Issue One, Volume One

Fantastic Four 2099UGR #1 of 4
"Shifting Gears"

Commentary

Chat Transcript by David Ellis and Jason McDonald

Original Issue Written by David Ellis

Original Issue Edited by Jason McDonald
and Michael C. Shirley

 


David Ellis

Jason McDonald


 


DAVID ELLIS: You're reading the commentary track for Fantastic Four 2099UGR Volume One, Number One. I'm David Ellis, Editor in Chief of 2099 UnderGround Revised, and the writer of this issue. And joining me is...

JASON MCDONALD: Bababooey!

JM: Er, I mean Jason McDonald, Assistant Editor of the 2099UGR.

DE: ...Whose medication seems to be working.

JM: For the moment.

DE: This mini-series came about as a result of a series of negotiations with Mike Shirley, the former EiC of 2099UGR. I'd expressed to him my desire to write a Fantastic Four 2099 series, and to do something a bit different with the concept than had been done in the comics.

DE: The difference between my fanfic series and the comic series started by Karl Kesel and Rick Leonardi was that the FF were (on the surface at least) intended to be the actual Fantastic Four from the 20th century. They were later revealed to be duplicates created by Uatu the Watcher, but I decided to take another approach: what might happen if they discover very early on that they were copies of the original FF ... and imperfect copies at that?

JM: Talk about inferiority complex....

DE: Reed Richards' journal entry at the beginning of each issue was an idea I came up with early on in the brainstorming of the mini-series. It was partly inspired by Alex Ross & Jim Kreuger's Earth X comic series, which took place in the future and started almost every issue with a bit of hindsight into the characters' origins. Each time, something new was revealed about the spotlighted character that hadn't really been explored before. I was fascinated by that, so I attempted something similar in the FF2099 mini.

DE: Another influence for the journal entry was the Doom 2099 comic series, in which the end of every issue had a quote from literature (often Shakespeare) that tied in with the issue's title somehow. The Ghost Rider 2099 series did something similar at the beginning of each issue, with excerpts from some technical journal entry or another. So basically all of those influences came together in the form of the entry.

JM: Actually, GR only did that a few times. A quote from Johnny Rotten. Doom was the only comic to consistently do the quotes at issue's beginning, at least until WoT. Some useless trivia for you folks reading. *grin*

DE: Okay, granted. I thought it was a neat touch anyway.

DE: That, and I've seen this miniseries and the FF2099UGR ongoing as primarily Reed Richards' story. I wanted to get inside Reed's head more deeply than I'd ever seen done, and I wanted to take readers along for the ride.

JM: Yeah, you've said before Reed's often depicted as this one-note genius guy without much personality or character shown. You really dug further into his head that I've seen in a lot of the canon FF comics, even. Which allows you to relate to the character more in this series.

DE: Yeah, Reed is definitely the hardest character to relate to in the Fantastic Four. Johnny's the brash smartass, the rebel in all of us. Ben's the grumpy tough guy with a heart of gold. Sue's the older sister/wife/mother type, who reins in the others. Reed ... well, he's usually holed up in his lab, and when he communicates with the others, it's usually in language they can't understand anyway.

DE: But the entire setup to FF2099 is based on what goes on in Reed's head. The spacecraft flight. The Negative Zone. Their connection to Dr. Doom. All of that came from Reed. So the question to ask is, where is Reed coming from? What's going on in his head?

DE: Yes, I know, that's two questions.

JM: Well, I wasn't gonna say anything, but....

JM: 8-)

DE: The first actual scene, taking place in the Negative Zone of 2099, is a direct takeoff of the first scene in the 2099AD Genesis one-shot comic. It hinted at the FF2099's first appearance, and since that scene is canon for 2099UGR even though the FF2099 comic isn't, I had to include it.

DE: It also led to my first argument with you, Jason. Remember that? :) It was my description of the "demented colors" of the Negative Zone's sky.

JM: HA! I completely forgot about that.

DE: Argument might be a strong word, but it was certainly a debate. See, folks, at the time I wrote it, I sent the scene to Mike, who passed it along to Jason for his critique. And one of the many things Jason critiqued was my word choice, because colors can't have mental states.

