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Ultraverse Revisited: Firearm #3

ultraverse_revisited

firearm_0003American Pastimes Part Three

Writer: James Robinson
Penciller: Cully Hamner
Inker: John Lowe
Letterer: Tim Eldred
Color Designer: Moose Baumann
Interior Color: Foodhammer!
Editor: Hank Kanalz
Special Thanks to: Larry Welch
Cover Date: November 1993
Cover Price: $1.95

The previous issue ended with Swan a bit out of his depths, and being rescued by a flying Ultra. Here, he wakes up in a room full of Ultras…and finds some answers he’s been looking for…and a new threat! Retaining a hostage–that Swan is determined to save–these Ultras reveal that they’ve got a certain interest in hunting. Human prey. While they’ve denied him his own particular firearm, they give Swan a slight head start, and then the hunt is on! We see Swan take them on–fighting for his life–and ultimately see what kind of man he is, when he catches a break, and can completely escape…or head back in to save the hostage.

I feel like this story is a bit repetitive. The "eccentric rich folks buying property and importing humans to hunt" feels like something I’ve seen at least a couple other places, albeit originally published a number of years apart, probably. I’m thinking there’s at least a Batman story like that, and can’t really imagine there’s not a Green Arrow story like that. Of course, this is the first time I’ve seen it as super-powered people–Ultras–hunting a normal human! And there are only so many stories to be told…what keeps many fresh is a shift in particulars. So while I observe this, it’s not something I’d truly count against the issue/story itself.

The art is quite good, and feels entirely consistent with the earlier issues. Nothing really jumps out as "strange" or "new," nor as any great distraction. Nothing particularly stood out as singularly amazing or awesome…but I’d put that to simple quality of the art! It’s serving the story, conveying the action, and allowing the story to be experienced, rather than calling attention to itself needlessly. In other words…I like the art and the way it’s presented!

As a story, this is a "part three," but has a different "feel" from the first couple of issues to me. For one thing, it feels a bit more frenetic and action-packed…with less "building blocks" and more "doing" in general. In that way, this pays off the first couple issues that introduced us to Swan and his part of the world and set things up for him to wind up in this situation. I really like that this also mostly feels like its own thing, its own "episode," as we just start with Swan waking up and then having to think on his feet…we don’t have pages of exposition/recap…we basically just get launched into the action. I don’t recall (if I ever knew anyway) and haven’t "looked ahead" to see if American Pastimes is carried as a 4 or more chapter arc…but this feels like it could well be a 4-parter or even 5, and structurally I’d probably be happy with either.

While there’s definite nuance to be caught reading this issue out of the first two issues and the ending leads me into wanting to read the next issue…I think this stands pretty well by itself. I’d miss some stuff and have less of an overall context for the feel of the character of Alec Swan (and less of the sense of wanting to see him portrayed "live" by Jason Statham)…this works decently as a one-off issue. "Ultras with powers hunt a human who is really good at fighting back."

All in all, this would be a decent issue to snag randomly from a bargain bin. It’s best matched with issues 1 & 2, but especially if one can get it for 25 cents, it’s worth getting and reading even in "isolation." As part of the ongoing series, I definitely enjoyed it, and I look forward to the next issue!

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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: Firearm #1

ultraverse_revisited

firearm_0001American Pastimes Part One

Writer: James Robinson
Penciller: Cully Hamner
Inker: John Lowe
Letterer: Tim Eldred
Color Design: Paul Mounts
Editor: Chris Ulm
Published by: Malibu Comics
Cover Date: September 1993
Cover Price: $1.95

I feel like this is the first time I’ve read this issue, and yet, knowing I’ve had the issue quite a long time, and remember a fair bit with the character…it’s hard for me to believe I "jumped in" with the start of the Rafferty Saga around #13 or so "cold." Then again, having acquired the VHS with #0 at some point, and realizing how much I actually HAD missed, and considering there was a LOT I could have picked up from the likes of Wizard Magazine, the Ultrafiles pages, and whatnot, I suppose I could have gotten in "cold."

We open this issue on a boring office with a boss pestering someone for the time. We find out he’s waiting on someone he’s hired to bring someone in…if the guy isn’t brought in, the boss is out $25k. Two figures crash into the office, and after a brawl in the office, "the bad guy" is subdued. The guy that was hired is Alec Swan, and he hates being called "Firearm." We get a lot of exposition from Swan conversationally, speaking to the reader; and then he moves to his office where he checks on messages, and has a lead for another case. He winds up taking the case, and after a night trying to track the person down, he’s ambushed. Being trained as he is, he winds up on top…though it’s messed up the rest of his plans.

I really enjoyed this issue…much more than I expected to. NOW knowing James Robinson‘s name as a writer, I had decent expectations of this issue. That it exceeded my expectations is definitely a good thing! I certainly didn’t know him by name in 1993/1994, but now knowing his name especially from his Starman run at DC, I’ve looked forward to getting to this series.

Visually I really liked this. I recognize Hamner‘s name as an artist who has done stuff I’ve presumably liked in the past, though I can’t put an exact finger on or cite a specific example at the moment. The art here conveys the action quite well, along with the quieter moments, and there’s some nice use of shadows to give effect. One panel showing Swan in shadow with just his eyes and scar visible put me in mind of Bloodshot. A panel in Swan’s home includes Ultra Monthly #1 as well as a paperback copy of Jurassic Park (this was originally published around the time the original Jurassic Park film would have been either still in theaters or very recently in theaters!). Easy details to miss, but the fact I happened to notice them really ratcheted up my enjoyment!

Story-wise, I liked this. We got a look at "normal people" that might interact with Swan; we see him in action at a disadvantage; we see him at home, we see him at the start of a new case, and how he gets cases…and we get a bit of an info-dump (better this way than having to wait a number of issues) on his past and how he feels…the internal monologue of sorts. That he’s essentially addressing the reader is a nice touch that builds connection and familiarity. We then see the character in action with some preparation. My big complaint would probably be that the issue just sort of ends, with no real declaration of it ending, or that it’ "To Be Continued" or whatnot…and we’re dumped into a 4-page ad for the Firearm video/#0 package. It’s an appropriate ad given it’s tied to this title, but I’m not sure all 4 pages were needed.

Knowing the character’s from England, it’s easier to read this with a bit of an accent…or try to "hear" it in the reading. And something about the whole thing makes me think that Jason Statham would be an excellent actor to play Alec Swan/Firearm in live-action at present.

I look forward to getting to the next issue, as well as getting to know this character better. Still, at "only" month #4 of the Ultraverse in general, we’re still getting to know a handful of Ultras and get used to the idea of there being so many of them all of a sudden…so it’s a LITTLE "early" to be introducing this character on a premise of being the normal guy facing off with Ultras. Then again, it’s likely moreso that we see the "descent" into dealing with more Ultras.

As with the other Ultraverse #1s, this is bargain bin fodder for sure…so I’d recommend paying $1 or less for it. But I’d definitely recommend checking it out. This is part action-hero flick, part film noir…and a very solid issue. We’ll see how the later issues seem, but on strength of the first issue, if I didn’t already own the whole series and if this was a modern comic, I’d be coming back for the next issue!

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