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Ultraverse Revisited: Sludge #2

ultraverse_revisited

sludge_0002Because They Pay Me

Writer: Steve Gerber
Penciller: Aaron Lopresti
Inker: Gary Martin
Letters: Patrick Owsley
Color Design: Robert Alvord
Interior Colorists: Violent Hues
Editor: Chris Ulm
Cover Date: November 1993
Cover Price: $1.95

It feels like ages since I read Sludge #1–though it hasn’t been THAT long. I remember vague details but not character names and such. Even the main character, I "only" remember as "Sludge," though I remember he was a dirty cop who maintained certain principles and was shot up for it.

In that regard, this issue felt like "another episode" if not "THE next episode" of stuff, comparing this to a tv series.

We have a cold open on an inner monologue, someone who was bullied as a kid. We come to see that the kid has grown up and become a mercenary…his "defenses" and "coping mechanism" to deal with the bullying led him to this position…and he’s good at his job, enjoying dishing out the killing. Meanwhile, a couple thugs are pressuring someone to pay up on a debt, and to send a message plan to take a body part. It’s up to the guy who owes to determine which–and whether it’s external or internal. Sludge comes across them and recognizes one of the thugs, which leads to confrontation and the thug winds up dead. Also meanwhile, authorities are trying to figure out what the connection is with dead folks and their having been killed by massive overgrowth of cells where the faces essentially grow over themselves, suffocating the individuals. As readers, we know–we’ve seen–it’s Sludge, where his touch does the deed. Getting these multiple viewpoints, we’re learning and seeing more than Sludge for the moment, as this issue’s stuff comes together. Someone at the pharmaceuticals company involved in stuff hires the mercenary, and after we see him deal with another contract, he’s on to Sludge. As we’ve seen the mercenary’s internal state, we see that on first sight, Sludge becomes the embodiment of all the torture he went through as a kid, the creature MUST be killed, it was born to die as he–this mercenary–was born to kill it. We end the issue with him standing over the apparently-dead body of Sludge.

I tend to think of Sludge as a dark title visually…probably I’m thinking of the blues and blacks from the first issue’s cover, which is the main cover I think of for the character/title. This issue felt "colorful" overall, which made Sludge himself seem a bit out of place and more "alien" or "Other." That’s a good thing, especially if it was done intentionally and is not just me "reading too much into it" or "finding more than what’s actually there." I also like some of the subtleties and "moments" that are actually left to the imagination–such as a woman who is killed. We know she’s killed, but it’s not overtly shown, it’s not gratuitous. The visuals convey what’s needed and get the story across very well!

Story-wise, this issue focuses on the villain, while giving us incidental additions to Sludge’s character and situation. It’s a bit scary how well I can identify with the villain’s experience as a kid–not that it’s a direct matchup–and reiterates to me what a difference there is in how one handles a situation. Regardless, this makes the villain more sympathetic than he’d be otherwise. It’s interesting to be able to get into the guy’s head a bit–it grounds him, makes him more authentic–even though I never rooted for him and certainly don’t condone his line of business.

We get the introduction of this villain with his background and all; we also get development in the overall story as far as Sludge himself is concerned, and he gets a bit of resolution regarding individuals involved in his becoming the creature he is now; and there are more underhanded dealings with the pharmaceutical company as the whole thing is pushed to be covered up and principle loose ends–namely Sludge–are to be dealt with. And the cops are figuring out that something is out there and something is going on, which makes things doubly problematic for the "bad guys."

This issue builds on the first issue, but also stands alone fairly well. As a reader you definitely benefit from having the context and setup of the first issue; aside from the context, this doesn’t really refer back to stuff and doesn’t do the "continued from…" thing. It’s surprisingly readable and enjoyable as a one-off, and as with many Ultraverse issues…it’s well worth 25-50 cents to buy and read from a bargain bin. As I’ve been fortunate to find so many Ultraverse issues as cheaply as I have, I’d tend to recommend not going over $1 or so for this…but if you have to order it online to get it at all, it wouldn’t be horrible to pay its cover price, give or take depending on your desire to read it yourself!

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Ultraverse Revisited: Solitaire #1

ultraverse_revisited

solitaire_0001The Pleasure Principle

Writer: Gerard Jones
Penciller: Jeff Johnson
Inker: Barb Kaalberg
Letterer: Tim Eldred
Color Design: Keith Conroy
Editor: Hank Kanalz
Interior Color: Foodhammer
Published by: Malibu Comics
Cover Date: November 1993
Cover Price: $2.50

I’ve acquired this issue a number of times–out of its bag, with and without the bag, with and without one of the cards. But in all these years, I’d never gotten around to actually reading this this! In this particular case, I’m reading a bagless copy with a $2.50 cover price.

