An interview with writer Karl Kesel

 

How did you get the job of writing Fantastic Four 2099?

Karl: Joey Cavalieri called me and offered me the job. He knew how much I loved the FF, and gave me first crack at it once Marvel okayed the title. We had already been working together on Strange 2099, and had known each other for many years before that. Joey was one of the very first people I met when I started inking for DC in 1984! He was Joe Orlando’s assistant, if I’m not mistaken, and he interviewed me for some inner-company publication or something like that.

Were they the real FF?

Karl: Yes and no. When Joey offered me the book, first thing I asked was: can they be the real FF? He said:  sure. I actually know exactly when in the FF’s regular monthly book their trip to 2099 would have happened— during John Byrnes’ run, when the team takes an extensive trip through the Negative Zone. There’s a panel where there’s a bright flash and— if I’m remembering this correctly— that’s when their costumes go “negative.” That flash was when they made a detour to 2099, in my mind. That said, I also wanted to do a story where the Thing changed back to Ben Grimm, and we discovered he’s an African-American! And the rest of the FF aren’t surprised! I really don’t know where that story would have gone— an alternate timeline FF?-- but I really liked the idea.

 


From Fantastic Four #256, the moment Karl Kesel envisioned the original team being diverted to the year 2099

Do you recall what the “Last Refuge” was? Or the significance of the symbol/pendant that Hikaru-Sama wore which was also tattooed on Chimera?

 

Karl: It had something to do with the Inhumans 2099, “Last Refuge” being a play on and extension of the Inhuman’s “Great Refuge.” I can’t remember exactly what the pendant looked like, but wasn’t it something like the design on Black Bolt’s costume? That was a big hint. 

 

2099 was going to be rebooted and jump ahead to the year 2101. Do you recall if Fantastic Four 2099 was going to be part of the new 2101 line-up, or was it going to end? If it was to continue, do you recall any plans you had for the team after the 2101 relaunch? 

Karl: During one of our talks I suggested to Joey that all the 2099 books jump forward, skipping an entire year, and go directly to 2101. Now, as I recall it, this was in response to Joey saying something about another one of the titles doing a story where the character travelled one year into the future, or some such. I really don’t remember the details. Maybe I even mis-heard what Joey said, but my suggestion to take the jump forward line-wide was in response to what I thought I heard, at least, and Joey loved the idea and ran with it. The event was going to be called “Fast Forward.” (In a case of great minds thinking alike, DC did a very similar thing a few years back with their entire line!) FF would have definitely been part of that. I had an idea where I was I was going to regress Reed, Sue and Johnny to teenagers— Johnny would have been only like 13, Sue around 16, Reed around 18— and leave Ben as the adult in the group. I loved the idea of a totally impulsive, irresponsible Johnny being able to play with fire, literally, and to show a rebellious teenage Sue who used her powers to sneak away at night and party. Reed was going to become a very laconic, slightly aloof figure, the kind of guy who you never quite know what he’s thinking. Luke Perry from Beverly Hills 90210 was the physical model, if you can believe that! And Ben was going to promise all of them: “I’ll find a way to cure you! I swear!” Most importantly, this storyline was going to give readers a chance to actually watch Reed and Sue fall in love. (The regression would have made the characters loose their memories.) I still think it’s a great idea, and every so often suggest to Marvel that we could still do it with the current FF book, given a year or so to comfortably tell the story. No takers so far...

I’m sorry we didn’t get to do “Fast Forward” because I think it would have been damn cool. Not just for FF, but for the whole line.

What recollections do you have about the artists you worked with? Rick Leonardi, John Buscema, and Matt Ryan?

Karl: Only good memories. Of course, working with John Buscema was a dream come true— one of the legends of the business, drawing one of my little stories?!?— and Rick Leonardi was amazing, as always. Matt Ryan gave 110% every panel of every page. Of all of them, my strongest memory is that Buscema took my plot— which I thought was paced out pretty well at about 5 panels per page— and gave me pages that often had 7 or more panels per page. Everything the story required was still there, it’s just that John broke the action into more distinct, smaller moments. Knowing how he interpreted my plots, I would have written very differently given the chance to work with him again, so he had more room to cut loose with bigger moments. Sadly, that chance never came my way.

Why did you leave the book?

Karl: I and a large number of other creators left in solidarity when Joey was let go at Marvel. He was the heart and soul of the 2099 line, and many of us had no desire to stay without him. Luckily, Joey landed on his feet (and I continued to work with him) as the editor of the Superman titles at DC!

What recollections do you have about working with editor Joey Cavalieri?

Karl: I’ve always enjoyed working with Joey. He knows how to let you go your own way, but still keeps his eye (and yours) on the basics of solid, clear storytelling. We both also have a mutual love for slightly off-kilter characters and stories— something I think you can clearly see in the Joey-edited Bizarro anthologies from DC. 

In the issues of Spider-Man 2099 where Strange 2099 made her first appearance, you’re given special thanks. What exactly was your role on those issues? Did you design the character?

Karl: Creating and writing Strange 2099 was my first 2099 gig, and she was originally going to appear in the 2099 Unlimited (isn’t that what it was called?) anthology book, pencilled by Adam Hughes (!). I did a prelim design for the character that I submitted with my pitch, but Adam redesigned her extensively. I gave her the cloak of levitation, but Adam turned that into the jacket of levitation. Presumably Strange (or someone before her) had gone all Project Runway on the cloak, and repurposed it as a jacket! A brilliant idea.

 

I wrote at least 1 full Strange 2099 script— only 10 pages, if I remember correctly. I may have written a second, but I’m not sure. Unfortunately, I no longer have a copy of the script. Presumably there’s a copy in the Marvel Vault somewhere, and maybe Adam has one, but I don’t. I remember it involved our young heroine finding the Sanctum Sanctorum and cloak of levitation, and somehow a demon becomes linked and bound to her. Don’t remember the specifics, except that she wore a demon-pendant around her neck that looked very much like the demon-design on the front of Dr. Strange’s tunic, and this pendant kept her demon in check. She was to have been a very reluctant sorcerer’s apprentice, studying magic only in order to find a way to get rid of the demon. She was being mentored by the ghostly astral image of someone she dismissively called “The Ancient One”, except it was heavily implied that this was all that remained of Dr. Strange, and in his current state he could not leave the sanctum. There would have been some fun, snarky arguments between the two of them. Y’know, thinking back on it now, I’m already getting some new ideas that would have been fun to do with the character! Sadly, it never happened...

 

 


 

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