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Ultraverse Revisited: Night Man #2

ultraverse_revisited

nightman_0002Mangled!

Author: Steve Englehart
Pencil Artist: Gene Ha
Ink Artist: Andrew Pepoy
Letterer: Dave Lanphear
Color Design: Tim Divar
Colorists: Foodhammer!
Editor: Chris Ulm
Cover Date: November 1993
Cover Price: $1.95

One trouble with reading "all" of the Ultraverse titles is that it means I’m not "focusing" or "concentrating" on a single title…I’m not investing in a singular character/team, and there’s a definite disconnect in reading chapters of a singular story months/weeks apart, with numerous other issues in between. Of course, this does somewhat mimic–as is my intent here–following the Ultraverse as it originally came out 25+ years ago. Still, it would be interesting to run through a single series issue by issue or story by story.

All that said, this is the second issue of The Night Man and it feels like forever since I read the first issue!

The cover shows our main character fighting a guy in some sort of exo-armor/exoskeleton while neon signage in the background indicating the neighborhood they’re fighting in–outside an establishment presenting nude girls.

The issue opens with Johnny Domino in bed, five hours into his attempt to sleep, and finally admitting defeat. Reflecting on recent events–his car accident, the start of The Strangers and an "Ultra Fever" (the public’s fascination with the mass-emergence of Ultras recently), his failure to save Ginger in the first issue–he heads out into the night. His own Ultra-ability kicks in as he senses the murderous intent of an individual and intervenes…meeting someone calling himself "Mangle." Johnny isn’t able to capture the villain, but does rescue a boy, and returns the boy to his home (though the kid didn’t want to go home). We get a bit of insight into Johnny’s sense of rightness, seeing what it means to him that family rifts be put right while they can…showing some longer-term hurt in the character. Investigating Mangle’s reference to Nuware, Johnny investigates, confronting J.D. Hunt about it with little result. Frustrated, he winds up playing his sax on a beach where his dad hears (he’s a security guard) and without knowing the story still manages to offer useful advice to his son. Johnny gets back out there as Night Man and learns about his new foe before a rematch.  Despite having the opportunity to kill Night Man here and now thanks to his advantageous exoskeleton, Mangle decides it’s a game and leaves Night Man alive–proclaiming that he likes to play–and leaves the scene. Beaten, Night Man realizes he’s been lied to…BIG TIME!

I like the art for this issue…Johnny looks as I’d expect–particularly recognizable by his hair, and I like the Night Man outfit. That said, I’m not "blown away" by the art–it is good, but it’s only for this review and noting the credits that I recognize it as Gene Ha. I think I recall not caring much for his art style with Adventures of Superman back in issues before Infinite Crisis…and that being where I first came to recognize his name. That I like the art here is a good thing, and that’s that!

Story-wise, this issue definitely continues from the first issue, though not exactly off a cliffhanger. It’s definitely the "next issue," with plenty of context and exposition to remind us of recent stuff such that–though one definitely benefits from having read it–it’s technically possible to read this issue by itself and follow right along without truly missing much. It feels a bit clunky and awkward, as such…but it’s definitely a product of its time (the early 1990s), and I’ll gladly take it at this point, being so inundated with modern comics’ propensity to force one to do "homework" just to figure out what’s going on, thanks to seemingly everything being written for an eventual "graphic novel."

I like that we get some added development of Johnny himself, emphasis on his inability to sleep and yet still function, that he has a relationship with his father, that he’s got certain sensibilities (seeing the rescued kid home) even as a vigilante-of-the-night, and so on. Nothing’s particularly deep, and while this issue could be summed up in really brief, broad strokes, there’s a lot of stuff going on, world-building with the character and this title.

As I’ve said time and again, there isn’t really anything about this issue that would make me suggest seeking it out individually and specifically…but it’s definitely a solid second issue, a "next issue," and nothing turn-off-ish about it to say "nah, don’t bother." This is of course, bargain-bin fodder as a physical object…but finding it in a bargain bin (especially with #1 and 3+ also available) I’d recommend giving it a look-see.