We open on a couple of thugs beating a woman, and see her rescued by a guy in a purple and blue costume–an obvious vigilante figure. He claims he’s "hard to hurt," and he’s looking for someone called "The King." Though he takes a bad gunshot wound–with the original victim he rescued actually approaching him to help HIM–he gets up under his own power, proving what he said about being hard to hurt. The scene cuts to the so-called King, quite angry about the intervention of this Solitaire into his plans. We see and learn that he considers himself King Pleasure–if it feels good, DO it. Back with Solitaire, we see the vigilante deliver the victim to safety while he continues tracking King’s men. We see that Solitaire’s HQ is in an old movie theater, that he’s good with computers, and he’s got an established network of people to help him with his crusade…and that he has issues with his father and isn’t surprised to learn that King Pleasure has some sort of tie to his Father. Solitaire puts a plan in motion, and is able to get into King Pleasure’s inner sanctum, rescue a couple of his captives, and END this King’s reign. We also see Solitaire reveal his identity to King…he is Nicholas Lone, son of the crime lord Anton Lone. While the King’s "palace" burns and the rescued victims watch, Solitaire speeds off in his car, brooding over his origin, silently vowing to himself that "this fight" has only just begun.

In a way, this issue feels too quick and simplistic. But that’s (as often the case for me in 2018) most likely due to being trained for most of the last 17-some+ years to read stuff for the larger story, for the 6-issue "graphic novel," as it seems that modern comics have mostly lost the "art" of the single-issue story.

Though this is the premier issue of an ongoing/12-issue series (in 2018 I know this as a 12-issue finite series, but do not recall if it was originally intended as such or if it was intended as an open-ended ongoing series) it feels like it could be simply a one-shot, a single issue introducing a character, showing him off, introducing and resolving an immediate story, and leaving him to "the universe" to be used or not as any creators might choose.

This works very well as a setup-issue, a foundation-laying issue. We meet the title character, see him in action, see what he’s about, see what he’s capable of, meet supporting characters/locations, see him resolve a case, and have a decently-proper sort of ending…all in one single issue. Which makes this great "pilot" for a series.

I like the structure of the issue, the way this story is presented. In tandem with the art itself, this looks and feels like a ’90s comic in general.

Visually, the art is good–though there seem to be panels where there’s some shortcutting going on, it’s nothing not seen elsewhere, and doesn’t detract from the story. One is easily able to read along and keep up with what’s going on, and there are some nice, dynamic layouts that move the story along fairly cinematically. Simply looking at the art, it doesn’t stand out to me in a "this is my favorite artist ever" sort of way, but it’s not bad, and I especially like the colors for Solitaire’s outfit!

I’m very pleasantly surprised at how much this issue seems to work as a one-shot and "first issue" together. It’s very solid as a first issue, and on my first reading seems to be independent of all the other Ultraverse titles thus far, with no real reference to Ultras, other Ultras, and so on. Solitaire’s own "hard to hurt" nature reminds me a lot of the Bloodshot character from Valiant, and I’m interested to see how far those similarities go in future issues of this book.

Buy this for the "bagged" gimmick, for the trading card…buy it because it’s a #1, buy it because you like the cover art, buy it for whatever reason…you don’t need previous issues, and there’s no actual "To Be Continued" and thus for this one-off issue you don’t even "need" any future issues–though the fact that there are later issues mean there’s more material for you to get if you liked this issue!

Given the nature of the issue…I absolutely recommend it if you find it in a bargain bin (25-50 cents for sure, with the bag/card insert, certainly up to $1 or so!). It’s a good read, and as with many of the other Ultraverse titles, I’m curious and looking forward to reading additional issues.

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Batman (2016) #52 [Review]

batman_2016_0052Cold Days Part Two

Script: Tom King
Art: Lee Weeks
Color: Elizabeth Breitweiser
Letters: Clayton Cowles
Cover: Lee Weeks, Elizabeth Breitweiser
Assoc. Editor: Brittany Holzherr
Editor: Jamie S. Rich
Batman Created by: Bob Kane with Bill Finger
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Date: Early October 2018
Cover Price: $3.99

While I own the entire run, I think I’ve basically only READ the first issue, the proposal issue, and #45-present for this series. I’m trying to be more diligent at "keeping up with" the series now, having finally jumped back in without forcing myself to backtrack and try to get through a 2-year queue just to "allow" myself to read current issues.