JM: Yeah, that's right. I always critiqued your word choice back then.

JM: I think my problem was that 'demented' was kinda confusing. It was very subjective and not totally 'descriptive'. I think you added some more Zone background descriptions after that.

JM: But colors can't have mental states! Unless they are hyper-intelligent shades of the color blue. (Any Hitchhiker's Guide fans out there?)

DE: Well, true, but the scene was from Keith McLaughlin's point of view, and he definitely saw dementia in them thar colors. He was projecting his own mental state onto them, basically. Kind of like a Rorshach test.

JM: Ah! See that makes more sense.

JM: Keith's a nut.

DE: I wish I'd thought to explain it that way back then.

JM: That would've been a fun description. AND some nice foreshadowing; RE-DO this issue. Now!

JM: *cracks whip*

DE: LOL! Every bit of dialogue in this scene up until the workers take refuge in the base was lifted from the scene in 2099AD Genesis. Warren Ellis provided some great dialogue from which I built the four worker characters: Paranoid Keith McLaughlin, Shandra Willis, Landshark Wade Tyson, and Dennis Kong. But in the comic, only Keith was referred to by name. So I made up the rest.

JM: Heh. And naturally, they all hated Keith.

DE: Yeah, he was the picked-on guy. I decided to explore that more and present him as being only a bad day away from snapping. This scene turns out to be that bad day.

JM: *Daniel Powter and Fuel both made songs entitled "Bad Day". Keith made the mistake of listening to them back to back, which is why he went insane.

DE: Makes perfect sense to me.

DE: I intentionally presented this sequence from Keith's point of view because I knew he wouldn't be an active character again until #4, and as a villain. So I cast him in a sympathetic light in the first scene to make his transformation more of a plot twist.

JM: I didn't even realize you did that. It works quite well.

DE: And I had Shandra Willis aid in that by saying a lot of nice(ish) things about him while he's unconscious. She considered him sort of a little brother, or at least some little neighborhood kid that she takes pity on. That way, when Keith wakes up in #3 and it turns out something's seriously wrong with him, Shandra and the reader are both shocked by the development.

DE: In the next scene, Shandra takes over as the POV character, so that we can see more of the inner workings of the Maintenance Flight Nine base. This is where the narrative diverges from the comics canon, in fact. The workers successfully make it back to Earth through the Homegate in the comics, but here they're stranded. I wanted to spend time with them and explore them as characters I can slowly flesh out. One of my goals for the mini was to get the reader to care about the workers as much as they care about the Fantastic Four. And Shandra quickly became the breakout supporting character.

JM: She was the nice one.

DE: Yeah, there had to be at least one character who got along with the FF. Especially with Sue. :)

JM: Duh-Duh- DUHN!

DE: Really, she has a great rapport with all of them, though it occurs to me she hasn't really connected that much with Reed and Ben. She's had some great scenes with Sue and Johnny, but the other two ... not so much.

JM: Hmmm ... wonder what Reed'd have to say about her computer skills...

JM: She is a genius on that thing.

DE: That would depend entirely on what she does with them. He knows she's a computer whiz, and he respects her skill, so they probably bond over stuff like coding and computer language.

DE: Her hacking of the Stark-Fujikawa headquarters surveillance system in #2 of the ongoing series would be another matter. He still doesn't know about that.

DE: So anyway, the intentions with the second scene were to establish the characters of Shandra and the other workers, and to convey the idea of 2099 as a gritty, lived-in future. I wanted to show blue-collar grunts just trying to make a living.

DE: In fact, they're so preoccupied with the tremendous workload they have to deal with, that when they find the Fantastic Four, they initially see the Four as a nuisance. They're having to take time out of their schedules to deal with the Four, and time is money. Only Shandra welcomes them, because she's a twencen fangirl.

DE: Oh, this reminds me of another debate we had, Jason: I'd originally written the wakeup scene as having the other workers recognize the FF as well, not just Shandra. I established that the workers had all learned about the FF from school, but you pointed out that they probably wouldn't have learned about the twencen heroes in school.

