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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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Ultraverse Revisited: Rune Month Coupons and Covers Combined

ultraverse_revisited

The 11 Ultraverse books in October 1993 were all part of a "Rune Month" promotion. Buy all 11 titles, collect the coupon each contained, and mail away for a standalone Rune #0 comic (and a bonus The Solution #0 as well).

Each of the 11 titles were presented as "flip books," that is–you had the main cover, but if you turned the book over–"flipped" it–you had a different cover, with the pages printed such that when you’d read from this side, everything was properly oriented as if it was a different issue…but it was still the same physical product. If you own two copies of these issues, you could file them separately as if they were two different comics.

BUT, you did NOT NEED to buy two separate products to get "both covers," unlike stuff in 2018!

rune_0a   rune_0k

The first and final chapters of the Rune stuff had their own "standalone" covers…the main difference being the text on each. THE STONES ARE CAST… followed by …AND DEATH WALKS THE EARTH.

The other 9 covers could "combine" to form a singular poster-sized image. These connecting covers presumably made it cheaper–commission one image, use it across 9 covers–PLUS it serves as a definite "bonus" for bothering to collect all the issues.

rune_all_9_covers_a

I present the image here with the gutters, to show the individual covers…

rune_all_9_covers_b

…and here with the gutter removed to show the singular intended image.


The coupon for ordering Rune #0 / The Solution #0 was presented as a 4-page insert in the middle of each comic. The pages are shown below:

ultraverse_ads1093_rune0coupon_01

Front…

ultraverse_ads1093_rune0coupon_02

Inside front…

ultraverse_ads1093_rune0coupon_03

Inside back…

ultraverse_ads1093_rune0coupon_04

…and the back, with the coupon itself. On these, you could make a photocopy of the coupon, rather than having to pull the insert or cut anything out of the comic itself.

With the coupons, shipping/handling was "only" $5…for TWO comics! Sure, this was 1993, but especially in 2018, that does NOT seem bad at all!

For the Rune issue at least, it was also non-essential and truly "bonus," as the content itself, the 33 pages of story, were serialized across the month’s 11 issues in 3-page chunks.

Bothering to order Rune # 0 itself was simply like ordering a "collected edition" that compiled the 11 segments into a single issue that could be read alone rather than digging 11 other comics back out to re-read or such.

Of course, The Solution #0 is a different matter…but I guess in this regard, that is the true bonus. Collect the coupons for Rune, but since you already read Rune #0 in 3-page chunks if you wanted to, the second #0 issue would be all new content rather than "just" "reprinting" something already read.

As I recall, the actual package that came included a standalone poster of the 9-part Rune image/#0 cover, and possibly a couple other things. When I presumably cover the issue as its own standalone piece whenever I get to the January 1994 Ultraverse issues, I’ll most likely mention (if not show) what I have filed with my original copy.

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Ultraverse Revisited: House Ads October 1993

ultraverse_revisited

Here are the house ads that I came across throughout the October 1993 Ultraverse titles!

ultraverse_ads1093_nightman_preview01

We had this introduction to The Night Man, by Steve Englehart; it also included several pages from The Night Man #1; but as they were simply pages from the issue and I already covered the issue itself, and I haven’t been putting story pages in these posts, I’ve opted to simply present the introduction as it’s the unique content.

ultraverse_ads1093_prototype_sludge

Here we have another “split-page” ad, with the two titles sharing the page, though as their own pieces on it.

ultraverse_ads1093_exiles_prelude_to_breakthru

This ad was in several issues, and totally spoils Exiles #3. Of course, there’s other stuff that happens in the issue, and the issue itself sorta left room for hope, if one hadn’t seen this ad already. The ad basically smashes any hope one would have for Tinsel’s outcome. That said, the ad doesn’t tell us how she dies–so you still have to read the actual issue for that.

This could have been a bait and switch sort of thing…after all, if they have to SAY “for real,” does that mean that it isn’t actually for real or permanent? Well, this was 1993, not 2018 Marvel, so…a bit more weight goes to it!

ultraverse_ads1093_ultraverse_checklist

I did not remember this ad at all, but it’s one that I really like. While on one hand you shouldn’t NEED to have something laid out for you like this as a reader…it’s cool to show both a checklist of issues-so-far for completists, as well as showing how stuff has, truly, actually been getting doled out all along without retcons or fudging to force something to fit.


While not exactly house ads, across the titles (themselves across several weeks–the entire month of October 1993!) there was a 4-part “strip” of The Mighty Magnor.

I was vaguely aware of the character thanks to a Savage Dragon crossover ; and it’s easy to forget (or never even realize) that Malibu Comics was actually the original publisher of Image Comics–those earliest first issues from Image were published by Malibu! [EDIT: vaguely aware enough that I mixed up Magnor and Megaton Man…bit of a brainfart! The Savage Dragon crossover was actually the Savage Dragon/Megaton Man. Apparently I was trying to recall the hubbub with the pop-up cover of The Mighty Magnor #1 but that got intercepted by recent thoughts on Savage Dragon and my enjoying the tidbit of Image comics first being published through Malibu!]

Anyway, here are the 4 Mighty Magnor strips from October 1993:

ultraverse_ads1093_mightymagnor_01

Week #1

ultraverse_ads1093_mightymagnor_02

Week #2

ultraverse_ads1093_mightymagnor_03

Week #3

ultraverse_ads1093_mightymagnor_04

Week #4

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Ultraverse Revisited: Ultrafiles and Letters Pages October 1993

ultraverse_revisited

Now that we’re done with the actual issues/story contents for the October 1993 Ultraverse titles, on to the Ultrafiles and letters pages!

All of these are at half-size to fit on the blog page…just click on the images to open a larger version!

ultrafiles_october1993a

Ultrafiles page 1…

ultrafiles_october1993b

Ultrafiles page 2 with the Ask Diane section.

letters_exiles0002

The Exiles letters page from Exiles #3.

letters_freex0004

The Freex letters page from Freex #4.

letters_hardcase0005

The Hardcase letters page from Hardcase #5.

letters_prime0005

The Prime letters page from Prime #5.

letters_prototype0003

Prototype letters page from Prototype #3.

letters_strangers0005

And finally, the Strangers letters page from The Strangers #5.


It’s definitely cool to see letters pages–in 2018, they seem pretty much a relic of the past, so definitely a bit of nostalgia there. Several of these don’t even have a "name" yet, but letters were run anyway. And of course, the Ultrafiles pages deal with the entire line, and include a bit of information about the upcoming Break-Thru, as well as the Ask Diane blurb.

As said at the top of this post…click on any of the images to open them in a larger size, as they’ve been shrunk to fit this blog layout.

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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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