From "Future Imperfect" to "2099": Peter David's Greatest Hits

Sat, March 29th, 2014 at 5:58am PDT

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Marc Buxton, Contributing Writer

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Peter David, the renowned writer of stuff, has been a fan-favorite writer of comics for three decades. He began his comic book career in the sales department at Marvel before embarking on a career that has encompassed an incredibly diverse selection of characters, worlds, companies and even mediums. Outside of comics he has enjoyed a very successful career as a novelist, penning numerous acclaimed "Star Trek" novels and becoming a go-to guy for film novelizations. He has also written for television on series including "Babylon 5" and "Ben 10," as well as for several video games. No matter what format his work takes, David has maintained a fervent and loyal fan following.

David's "Spider-Man 2099" Fights to Reshape the Future

With Marvel's X-Factor receiving another reinvention in the pages of "All-New X-Factor" and a brand new "Spider-Man 2099" series announced earlier this week, CBR celebrates the career of a living legend by looking back on David's greatest stories. As prolific as he has been, we selected the stories that have resonated with readers and pushed the narrative potential of comics, as well as those that best define David as a writer.

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"The Spectacular Spider-Man"
"The Spectacular Spider-Man" #103, 105-110, 112-113, 115-119, 121-123, 128-129, 134-136

When a young writer named Peter David sold his first story to editor Jim Owsley, little did anyone know that one of comics' most innovative and dependable wordsmiths had arrived on the scene. David's first mainstream comic story was published in "Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man" #103. David followed up his debut with a fun two-part Wasp story and it was clear to readers that Marvel had found a capable young writer. The next issue proved David was much more than simply capable; David's fourth issue of "Spider-Man" changed the web-slinger's world forever and "The Death of Jean DeWolff" is still considered by many to be one of the greatest "Spider-Man" stories ever told. Jean DeWolff was Spider-Man's Jim Gordon, a tough as nails cop who functioned as Spidey's trusted ally in the war on crime. She was a familiar face to Spider readers and a constant in Peter Parker's world -- at least until Peter David unexpectedly and violently had her killed at the hands of Spider-Man's latest villain, the Sin-Eater. All of a sudden, there was an element of danger in Spidey's usually lighter world. David added elements of tragedy and a noir sensibility to Spidey's world, a tonal shift that remains to this day. David masterfully played with readers' perceptions, to such an extent that many truly believed Betty Brant was actually killed in one of the greatest cliffhangers in Spider-Man's rich history. David followed the game changing storyline with a fabulous Dr. Strange story featuring the Black Cat and a clash with Sabretooth. Despite true consequences and the feeling that anything could happen in David's Spidey run, things weren't only dark and gritty as the writer began to show his trademark comedic timing in the pages of "Spectacular" -- an element of David's writing that has been his calling card for decades to come. David's Sin-Eater story was the beginning of a lengthy run that cemented him as a new writer to reckoned with, one that wasn't afraid to kill or alter long established, beloved characters to deliver a story readers would remember forever.

"Sachs & Violens"
"Sachs & Violens" (1993) #1-4

Debuting in 1993, Peter David and George Perez' "Sachs & Violens" was a splash of cold water in the collective face of a complacent comic readership. Both creators were well-known (for good reason) for their mainstream super hero work, so when the duo debuted a book filled with unflinching, overt sex and copious amounts of violence (get it?), fans took notice. "Sachs & Violens" was published by Marvel's Epic Comics imprint as part of its Heavy Hitters sub-line. Modern day readers might get a "Satellite Sam"/grindhouse vibe from the book, but for a comic published in 1993, this sort of titillation and celebration of violence was unheard of. "Sachs & Violens" was the story of Juanita "J.J." Sachs a softcore fetish model who did photo shoots for her friend Ernie "Violens" Schultz, a photojournalist who served in Vietnam. After J.J.'s friend is murdered in a snuff film, J.J. and Ernie pair up to seek justice. Read today, the book holds up as an eager celebration of depravity, but don't let that fool you -- this is David and Perez at the top of their respective games. The '90s was a glut of subpar super hero titles and exploitative bad girl features, but David and Perez managed to deliver a book that was ahead of its time in celebrating the profane in a market that only wanted super heroes and predictable and safe teases of sex. The characters went on to become supporting players in another of David's works "Fallen Angel," a book that missed this list by mere inches. For the daring readership, 1993 saw the birth of a wanton gem in "Sachs & Violens," a naughty and masterfully crafted delight that may work even better today than it did when it was originally released.