JM: Yeah, not everyone in 2099 is a history buff. See, one of the biggest mysteries about 2099 is that most of the records from the historic age are totally lost to the ages, as it were. Additionally, we have the big ol' megacorps running the show now.

JM: And these megacorps naturally, have a stereotypical 'corporate machine' mentality. Everyone is a cog in a machine, individuality/ having your own opinion is counter-productive and such.

JM: And since the corps equal the government, and the government funds the school systems, why would they encourage the teachings of free-thinking individuals? Especially those with morals and value systems considered anachronistic to the current regime?

JM: So that was the whole reasoning behind that change, and I think it actually helped matters. Now the workers are even more ignorant and intolerant of the Four because they really have no idea who they're dealing with or why they even have to put up with them.

DE: So you demanded to know in what scene of what issue of any of the 2099 comics was it ever revealed that people in 2099 learned about twencen heroes in school. You had a point, but I couldn't help but ask what scene, issue, or comic revealed that they didn't. Turns out the school system wasn't touched upon very much in the 2099 comics.

JM: Not really. That's mostly my rationale of a school system right there.

DE: Yeah, it made a lot of sense to think of it that way. So I decided to make Shandra a twencen junkie like Xina from Spider-Man 2099. The scene worked out for the better because of that debate, and it helped fill in a lot of useful gaps.

JM: YAH! *applause*

DE: I needed at least one character to recognize the FF immediately. And Shandra's twencen fandom helped forge a connection between her and Sue for a subsequent scene. I had great fun with revealing that she'd had a childhood crush on one of the Four, then keeping a lid on who it was.

JM: Heh. heh. I can guarantee no one saw that coming.

DE: Yeah, I purposely had Sue guess Johnny or Reed, to nudge the reader's guesses in the direction of her crush being male.

DE: In the second issue I brought up that mini-mystery again with her scene with Johhny, in which she turns him down. Then in #3 I didn't bring it up at all so that the readers would hopefully forget about that plotline. Then in #4 I yanked out the rug.

DE: Stuff like that makes Fantastic Four 2099UGR without a doubt the most complex fanfic project I've ever undertaken. I've had to think so far ahead on even the tiniest details. I still left plenty of room to improvise, though, or else I'd go nuts.

JM: I don't know how people can plan stuff out without improving at some point.

DE: Improvising, you mean?

JM: I shortened it.

DE: Heh.

DE: The scene in which the Fantastic Four awaken and their powers emerge was definitely a great one to do. I had their powers manifest one by one, in the same order in which it happened to the original twencen FF: Sue, then Ben, then Reed, then Johnny.

JM: Wait, that was the same order? d00d!11

DE: And in another nod to Stan Lee & Jack Kirby's FF, I started Thing out in his early clay monster appearance before his hide became more like craggy rock.

JM: Heh. I liked that touch, esp. after reading Essential FF #1 and noticing how different the clay monster looked from the craggy rock.

DE: Yeah, I read Stan Lee's original plot & character synopsis for FF #1, and he described Ben as looking "sort of shapeless -- like a THING". He didn't have anything specific in mind for the Thing's visual; he left that up to Jack Kirby, who had a heavy background in monster comics.

DE: I really tried to convey the monster/horror aspect of the FF's transformation. I mean, what would it be like to actually witness Sue slowly disappearing, Ben becoming huge and deformed, Reed stretching, and Johnny bursting into flames?

JM: Yeah, it wouldn't be a nice bit of nostalgia. Not: "Wow, this is incredible!". More: "Oh god, oh god, make it stooop!"

DE: Yeah, it's one thing to see it in a comic or on TV or in a movie, but to actually have it happen to you or to be in the same room with it? Yikes. I think that was one of the more brilliant things about Stan & Jack's FF: the powers weren't treated as a gift so much as a potential curse.

DE: They became the Fantastic Four in order to do something positive with their freakish abilities. The choice of adjective in the name wasn't just typical Stan Lee alliteration; it was a ploy to prevent the Four from being seen as freaks ... and to prevent them from seeing themselves as freaks for that matter.

JM: Especially Ben.

DE: Yeah, he couldn't help but see himself as a freak, and who could blame him?

DE: Finding out he's a clone in 2099UGR is another nail in that coffin because he can't even say he used to be a normal human. He never actually had a chance at a normal life.

