Before he became rich and famous in television, around the time he began publishing The Walking Dead with Image comics (#1 is dated October 2003), Robert Kirkman was writing for Marvel Comics. Who knew that TWD would become such a multimedia dynamo? Kirkman certainly didn’t. Early on, he was saying things like “I mean issue six could have been our last issue.” So, at this time, it probably seemed like a dream come true to write for Marvel…and to write Spider-Man, which he did for a full run of Marvel Team-Up (Vol. 3. Check out Frank Man’s, Joey Andrade’s, and Kelly Davis’ reviews, in which they all think more of that series than I do. (There are still some issues unreviewed if anyone is interested.) The lowest grade among those reviews came from Joey and Marvel Team-Up (Vol. 3) #14 in which Kirkman teams Spidey up with his own creation Invincible, which he was also writing at the time. Invincible (#1 is dated January 2003) is a wonderful series, much better than Kirkman’s run on MTU. I think this is because Kirkman is much better with a free hand; when he can develop his characters the way he wants. (Or dispose of them if he wants.) And I think Kirkman knows this too.
Now, I don’t have any knowledge of any of this. I’m just doodling. But my suspicion is that this series of five Marvel Knights 2099 one-shots was a way that Kirkman and Marvel saw of using his strengths in developing his own characters while still tying into the Marvel brand. Each of them begins with the same intro page that has a cameo of Spider-Man. Other than that, he does not appear in these issues. But, because I like Kirkman’s Image and Skybound work, I’m using that as an excuse to review these issues. Let’s go in alphabetical order and begin with Black Panther 2099.
First, that intro page. It tells us that “New York was a teeming metropolis with super heroes of both mutant and non-mutant origins.” This is the panel that depicts Spidey as well as the Hulk. Then the government reinstated the Mutant Registration Act and discovered a process to eliminate mutant abilities. There was a battle between super heroes and the government and the heroes lost. “Today there is a Sentinel on every street corner. Laws are obeyed and crime is down. The heroes have gone underground…but for how long?”
In Latveria, at Castle Doom, we find an ailing Dr. Doom, connected up to a life-support system. His servant Lucian enters, dressed as Doom. Assured by Doom that it is time, Lucian removes Doom’s mask and places it on his own face. The aged face of Doom is unscarred implying that he is not the original Doom. (But it’s also a nice homage to Jack Kirby’s contention that Doom only had a tiny scar which marred his conception of his perfection.) The aged Doom tells Lucian, “One Doom, One Legacy” and Lucian kills him, reducing him to ash, assuming the role of Dr. Doom. As he exits, Lucian tells a servant that he feels much better, that he has killed Lucian for defying him, and that the invasion will proceed on schedule.
In Wakanda, Council Member K’Shamba dreams that he is battling a black panther. In the dream, he thinks, “The panther devours me. And I welcome it.” Then he is awakened by a knock on his door. It is a representative from the Council who tells him an emergency meeting has been called. Before departing for the Council, K’Shamba embraces his pregnant wife and tells her, “You are beautiful, M’Tolla. Do you know that?” She says, “I am aware.” At the capitol building, we learn that Wakanda is without a “warrior-king” and a Black Panther for “with the death of his son, the great T’Challa’s bloodline has been broken.” The Council was formed to keep Wakanda going. “With no clear ruling family, we keep every citizen from attempting to usurp the throne.” K’Shamba’s father was a member of the Council and K’Shamba was admitted after his father’s death but K’Shamba believes that “This Council is a joke! Any proposal that doesn’t further your goal to line your pockets is refused. You think only of yourselves while our country withers and dies.” And then an army of Dr. Doom Robots (Doombots) crashes through the wall. K’Shamba fights back, claiming that Doom is invading to possess their vibranium deposits. But then he stops when he sees the rest of the Council quickly surrendering.