I was grabbed by the Booster Gold cover of #45 or so and opted to read that "out of order" due to Booster’s presence…and kept going. Then I "had to" read #50 before coming across spoilers, which I SOMEWHAT managed to do. Now it’s been about a month since #50, meaning two more issues as the series is biweekly. I’d "misplaced" #51, but with not wanting to fall IMMEDIATELY behind again, I managed to find it, and quite enjoyed it. I went immediately into this issue–same creative team as #51–and by the end of the issue, just sat with the feeling that I want the next chapter ASAP, in a way that I didn’t even have with #50.

I’m "assuming" this is a 3-issue mini-arc…something about it just "feels" like a 3-parter. Coming into this issue, we find the situation being recapped in the form of the jurors reviewing available evidence as presented to them. Bruce insists on going back over three key pieces of evidence for context. We get flashes of the actual fight between Batman and Freeze as the jurors discuss things–Mr. Freeze (barred as part of probation from donning his costume and having a freeze gun) having his costume and rebuilt a freeze gun; being prepared for Batman and what expectations he’d HAVE for a confrontation with Batman; his confession and why he stuck to it even when out of Batman’s presence. To Bruce Wayne’s fellow jurors, Batman is better than the police–he’s THE best, he’s the one who’s infallible, and if Batman delivered Freeze, then OBVIOUSLY Freeze is guilty. But Bruce has information and context that the other jurors do not and likely will not…but he must now find a way to prove his own belief in Freeze’s actual innocence of the particular crime he’s being tried for.

I’m so-so regarding the art. It’s not bad, and I’d swear I’ve got a positive mental thought behind Weeks’ name in terms of art…but it just seemed somehow "off" to me here (and in #51). Perhaps it’s because of seeing some Jim Aparo art recently, and some other stuff…so on actual reading of this issue, my mind wanted other art, and so compared this to that. I’m not sure the phrasing I’m looking for, but Mr. Freeze in particular seems frail and "wiry" to me here, in a sickly sort of way…not the stronger/more powerful character I tend to picture. There’s also something to the line work that just feels rather "messy" and does so in a way that keeps me from liking it as much in and of itself. It’s surely a design/visual choice and quite intentional and not bad art…but it wouldn’t be my first choice as of reading the issue. That said, it definitely gets the story across, the jumps between Bruce and the other jurors, and the earlier interaction between Batman and Fries. The characters look human, no weird oddities to anatomy or such and the various characters are distinct, and there’s a contrast to the Batman stuff.

Story-wise, that contrast works very well, showing us a brutal, violent-beyond-usual Batman dealing with Mr. Freeze even while we see Bruce trying to work things out "remotely" for firstly how he didn’t catch something as Batman as well having realized he–as Batman–was wrong for going after Freeze, and must now find a way to get the criminal off, as Bruce now believes that the man is innocent of the particular crime he was brought down over…and because he knows that, it’s not (in this case) justice, and means someone else committed the crime and thus is more important to be "brought to justice."

Despite any of my negative/so-so-ness about the art…as an entire package, I greatly enjoyed this issue. I want to read the next issue; and I suspect that it will be "top of the stack" due to my eagerness, in a way that #51 was not, initially, after #50. I love this use of Bruce Wayne–as Bruce Wayne, as a character, and not JUST as Batman. Seeing Bruce Wayne involved in something, interacting with others as Bruce Wayne, and even discussing Batman and seeing/reading ("hearing") certain things and getting meaning that someone who does NOT know Bruce and Batman are one and the same would not. It’s also interesting to consider the ethical things–such as Bruce serving on a jury involving a case with a man that he himself brought in, without anyone else knowing that fact. But then, a masked vigilante running around serving a greater good YET technically breaking a number of laws doing so adds other stuff to the mix. In context of Batman stories, though, I always find myself going back to Untold Legend of the Batman and a flashback of Bruce’s moment of realization that Justice and The Law are not automatically the same thing.

This is a Bruce Wayne back in a familiar place thanks to a new situation; I was reminded a bit of A Lonely Place of Dying, which is certainly another factor that sparked a positive feeling for me.

This isn’t for everyone, obviously…but it begins to move things forward with developments from #50, and yet almost feels like a new series. I’m very thankful this is NOT some new #2, as the numbering continuing on clearly shows that there can be a new focus and a series can feel fresh even without an arbitrary #1 slapped on the cover. The primary drawback to the issue is the price–I’d swear up to #49, this series was $2.99 and now carries the $3.99 price point. I’ve long been down on Marvel for biweekly $3.99 books, having often felt that I was very OK with DC doing the biweekly thing since the issues were 25% cheaper. As I’ve significantly trimmed back on what I’m buying, it’s not the huge thing it could be, but does have me a bit wary.