DE: The clone revelation complicates all of them, honestly, because even while they're trying to get used to their surroundings, they're facing a lot of internal conflict. They have to figure out what their identity is when all they have to go by is what their predecessors were.

JM: That. And they're all like, three days old.

DE: Yeah, it's a lot to take in at once. It does some really weird things to their heads as the series progresses, because they're having to go through things their predecessors never had to go through so early.

DE: The FF empowerment scene ends on a bit I thought was amusing: Reed's attempt to rein in Johnny's "are you satisfied?" question, only to realize that the question needed to be asked. Looking back on it, the moment turns out to be important foreshadowing about how vital it is to Reed to have outside support in the FF's endeavors.

JM: "I don't even wanna think about what that crap just did to my hair." That was a funny line.

DE: Yeah, I enjoyed that one, as it's such a Johnny thing to say. I even briefly toyed with the idea of revealing in a subsequent scene that the foam had turned his hair green; I can't remember why I didn't go with the idea.

JM: Heh heh. That would have been hilarious. Though, it might have strayed off-topic a bit.

DE: Yeah, that's probably why I didn't do it.

DE: The next scene is probably my favorite of the issue, as it has a nice bonding moment between Sue and Shandra while the latter keeps vigil over Keith. And Shandra ended up writing her own material, pretty much.

JM: Heh. I love it when the characters get to break through and it's like you're writing through their eyes.

JM: Or thoughts. Like they're funneling themselves through you.

DE: Yeah, I didn't realize she was a lesbian until I got to the part where she revealed she had a crush on one of the twencen Fantastic Four. I looked back on the scene I'd been forming until that point, and it just made sense that it was Sue.

DE: Once I made that realization, I was initially hesitant. I was like, "are people going to assume I'm just going for edgy shock-value here? Would I just be doing this because I think it'd be hot for Sue and Shandra to make out? Maybe I should rethink this...."

DE: Then Shandra punched me in the shoulder and said, "NO! No rethinking! I WANT to make out with Sue!" And believe me, Shandra hits hard.

JM: As Quentin Card knows all too well.

DE: Heehee. That he does.

DE: But even if that character revelation hadn't happened, I'm still happy with the scene on a number of levels. The conversation between the two women worked pretty well at establishing each character, and it further referenced Keith McLaughin.

JM: Referenced Keith in a good way, too. In a non-threatening, safe context. So when "Paranoid Keith" displays himself for the first time, it's disturbing as all get-out.

DE: Exactly. But there's still the undercurrent that he's been heavily antagonized for his entire life, so when he does snap, the personality shift comes from somewhere.

JM: True. But the familiarity Shandra displays in this scene conveys a false sense of security to the reader.

JM: It's a great set-up.

JM: Despite the fact that Keith has a reason to snap like he does.

JM: And become a total jerkstore.

DE: Yeah. It's a delicate balance to maintain. Too subtle or too heavy-handed would have ruined the effect of the personality shift. I'm still not entirely sure I pulled it off.

JM: I think you pulled it off.

JM: Also, I liked the way this scene segues into the next. One of the most important parts: Getting the clones (still thought to be the true deal at this point) caught up on the history of 2099.

DE: Yeah, they're interested in finding out how things progressed to this point. And of course, they're not thrilled with the answers they get. One of their former allies has his name on a jerkstore corporation. Another former ally ended up as a jerkstore president. And their worst enemy isn't quite as much of a jerkstore as he used to be.

JM: While the corporation in question, Stark-Fujikawa, pretty much is as soulless and crappy as any other corp dominating the era. Thanks, Iron Man!

DE: You know the world's in deep trouble when Doom violently becomes President of the US, and it's considered a drastic improvement.

JM: Yeah, things have to be PRETTY bad for a dictator to be a GOOD thing.

DE: Then again, the same could be said about the present-day US, but that's another debate.

JM: Ha!

JM: Warren Ellis wrote a good arc for that. Though the Doom version of ONUD was tragically rushed.

DE: Yeah, seems like Doom was in office for a week at most. Just long enough to get used to having his own parking space.