I look forward to continued seeing the continued development of this title and its place–and the character’s place–in the Ultraverse.

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Ultraverse Revisited: The Night Man #1

ultraverse_revisited

nightman_0001The Night Man

Writer: Steve Englehart
Penciller: Darick Robertson
Inker: Andrew Pepoy
Letterer: Dave Lanphear
Color Designer: Paul Mounts
Interior Colorists: Foodhammer!
Editors: Chris Ulm & Hank Kanalz
Published by: Malibu Comics
Cover Date: October 1993
Cover Price: $2.50

I think this issue’s cover is one of my favorite #1s of the Ultraverse. I really like the gradient from dark purple to a pink for the background, as well as the full moon, a bit of city architecture, and the gargoyle at the foreground with our title character perched on it, looking quite ready for action. The visual is rather striking, and seems quite "iconic" to me, despite being a generic pose or such–perhaps because this is the (only/main) cover for a #1 issue officially introducing the character. batman_608_2nd_printThis single image is truly "selling" the thing–visually and conceptually. This is no Batman, but perhaps borrows a bit of the imagery (though the most "iconic" Batman-and-a-gargoyle image I can think of–at age 37 in 2018–is the Jim Lee cover to Batman #608, which came nearly a decade after this cover). The fact of this being a #1 likely also lends to the "iconic-ness" of the cover…it’s simply a first issue, and carries a whole other sort of significance as such.

We open on a black-clad figure with goggles coming at us, apparently leaping down from above; the figure is narrating, informing us that he’s not who he was, and that he is (and this gives us the title of the issue itself) The Night Man. Our hero’s about to hit a roof, and flashes back to earlier. First, an accident he was in (this is "Johnny Domino," and he was in the car hit by the cable car when the Strangers got their powers back in Strangers #1). Then when he got out of the hospital, he now needs to shield his eyes from bright light…and discovered that he could "hear" evil thoughts. We follow him trying to deal with that and realizing the ridiculousness of the premise, eventually settling on having to do something himself. His first foray into thwarting evil leaves him banged up and this initial costume quite damaged. During the day, he meets with his father, and we see their interaction, and get a bit of setup for what’s likely coming later. Johnny continues his ‘detective’ work, and tries to save the woman who’s been threatened. Unfortunately, we find that he’s too late–when he gets to her place, she’s already been killed, and the killer has literally stolen her face. A chase ultimately leads to a fight on a boat, and the villain winds up in the water, apparently eaten by the shark. And of course, Johnny didn’t sense any evil from the shark–it’s just a shark looking for food. Closing out the story, having survived a couple of nights AS The Night Man, he takes full ownership of the role, that this is his duty, put on him by the cable car accident, and he is The Night Man! (and then a menacing fist with a knife sticks out of the water–the villain’s apparently not completely dead).

This is a strong first issue. We have ties to the larger Ultraverse–the story universe in general–as Johnny first showed up in Strangers #1. That was a nice bit of detail that at the time was sorta throwaway, but comes into play here in a major way–what was "just some guy in a car" is a major character with powers and his own series, now! But while those details are great for tying this to the larger universe…they’re conveyed in such a way that you don’t have to have read Strangers or other issues…you just get a better appreciation for the details if you have. In typical/trope-ic fashion, we’re tossed into the action and essentially given the "…see that guy? That’s me. You’re probably wondering how I got here…" thing. We get Johnny’s name, what he does, what’s happened to him, his current status quo, meet his father, see that he’s the owner of an amusement park resisting a takeover, get plenty of exposition to flesh out the relationship between father and son, etc. We see the character discover his power, start figuring it out, make decisions based on it, don multiple iterations of a costume (learning from near-fatal experience); we’re introduced to a "super villain" or potential "arch enemy" (at least "first major enemy who might be a recurring figure"), and generally have all this stuff packed into this one issue.

