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Ultraverse Revisited: Strangers #2

ultraverse_revisited

strangers_0002Hey! Hugh! Get Off’a McCloud!

Writer: Steve Englehart
Penciller: Rick Hoberg
Inkers: Tim Burgard, Larry Welch
Letterer: Tim Eldred
Color Designer: Keith Conroy
Editor: Chris Ulm
Published by: Malibu Comics
Cover Date: July 1993
Cover Price: $1.95

This issue opens with an anecdote that also proves to be the issue’s title…then shifting to our group of strangers in an aircraft, heading for a cloud that the strange woman from the first issue disappeared to. They reflect on the events of the previous issue (in a page-ish on-panel/page recap). They then come up with a plan for compensating for screwed up sensors in Dave using his yellow flame to fly, and manually guide them. The group finds an entire island in the sky, surrounded by the cloud! After a rough landing, the group is captured, and eventually are able to communicate with the inhabitants of the island (after a battle that threatens the airworthiness of the island), and seem to have more questions then they started with. The leader of the island’s inhabitants suggests that "searching for the reason IS the reason" regarding their seeking how they all got these powers, and so on. As he "assigns" the woman–Yrial–to the team and sends them on their way, they determine they’ll call themselves what they started out as: The Strangers! Meanwhile, we get some token development regarding a likely soon-to-be villain.

This issue (as I’m likely to be saying about many, many Ultraverse issues in the coming weeks/months) is "VERY ’90s" in tone. It’s got what–especially by contemporary comics–is a choppy story with rather quick and convenient plot points (and plot jumps), with some familiar tropes. We have a bunch of people who don’t know each other but suddenly got powers working together–some token disagreement, but conveniently working well together. We have a random flying island manned by a group that knows way more than our heroes, but won’t clue them in, saying they’ve gotta find the information themselves. And we have a group assembled and an additional person arbitrarily added to the group that must be accepted…for the heckuvit. And we still don’t really have any answers, just a slightly wider world that now not only includes a bunch of people hit by lightning developing super powers, but an ancient people with a flying island over the United States and the US Government apparently doesn’t know/hasn’t done anything about it.

Story-wise, this works…I’m not completely enamored with the title as of this second issue, but it’s still early; and I’m much more familiar with the likes of Prime and Mantra, with the Strangers as a blind spot…so while I’m eager to get back to familiar stuff, this is new for me. It’s "only" the second issue, and we have a superhero team starting to work with each other, coming together…so it’s going to be continued development. I don’t believe I’d known prior that Yrial was "assigned" against her own choice to participate in the team…I must have thought she was "just another" of the people on the cable car.

Visually this is a solid issue. It "looks" like a ’90s comic, and I could do without some of the layouts…but at least the main double-page splash of the group suddenly coming to the island is something that arguably serves the story–showing the sheer enormity of the island, adding to its spectacle as something floating over Los Angeles. This is a colorful comic, not least of which is thanks to Dave and his multiple colored flames and extended "yellow flame" learning-to-fly sequence. No huge complaints or anything for this issue.

Given what I do know of the Strangers, I would not recommend this issue completely stand-alone. It works well as a 2nd issue…but especially as ONLY the 2nd issue, I can’t think of any reasonable reason to seek this out in isolation on its own without the first issue; and ideally along with the first and next issue to be a bigger chunk of overall story. That said, I’d definitely consider this a bargain bin comic, and wouldn’t recommend paying more than $1 if it can be helped; and ideally 25-50 cents.

I’m curious to see the further development of this group of characters, though not as much as I am in Prime or Mantra. Given those were two of my favorite Ultraverse books as they came out, that I mostly kept up with, I recognize my bias even as I can’t honestly or with proper authenticity rid myself of it. Those were my favorite titles, so delving back in, I want to get back to what I enjoyed…forcing myself to read other titles is–while starting out–forcing myself to read other titles I haven’t read and don’t have a singular interest in. This isn’t a bad issue, but it hasn’t immediately become a favorite for me or anything like that.

strangers_0002_blogtrailer

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Action Comics #1000 [Review]

action_comics_1000From the City That Has Everything

Writer/Artist: Dan Jurgens
Inker: Norm Rapmund
Color: Hi-Fi
Letters: Rob Leigh

This is the “primary” story of the issue–a sort of stand-alone “finale” to Jurgens-and-Co.’s run the last couple of years and 45-some issue run. We open on a narration/captions of Jon Kent and Lois talking, against imagery of Superman battling a Khund warship. Jon’s worried his Dad won’t get here in time, as Lois reassures him he’ll be here. As Clark arrives, Lois reminds him that people just want to thank him. We see that they’re at a Thank You, Superman presentation in the park–Metropolis has gathered to try to offer thanks to Superman, though knowing they can’t begin to cover it. Amidst various testimonials of how Superman has impacted and saved folks, Clark keeps thinking he sees further traces of a Khund invasion…perhaps just looking for an excuse to get away from this presentation. Eventually, the crowd gets to see Superman fly into action, as Clark can’t ignore his senses. He finds Wonder Woman, who reveals that there was indeed a major Khund incursion…but it’s been handled. By everyone. Even his fellow heroes are fans, and thank Superman for his role in everything. Without him, none of them would likely be there.

On its surface, this is a rather cheesy story of little substance. There’s some presentation to honor Superman, and he’s avoiding it. Then, alllll the other heroes are there as well, because they wish to honor him, too.

Neat and simple, right? Evocative of classic Silver Age stories (to me), and not terribly deep.

But back to “on its surface.”

See, this is the 1,000th issue of Action Comics. 80 years of Superman. This is a major event, a one-issue spectacular. An anthology of sorts with numerous shorter stories making up the whole. It’s a standalone issue, something that draws from and can influence other stuff, but it’s not truly coming off any To Be Continued… message. It’s (as an issue) not leading directly into anything. It’s expected that this will be read where the previous few issues, or dozens of issues, or even hundreds of issues, have not been read.

There’s loads of “meta” to this–as a story, and as part of the issue.

This Superman–Dan Jurgens‘ Superman–comes from a take on the character where Clark Kent is the man, and Superman is a “mask.” This Superman is Clark Kent…who does what’s right because it is right–not to show off, not for accolades and recognition–and is actually rather uncomfortable being the center of attention. And we get to see that…as we get to see a bit of Lois’ personality. She teases him for trying to get out of the ceremony, but we come to see that she’s the one that spearheaded the gathering of the heroes, and helped coordinate with Batman and the others to “cover for” Superman, so that he could have this day, this event. We also see Jon, the son, both AS the Son of Superman and as a kid. Not fully understanding everything going on, loving his dad but not sure if he’ll make it, and an eagerness to stand in for him, recognizing the importance of the situation and wanting to live up to the family tradition.