"Aquaman"
"Aquaman" (1994) #1-2, 0, 3-46, Annual #1-4 and "The Atlantis Chronicles" #1-7

When David first took up the writing reigns on "Aquaman," the character was firmly rooted in the second tier of super heroes. For years, the character of Aquaman was a directionless mess, sometimes popping up in the Justice League and sometimes featured in quickly aborted new series that would drown as soon as they surfaced, while most fans saw the King of the Seas as a fish-talking punch line thanks to the his portrayal on "The Super Friends." David quickly proved that Aquaman was no joke. The book featured David's trademark humor, but his Aquaman was pure badass, more an undersea Conan than the butt of jokes. David did not just rebuild Aquaman as an important DC hero, he carefully crafted Aquaman's world, doing one of the most incredible jobs of world building modern comics had ever seen. Starting in "The Atlantis Chronicles," David penned a history for Atlantis that made it a concrete and palpable place. Suddenly, Aquaman was a viable character, and his world a viable setting that greatly enriched the DC Universe as well as making the once confusing history of Atlantis into a functioning narrative that bound characters like Arion and Superman's Lori Lemaris into Aquaman's world. David's greatest contribution was, ironically, mutilating his title character. When Aquaman had his hand devoured by piranhas and replaced with a retractable hook, fans knew this Aquaman bore little resemblance to the classic hero they thought they knew, transforming him into one of the coolest and most intriguing DC heroes. In addition to his work with eponymous hero, David weaved the same magic with Aqualad, Mera, Dolphin and the rest of his supporting cast. David's character work became the defining take on the denizens of Atlantis for years to come. Thanks to Geoff Johns' New 52 relaunch of "Aquaman," the title is one of DC's better selling book, but without the groundwork laid by Peter David it's possible that the hero would not have played such an important role in DC's relaunch and current plans.

"Captain Marvel"
"Captain Marvel" (1999) #0-13, 15-35 and Captain Marvel (2002) #1-25

David was doing cosmic Marvel books, before cosmic Marvel was cool. When "Captain Marvel," a series chronicling the adventures of the original Captain Marvel's son hit the racks in 1999 it quickly became a critical sensation. David used his ability to build rich and dynamic characters to make Genis-Vell an integral part of the Marvel Universe. There was not a great deal of movement on the cosmic side of Marvel during this era, so David had the playground all to himself, enriching the world of space adventure and adding elements and characters that would go on to inform such titles as "Guardians of the Galaxy." In fact, when Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning launched their "Guardians" book (upon which the upcoming Marvel Studios film is based), the writers used a number of characters David had utilized to a great degree in his "Captain Marvel" run. David not only made Genis a rich and fascinating character that drew a loyal core of readers month after month, he also was able to build on the characters of Moondragon and the new Quasar, Phylla-Vell (Genis' sister), both of whom would continue on in "Guardians." David also did some of the best character work on Marvel's classic everyman Rick Jones since… well, since David used the character in his classic run on "Incredible Hulk." David's "Captain Marvel" was as much about Rick as it was the good Captain, and David crafted a cosmic buddy movie for the ages. The run was not without controversy, however, as Marvel cancelled the title only to relaunch it as part of the "U Decide" campaign, where David's epic went up against two forgettable books ("Ultimate Adventures" and "Marville"), and only the best-selling title would continue to be published. Though hardly in doubt, David's book won out. The gimmick hurt a little of Cap's momentum, but David quickly righted the ship through gripping cosmic dramas with a humorous and very human heart. As all things cosmic will soon be the order of the day at Marvel, here is hoping that David's "Captain Marvel" will cement its legacy as the book that rekindled the cosmic spark that could ignite into multiple film franchises for the House of Ideas.

"Spider-Man 2099"
"Spider-Man 2099" (1992) #1-20, 22-44, Annual #1

Reimaging Spider-Man is never easy; reimaging Spider-Man while building a futuristic world around him is damn near impossible, but David combined that task with his effortless character driven story prowess to create a future Marvel Universe just as compelling as the one readers were experiencing in the present. In 1992, Marvel introduced readers to the world of 2099, the actual future of the storied Marvel Universe. This world was populated with futuristic versions of staple Marvel characters, some of which, like "Hulk 2099," fell flat, while others including David's "Spider-Man 2099" became the stuff of legend. David introduced a reluctant readership to Miguel O'Hara, a scientist who had his DNA transformed into that of a spider's in a series of events manipulated by the evil CEO of Alchemax Industries, Tyler Stone. O'Hara is aware of a Spider-Man that fought crime during the Heroic Age and uses the archaic hero's inspiration to don a costume and fight Alchemax and Stone. Readers fell in love with this new version of Spider-Man as the book was a sales smash throughout David's run. Miguel became as nuanced a character as Peter Parker while David seeded the future world with a great supporting cast and futuristic versions of contemporary Spidey villains. David not only had to birth a new Spider-Man that fans would embrace, but also build the world of 2099, a world that had to be its own unique entity but also an echo of the Marvel fans were familiar with. No easy task, but one David succeeded at with his usual aplomb. Dan Slott recently brought Miguel O'Hara back into the spotlight as the future web-slinger has become a major supporting player in the pages of "Superior Spider-Man," and David will continue his adventures in the present day in the all-new "Spider-Man 2099" ongoing series launching in July.

