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Armageddon 2001 (1991)
Written by Denny O’Neill, Archie Goodwin, & Dan Jurgens
Art by Dan Jurgens
In the year 2031, the despot Monarch rules Earth with an iron fist, focused on defeating any possible heroism from his sedate populace. One citizen, Matthew Ryder cannot abide the drudgery of life and lack of human nobility he sees absent in the world. Ryder has a strange memory from his childhood of being rescued by one of Earth’s long deceased heroes but cannot recall which one. He also wants to find out who Monarch truly is and is willing to use experimental time travel to achieve this purpose. Monarch becomes aware of Ryder’s plans and ends up tossed through time. Ryder is transformed into Waverider, a being who can touch another and see through the possible timelines at their futures. Using this power, Waverider plans on discovering who Monarch is and stop him.
There is a lot of controversy surrounding this crossover event. It was the first DC event to run through the annuals rather than crossing over into the monthly issues. This allowed writers not to have to interrupt their arcs while the event could touch on every hero. Making these crossovers a non-essential tie-in though, allowed them to be easily dismissed and not seen as affecting continuity in a significant way. The controversy for Armageddon 2001 comes from a rather amusing aspect: the fans guessed Monarch’s identity. Once it was evident among fans that Captain Atom was going to become Monarch, DC editorial scrambled to rewrite the ending and “surprise” fans. The new twist was that Hawk of duo Hawk & Dove became Monarch. This was a move that made absolutely no sense.
This sticks out incredibly because in the pages of the Hawk & Dove Annual that year, Waverider touches Hawk and sees a future where he is killed by Monarch but remarks that no matter the timeline Hawk would never be the man who becomes Monarch. Cut to Armageddon 2001 #2, the issue wrapping up this play on the “what if” stories DC used to publish in the 50s and 60s. The opening pages of this issue have Waverider touching Captain Atom and seeing a future where an old Cap unleashes the fury of his power in revenge for the death of his family. At the conclusion, Waverider reveals that Captain Atom is not Monarch, despite so much of the story putting red flags all around the character.
This is followed by a convoluted attempt to lead Hank Hall aka Hawk down the path of becoming Monarch. The story is clunky and awkward and never really makes sense with the character’s prior established motives. Hank kills his future-self and dons the Monarch armor and tries to kill a bunch of heroes, fails, and escapes into the timestream.
Armageddon 2001 isn’t a total failure. The first issue is a profoundly engaging sci-fi superhero story with a disturbing future dystopia. Writer Archie Goodwin paces the story with excellent character development, superheroes only appearing in quick flashbacks. The story is all about Matthew Ryder and making sure we understand why he is undergoing such a radical mission. Dan Jurgens was the big name on the marquee for this event, and his artwork is phenomenal. It’s a classic DC house style, but it’s clean and has momentum. The quality in art doesn’t decline either as we’ve seen in other crossover events.
While I didn’t read any of the annual tie-ins for this review, I have read many of them in the past, and they are entertaining, imaginative explorations of possible future timelines of DC’s heroes. The event has had extremely long-lasting effects with Monarch and Captain Atom’s clash continuing into the pages of a mini-series called The Alien Agenda. Monarch popped up again in a new form as the villain of Dan Jurgens’ Zero Hour, an event we’ll cover in a few days. In the New Teen Titans annual a group called Team Titans is introduced and got their ongoing series that ran for a couple of years before they were completely screwed up editorially.
The story elements in Armageddon 2001 always felt like they were full of potential but never really capitalized on. Waverider would become a recurring Superman supporting character and plays a significant role in Zero Hour. The character of Captain Atom was one that DC Comics wanted to be a top-tier figure for them. He wasn’t included in the pages of Legends which might have hurt that potential. He did have significant roles in Millennium and led the superheroes in Invasion! Armageddon 2001 feels like it was setting him up for huge things, but instead, he ends up with his ongoing series canceled and faded into obscurity.