I knew going in that Norm Rapmund was involved with the art…and I was loving the art all through the story. There was something extra familiar about it, though, that had a slight smile trying to escape me as I read it, but I couldn’t quite place it. Until I looked consciously at the credits for the story and realized why the art seemed that much more familiar and was evoking such a reaction in me: Jurgens on the pencils. Of course! Regardless of conscious realization in words, on sight I had recognized the (somehow UNexpected) presence of work by probably my favorite Superman artist!

Superman reluctantly accepts the recognition…somewhat awkwardly. The final spread with all the heroes and fans and such…metatextually, real-world…without Superman, there probably would NOT have been any of these other heroes. Certainly nowhere near as many, and probably not even a comics industry.

This story is a send-off of sorts from Jurgens–capping off his run, as well as recognizing and thanking Superman.

And for one such as me–a 30-year-fan of Superman, introduced to him when I was but 7 years old–this is a powerful piece, meaningful and deep, and moving…and if one has to put a one-off story as a capstone to a run, that stands alone and evokes the past, has elements from the run, but isn’t beholden to it and all that…this does it well, and is a worthy opening to Action Comics #1000!

action_comics_1000_variants_30sNever-Ending Battle

Story and Words: Peter J. Tomasi
Artist: Patrick Gleason
Colorist: Alejandro Sanchez
Letterer: Tom Napolitano

This story opens with a rather hellish, red-tinged image of Vandal Savage having Superman engulfed in some sort of red energy and alien machinery. The narration is Superman, speaking to Lois, apologizing for being sidetracked on the way home–he’s late. Basically, Savage tried to blend Superman with the past, trapping him and leaving the future open for him (Savage) to rule without Superman’s interference. So we get a bunch of pages evoking some key eras in Superman’s history, as we know it in the real-world; but in-continuity the character himself acknowledges that despite the familiarity, he knew it was impossible to have been there in the 1930s, for example. These are all full-page images with the “voiceover” going along with them…not necessarily tied exactly to the image whose page the words are on, but particularly for those familiar with the history of the character and the stories/eras being referenced, the words take on additional (and deeper) meaning than they might otherwise. And the story ends with a shot of Superman standing at a table with a lotta candles (one can assume there are probably around 1,000 of ’em!), Lois and Jon on either side, a “Happy Birthday” sign strung up behind, and even Krypto in the foreground, as we celebrate Superman’s 80th birthday, and the 1,000th issue of Action Comics.

Normally I would not care for this sort of story. Had this been a 15-page sequence in an otherwise-20-paged issue of something (especially if at a $3.99 price point) I would be disappointed and annoyed. Even as one of the longest stories within this issue, it’s still a “mere” 15 pages, and as such, even this sequence is a relatively small portion of the entire issue. As a “short story” in this “anthology” issue of numerous creators…it works quite well. We have a basic story–Superman faces a villain, is flung throughout time, makes it home safe. This reminds me of other stories I’ve read, and feels rather familiar, like it’s a sort of “trope” at this point–where you can have a numerous-issue “event” of a character being thrown through time, or it can be just a casual backdrop “referenced” but not really the point of a story.

Here, this does both: it’s a sort of casual-ish “reference” thing…but the pages as we go through show Superman through the decades–Gleason‘s imagery evoking the general “style” and depiction of Superman through the decades. One page reminds me loosely of the Superman vs. Superboy issue from early in the Byrne era; the next is a familiar image from Miller‘s Dark Knight Returns (and signed by the artist after Frank Miller). There’s a page with the black-costumed, long-haired Superman fighting Mongul, with Steel and Superboy in the background, in reference to the Death and Return of Superman…Reign of the Supermen. There’s a page with a version of Zod, the pointy-crystal Fortress of Solitude in the background, and a Superman trapped in the pane of glass version of the Phantom Zone. There’s even a page showing the Kingdom Come Superman facing Magog, a mushroom cloud in the background with several of the other heroes. And there’s a page showing the New 52 Superman breaking through a wall, shifting to the black-costume, bearded Superman of JurgensLois and Clark, shifting into the Rebirth costume, into the Reborn costume, punching Savage out.

This is an appropriate celebration of Superman, of how (ultimately) he easily overcomes situations, fights through whatever is thrown at him, and that Tomasi puts as Superman’s words: “Each and every time stream, in the end, led home…to my family.”

Tomasi and Gleason being the primary creatives the last couple years on the named Superman title that has run alongside JurgensAction Comics, this is a highly-appropriate story to cap off that run, to share in this issue, and to celebrate and acknowledge the rich history of the character. I often find I’m not overly thrilled with Gleason‘s art–just a personal issue due to comparing it so often to art I prefer–but here, particularly for the time-tossed pages, it shines excellently.

An Enemy Within

Script: Marv Wolfman
Art: Curt Swan
Inks: Butch Guice, Kurt Schaffenberger
Color & Production Assist: Hi-Fi
Letters: Rob Leigh

I appreciate the history of Wolfman with the Superman character, as well as the very fabric of the history of DC Comics in-continuity and out; ditto the importance of Curt Swan as one of THE Superman artists. That said…I did not really care much for this story.

Basically, we have narration from Superman as he’s halfway across the world dealing with a Brainiac threat, while we’re shown a hostage situation involving a principal and one of his students. From the narration, we get that the principal is being mind-controlled by Brainiac, and that Superman is facing the villain…but that action all happens off-panel, concluding with a single image of Superman, that may be recycled from a previous publication. The story is simple, has potential, but for me, personally–especially stacked against the Jurgens and Tomasi stories in this issue, and against numerous episodes of Law and Order: SVU I’ve been watching the last few weeks, it just doesn’t really hold up in a way I particularly care for.