Still, having read the two issues back to back and being eager for the next chapter…having enjoyed this issue and the story in and of itself…and DC still having a bit of ok will (if not entirely "good will") from me, I’ll let the point go for now.

Regardless of Batman #50, one who "knows" Batman in general ought to have little trouble picking up with #51 and this issue for a good story. As part 2 of a multi issue story, I do not recommend this issue without #51…and if you don’t already have this issue, you’d probably enjoy the story better if you wait and got all 3 issues at once, if not waiting for a collected volume.

For a $3.99 issue, I liked this, I’m glad to have the issue, and I’m actively looking forward to the next issue.

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Ultraverse Revisited: The Solution #2

ultraverse_revisited

solution_0002Showdown

Writer: James Hudnall
Penciller: Darick Robertson
Inker: Mike Miller
Letterer: Tim Eldred
Color Designer: Tim Divar
Interior Color: Violent Hues
Editor: Hank Kanalz
Published by: Malibu Comics
Cover Date: October 1993
Cover Price: $2.50

Rex Mundi realizes he and his people are being magically spied on…by The Solution! The scene then moves to the Shinjuku district in Tokyo…where we see The Solution in action! They’ve got a plan, and everyone seems to be in place as things unfold. Dropkick and Tech communicate, while Shadowmage  sits by to use her powers in a room next to the group’s target, who is dealt with by Lela Cho–Tech–herself. As Tech begins to realize something’s wrong, Shadowmage confirms that someone’s there, and both Outrage and Dropkick are forced into immediate action away from the building. Shadowmage fights an opponent named Book, while Dropkick deals with a red-clad woman with swords…who seems to recognize his fighting style. Outrage’s opponent seems to be of his own alien race (I guess Outrage is another alien…I did not remember that!), and he’s got some sort of bounty on his head. While Tech gets her client out of the building and we see them trying to escape this ambush, the unfolding battles of the other three unfold as well. In the end, their client is killed, so while The Solution survives, their case is a bust.

This issue is largely a huge fight scene. The previous issue really being the first time I’d ever read an issue of this series (despite owning issues and being aware of the team–mainly from getting Rune #0 and it coming with The Solution #0 as well) I’m still figuring out the characters. And of course, that’s not helped by the way I’m undertaking this reading project–trying to read ALL titles in release-month order, rather than zeroing in on just one series at a time.

So this issue served to really "show off" a lot more with the team. We already know Shadowmage can use magic, but we see more of that here. Lela Cho has a certain skill set, which is also shown off. We see Dropkick in action, and some hints at him being more than he appears. And we see Outrage similarly, as he faces someone that knows more about him than we do, which leaves another question in the air, further details to be sussed out presumably in subsequent issues.

Visually, I thoroughly enjoyed this issue. The detail’s great, the layouts are dynamic, the characters seem consistent and it’s easy enough to follow the general action of it all. Seeing that it’s Darick Robertson art, though, I suppose I should not be surprise, enjoying his work on the likes of Transmetropolitan. I can’t quite figure out a better phrasing, but I felt like the main characters especially were "full" while "sleek" in the way they’re depicted in this issue. Ultimately, the issue in general is nice to look at, as it also totally carries a ’90s vibe.

Story-wise, there’s not a lot: the characters fight, their client is killed, everyone goes home. That’s the broad strokes view. The details are where the depth is, and I’m definitely interested in learning more about these characters. Maybe I’m the odd guy out, but I’m pretty sure I’d totally enjoy several issues of the characters simply interacting with each other and learning of them that way, without even needing a lot of action.

rune_0kRune [K]: The Fury – Part Two
Plotted by: Barry Windsor-Smith & Chris Ulm
Drawn & Colored by: Barry Windsor-Smith
Scripted by: Chris Ulm
Inked by: John Floyd
Computer Color by: Albert Calleros
Lettered by: Patrick Owsley
Text Pages Designed by: Jim Chadwick
Edited by: Steve Gerber

Wayyyy back (it seems) with the start of the Rune stuff (Sludge #1), the cover showed the open mouth with fangs, and the words "The Stones are Cast…" Here in the final issue, we again have that cover image (the 9 issues between being the "poster image" pieces) but with the text "…And Death Walks the Earth." A fitting sort of symmetry. "The stones are cast and death walks the Earth." That’s Rune.