In 2018, this issue alone would probably be spread across some special issue/one-shot(s) and no less than 6 issues, each with umpteen variant covers.

That it’s all crammed into one issue makes it a very good value, and a strong stand-alone piece that sets you up to want to find the "sequel" in the form of subsequent issues.

Visually, I really like the issue. The art is quite appealing, with a great sense of realism, while not trying to be something other than a comic book. That is, it’s not particularly cartoony, nor is it hyper-realistic. There’s a good amount of detail throughout, with an assortment of page layouts that change things up nicely, keeping stuff from being just a bunch of pictures placed evenly on a page. The coloring also plays a huge part, and like with the cover, I particularly like the night-time stuff with the purple skies, full moon, and dark water.

rune_0cRune [C]: The Sorcerer
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

I feel like this is the most detailed piece of the Rune story so far. We’re given visuals to go along with what is essentially a journal entry or letter written by Tesla–presumably the actual historical Nikola Tesla–used here in fictitious context. He writes about someone coming to him for information about energy, and muses on who or what the figure was, figuring it must have been a vision…except for a stone he found on his desk with a particular rune on it, that meant "fire" or "sorcerer."

Essentially, this segment shows us that Rune met with Tesla…and that he has the ability to influence how he is perceived. In this case, perceived as quite the cleaned-up, respectable figure. This could be interpreted as shape-shifting, but the detail of Tesla noting that he could almost see something else, suggesting that this truly was his being influenced to see one thing despite the actuality of Rune’s true appearance. The emphasis on the word "sorcerer" gives us a bit more insight into Rune; that where once he was worshipped as a god, as time went on he’s gone from being a god to being a sorcerer, as an explanation for "what" he is and how he’s beyond human.

As a stand-alone piece, I feel this is the most effective so far, as it is an entire thing within three pages. We have Tesla’s letter/thoughts/recollection and the visuals show us both what he saw and what was actually there; the entire episode is conveyed right here. The lengthy wordiness really helps, given the limited page count, making it seem like more than just taking in a page, turning the page, and being at the end of the segment.

Since this is a serialized piece of a single issue and the creative team remains entirely the same, the consistency of visual style keeps this feeling like the next bit, without some jarring change. Where the first chapter was just there to be taken as itself, and then a drastic change in setting for the very next segment, and now another here…at least at this third part the "story" begins to take a bit more shape or pattern as it grows clearer that we started in the present with Rune, and now are seeing moments from the past, leading us to the present, perhaps.


nightman_dvdThis issue comes off like a pilot episode of a tv series, and while there’s the Firearm #0 thing advertised in the Sptember 1993 Ultraverse titles–giving a short live-action piece that continues in a comic, this feels more like something that would fit as an ongoing live-action thing, like a tv series…

…which is rather fitting, as there actually WAS a tv series of The Night Man, that ran 44 episodes across two seasons! (And is freshly available on DVD!)

With the Rune piece on the flipside of this issue feeling a lot more substantive than the previous couple of segments and working nicely as its own standalone unit…The Night Man #1 as a whole is an excellent single issue! Most of the Ultraverse #1s make strong jumping-on points, but this one seems like one of the best so far (if only for being the one I’m currently taking in). This issue’s definitely worth 25 or 50 cents in a bargain bin…and really, is one I’d even consider worthwhile to get for up to its original $2 cover price…especially given the tv series is now (June 2018) out on dvd. This is a great piece to read to get a sense of the original comic and the comic-version’s origin for the character, before perhaps diving into watching the tv series.

I’m feeling like I definitely missed out on something special by not having followed this series back in the day–I definitely remember GETTING this issue, and reading (but not caring for it) back then…but now it seems like this would have been one of my favorite Ultraverse titles! I’m looking forward to getting into the coming issues as well as hopefully getting and digging into the tv series.

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