It’s not a horrible story, and the art is solid in and of itself…I respect the inclusion here, but other than the “inclusion” aspect, I just don’t really care for this one.

action_comics_1000_variants_blankThe Game

Storytellers: Paul Levitz & Neal Adams
Colors: Hi-Fi
Letters: Dave Sharpe

This is an interesting, short piece, where Superman shows up to the roof of Lexcorp Tower, and he and Lex talk over a game of Chess…and I’m reminded strongly of the Xavier/Magneto imagery from the Fox X-Men films. Luthor springs a trap of animated Kryptonite chains that wrap around Superman…before the hero straightens, flexes, and bursts the chains with an orange background obviously reminiscent of the Kryptonite Nevermore! from the original Superman #233. Superman reveals that he’s got a Mother Box with him that temporarily prevented the Kryptonite radiation

This is another short piece that I don’t particularly care for. I like the concept well enough, and it reminds me (as said) of the Xavier/Magneto stuff…and the more I think on it, I realize there’s also a bit of that Batman/Joker meeting from The Killing Joke in here, too.

Adams is another whose work I appreciate, whose place in comics history I appreciate…but I just can’t get into his Superman art. I didn’t stick with The Coming of the Supermen, I didn’t care for an Action Comics variant I had from some “Neal Adams Month,” and his Superman in general looks rather “off” to me here.

As this is “only” a 5-page story, though, it’s not horrible; but I might have liked a prose version a bit better, as I dig the story much, much more than I do the art.

action_comics_1000_variants_40sThe Car

Story: Geoff Johns & Richard Donner
Artist: Olivier Coipel
Colors: Alejandro Sanchez
Special thanks to: Matt Wilson
Letters: Nick Napolitano

This is an interesting story that seems to be set in the ’30s; the color palette and general art style certainly gives it a rustic, “period piece” look that fits very well with the story being told. A busted-up car is brought into a shop, and when the mechanic tries to get its story from the owner, the tale is a little bit “out there”–all this damage caused by one man? One man lifted it and smashed it against some rocks, apparently. We then move to the owner–Butch–noticing a colorful figure…that of the “man” who smashed his car. Superman chats with him, showing compassion and having come to “understand” more of Butch’s “side” of things, and leaving him with the notion that even having made mistakes, one can choose to make their life count for something, choose to make something of themselves, better the lives of others rather than doing harm.

I’m sure I would have realized pretty quickly that this is a sort of “sequel” to a big part of Action Comics #1; but this benefited SO beautifully from my having just re-read the Superman story from that first issue, and being probably THE freshest-in-mind Superman story for me prior to this 1000th issue.

This Superman feels very much like the “modern” Superman, though; less of the rough ‘n tough version from that first appearance. But it works, and makes for an interesting piece overall. Especially when one considers just how heinous Butch’s crime was–kidnapping a woman for rejecting him…and one could likely predict at least a couple likely outcomes of such action.

I haven’t cared a lot about the Johns/Donner stuff–particularly the Last Son of Krypton, and Escape from Bizarro World stories, even as those are (now) a good dozen years in the past. I didn’t care for them at the time as part of a seemingly-overly-overt rewriting of Superman away from the version I’d grown up on and back to more of a Silver/Bronze Age version. But this single story, I liked; the modern art showing the classic original Superman, with the feel of the contemporary Superman…and this being both a continuation/sequel and yet even if one doesn’t know or connect that context, it works very well as a singular, one-off bit…

And of the “shorts” in this issue, I think this is one of my favorites.

action_comics_1000_variants_50sThe Fifth Season

Script: Scott Snyder
Art: Rafael Albuquerque
Color: Dave McCaig
Letters: Tom Napolitano

I’m not quite sure what to make of this piece. In a way, I think something to it is “over my head,” perhaps..in a way that I definitely do NOT care for in my comics.

Superman arrives at the Smallville planetarium to find Lex Luthor, who has found the “Eye of Xotar” and Chronos’ “Time Scissors”–that together can be used to literally erase any genealogical line from history. Given this is Luthor…obviously, that’d be Superman’s line, the House of El. As the two muse over their shared past, and the present situation, we see a flashback to Luthor’s early days in Smallville, where we also see that a potentially fatal accident that could have killed Luthor was prevented by a young Clark Kent–Superman as a boy. We also get a bit about a “fifth season,” between Winter and Spring, when the weather can be wildly unpredictable…which seems to be a statement of the story itself. Luthor intended to wipe Superman from history, but maybe discovered that it was Superman that had saved him, and so opted not to.

This isn’t a horrible story, but as said, something about it just feels like it might be over my head, needing extra consideration, disproportionate to its size in relation to the rest of this issue. The art also isn’t horrible, but not really to my liking. On the last page particularly, I don’t care for the depiction of the “S” shield…its top and bottom seem way too thin compared to the middle, especially compared to the “standard” licensed version I’m used to, that I tend to hold mentally as the “standard” to which the various takes on the “S” are compared.

This also plays on Luthor and Superman having known each other as kids–something that was NOT part of the story I grew up on, and so I’m a bit biased against it. Still, knowing that and seeing what’s being gone for here in a way, I’m ok with the story, but won’t single it out as a favorite or such.

Then there’s the narration in the background speaking to the idea of Sol, our sun, eventually expanding: “…and eventually, the sun will eat our Mercury…and then Venus…and then Earth. And then, our time…ends.”

Which seems almost intentionally to lead into the next piece:

action_comics_1000_variants_60sOf Tomorrow

Writer: Tom King
Artist: Clay Mann
Color Artist: Jordie Bellaire
Letterer: John Workman

Superman kneels, scooping up some coal from the ground and squeezing it into diamond. He stands and we see blazing fire all around, amidst his speaking. It’s been BILLIONS of years, and Earth is finally about to be swallowed up by the red giant Sol has become; no matter that Superman had apparently pushed the entire planet of Earth out of its orbit, it still finds itself being consumed. And Superman speaks to his long-dead parents–Jonathan and Martha Kent–as he says goodbye for the final time. He’s got to let go–of them, and of Earth itself. After five BILLION years. Somehow, Superman, and Lois, and Jon, have been essentially immortal, thanks to (apparently) an “Eternity Formula.” He speaks of them, as he forms the diamond into a specific shape. He tells his parents “I miss you. I love you. Every day. It doesn’t matter how long it’s been. It’s still every day.” And as the planet burns up and wee see the grave plate reading:

KENT
JONATHAN & MARTHA
BELOVED PARENTS & GRANDPARENTS
YOU GAVE US HOPE

Superman leaves with the words “We’re all stardust fallen. And so we look to the sky. And we wait to be reclaimed. Good-bye, Ma. Good-bye, Pa. And thank you. For everything.”

This is an odd sort of story. While we can consider that the ongoing story of Superman is not one that’s gonna end anytime soon; while we’ve had stories of Superman surviving into the far future–thousands, even millions of years…to consider that he’d live another five BILLION years seems a bit out there for me. It changes the character. It’s best not to dwell on.