This final chapter of the Rune #0 issue, we see a kid named Erik talking with his Dad…as they discuss nightmares, monsters, and keeping things at bay; an incident with Erik forgetting to take his pills, and this hint at there being something more to the kid. Their conversation is largely narration boxes overlaid on scenes of destruction, as Rune gets through the last barriers between himself and Erik, leaving us with Rune perched in a tree outside Erik’s house, apparently preparing to attack.

The art continues to be consistent with prior chapters, as the creative team did not change…this is "merely" three more pages of the same issue, so no surprise there. After all these previous "chapters," we finally see Rune where he wants to be, after bitter disappointment and destructive confrontations…poised to  take in some incredible power that might restore or maintain his wasting body.

As prologue, as setup, as a #0 issue, it provides an introduction to the character, and leads into what I recall of the Rune #1 issue, such that one certainly can better appreciate things with the main series having read this first, and yet, this isn’t absolutely required reading for that.


I enjoyed this issue. It’s been nearly 25 years since my initial $2.50 was spent on it (that’s less than one penny per month from then til now, I think!) so while I’d be less than thrilled with an issue that’s basically a massive fight scene for a full/premium price in 2018, I’m ok with this 1993 issue being this way…all the more for so enjoying the art.

Yet again, the Rune chapter is an identifying mark on the issue, dating it at a glance to one of the October 1993 issues; and as with others, it is not singularly a selling point in my eyes, as far as this issue in isolation. It’s certainly a selling point for getting all 11 serialized chapters of Rune #0, or the coupons for the mail-away, and such.

But along with most of the "early Ultraverse" issues, I routinely see the issues in bargain bins, so don’t consider them to be worth one paying more than $1 for as of 2018; but that’s also easy enough for me to say, owning all the single issues myself already, and not being on the hunt for them.

I would definitely recommend pairing this issue with the first issue to have SOME context of stuff…and though I didn’t do it myself, I think this issue probably reads a lot better in context of being read immediately after the first issue, rather than with 17+ other issues read in-between.

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Ultraverse Revisited: Mantra #4

ultraverse_revisited

mantra_0004Bride of Boneyard

Creator/Writer: Mike W. Barr
Penciller: Rob Phipps
Inkers: Al Vey & Barb Kaalberg
Letterer: Tim Eldred
Color Design: Moose Baumann
Editor: Chris Ulm
Published by: Malibu Comics
Cover Date: October 1993
Cover Price: $2.50

Lukasz has only just begun to figure out what this new body can do, but has already been captured and after being knocked out, wakes to find that Boneyard’s got designs on wedded bliss!

We open on Boneyard standing over Mantra, ranting about how insignificant this woman is, as if it’s so ludicrous that this final warrior might be the last hope of Archimage. As Mantra, Lukasz fights back, and manages to escape the imminent wedding between Boneyard and Eden Blake’s body, which he presently inhabits. He finds and interacts briefly with Archimage, and is unable to get the old wizard free. Barely escaping, he seeks help in a nearby village, only to be betrayed by newfound allies. Warstrike manages to show up, and is convinced to assist an assault on Boneyard’s keep. Ultimately, he and Lukasz are forced to retreat so that they might fight another day. Despite the betrayal, Lukasz–as Mantra–does manage to make some new allies in Boneyard’s realm…a factor sure to come into play later.

This may have been the first issue of Mantra that I ever read, due to getting it during Rune Month, and while not gratuitous, the cover certainly would have had my attention–between Mantra herself, the weird cyborg Boneyard, and the bright colors. At minimum, this would be the second issue I ever read of the title, and whatever order I read the issues in, I had missed issues 2 and 3, so had only the first issue and then this to go on.

The story takes us into an interesting realm–somewhat fantasy-ish (think Game of Thrones)–not quite Earth, but not entirely alien. We continue to see Lukasz finding the power of Eden Blake’s body, as well as a growing perspective on how men–and he himself–have treated women over time, particularly with bodies such as this. We get some face time with Archimage to propel things onward–contact, yet it’s not quite time for THE rescue: the story is still unfolding! Warstrike continues to be an interesting ally…perhaps moreso because I know that he gets his own series in the not-too-distant-future relative to this issue.