"Supergirl"
"Supergirl" (1996) #1-12, 14-80, 1000000 and "Supergirl Plus" #1

In the mid-'90s, the concept of Supergirl was at a crossroads. DC wanted Superman to be the only survivor from Krypton, making the concept of Supergirl immediately outdated and in need of a retcon. DC had a Supergirl, a being called Matrix who was tricked by Lex Luthor to be his own personal super bodyguard. It was a solid story, but other than the eventual betrayal by Luthor, and with Krypton not part of the Supergirl equation, there wasn't much there to anchor the Matrix Supergirl to the rest of the DC Universe. At least not until Peter David took Matrix and went on nearly 80-issue run that became arguably the most beloved "Supergirl" run in history. Like his other works, David filled Supergirl's world with a compelling a supporting cast. When David took over "Captain Marvel," the character was a tabula rasa, a name without form, a concept driven hero who became a real, complex character thanks to David. The writer worked the same magic on Supergirl who was a flat character, literally made of clay, without direction or purpose other than her classic name. Once David got done with Supergirl, she was a major part of the DC Universe with her own mythology and chronology. By this time, DC went back to the Kryptonian Supergirl, to great sales numbers, and David's Supergirl was all but forgotten except by the many ardent fans that followed David's classic run. Yes, Matrix Supergirl may or may not have been the protagonist of David's "Fallen Angel," but it was the time she wore the S-shield under David that fans who followed this criminally underappreciated run will never forget.

"X-Factor"
"X-Factor" (1986) #55, 70-89, Annual #5-8, "X-Factor" (2005) #1-50, 200-262 "X-Factor: The Quick and the Dead," "X-Factor Special: Layla Miller" and "Madrox" #1-5, "All-New X-Factor" #1-Present

Nothing is ever easy for the X-Men. Hated and feared by a world that doesn't understand them, their popularity has led to dozens of titles featuring exponentially more creative teams, and change is nothing if not a constant. The exception to that rule is Peter David's "X-Factor," which has become a beacon of quality in the raging sea of Marvel's mutant franchise. Month after month, fans know they can count on David to deliver a surprising story of the utmost quality that is not immersed in the complex events of other X-titles. David's little corner of the mutant universe stands alone, and any character the writer sets his sights on is better for the attention. Over the years, David's brand of humor and drama has helped Marvel develop Havoc, Polaris, Quicksilver, M, Strong Guy, Layla Miller, Siryn, Wolfsbane, Darwin, Longshot, Rictor, Shatterstar and, perhaps most importantly, Jamie Madrox into multi-faceted mutant characters that make the X Universe a richer place for readers to visit.

David Introduces a Dangerous Dynamic in "All-New X-Factor"

David's run on "X-Factor" in the '90s was one of the most beloved mutant books of that era, and when David returned to the team with a noir twist in the mid-2000s "Madrox" miniseries, fans were delighted to have David at the helm of the new X-Factor Investigations detective agency. While an untold number of writers came and went during this era, David was a rock, delivering great stories and set-a-watch-by-them sales numbers every month. David's mutant magic, which began in the unstable excess of the '90s, continues in the All-New Marvel NOW! in "All-New X-Factor," making David's "X-Factor" one of the true stabilizing constants in the usually unpredictable comic book market thanks to the writer's sense of story and character that have delighted X fans for decades.

"Young Justice"
"Young Justice" #1-7, 9-21, 23-55, #1,000,000, "Young Justice" 80-Page Giant #1, "Young Justice Secret Files" #1 and "Young Justice: Sins of Youth" #1-2

It was David's long run on this beloved title that set the path for the DC Universe's youngest heroes. It was both the precursor to Geoff Johns' run on "Teen Titans" and the narrative inspiration for Cartoon Network's beloved "Young Justice" animated series. The book made fans fall even deeper in love with Superboy, Tim Drake's Robin, Wonder Girl and Impulse, and the book that, for the first time, fleshed out the character of Red Tornado. While the characters went on to become part of a masterful "Teen Titans," run, DC has yet to fill the hole left when the book ended in terms of sheer fun and intensity. Fans still long for the returns of Secret and Arrowette, two characters ripe for a New 52 return. Before the New 52, it was hard to find a moment involving the members of Young Justice that somehow was not fed by a story or character moment David wrote. Superboy, Robin, Impulse, Wonder Girl, and the rest did not start out as David's characters, but by the time he was done, they all spoke with his voice. The book was a brilliant tribute to the history of DC's teen heroes, and with the New 52 "Teen Titans" coming to an end, perhaps there will soon be a place for a new "Young Justice" at DC.

