9 Comic-Book Peeks into Futures That We Know, From Our Comfy Vantage Point Here in 2014, Did Not Come to Pass
1. 2013: The Year When Mass Transit (Among Other Things) Got a Whole Lot Worse
Is it too late to say Happy New Year to everyone? Too bad, I’ll say it anyway. And considering how terrible 2013 was, what with all the killer robots flying around, we should be especially glad to… What, you don’t remember all those flying mutant-hunting robots last year? Then you probably didn’t experience the same 2013 as the one depicted in “Days of Future Past,” the classic X-Men saga from 1981. As the story begins, an adult Kitty Pryde is living a day in her life in 2013, a time in which the government, aided by gigantic Sentinel robots, maintains martial law and confines mutants to internment camps (and, even more horribly, forces New York commuters to travel by horse-drawn bus). Pryde is chosen by a band of rebels to travel 30 years into the past via a process that allows her to possess her younger self’s body, with a mission to prevent the event that will lead to her hellish timeline. No pressure, Kitty! The story is still hugely popular among X-Men fans, so much so that it inspired this summer’s X-Men: Days of Future Past movie. If the trailers can be believed, it will feature Wolverine making the trip into the past instead of Pryde. Anyone following Mr. Jackman’s career trajectory probably shouldn’t be too surprised by that change in the script.
2. 1997: The Year When the British Parliament Blew Up
The events of Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta (which originally appeared between 1982 and 1985 in the British anthology comic Warrior before it was colorized and completed by DC Comics in 1988) kick off with the bombing of London’s Parliament on November 5, 1997 — a symbolic date for those who know their British history. In the alternate future envisioned by Moore, a mysterious terrorist known only as V detonates the bombs to begin his campaign against the fascist leaders ruling Great Britain. As the series progresses, readers learn of a war between the superpowers that left Britain’s frightened people willing to back a party with extremist views on racial and sexual purity. (Moore’s Warrior readers didn’t see much of the then-future 1988 war that reduced Britain to that state, but there is a passage, part of it seen above, that shows from seven-year-old Evey’s perspective just how dramatically the world changed in an instant.) There’s obviously a bit of social commentary in Moore’s story; Margaret Thatcher’s election in 1979 led to a lot of concern among Britain’s thinking classes about where the Iron Lady was taking Britain with her ultra-conservative ways. Though when you think about it, the idea of a totalitarian government in Britain monitoring every citizen’s movement seems a bit too– wait, there’s now one surveillance camera for every 11 Brits according to a 2013 study of CCTV cameras in that country? Um, okay then.
3. 1992: The Year When Tokyo (and a Lot of Other Cities) Got Blown Off the Map
“At 2:17 p.m. on December 6th, 1992, a new type of bomb exploded over the metropolitan area of Tokyo. Nine hours later, World War III began.” So begins Marvel’s 1988 English-language adaptation of Akira, a 1980s cyberpunk manga by Katsuhiro Otomo set in the futuristic neo-Tokyo of 2019. It was one of the first manga works to be translated in its entirety for Western audiences, and it remains one of the most influential works of manga ever produced. When Otomo published the first Akira stories in 1982, a lot of people really did believe a global war between the world’s nuclear superpowers was inevitable, so it’s no surprise he set his story’s World War III in a year that wasn’t too far off in the future. Of course, there was no way he could have known about the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 or the collapse of the Soviet Union — events that greatly lessened the chances of nuclear bombs raining down on us in 1992. Anyone looking for massive bombs in 1992 had to content themselves with flocking to theatres to view such cinematic turkeys as Newsies and Stop or My Mom Will Shoot!
4. 1996: The Year When Everything Went to Hell
In some post-apocalyptic futures, humanity is struggling to rebuild society after surviving a cataclysmic event that nearly destroys everything. In others, it’s just one damn thing after another keeping us down. Howard Chaykin’s American Flagg! is one of the latter. The 1983 series by First Comics is a political satire set in the hyper-violent and consumerist world of 2031, a place where the U.S. government has relocated to Mars and left the people in the hands of an all-encompassing and not-at-all-benevolent corporation known as The Plex. According to Rick Flagg, the series’ protagonist, everything started going bad in 1996: plague, food riots, meltdowns, nuclear battles, you name it. So while there’s still time left for us to create Flagg’s dystopian present, we really need to pick up the pace if we want to get there, since the biggest scare that hit Americans in 1996 was mad cow disease, and it’s hard imagining Bill Clinton rocketing to Mars over a sudden hike in the price of Big Macs. (Then again, maybe not.)