Visually, this is a solid issue; I like the characters’ depictions, and the flow of the art in conveying the story. It definitely has its differences from the title’s premiere…but hangs onto a good bit of the visual style and familiarity, such that I don’t know that I’d REALLY notice any particular difference if I was simply reading without paying attention to the credits!

rune_0jRune [J]: The Fury – Part One
Plotted by: Barry Windsor-Smith & Chris Ulm
Drawn & Colored by: Barry Windsor-Smith
Scripted by: Chris Ulm
Inked by: John Floyd
Computer Color by: Albert Calleros
Lettered by: Patrick Owsley
Text Pages Designed by: Jim Chadwick
Edited by: Steve Gerber

As (Agent?) Jaffrey follows up on Stone’s death, he, too, is attacked by Rune. Rune is fiercely seeking a particular boy…who we meet as the segment closes–interrupted on a phone call with his girlfriend by his father needing to talk to him about something.

This is the "penultimate" chapter of Rune #0–We’ve followed Rune through time, seeing him in his powerful younger days, how he came to be the wretched creature he is, and along his quest for restorative power. That he’s seeking Erik suggests more for Erik to come…though this chapter does not let us know exactly what role he’ll play overall.

Yet (as always) again, the art is good, and it’s consistent with the earlier chapters, this being simply the next three pages of (still) the same issue, essentially.


Once more, the Rune chapter sorta works by itself but there’s no real room for "context" on the pages themselves. In a way we get more information from the "previously" text presented ahead of the chapter than from the pages…something I’ll be interesting to evaluate in a later re-read of this story in a single go. While it adds value to the issue, it is not in itself a sufficient selling point to seek out this issue.

On the other hand…the Mantra issue itself is another strong chapter, continuing to build on characters and continuity, as we see more of several characters and their interactions, as well as Boneyard having realized who and what Mantra is, and checking in on Archimage, and generally leaving a bit of wonder in the "will he or won’t he" (Archimage) be rescued this issue. But it’s not to be, as there’s more story to be had by his not yet being rescued than a quick 4th-issue-rescue.

Whether it’s the general story, or the art, or the concept, or something else, or some combination…I continue to find this to be a series I’m highly eager to get back through, that almost leaves me regretting trying to cycle through all the titles by month rather than doing a single-title read-through of Mantra. This adds to the reaffirmation of the title as one of my favorites of the Ultraverse, whatever other titles I discover that I enjoy and "should have" read as a kid.

By itself, this issue is definitely worth a quarter to a dollar or so…definitely a "bargain bin issue," not likely worth more than $1 or so unless you’re plugging a run in your collection. Still, it’s a good issue, I myself enjoyed it, and I look forward to the next issue, as well as a number of other issues yet to come!

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Ultraverse Revisited: Firearm #2

ultraverse_revisited

firearm_0002American Pastimes Part Two

Writer: James Robinson
Penciller: Cully Hamner
Inker: John Lowe
Letterer: Tim Eldred
Color Design: Moose Baumann
Interior Colorists: Foodhammer
Editor: Hank Kanalz
Published by: Malibu Comics
Cover Date: October 1993
Cover Price: $2.50

It seems like such a long time since I covered the first issue of this series, and here I’m only at the second!

The cover’s a bit generic–I truly don’t think I’ve really paid it much attention over the years. I’d had the issue originally solely for the RUNE coupon, and just recognize the overall image with the trade dress as the second issue of Firearm. Looking at it more closely this time and actually "taking it in," it’s Firearm fighting a couple of armored suits, aiming one’s weapon to blast another upward where the title falls. It’s also interesting to me the "design" stuff I’m seeing, that have always been there, but with a class I’ve been taking, there’s a lot that I’m really "seeing" for the first time or at least in a new light! And I’ve always liked and easily recognized the way the Ultraverse titles’ trade dress started with the inner border, the ULTRAVERSE logo across the top with the actual title logo under, and the upper left corner logo and issue info/price.

Getting into the issue itself, we find Alec Swan waking up, feeling the results of the previous issue/recent events. He follows up on some information, and is led to Hardcase…who he finds in the midst of a fight with some thugs in high-end power/exo-armor suits. He gets involved ostensibly only because Hardcase may have information he needs. Among other things, part of Swan’s contribution is grabbing one and aiming its blaster at another…different angle, but showing that the cover actually depicts something from within the issue itself! (A true rarity as of 2018). After the fight, he and Hardcase talk–and neither likes the other, but at least they don’t–themselves–fight. While Hardcase doesn’t consciously have any recollection of the guy Swan’s trying to find information on, he does say something that gives him a lead. As he parts ways from Hardcase to follow up, he’s attacked by another ultra…and saved by still another…which is something he’s getting really tired of.