"The Incredible Hulk"
"The Incredible Hulk" (1962) #328, 331-359, 361-388, 390-454, -1, 455-467, Annual #16-20, and "The Incredible Hulk" (1999) #77-87

Stan Lee and Jack Kirby on "Fantastic Four"; Stan Lee, Steve Ditko and John Romita, Sr. on "Amazing Spider-Man"; Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagely on "Ultimate Spider-Man"; Chris Claremont on "X-Men"; Walt Simonson on "Thor"; Mark Waid on "The Flash"; Ed Brubaker on "Captain America" -- all comic book runs that have become the stuff of legend. Peter David's time on "The Incredible Hulk" is one of these runs. For more than a decade David guided the adventures of Bruce Banner and his many gamma irradiated iterations. Before David, Marvel's "Hulk" title was floundering on the verge of cancelation. When David arrived, he shook things to their core and rebuilt a new legend that still reverberates in "Hulk" today. As has become his tradition, David's first order of business was to breathe new life into Hulk's supporting cast. Never before has Betty Ross or Rick Jones shined so bright. Add to the mix the excellent character expansion David did with Clay Quartermain and the introduction of Marlo Chandler and fans can see why David's footprint looms so large in the Hulk mythos. As for the Hulk himself, David masterfully delved into the psychological aspects of why Banner had the rage that manifested into the Hulk. Building on concepts introduced by the great Bill Mantlo, David crafted a Banner like no other, a broken man whose rage at past abuses manifests itself as the Hulk. This portrayal of Banner opened the door to elements that have become some of the most popular plot twists in the long history of the character. During his run, David transformed the Hulk into his thuggish gray form, creating the popular Mr. Fixit version of the character. David had the creative cojones to have the Hulk become a leg breaker in Las Vegas and fans ate it up. David also created the Professor, a Banner-controlled super-intelligent version of the Hulk. In addition, David modernized Hulk villains including the Leader and the Abomination, making them antagonists for the modern age. David also partook in some of his trademark world building by introducing the Pantheon, a super-secret race of demi-gods who protect the world. The myriad beings that made up the Pantheon fueled Hulk stories for many years, giving the Hulk many interesting and dynamic characters to play off of. Throughout, his 10-year run, David kept readers guessing, never knowing which Hulk would end up in the driver's seat. The longer David remained on the book, the better it got, grinding out a huge place for the Hulk in the Marvel Universe along the way. David worked with some of the most exciting artists in comics during his immortal run, among them Todd McFarlane, Dale Keown and Gary Frank, who all contributed to the Hulk's success early in their careers, and David's scripts were always tailored to his artists' strengths. When David arrived, the Hulk was a simple monster; when the writer left, the Hulk was one of the most fully realized characters in comics.

"Hulk: Future Imperfect"
"Hulk: Future Imperfect" #1-2 (1992)

While one could argue against it, it's important to separate "Future Imperfect" from David's run on "The Incredible Hulk." While not receiving the same critical love, "Future Imperfect" can be seen as Marvel's "Dark Knight Returns," a seminal look at a classic character in a possible future that changed how readers perceived not only that character but an entire fictional universe. "Future Imperfect" is a look at what happens when the Hulk goes wrong. "Future Imperfect" teamed David with his "Sachs & Violens" partner George Perez and, with all due respect to DC's "Crisis on Infinite Earths," the project was both creators' finest hour. David's depiction of a broken Marvel Universe shocked readers as did his introduction of the Maestro, a future Hulk who had conquered the world after murdering all of Marvel's super heroes. Readers can pour over Perez' pages for days and still find hidden little details, especially the Maestro's museum containing trophies like Captain America's shattered shield and Wolverine's skeleton. The book was truly one of Marvel's best early '90s releases, standing out in the wasteland of excess the defined the era. It acted as a perfect companion piece to David's "Incredible Hulk," but also stood on its own as a masterpiece of the medium. Come to think of it, if Marvel wants to inspiration for its next "Hulk," film, there are few better options than considering David's imperfect future.

TAGS:  peter david, spectacular spider-man, sachs & violens, aquaman, captain marvel, spider-man 2099, supergirl, x-factor, all-new x-factor, young justice, incredible hulk, hulk future imperfect

 
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