5. 1986: The Year When America Traded Civilization for Anarchy, Giant Spotted Dogs
Lest you start thinking that fretting over civilization-shattering nuclear wars was something that only happened during the 1980s, here’s a story from 1960 that imagines a “terrible atomic war” taking place in the 1980s (specifically, October 29, 1986). The Atomic Knights appeared in issues of DC’s Strange Adventures between 1960 and 1964, defending the defenseless by wearing radiation-proof suits of armor and riding giant mutant Dalmatians (yes, you read that right) in 1992’s post-apocalyptic American Midwest. In the first story, a former member of the U.S. Army — a Sgt. Gardner Grayle, to be exact — recalls the terrible 20-day way in 1986 that knocked us back to the Stone Age, right before he joins forces with other hero-minded Americans to help bring civilization back up to speed, one deposed petty tyrant at a time. It’s a fun read in a Cold-War-time-capsule sort of way, especially if you can pretend the Final Crisis reboot of the Atomic Knights never happened.
6. 1987: The Year When Superman Took a Hike
Before DC said goodbye to almost 50 years of Superman history with its 1986 reboot, it tapped Alan Moore to write one final story starring the Silver Age Superman. The now-classic, two-part “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?” appeared in the September 1986 issues of Superman and Action Comics, and it tells an imaginary story (“aren’t they all?”) of Superman’s final days as Earth’s protector. The setup: it’s 1997, and a Daily Planet reporter is talking with Lois Lane for the Superman Memorial edition of the newspaper 10 years after Superman was last seen. As the story moves back and forth between the slightly futuristic 1997 and the slightly less futuristic 1987, we learn the final fates of many of Superman’s friends and foes, and possibly (no spoilers!) what happened to the big man himself. While most of the story is told in flashback, there’s a real treat in how Moore and artist Curt Swan pictured the then-near future of 1997. Glass domes! Glass domes everywhere! Glass domes over coffee! Glass domes over sleeping babies! Glass domes inspiring multiple lawsuits when someone forgets to put some air holes in them! Good times.
7. 2001: The Year When a Masked Monarch Rose to Power
Armageddon 2001 is one of DC’s lesser-remembered crossover events, and with good reason. While the idea of using all of DC’s 1991 summer annual issues to imagine what life would be like for the superheroes 10 years in the future may have sounded interesting on paper, the execution left something to be desired, and most of the stories rarely aimed higher than an average issue of Marvel’s What If…? in terms of inventiveness. Then there was the small matter of an inadvertent spoiler leak to fans that revealed which of the heroes was fated to become the armored conqueror named Monarch who wipes out all the other heroes in 2001, resulting in a hastily re-written conclusion that only served to confuse readers and piss off fans of one of DC’s better-written titles at that time. To their credit, DC’s writers didn’t go overboard with the “behold the future” stuff, highlighting incremental social changes (they legalized marijuana, man!) instead of flying cars and robot butlers. But overall, there wasn’t much reason for anyone in 2001 — or any other year, really — to pick up those issues.
8. 2009: The Year When the White House Was Bombed by Saudi Terrorists
For those who haven’t read it, Give Me Liberty is a four-issue series published by Dark Horse in 1990; Frank Miller (The Dark Knight Returns) and Dave Gibbons (Watchmen) tell the tale of young Martha Washington, a black woman born in 1995 who goes on to play a pivotal role in American history. In her timeline, her father is killed in 1996 during a protest over living conditions at Chicago’s Cabrini–Green housing project, the same year a newly elected president repeals the amendment limiting him to two terms in office and enacts economic policies that trap America’s lower-income families even further in abject poverty. Things generally get crappier as time goes on, and Washington ends up as a Guinea pig for a secret government project to genetically alter the minds of children, effectively making them human computers. Later, the president and most of his successors are killed in a bombing of the White House by Saudi terrorists in May 2009, leaving the liberal Secretary of Agriculture in charge. By this time, Washington is a commando sent to fight a war in South America; two years later, she’s fighting white supremacists armed with an orbiting laser cannon in space and foiling a plot by a power-mad colonel who blows up the president and his cabinet, shortly before finding the first president, who survived the White House bombing and is now a brain inside a jar. Want more plot? Any way you slice it, it’s still more believable than the reasons Bush gave for invading Iraq.
9. 2009: The Year When a Traveler Offers Some Respite From the Constant Death, Death and More Death All Around Us
Near futures have always been a handy place for sci-fi and horror writers to set their stories; you want audiences to feel that sense of dread that comes from knowing the events in the story could easily happen within their lifetimes. Think of 1991’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day and how one of the first facts established in that film was that the robots would destroy most of humanity on August 29, 1997, just six years away from the audience’s present. In 1996’s Destiny: A Chronicle of Tales Foretold, a rare headline outing for the Sandman’s elder brother, readers were told of a return of the bubonic plague in 2002 that nearly wipes out humankind, leaving small pockets of survivors extremely wary of travelers moving through the decimated landscape. The story begins in October 2009, when one such group is visited by a stranger who claims to possess a page from the Book of Destiny that foretells the future, and he tempts the group’s leader with knowledge of her own fate, as well as that of the human race. Scary! Thankfully, we survived 2009 without witnessing billions of people writhing in agony as they died horrible, painful deaths. On the other hand, that was the same year Justin Bieber released his debut album, so… six of one, really.