The story itself is good, and follows well on the first issue. This also reads relatively decently on its own–it’s been weeks since I read #1 and I didn’t remember much concrete detail from it, but didn’t have much problem getting into this issue. We see Swan continuing to work the case he took on in the first issue, and the continuing repercussions from stuff begun in the first issue. We see a bit more of him at work, and in action, solidifying the "codename" Firearm, as well as the fact that he hates that name. Though it’s in no way advertised as such and there’s no cover indication, we see him interact with Hardcase. It’s not an "event" or "crossover," it’s just a natural thing of Swan living in a world of ultras, which includes Hardcase. Though we still don’t have resolution, we can surmise that Swan’s getting closer to his goal, with continued attacks, and now being saved by an ultra…hints that something bigger is going on that he hadn’t bargained for, but now finds himself immersed in. I think my main problem with the story/writing is that though Hardcase mostly looked like Hardcase and is supposed to BE Hardcase…his appearance here made him feel like just some impersonal plot device, with a different sort of "voice" and lacking the sort of "heart" from his own title or the crossover with his title and the Strangers in the September issues.

Visually, this wasn’t a bad issue on the Firearm end…but I really strongly noticed some weirdness in the visual interpretation of Hardcase. The face especially just looked weird, with odd lines around the mouth and generally carrying the basic core visuals, but looking more like "a version of" Hardcase rather than a singular THE Hardcase. Otherwise, the art’s good and no real complaints from me…it fits this title and the main character and carries the story.

rune_0iRune [I]: The Hunted
Plotted by: Barry Windsor-Smith & Chris Ulm
Drawn & Colored by: Barry Windsor-Smith
Scripted by: Chris Ulm
Inked by: John Floyd
Computer Color by: Albert Calleros
Lettered by: Patrick Owsley
Text Pages Designed by: Jim Chadwick
Edited by: Steve Gerber

As Rune gets closer to a goal–a power source his stones have foretold, we find someone investigating another death from the vampiric creature. This investigator apparently is an ultra, able to sense things…though he’s not quite finely-tuned enough in use of his power to realize that his sensing Rune was because the creature was right there. As Rune attacks, the folks on the other end of the agents connection are helpless to do anything.

We’ve continued to see a bit more of a development in the Rune story, from just brief glimpses at the creature in different time periods, to seeing him attacking various ultras for power, as well as discovering Aladdin and moving in on this secretive agency. Including this chapter, we’re at 27 pages now–the full Rune #0 is a 33-page thing, making it about the equivalent of a 2018 Marvel Annual with 32-ish pages. Except here it’s serialized on the backs of each of the 11 October 1993 Ultraverse titles.

Something to this chapter has a bit of a different look than earlier chapters seemed to–probably the darker, rain-soaked setting of the chapter. We do have a panel with one of the more horrific glimpses of Rune…clearly an image out of a nightmare. Same creative team as all the other chapters, so despite the darker tone visually, this is still quite consistent with previous chapters!


This is not a standalone issue of Firearm…though it works well despite not having a recap page and I didn’t remember much in the way of specifics from the previous issue by the time I read this, with going through around 16 other issues between.

The Rune chapter is somewhat on its own, yet builds on earlier chapters.

As with the other issues from October 1993, there’s nothing really to make this an issue to single out in isolation. Especially as only a second issue, if you’re going to get this, I highly recommend ALSO getting the first issue, and probably also the third.

Firearm #2 is a solid Ultraverse issue, moving Alec Swan’s story forward, showing us that he really is in the same universe as the other Ultras thanks to the Hardcase appearance, yet still manages to stick to itself, not really drawing on nor impacting other titles.

This is certainly worth 25-50 cents as a purchase in isolation or otherwise, and like other "early" Ultraverse comics, I wouldn’t suggest spending more than $1-$2 on it unless it’s an elusive issue to fill a specific gap. It’s good quality, just not something that should command any significant pricing.

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Ultraverse Revisited: Exiles #3

ultraverse_revisited

exiles_0003A Glimmer and Gone…

Writer: Steve Gerber
Penciller: R.R. Phipps
Inker: Scott Reed
Letters: Patrick Owsley
Colorist: Robert Alvord
Editor: Chris Ulm
Published by: Malibu Comics
Cover Date: October 1993
Cover Price: $2.50