“In the end, it took Doom a mere six weeks to completely conquer Wakanda,” K’Shamba tells us, as we look at a double-page spread of Doombots hovering over the whole city. “We were no match for him. We were weak, unprepared…we almost invited it. I am ashamed for all my people.”
A turn of the page reveals K’Shamba returning home to M’Tolla. He tells her that Doom has released the Council members from the dungeons once they “officially signed the country over to Doom” but that he believes Doom has separated them “so he could kill us quietly out in the open” because “had he executed us all at once in the dungeon, it may have inspired a revolt.” So, they hustle out to the car and stop at a market to “see if there’s any food left.” A Doombot stops K’Shamba but the robot is destroyed by a man with a big gun riding a motorcycle. He tells K’Shamba that he is part of the resistance and “we’d be honored if you would join our cause.”
K’Shamba and M’Tolla join and join in the fighting. After three weeks, M’Tolla has an infant son in her hands and the aged leader of the resistance tells K’Shamba that he wants to turn the leadership over to him. K’Shamba accepts.
After four weeks, the resistance takes over “the broadcast tower” to send “a distress signal to the U.N.” but nobody responds to it and they assume that Doom has “figured out a way to scramble all out-going transmissions.” After five weeks, the battle is going well enough for the resistance that one of the Doombots declares “This is not going as planned.” (We’re made to think this is Doom-Lucian himself declaring this but it can’t be if we go with my view of the ending.)
After assaulting the capitol building, the rebels assemble underground. K’Shamba tells them that they can defeat Doom but that they’ll need “more of our own citizens to join our cause.” The former rebellion leader tells him “I have just the thing needed to inspire more Wakandans to revolt” and he hands the Black Panther mask to K’Shamba who dons it, thinking, “The Panther devours me. And I welcome it.”
And so K’Shamba makes an appearance as the Black Panther, which inspires people to attack the Doombots. Soon, it is an all-out war with the Panther taking the lead. “It did not take six weeks to drive Doom’s forces out of Wakanda.” In the aftermath, the former rebellion leader announces, “We have found our warrior king” and the people all bow to the new Panther.
Back in Latveria, Doom seems to have lost but, appearing to speak to a lackey, says, “The Latverian flag no longer flies over Wakanda, but my presence is there – unknown, undetected, and no less influential…In truth…I can think of no greater victory.” He is not speaking to the lackey after all, finishing with, “Can you, K’Shamba?” And sitting on the Panther throne with M’Tolla in an adjacent throne and his young son (who has grown quite a bit in six weeks) playing with a snake at his feet, K’Shamba whispers, “No, Sire, I cannot.” Overhearing, M’Tolla asks to whom he was speaking. “Huh? I said nothing, M’Tolla. I said nothing at all.”
So was K’Shamba in on a plot with Doom from the beginning or is he being brainwashed? The final page shows K’Shamba with blank pupil-less eyes when responding to Doom and regular eyes when talking to M’Tolla. That could mean that K’Shamba is unaware that he is Doom’s puppet. But I lean toward the idea that K’Shamba has been doing Doom’s bidding all along. (His comment about being ashamed of his people still works even if he’s part of the plot against them.) Of course, you can take your pick because, as far as I can tell, this storyline is not continued anywhere else. Which is how, I think, Kirkman probably likes it.
This issue was released in 2004 but it’s impossible to read it now without thinking of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Vladimir Putin is the perfect Doom, hatching his schemes while the overwhelmed Ukrainians puts up a heroic fight. We can only hope that K’Shamba is not a perfect parallel to President Zelenskyy.
Allowing Kirkman free rein with 2099 characters gives us an ending which successfully took me by surprise and is, I think, one of the best things about this issue. That and Kyle Hotz’s artwork, which is appropriately dark and moody (his double-page spread of Doombots over Wakanda is particularly striking). I’m also fond of the opening pages with the transfer of power from one “Doom” to another. But, in spite of these highlights, the issue doesn’t rise above the average, so let’s call it three webs.
Next: Daredevil 2099 #1.