The point is: to the end of the Earth–literally–Superman has been shaped by his parents. He’s continued to live. He’s lived his life. He’s gone on–but that doesn’t mean that he’s forgotten. The love of his parents–his adoptive parents, the REAL parents he actually knew–they molded him into who he became, and that’s NOT something that changed with time. Their brief moment with him lasted through time, a huge legacy, outlasting the planet itself.

But on a smaller level, this speaks in an abstract sort of way to anyone who has ever lost loved ones. Wondering at the futility of visiting a grave, of speaking to those gone before, and I’d say to how even a year can feel like a lifetime, several years like countless lifetimes, when separated from the loved ones.

And on a “meta” level, Superman has outlived this planet, outlived all those lives…as he outlived his creators, and has and likely will outlive so many others.

On the literal level, this reminds me of an old story of an ancient Supreme or Mr. Majestic (I believe written by Alan Moore) (edit: yeah, I’m pretty sure that was Wildstorm Spotlight: Mr. Majestic #1: a story called The Big Chill.) recalling a world he once spent time on…he thinks its name had begun with ‘E’.

On the general level, that abstract level…this just speaks to the heart and I got choked up contemplating loss to come and what that’ll mean to me personally; and teared up considering losses I’ve already experienced. In a way, this had no reason to hit me like it did; yet, this is its own deeply personal, powerful piece…certainly worthy of being a Superman story, and well worth its inclusion in this issue!

action_comics_1000_variants_70sFive Minutes

Writer: Louise Simonson
Artist: Jerry Ordway
Colors: Dave McCaig
Letters: Carlos M. Mangual

This is another 5-page “short.” Clark is trying to finish a story, with Perry and Jimmy standing by, noting they’re 5 minutes to deadline, with Printing already giving hell for holding the presses. Even as Clark points out he’s nearly done, he’s hearing cries of distress, and jumps from his seat to go into action, while Perry tells him he has five minutes. Superman stops a runaway train; saves Bibbo; stops space debris from crashing to Earth, and still makes it back to the Planet to finish his story. But turns out in being so focused on that, he didn’t even consider the impact he just had, saving numerous people, maybe much of Earth…that the story he WAS working on is nothing compared to the story of Superman’s recent super-feats.

This is a neat piece, and as with others in this issue of Action, not one I’d care much for as an entire issue, but as a “backup,” as a piece included in this issue, I really like it. And with Louise Simonson writing and Ordway on art, it’s one that’s hard to beat, having such positive memories of both creators’ work in the ’90s on my early Superman comics.

And the idea of Clark Kent, Reporter, working, having to deal with stuff as Superman and still make his deadline is not new, but it works well here…and the fantastic art just makes it a beauty to behold.

I enjoyed this for that, and its relative timelessness.

action_comics_1000_variants_80sActionland!

Script: Paul Dini
Pencils: Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez
Inks: Kevin Nowlan
Colors: Trish Mulvihill
Letters: Josh Reed

What would a big, giant Superman comic be without Mr. Mxyzptlk? This is a short story showing an amusement park take on Superman and his history, where visitors get to “ride” in a replica of the ship that bore baby Kal-El away from Krypton; lift a tractor like little Clark in Kansas, witness Superman performing super-feats, view other heroes that served with Superman, as well as villains that were fought, and then the way things ended, with Superman… sacrificing himself…giving his life…the ending? The scene we’ve been seeing is a reality of sorts from Mxy, who just can’t quite figure out how he’d like to see the story of Superman end, even though he himself has the power to blink him out of existence with hardly a thought.

I think my initial thought–that it’s “fitting” to have Mxy get a story in something like this–comes from the Newstime special after the death of Superman, where there was some throw-away piece referencing the character, sort of explaining his showing up during all that, and yet not having an actual issue til well after the return.

Story-wise, I’m not overly enamored. It’s a solid enough piece with an interesting premise. Structurally, not a bad story. I think I’ve just kinda felt put-off to Mxy stuff after Superman: Reborn and being reminded of stuff from Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? recently. It has its merits–a glimpse at parts of Superman’s origins; shows us Mxy himself and reminds us he’s around and his powers, and that he can be “just” an imp messing with Superman without wanting to truly destroy him. I just didn’t singularly like this story that much.

Art-wise, this is solid, and though Dini has plenty of pedigree himself, having a new Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez story is quite appealing on principle. I can’t say I’d recognize the art on sight, but knowing Garcia-Lopez has significant association with Superman, this certainly deserves its place in the issue!

action_comics_1000_variants_90sFaster Than a Speeding Bullet

Writer: Brad Meltzer
Artist: John Casaday
Colors: Laura Martin
Letters: Chris Eliopoulos

This was an interesting story, touching on elements that I don’t often think of with Superman stories. A gunman with a hostage prepares to pull the trigger…while from a significant distance, Superman’s flying as fast as he can to the scene. We get Superman’s inner thoughts as he zips toward the gunman, even as he pulls the trigger and the bullet begins to move, as Superman does the math and everything remaining as-is, knows he will not make it in time. Yet, it turns out while he was focused on the gunman, the hostage was shifting, which bought the extra fraction of a second Superman needed to get there, and he saves her. He compliments her on her bravery, that she could be Police, and flies off.

The story here does a good job with building tension as Superman tries to get to the scene. All too often we have the imagery and stories of Superman getting somewhere JUST in the nick of time to bounce bullets off his chest, or pluck them from mid-air, mid-movement before they strike their intended target…but we rarely get something from his point of view, where even he might realize he will be a fraction of a second too late. We get a positive ending here, though, as the woman–Lila–shifts to resist her attacker and Superman is able to save her.

I was not expecting a Meltzer piece, but he’s another name that I feel certainly deserves his place and involvement with the issue…if not for prior Superman work, then for his real-world involvement with stuff–helping bring attention to the Siegel house, helping bring about the Superman display at the Cleveland airport, and other involvement with folks preserving the history of Siegel and Shuster and all that.

The art isn’t bad…and actually, is quite good–overall. There’s just something to the way Casaday does Superman’s face that seems really “off” to me. It looks like someone else’s face, a stranger’s face, is pasted onto a body with “a” Superman costume. Where some artists’ Superman is recognizable just by the face, I wouldn’t be able to look at the faces in this story and just form those know this was Superman.