With no preamble, we start the issue with a giant, humanoid mastodon hitting the ground, apparently from 30+ stories up. Right behind is Tinsel, using her power to slow her fall…though she realizes it looks like an attack, and tries to tell Tim (Mastodon) just that. Ghoul tries to rescue her, though that’s just another moment amidst everything else. Bloodbath is in the mix, as well as the creature that initially grabbed Tim. This time, it’s Tinsel and Ghoul that are grabbed. Mastodon also gets away…and the team follows him, as Tinsel and Ghoul can take care of themselves–they hope. In a (closed) mall, the team and Mastodon face off, with much destruction. Back at the Exiles’ HQ, Amber Hunt frets over whether or not they’ll be back in time for her to take the treatment for her instance of the Theta Virus. Kort has Ghoul thrown in the trash, and “gives” Tinsel to Bloodbath. Tim eventually reverts back to himself from the mutated/Ultra form…and Bloodbath prepares to rape Tinsel.  She’s able to take his sight…but as she escapes, he gets to one of his guns and starts firing away at her! Her shoulder’s grazed as she makes her way away…

…as she’s shot through the leg, abdomen, chest, shoulders, AND head. Bloodbath races off seeking help, and a poor-condition Ghoul finds his teammate’s body.

There was an ad already that referenced this issue, spoiling the fact that Tinsel DIES. I think the ad would have been better suited for after the issue, but then, it WAS the early 1990s, and deaths WERE a “thing,” where if some character (sometimes seemed virtually ANY character at all) died, suddenly that was a “key” issue.

I didn’t specifically remember where the previous issue left off, so dropping straight into the action worked, but wasn’t ideal for this particular reading. But then, we don’t have to worry about any “wasted space” playing catch-up, and since this was published before the “recap page,” it would’ve needed space for exposition.

The story is definitely advanced, with the Exiles team fumbling badly and pretty much failing to properly take down their opponent. They’re caught unprepared, and that costs them. Though by no means graphic or gratuitous, the page with Bloodbath and Tinsel was particularly disturbing, and I’d totally forgot about the aforementioned ad–I was rooting for her escape, and glad to see her get the start. That made it all the more discouraging to see her taken out, and so violently!

Visually, everything looked as I’d expect, all the characters are quite familiar, even where I don’t remember names. As a third issue, it’s still early enough that for a team book, and from the ’90s with all of its tropes, I’m not surprised names haven’t stuck for me yet. Of course, in general it takes me a few issues to really get a hold on full group/cast names for something I’m not overly familiar with.

rune_0hRune [H]: Aladdin’s Lamp
Plotted by: Barry Windsor-Smith & Chris Ulm
Drawn & Colored by: Barry Windsor-Smith
Scripted by: Chris Ulm
Inked by: John Floyd
Computer Color by: Albert Calleros
Lettered by: Patrick Owsley
Text Pages Designed by: Jim Chadwick
Edited by: Steve Gerber

Where the Rune stuff seemed choppy at first, jumping to vastly different time periods, here we continue in a linear sequence from the previous segment–again. This chapter, we find Rune in the desert, contemplating and then eating a skull with a bit of radiation from a bomb. He goes into a coma-like condition, and then finds some sort of coin or embossed logo of a lamp–Aladdin! He then takes off toward Scottsdale!

As usual, we have consistent art, and it’s clear everything that’s happening with the chapter.

On the story side, we do have another shift in narration/point of view, as we’re getting a running observation from someone watching Rune and reporting on what he’s doing. This certainly gives an interesting view, as no one knows what to make of him–who OR what he IS, and before they can even do anything, he’s off again.

The narration reminded me a bit from the Death of Superman–where someone’s communicating remotely that Doomsday was just there and headed for Metropolis…too late for anyone to prevent the situation or even really do anything about it.


Exiles #3 is another issue that doesn’t really stand alone…I see no reason to seek it out in isolation from any other issues, unless it’s simply a lone missing issue being sought out to go with others in the series. The Rune chapter sort of/kind of stands alone…for the narrator, it’s the first the creature’s been seen/observed, so if you’ve read none of the other chapters, you’re on equal footing, reading this.

It’s interesting in its way to see a team of superheroes bungle stuff so badly–and have an immediate “cost” to the situation in losing two of their own, as well as the shock of seeing someone escaping and then cut down so completely. (And by ‘interesting’ that’s not to say I’m glad to see any of it!)

I vaguely remember at least reading ABOUT Tinsel’s death…but that was just as some random character I wasn’t familiar with, from a title I wasn’t really following. This time, reading the issue in its entirety (if I’d read it before, I don’t remember detail, and may have only skimmed it looking for something about Ghoul) Tinsel’s death carries a lot more weight, and I’m eager to get to the next issue and seeing (now with context of these first three issues) the other characters’ reactions to things.

You could do a lot worse than this issue for 25 to 50 cents, but outside of getting several issues together, I would continue to counsel not going much above $1 or so to acquire this. Along with the first couple issues and the next issue, I remember there being some interesting stuff that’s leading into the first Ultraverse “event,” and it has me looking forward to getting there!

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