JM: Interestingly enough, a few years ago in the Iron Man series they had Iron Man getting together with a hot little number called Rumiko Fujikawa and her company, Fujikawa Industries. Sound familiar?

DE: It did indeed. Fujikawa Industries first showed up in regular, non-2099 Marvel continuity just after Heroes Reborn started, and Iron Man was off in the pocket dimension.

JM: That long ago, eh? I thought it appeared in 2001 just before the sentient armor arc.

JM: Seriously. We needed to see more of what Doom could do. More of the fallout from his progressive programs, good and bad. And we needed to see that the GOOD eventually outweighed the BAD. That he was making good, albeit sometimes tough, decisions. So when Herod did his little coup, it really hit you hard.

DE: Yeah, as it was, it seemed like Herod's parade float was right behind Doom's.

JM: Yup.

JM: It was like, four issues later. It was ridiculous.

JM: Though, it wasn't Warren's fault though. Or Cavalieri's, IIRC.

DE: Honestly, I wouldn't have minded if UGR's jumping-off point from continuity had been during Doom's tenure, as the status quo is much more fascinating.

JM: That would have been pretty damn cool as well.

JM: I would have loved to write a Doom ongoing under those circumstances.

DE: Or at least have seen someone write a Doom series. It might've been easier to attract a writer to the title.

JM: Mmm. Now Doom has to re-build himself back up from that status. It's a harder thing to write now.

JM: It's kind of like re-treading over the same themes we saw in Doom #1, or #26. Re-building, gaining allies, infrastructuring.

JM: Very tedious. Could be interesting, but it's tedious, no doubt about it.

DE: Anyway, the scene not only catches the FF up to speed, but the readers as well, which was rather necessary. I really wanted this title to be accessible to people who don't know much about 2099.

JM: Speaking of, I liked Reed's subtle, pissed reaction here.

JM: I think in the comics, he absolutely freaks out. But here, it's a much more controlled anger. Almost a prejudice towards the man.

DE: Yeah, Reed is seldom loud when he's upset. He's more sulky, which I wanted to establish here. He goes off to sulk, and Sue follows him, leading to a huge debate about what they remember.

JM: I use the word 'prejudice' very intentionally, btw.

DE: Prejudice is a good word, as they've pretty much been conditioned to consider Doom's presence to be a bad thing. And not for nothing, either.

DE: The argument between Reed and Sue was a hard one to write, as I tried very much not to lose the audience during the discussion. I tried to get across that while the FF remember facts about their lives, they actually haven't formed the sensory connections to those experiences.

DE: Their minds are blank slates that have been filled with information, which is a poor substitute for actual experience.

JM: A great detail.

DE: Most cloning stories (especially Marvel) just go with the "clone possesses the original's memories" conceit, but that's never made much sense to me. Memories aren't carried over in DNA, or else we'd have people who really are born fifty years old.

DE: At best, the person (or persons) who cloned the FF would have to implant the memories, and without their own sensory experiences to set off triggers, those memories aren't going to mean much. It'd just be information.

JM: In psych classes I've taken, we learned there are many divisions of memory. Procedural memories are memories of how to do things. Memories of events and occurences are another division. While emotional memories, which often are what connects us back to other memories, are a completely separate category. It is probably this last set that the FF clones naturally lack.

JM: If you want a purely scientific reason for why the FF clones can't truly remember holding their son in their arms or kissing him goodnight.

DE: Yeah, that's it exactly. they know how to do things, and they know what things happened to them, but they don't feel any of that. At first they manage to get by, because they don't know any better. But they soon end up with enough actual experiences for the difference to be made clear.

DE: Well, clear for everyone except Reed, who is of course the most cerebral of the Four. He's so used to dealing with the information in his head that Sue has to point out to him that he's not feeling any of it.

DE: Which leads to a moment I liked: "Do you remember what it's like to be in love with me?" It's a poignant moment that shows Reed and Sue very close to picking up as a couple where their predecessors left off. While I ultimately went in a different direction with them, It could have easily gone in this direction, and I haven't forgotten that.

DE: The underlying idea behind the scene is that the FF of 2099 can't take anything for granted. Not identity, not head-knowledge, and not even their predecessors' relationships.

