An interview with writer Len Kaminski

 

 

How did you first become involved with 2099?

Len: Evan called me and asked me to pitch. I said yes. Then it got complicated.

Now, I gotta lay some background on you: Ghost Rider was the first of the 2099 books not edited by Joey. After they released the first four books and they sold like crazy, everyone wanted a piece of it. The compromise was after the first year, any new books based on existing Marvel characters the editor of that present day series would have first refusal. Until Ghost Rider came up, and Bobbie Chase wanted it.

Now, Bobbie and I had history, and not the good kind. So I figured my chances of getting approved could be measured in microns. So I said yeah, sure! Because at that time Marvel was actually paying people for series pitches. I then proceeded to write a proposal for a book I would like to write (or read), figuring I could change the names and pitch it as a whole new series elsewhere after it got turned down. Except Evan loved it, fought Bobbie tooth and nail for it, and the next thing I knew I was writing Ghost Rider 2099.
 

What recollections do you have about working with the artists on Ghost Rider 2099? Chris Bachalo, Mark Buckingham, Ashley Wood, Kyle Hotz, Peter Gross, Graham Higgins?

Len: Chris did a tremendous job right from panel 1. Making Transverse City, the environment cohesive and seem to extend beyond the panel borders. It was a sub-universe inside of a sub-universe. He contributed a lot in terms of the gigantic street-urchin look, all the buckles, and the liquid metal hand. Wolverine was king of the hill in those days, so I thought let’s give him a weapon that’s really ghastly. Let’s give him a chainsaw built into his arm! That left his other arm neglected and Chris saw to that by making it a shape-shifting liquid metal hand. I was like…I’m an asshole for not thinking of that. I can’t imagine having started that book with anyone besides Chris. It didn’t look like anything else, at least not in Marvel Comics.

Buckingham kicked ass. Both with Chris; and I think he did a couple of issues all by himself.

Then there was the coming of Kyle Hotz! I really hit it off with him personally and would have spent a lot of time drinking beer with him in dive bars somewhere instead of writing if he hadn’t lived so far away. His was a very different style from Bachelo’s but it wasn’t jarring. I thought it fit well.

 

Ashley, that was a bit of a goat dance. He was living in Australia and I was in New York City. Finding a time where the both of us were not just conscious but could both speak coherently at the same time was…difficult. I talked to him a few times. But we really didn’t get a chance to bond. His pencils were really loose. When I did the arch-fiends, a cyber-punk riff on Dante, they really weren’t distinct from each other in the pencils. I write better dialogue if I have a better idea of what the character looks like. I let the side down those first few issues. I was spoiled after Bachelo and Hotz. Their pencils had been real tight and every detail was there. Ash didn’t do anything that hadn’t been done before, it’s just that I was spoiled. I feel bad to this day that there’s a run in there where you can see the writer is treading water. I reached the desperation point of writing TWO issues of Vengeance 2099! After that, I started kicking myself in the ass more. I like to think I pulled the nose up by the time the series wrapped so that people who had been there since issue 1 didn’t feel ripped off.

On the flipside, Ash's covers were fierce. If I were an editor I would want to reduce all the copy to12 point type only and on one edge and just let the covers sell it, because they were beautiful.

What recollections do you have about working with editor Evan Skolnick?

Len: Evan was a warrior. He fought every step of the way for those first 12 issues. The only thanks he got was from me.

Do you recall any stories you wrote that were not published?

Len: There was one story I wrote for Joey for 2099 Unlimited. I wrote a 22-23 page lead that I don’t think ever got as far as an artist. Basically Ghost Rider 2099 takes a wrong turn on the Transverse City highway and ends up way down where there is this cult of “Hills Have Eyes”-like degenerate cannibals which worship this white-faced, red-haired deity in a building which has these golden arches up front. I remember discussing it with Joey, “and then the evil Ronald McDonald robot comes to life with spinning wheels of death and spikes”…I was walking him through the basic idea and he’s like “Please God, don’t get me fired” And I was like “Ok, I just won’t call him ‘Big Max.’” Which is good because then Marvel would have ended up with the trademark and Slott and Fry wouldn’t have had their super hero ape comic.

 

Unidentified art by artist(s) unknown. Could this be from Len's unpublished 2099 Unlimited story?

 

Were you happy with the change in status quo and making Ghost Rider a marshal?

Len: I had always intended to do that arc at some point. In some ways I saw it as a bit of a western, with the Ghost Rider as the archetypal outlaw. He was not some kind of moody anti-hero. I wrote him more like one of Richard Stark’s Parker novels, where Ghost Rider 2099 is not a good guy. It’s just that the guys in charge are worse. There was one issue where I was trying to punctuate that this isn’t Captain America, and Evan tells me “but that would make Zero as bad as the guy he’s fighting!” And I said to him, “Who says he isn’t?”