For another “short,” I can’t really complain beyond that about this one!

action_comics_1000_variants_2000s“The Truth”

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Pencils: Jim Lee
Inks: Scott Williams
Colors: Alex Sinclair
Letters: Cory Petit

Outside of the number, I’m sure this story is one reason for a lot of people to pick up this issue: it offers a prologue to a prologue to a mini-series that itself will lead into the ongoing story in the continuation of this title and rebooted-numbering fifth-volume of Superman. This piece kicks off Bendis‘ work on Superman…and does so with a beaten, bloodied Superman crashing through what looks like a cave wall, and on zooming out, we see a couple more hits as he smashes through the ceiling and out the side of the L-shaped Lexcorp tower, and then hits a road so hard he bounces a few times, destroying pavement, vehicles, and storefronts. Bystanders of course whip out cellphones to take photos/video of the fallen hero, while they try to drag Superman behind a counter. They comment on him wearing “the red shorts” again (rather than the cosmetic change being just there). Some giant creature with a huge battle axe is after him, and after taking a huge punch and repeated jabs from the just-arrived Supergirl, hits her once, taking her outta the fight (sending her flying toward the huge globe of the Daily Planet). Maggie Sawyer and the SCU shows up, though their weapons do nothing to the creature. There’s more discussion from further bystanders of him having “the shorts” again, and the creature continues to get the best of Superman, continuing to physically beat the crap out of him (so to speak), and a simple energy-blast wave-of-the-hand takes a just-returning Supergirl back out of the fight. Transforming the handle of the axe into a sword, he seems to plunge it with a splash into Superman’s chest, as he claims to be wiping out remaining Kryptonians, finishing the job he started when he destroyed Krypton.

Once upon a time, Jim Lee was just about my favorite Superman artist–perhaps behind or tied with Jurgens and Ed Benes. But here, I just don’t care for the art. I’m sure part of it is the coloring…this seems “dark” and “grim and gritty” especially compared to the rest of the issue, and feels out of place visually with the rest of the issue.

Ditto on the story side–this beating, this violence and Superman just being pummeled and beaten and such, and Supergirl coming off as completely ineffective as well–is sickening after so many happier, brighter, celebratory bits.

Sure, this is a new villain, but we don’t even get the name here. We just get nothing but fight. Superman himself points out he hasn’t gotten a name, and the villain accuses him of stalling, rather than giving his name. And sure, on one hand, it would be old-style, stereotypical monologuing or such to just give a name at that point…typically, the villain would be depicted in a large panel with a logo-style word balloon declaring his “cool”-sounding name and such, so instead he calls Superman out for stalling, and on a technical level, I guess this is good to get away from the typical.

I don’t like that we’re thrown into the middle of a fight like this, that we end on a cliffhanger, when the entire rest of this issue has been self-contained one-off stories and whatnot.

Surely we could have started on a brighter note, seen a bit of a different status quo or perspective maybe hinting at this villain’s coming or some such. I don’t know–but based solely on this 12-page piece, I’m not looking forward to the upcoming Man of Steel mini, and I’m suddenly quite concerned about what to expect from Bendis‘ run, where until now I’ve been content to “wait and see” and been fairly optimistic. I suppose I’ll now have to “wait and see” what we get in the DC Nation #0 issue and go from there.

I guess it’s appropriate enough in its way to launch Bendis‘ run with this issue…and yet despite assurances to the contrary, the part of me that suspects his “coming” heralded the end of Jurgens‘ and Tomasi‘s runs feels like they should have had more pages to play with in this issue, and Bendis could launch with DC Nation or The Man of Steel (after all, the last time, one creator (Alan Moore) ended the previous Superman, and it was the interstitial mini-series Man of Steel where Byrne‘s stuff started.

This is 12 pages of what’s likely a multi-year, dozens-of-issues run by one writer, so ultimately may not be indicative of what to expect on the whole and long-term…but for just these pages, and to come after such positive stories for the other 60+ pages…this just seems out of place and inappropriate for something as celebratory as a 1,000th issue…especially seeing nothing but Superman take a beatdown outta nowhere.

Overall Thoughts on the Issue As a Whole

I’ve looked forward to this issue for a long time. In some ways, I’ve probably looked forward to it for nearly 30 years, ever since the first issue I ever owned of the title (#651). At the least, I’m sure I wondered at a comic making it to #1,000 during the Doomsday! and Funeral for a Friend stuff, and the years following, as Adventures of Superman hit #500, Action hit #700, Superman (vol. 2) hit #100, and so on. I certainly wondered about it seven years ago when DC announced what came to be The New 52, that every single title including Action Comics and Detective Comics would be restarted with a #1. Though I still feel that Action making it to #1,000 technically needs an asterisk denoting the 1-52 sequence (there are no issues numbered 905-956) from the New 52 run. But I give DC a “pass” on that, as it was only one “hiccup” in the numbering. Given cover dress, paper condition, and literally the pricing should anyone actually find a copy of the original issues 1-52, one just needs to add 904 to the issue number to know what the issue is in that sense. There have not been numerous iterations where multiple hundreds of issues here, a hundred issues there, another several dozen issues, a mini-series, and a couple of less-than-20-issues runs suddenly add up to a big number. Number-wise, there’s virtually no reasonable confusion.

When Rebirth was announced, when it was announced that Action Comics and Detective Comics would get their original numbering back, and that Action Comics (especially) would indeed get to make it to #1,000, I jumped back in. And all these issues and almost two years later, here we are. I feel like this issue is a sort of reward, an attained destination, a prize that’s been driven toward since Action Comics #957 back in 2016.

A few months ago, there was some definite ambiguity as to formatting and such for the issue and what to expect for the issue. Part of me thinks this should have been even bigger, included even more–both in the way of original stories as well as reprints. But the companion hardback collection Action Comics: 80 Years of Superman handles a lot of that–with essays and reprints of stories both for characters and creators tied to Superman, and Action Comics itself. I was also a bit curious about what the issue’s story would be, or if it would be an anthology/”jam” issue.

Back in the 1990s there were periodic special issues such as The Wedding Album that were key, integral chapters in the ongoing Superman story unfolding in the actual, ongoing titles; though this would be an actual numbered issue, I’d wondered if this would have any singular through-story that just happened to have a bunch of different artists and maybe some narrative structure allowing for different writers to leave a mark on the story.

Obviously what we got was 15-page chunks of the two main creative teams of the ongoing titles, and then 8 more stories/contributions, and a 12-page launch sequence from the new writer coming onto stuff.