JM: The thing I love about Reed is that he "recalls that bit of information about loving his kid" and doesn't think there should be an issue with that.

JM: Like, recalling the memory makes sense in his head, but when he talks about it aloud, he realizes the issue.

JM: It's like writing a weird sentence. When you read it to yourself, it seems alright. But when you read it to yourself aloud, you realize "Okay, this is a run-on" or "This sounds ridiculous. No one talks like that." And you come out of that train of thought and see things from another perspective.

DE: Exactly. He's the last one to figure out that he should be feeling and experiencing more, and it's not a surprise that he's the last one to really hold onto his predecessor's idenity. Reed will be Reed.

DE: Not much to say about the last scene between Ben and Johnny, other than it was kind of tacked on to end the issue on an intense moment. Johnny pesters Ben enough that the latter loses his shit and almost punches Johnny straight through a wall.

DE: And Johnny gets a kick out of it, being an adrenaline junky who comes thiiiiis close to being a stain on the wall.

DE: But I definitely ended up getting a lot of mileage out of the moment that followed immediately after, when Ben realized he'd almost killed Johnny. It comes to a head in #4 when he actually does (accidentally) takea life.

JM: Ben is a frustrated fellow.

DE: Yeah, it's hard not to empathize with the guy.

DE: When Brent Lambert reviewed FF #1 along with the rest of 2099UGR's initial crop of issues, his biggest complaint was that the ending didn't grab him and make him come back for more. And I can kind of see his point. The ending to the issue WAS missing something. And recently, I realized what it was:

DE: No, not swimsuit models.

JM: Not that we wouldn't minded the swimsuit models much.

JM: Or at all, even.

DE: It should have gone out on an ominous note, with Hikaru of Stark-Fujikawa recieving a transmission informing him of the Fantastic Four, which would've set up his appearance (via holotransmission) in the following issues.

DE: I realized this the other day, and I was like, "aawww, man! Why didn't I think of that at the time?"

JM: Probably could've been cool with you taking that scene a biiiit further, and have Sue and Reed say to Johnny: "We are not the real Fantastic Four.", stopping Johnny dead in his tracks.

DE: It seems to me that Reed didn't put all the pieces together until hours later, so it would have been bad timing for the two of them to make an announcement at the tail end of the scene.

JM: In MK, I kinda ended the first ish of the mini on a MASSIVE cliffhanger, between Marq having survived a transport crashing into Downtown only to end up half-dead in a crater of his own making, cutting to an ominous moment with the Watchers calling Hikaru about the escape of the condemned prisoner.

DE: Heh, come to think of it, that might have been far too similar.

JM: Good point.

DE: You'd already finished your first issue by the time I'd started mine.

JM: Did I?

DE: Err... sounds about right? It all kinda blurs together in my head.

JM: (Remembering back fifteen minutes is hard for me. Two years is, understandably, nigh-impossible)

JM: I remember the first run of releases being FF 1, MK 1, GR 1, SMAN 0.

DE: Yeah, it was.

JM: But did I actually finish MK before you started FF? I know it took me a night or two to finish the eleven page MK #1. In fact, I might have finished the entire first issue in one night, which is insane for me to do.

DE: One night? That IS insane.

JM: Heh heh. I was excited. And that issue was just an adrenaline junky's wet dream.

DE: And it's something we can cover in MK's commentary ... coming in a future issue of 2099UGR Spotlight. So be on the lookout for that, folks!

JM: O:-)

JM: *Shameless self-promotional plug!*

DE: This is David Ellis and Ba-Ba-Boooey, signing off for this edition.

JM: Ba-ba-booey, for those not paying attention, is actually the codename for the much-exalted Jason McDonald, AKA me.

DE: We know, Jason.

JM: Unfortunately, since I copyrighted that (Bugger off, Stern!) I'm going to have to charge you a fee for using that Mr. Ellis. Twelve hundred bucks.

DE: That's highway robbery, yo!

JM: Will Ellis pay the fee? Find out on the next 2099UGR Spotlight!!

JM: Now that's a cliffhanger!


NEXT ISSUE: Moon Knight 2099UGR #1 of 5: "Glimmer" Commentary