Most of the outlaws of folklore were very bad men. Frank and Jesse James, Billy the Kid, and the like were all sociopaths. Commoners may have seen them as fighting on their behalf, but that was not the motivation. A lot of the lawmen of the time, Wyatt Earp for example, also started out as thugs. Just in Earp’s case, he found himself in the position where he could afford to buy himself a badge. Therefore if he shot somebody, it was perfectly legal. In Ghost Rider’s case, I thought this wasn’t him turning a new leaf, it would be taking it to the next level. He wasn’t giving up, he was just buying in. I had this strange delusion that I could throw western tropes in there. I remember John Carpenter saying that Escape from New York is a western in disguise.

To anybody who didn’t like the second year…don’t blame Joey! There were no changes in the series that were not my idea. I thought this was a good place to take a real sharp left turn and get people’s attention. I admit the second year sales were lagging.

“One Nation Under Doom” was a non-crossover cross over. Joey came up with the idea that all the 2099 books would all be impacted by the same event. He found a way to have an event without shoe horning in a cross-over. And I thought that was very clever. Doom becomes president, shit is going to change.

What I wanted for the cover to issue 13 was a shameless swipe of the classic Dredd cover with Ghost Rider 2099 holding a punk by the scruff of his neck saying, “I AM THE LAW!” I thought that would be good for getting some eyeballs back.
 

In an interview with Comics Scene, you mentioned that you and Joey were talking about a character that might become Iron Man 2099. Do you recall who this character was?

Len: It never reached any official capacity. It was more of a sketch of an idea. Rather than have a fragile fleshy human in a metal suit, Iron Man 2099 would be an artificial intelligence in a robot body covered in human skin. Part of it was inverting the whole Iron Man idea. Instead of a man in a machine, it would be a machine inside a man. And somehow we would still end up with a primary color hero in a suit of armor. That was really as far as we got. A real basic set of reversal of the expectations. There would be some secret master plan but that it would not be a villain behind it all but be in fact Tony Stark. Tony is the Marvel character who is always closest to death, but never gets there.

Do you recall what Heartbreaker’s origin was? What was her grudge against Max Synergy?

Len: I had some bare bones idea of what the back story would be. There was something terrible underneath the half mask. But not like Doctor Doom. More like a cross between the star-brand and that girl from The Ring. Once you had seen it, your life span was not very long. With the tradition of masked characters being mutilated, we deliberately made it look that way so that we could later do a reveal at some point. I know Joey was trying to find a space on the schedule for a double-sized special starring Heartbreaker. Joey had pointed out that we had a shortage of female characters. But that was not long before things just went pear-shaped.

Do you have a favorite issue or cover?

Len: Favorite issue, gotta go with issue 1. The art just looked so much like what I had in my head. I think it hit all the right notes. I’m not my own biggest fan, but that is one comic book I wouldn’t hesitate to point to and say “I used to do this.”

What do you recall about the cancellation?

Len: I had sufficient warning to plan the endgame arc to make it seem almost seamlessly like it was the plan all along. We may have had an extra couple of months to reach #25 which is that magical number that means nothing. And then before I can even turn around, the whole thing was coming down. There was the great writer’s revolt where everyone resolved to quit for Joey. And there I was sitting there with the last issue to dialogue. So I called Joey, ‘boss you tell me. I will walk with the rest of you if that is your slightest preference. But he was like ‘finish it.’ I just needed absolution. But make no mistake, if we hadn’t been cancelled, that would have been my last issue. What they did to Joey; that was ass.

How did you come to write 2099: Manifest Destiny? What recollections do you have about working on that?

Len: Tom Brevoort called me up. Said they wanted to do a one-shot, double-sized epilogue to wrap things up. Instead of leaving it with the mess that had come after the last book ended. Tom and/or others thought the business deserved a more dignified send off. I said I was interested. Then I called Joey, again. What does the maestro say? As far as I was concerned, there would never have been any success without Joey. I was not going to touch it without his blessing. And he was all for doing anything to make the ending suck less. I just felt he ought to have a say. I wanted to respect him. There isn’t enough of that in the comics business.

I then took that a step further and contacted the writers of the other books and asked if there was anything left hanging that they would like to see settled? Peter David said, he was really pissed off that they killed Miguel’s mother and that they turned his brother into the Goblin.

Were the explanations revealed in Manifest Destiny (how the Heroic Age ended, the invisible barrier keeping earth shut in) your own ideas, or were they based on ideas developed prior to 2099’s cancellation?

Len: That was all me. I figured that it had always been the elephant in the room. The mystery in the room that was never going to be solved. You couldn’t say what happened because sooner or later you would catch up, and if it didn’t happen… But once I was putting a shelf to it, I felt it was the sort of thing that as a reader ‘don’t give us a mystery that will never be resolved.’ Something had to happen to lose or misplace the knowledge Tony Stark, Reed Richards, etc. had. And I had to finally explain why. I had the idea of using Captain America as King Arthur. And I worked everything backwards from that.


 

 


 

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