As with my excitement for Rebirth and Action Comics #957, I bought this digitally, and I bought this in-print, and I’ll gladly buy the hardcover edition that I believe will be out this Fall. I also ordered the “Decades Variants” through DCBS, and will be getting the 1,000 covers poster, which will be an excellent, appropriate addition to my comics space.

This is an issue that rightly deserves the “celebration” that variants offer. There are artists who may not otherwise have had involvement with the issue, who get to be associated with Action Comics #1000 if only with a variant. And as the first American comic book to make it to #1000…it’s more than worthy. 80 years of continuous publication of a comic titled Action Comics is nothing to sneeze at. I’m among the first to complain and gripe and grouse about variants, and will continue to, where they merely cheapen stuff and are “abused” (really, does a #17 or a #81 or a #962 truly deserve a variant? What makes such numbers special if they’re just another issue?) But this 1,000th issue deserves the added recognition, the “fun” of certain variants…especially what I’ve seen of the “Decades” variants, that bring back the logo style and even the DC logo of each decade…the DC Bullet I grew up on is back with several of the issues, and even the “swoosh” logo gets some love with the 2000s variant.

$7.99 for a single issue is a bit much in most cases. This is squarebound and has 81 story pages with no ads between stories nor interrupting any stories, and the cover is a stronger cardstock…so this is absolutely worth its price for the physical product as well as the content it contains.

None of the stories seem to specifically continue from anything; nothing I’m aware of comes off of a To Be Continued; and other than the Bendis segment leading into stuff out of/after this issue, that’s still 69 or so pages that stand alone quite well, neither requiring previous reading nor requiring subsequent reading. This is well worth getting just for itself; a 1,000th issue; a standalone, celebratory Superman issue. Perhaps it’s an endpoint; maybe it can be a starting point; it’s definitely an excellent one-off, special thing.

I highly recommend this to any Superman fan or anyone interested in checking out some Superman content, period, and especially if you don’t want to commit to anything ongoing or long-form.

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Ultraverse Revisited: Hardcase #2

ultraverse_revisited

hardcase_0002Hard Choices

Writer: James Hudnall
Artists: Cranial Implant Studio
Letterer: Tim Eldred
Color Designer: Moose Baumann
Editors: Chris Ulm, Hank Kanalz
Published by: Malibu Comics
Cover Date: July 1993
Cover Price: $1.95

The first issue of this series is one that I’m extremely familiar with…there are only a handful of such comics in my lifetime that I have that familiarity with. This issue, though…if I’ve read it before, it’s almost certainly been nearly two decades–or more!

This issue opens with several pages of a woman with powers being chased, as she tries to get to our hero. We cut to the funeral of the police officer Hardcase failed to save last issue, and his meeting with the officer’s brother. And even at a FUNERAL, Hardcase is pestered for autographs [[[as I type this, having just read about some recent Stan Lee stuff, I’m extra disgusted at the notion of autograph-hounds]]]. We find that the woman is Choice–a spokesmodel for the corporate entity. Hardcase talks to his agent, and whil eon the phone, the woman finds him, levitating to his balcony. They’re almost immediately attacked by parademon/Lexcorp-looking armored flying soldiers, who severely damage (if not destroy–it’s not completely clear) Hardcase’s not-so-humble abode. The rest of the issue is an extended fight sequence with Hardcase and Choice fighting the soldiers, who eventually claim they’re “just” trying to bring her in because she’s crazy and should be in a mental institution. Hardcase is highly ticked-off, and we end the issue on him determined to take the fight to the corporation for some answers.

The art for this issue is fairly inconsistent. I don’t think I’d consider any of it particularly bad or anything, but there’s a definite inconsistency throughout the issue. The “artists” (plural) credit of a STUDIO seems to me to suggest a bunch of people all working together on it, rather than any singular artist on pencils with a single inker and maybe a couple of colorists or letterers or such. It’s definitely a different look as well from the first issue, and had this been a present-day 2018 issue, I’d probably consider dropping the series for that alone. That said, I’m not an art-guy, and the art does tend to convey the big action and stuff that’s going on, getting the visuals across, however inconsistently. The cover is pretty basic–just a close-up (yet deeply shadowed) image of Hardcase with a blazing fire in the background, and some flames on the ginormous shoulder pads/chest armor he wears. Nothing horrid, but not a scene from the issue, really, nor all that dynamic…while the first issue’s cover is rather “iconic,” this just feels like some random/generic image slapped on.

The story is better, though still feels a bit basic…at “only” a #2 of an all-new, brand-new character and still-new “world,” we have world-building, particularly the addition of Choice and that corporation, and little hints here and there to other corporate crap going on. We get tossed-in tidbits of Hardcase being this huge movie star/hero, though I still don’t “buy” his rise to SUCH stardom in only a year, even if he WAS a part of THE only team of ultra-heroes for a time, first. I recall stuff with Choice in a later issue and/or “meta” knowledge I found out perhaps from Wizard Magazine or Hero Illustrated, so I know she’s an important addition to the cast.

I also am very conscious that for the most part, the bulk of the Ultraverse only REALLY lasted a couple years–that by the time any of the titles got to their “teens” or around #20 or so (I think the highest issue number an Ultraverse issue got was #26–with Prime and Hardcase)…so “only” 2 issues is still a pretty significant chunk of the entirety of any of the series.

As with Strangers #2 and Prime #2…I would not specifically seek out this issue as a stand-alone read, unless you’re missing it from completing a run or part of the run. This definitely builds from the first issue, and continues the building heading into the third issue. “Iffy” as the issue is as a standalone…I think I’d still recommend it on the Ultraverse brand, and as part of the series…though I would not counsel paying much for it (or any of the “regular” issues)…these are very much stuff for the bargain bins, up to $1 or so each, ideally.

I’m pretty sure the issue after #1 that I’m most remembering is #5 (the Rune Month issue) and then somewhere in the teens with the return of NM-E and then stuff in the lead up to Black September after Godwheel…so (like with The Strangers) this series as individual issues and specific details reading issue by issue is actually new to me, all these years after original publication.

