim Krueger began to unfurl perhaps the most in-depth imagining of a future Marvel Universe, a multi-part saga that stretched across EARTH X, UNIVERSE X, and PARADISE X, not to mention several one-shots, and that continues today with MARVELS X. Tragedy has befallen humanity and transformed just about every familiar character into the barely recognizable denizens of Earth X.
“I think ambition is essential to a good future story,” Gage notes. “I mean, if you jump forward 20 years but the Avengers lineup is still the same and nothing much has changed, who cares? What works great in Earth X is the ambitious changes made to characters we know and love, and that they make sense with who the characters are in the present.”
Now Gage hopes to carve out his own legacy as a contributor to the 2020 odyssey alongside Slott, Woods, and even DeFalco, in addition to a number of talented creators excited to explore how the future turned out. “Hopefully by using it as an inspiration without being imitative,” Gage describes his method of employing Iron Man 2020’s initial appearances. “The original MACHINE MAN [series] is one Marvel future; this is the Marvel present. There will be common threads, but mostly it's a whole different story. I think Dan has done an amazing job of walking that line, and I've tried to follow suit.”
Read these stories on Marvel Unlimited now! Plus, dig into IRON MAN 2020 at your local comic shop today—then pick up 2020 MACHINE MAN #1 on February 19!
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