Ultraverse Revisited: Prime #2

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prime_0002Hunted

Writers: Len Strazewski, Gerard Jones
Artist: Norm Breyfogle
Letterer: Tim Eldred
Color Design: Keith Conroy
Editor: Chris Ulm
Published by: Malibu Comics
Cover Date: July 1993
Cover Price: $1.95

I remember this issue as being (for a time) "hotter" than the first. I believe it was originally bagged with a trading card, so that there added to the "speculator" fuel–folks buying multiple copies to leave one in the bag sealed, another to take out. And that it’s in this issue that we see on-panel/learn on-panel about Kevin Green, and whatnot; the "reveal" of Prime’s "secret identity" and family and such.

We ended #1 with Prime becoming a hollow husk and a kid punching out of it and then barfing. We open this issue with a sick, naked kid stumbling to a house, which we come to realize is Kevin Green. His parents are obviously freaked out–what happened to their kid, why is he sick, why is he naked, etc. They get him to a doctor who thinks that despite the apparent amnesia, he’ll be ok…Kevin, of course, knows he’s ok–he’s PRIME! Later, at school we see Kevin’s definitely not a popular kid…and even Kelly–the girl he’s got a crush on–isn’t interested in him (though she IS interested in talking about Prime…something Kevin uses to his advantage). Before long, bored in class, Kevin feels something happening and rushes to get out…as Prime is re-formed around him! After school (as Prime) he finds Kelly and takes her flying. Before he can drop her off, he’s hit by a huge creature, and forced to both prevent Kelly from being injured AND fight the creature. After defeating the creature–Prime thinks he’s accidentally killed it–we see Kelly talking with a friend, who thinks the entire situation (particularly the ‘adult superhero’ having an an interest in Kelly) is weird. As Prime flies away, a new version of the creature catches up to him, and ultimately "absorbs" him–capturing him. We end the issue with Prime now trapped inside a larger body, trying to get out.

This issue is far less "iconic" to me, and I’ve got a fraction of the familiarity with it that I do the first issue.

The art is good, but something about it felt "off" and a bit different this issue–probably that I’m not as familiar with this issue’s specific imagery as I am the first. Something about the way Kevin is depicted here is not quite what I THOUGHT I remembered, so he looked weird to me; I can only assume that in my mind’s eye I picture Peter Parker or some such, or something more recent that I’ve seen with Billy Batson. Seeing an awkward-looking young teenager that looked like what he is threw me. As with the previous issue…I realize just HOW "’90s!" the art is, and that much as Image had a "reputation" that’s often referred to, it’s actually the likes of Breyfogle‘s Prime art that imprinted on me as "’90s Art." Coupled with the somewhat obvious-for-its-time digital graphics/bright colors/etc., the art makes for a good issue, showing what’s going on and all, and definitely feels like a comic book, though it seems significantly less "refined" than more contemporary comics. Of course, there’s a whopping 25-year gap between this issue and present-day!

Story-wise, we get a bit of world-building here. Prime–the hulking over-muscled superhero is actually 13-year-old Kevin Green, until now a "normal" boy with "normal" parents who worry about him. He goes to a normal school, experiencing normal things–boredom with classes, unrequited crush, peer ridicule, etc. The only thing that makes him "special" is generating this Prime body around himself–which is something he’s now familiar with, but apparently cannot control. Additionally, we get the start of a long-running theme that seemed rather new at the time: what is the perception of an adult superhero interacting with a young girl? After all–as readers, WE get to see that Kevin and Prime are one and the same, and that Prime is just a hulking body formed around his own, but it’s still Kevin that’s "in charge." Since other characters do NOT know this, they only see an adult…who is obviously "interested" in a girl who appears maybe half his age.

As a whole, this definitely comes off as a ’90s comic–something I’ll likely continue to say about this series, if not much of the Ultraverse in general. Structurally, the first issue could have been a "Zero Issue" with this being the first, but I’m rather glad it’s set up as it is–we were introduced to Prime the superhero in the first issue, left with the mystery of the boy in his body, then this issue introduces the boy and his own situation before getting us back into Prime-time action (ooooh…look at what I did there!) for the rest of the issue. We have the developing subplots of Kevin and Kelly, Kevin and his parents, Doc Gross and what he intends for Prime; and another cliffhanger. We’re promised in a dynamic caption that next is the ORIGIN of Prime…so along with the mirroring of the first issue’s cliffhanger, there’s also the hook that we’re about to learn the origin of the character, which would leave me plenty ready to keep on with this title!

As a decades-outta-print back issue, this would be a prime find in a bargain bin. I’m sure I’ve seen this a couple of times at least, both open and bagged. I recall this being a "hot" issue back in the day, both as a new title AND for the "bagged" factor (you’d need to buy TWO copies! One to open/read, one to SAVE! Because an external bag completely physically separate from the comic itself being removed DESTROYS the actual, physical comic book itself!)…there was also the "revelation" of Prime’s "secret identity" and all that. Especially with present-day sensibilities and the conscious knowledge of the finite nature of the entire Ultraverse and the relative commonality of the issues (especially for the first year or so of the Ultraverse line’s publication), I’d definitely recommend this as a purchase if you find it in a bargain bin…but ideally, along with the first issue and maybe several of the subsequent issues. I suppose this reads "ok" as a standalone…but especially as "only" a #2, there’s no real "reason" to specifically go after this without the first issue.

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Ultraverse Revisited: Mantra #1

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mantra_0001Reversal of Fortune

Writer: Mike W. Barr
Penciller: Terry Dodson
Inker: Al Vey
Letterer: Tim Eldred
Color Design: Paul Mounts
Editor: Chris Ulm
Published by: Malibu Comics
Cover Date: July 1993
Cover Price: $1.95

This is an interesting issue, starting at the cover. The coloring overall gives it a sort of pink look, and makes it instantly (to me) identifiable as what it is at a slight glance. The main character–Mantra–is in some odd mid-air motion like a jump-kick or sideways fastball-special…can’t really tell. But it’s from the ’90s, so doesn’t have to totally make sense, apparently…but at least you can see she has feet! Almost as much so or more prominently, you have Warstrike (a Cable-like huge overly-muscled character with a huge gun) firing away at something "off-panel" of the cover. While in the background, partially obscured by the cover dress–the title logo and the corner box stuff–you have a ghostly image of the villain Boneyard. So this is hardly a great cover in design…its being recognizable and iconic comes from being a #1–a #1 that does NOT have umpteen variants, as this was only the ’90s and not modern 2010s. The cover matches the ads that preceded it, advertising its pending arrival, and contributes to its recognizability.

As I’m essentially "over-familiar" with Prime #1 due to the audio comic, of the early #1s, this was the issue I was most looking forward to getting back to. I don’t actually recall the last time that I read this issue cover to cover rather than skimming it to verify certain details (Lukasz’s final death and the specific killer, for example), but it’s absolutely safe to say I don’t recall reading this within the last 10-15 years, if not longer. So there was some surprise on my part at stuff I’d forgotten, along with certain familiarity that’s stuck with me since the very first time I read the issue back in 1993!

We open on a frontispiece…no actual action or identification of characters, just an image of Mantra as a body/mask/cloak/armor, a black man to the upper left, a ark-haired woman to the upper right, and green energy/lightning and smoke billowing at the bottom. The creator credits and issue title are here as well. Turning the page, we meet Bill Cooper interacting with a Mr. Dalmas, apparently finalizing paperwork for a divorce. The wife has tailed the lawyer and manages to get in, appealing to Cooper to at least not turn his back on his son. While they’re dismissed, we have the growing sense of something supernatural or at least abnormal going on. A ghostly image of an old mane addresses Cooper as Lukasz, and in turn is addressed as Archimage. Cooper makes his way to a club, and getting reacquainted with Yaron, Hamath, and Thanasi. Meanwhile, someone is tied up and being questioned by a garishly-dressed man apparently called Notch. He has a ghostly image of another old figure–Boneyard! Cooper–Lukasz–and his fellows burst in, and battle commences! While the men struggle, we get a momentary glimpse of Boneyard and Archimage hand-to hand struggling themselves…as blood is shed on both sides. Cooper lays dead as the others escaped, and Notch cuts the heart from the body…making it quite official the notch he’s cut in his staff. We meet Warstrike as he answers a call, and then the scene shifts to show us a couple–Marla and Carl, apparently recently-reconciled arriving at a house…and we meet Eden Blake (the dark-haired woman from the frontispiece) interacting with her kids, mother, and her own date. Marla’s gone in while Carl properly parks the car. The view shifts to a trippy/cosmic "hall of bodies" called The Soulwalk, as we find Lukasz’s soul preparing to go into its next body…which he does as it rings a doorbell, and we see he’s displaced Carl. Breaking another heart, he walks out on Marla and an angry Eden. In Carl’s body, we follow Lukasz as he meets up with the rest of Archimage’s group–12 in all–and they get a final speech from the old man as he reveals that they’ve been betrayed by one of their own.

Boneyard arrives, Archimage is captured, his men are killed…Carl/Lukasz killed by Warstrike. Lukasz thinks this is it…before discovering Archimage–even captured–is bringing him back. Lukasz wakes up in bed next to a man, and discovers that this time, he’s been reincarnated as a woman. The woman he saw earlier–Eden Blake!  As Eden, he makes a hasty exit, and immediately experiences the some changes on the streets of LA as a woman instead of man…including being pulled into an alley for an attempted rape, before the would-be-rapist’s cigarette sets him ablaze. Eden makes it to a hospital to meet the last of Archimage’s helpers, who reveals that this is the final reincarnation, Lukasz’s soul was put into this body as a last-ditch backup failsafe, and after centuries of technology, must now embrace magic. A mask charm suddenly flips Eden into the scantily-armor-clad figure of Mantra with a cloak, thigh-high boots and arm-length gloves. As Katinya dies, police enter and assume this figure is a murderer, forcing Eden to escape. Getting home to the address on her driver’s license, she dismisses mother and kids for the night, finds this body doesn’t like whiskey, and answers a late night doorbell to find Warstrike…who knows who (s)he actually is!

Maybe it’s largely nostalgia, maybe it’s the analytical reading for this post and going back through the issue for this overly-lengthy summary of the issue. But this strikes me as a darned good first issue! We have foreshadowing in the frontispiece, a cold build from some arbitrary scene as things quickly come together, showing us good guys and bad guys, and that both sides have a master figure behind them…a 15-century struggle comes down to this final night, as Boneyard gains the upper hand…and the last surviving chance for Archimage is Lukasz, now in the body of a woman and apparently host to mystical/magical powers. We’re introduced to a number of characters on both sides, to the situation, how this battle has lasted over a millennia, and so on. We see how easily Lukasz is killed–twice!–which shows how extremely imperative it is that he be more careful than ever when he learns he can no longer simply be brought back in a new body. And like Lukasz himself…we’re left wondering at the end of the issue what’s coming next. Immediately in terms of Warstrike’s showing up to finish what he started, and whatever is to come in the ongoing battle.

Visually, this is maybe the strongest Ultraverse issue thus far to me, of the five titles. Of course, it’s Terry Dodson art, so that’s a lot of it! Barr crams so much into the story and the art so beautifully conveys it all that I feel little wonder that this is one of my favorite issues of the line.

I did not originally read this in August of 1993 when it came out–at least, I somehow have a memory of reading it in December that year. 25 years and family stuff could definitely have scrambled the timing in my memory, though. But I distinctly remember the surprise of that page when Lukasz wakes up in Eden’s body…quite an image for a barely-13-year-old, and probably a bit of an immediate imprint for the title character.

Like Freex #1, this issue came with a "bonus coupon," which could be substituted for one of the first-month coupons to redeem for Ultraverse Premiere #0. I remember having to make use of that due to being unable to get the Wizard #23 coupon for whatever reason.

All in all, this is a strong first issue well worth getting if you find it in a bargain bin, and I’m definitely looking forward to getting into #2 and onward as things develop, and filling in some of the details and such I missed when the issues were new, as it’s been in the years after the end of the Ultraverse line that I was able to fill in the early gaps in my collection!

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The Weekly Haul: Week of April 11, 2018 #NCBD

Thankfully, this proved to be another small-ish week for new comics!

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We have a new issue of TMNT, starting a new arc. I might be slightly "off" but it seems like IDW managed to FINALLY realize it is possible to do comics in longer-than-4-issue-arcs! Meanwhile, we have the 2nd issue of the new Sonic the Hedgehog…I remain skeptical of a WEEKLY $3.99 title. However, for a launch, I’m all for a quick succession of 4 issues–it gets more material out quicker, and gives a full (larger) arc in a shorter time, and while the "cost" to me is the same, without looking to the hassle that weekly titles are to comic shops, it gives me a chance to have several issues to decide if I want to continue with the series…without the question being dragged out for months.

We also have the new issue of Oblivion Song (I reviewed the first issue here) which I’ve pretty much lost interest in and haven’t experienced any "hype" for its SECOND issue (yet again where "only" the first issue/premiere of a series is pushed and then left to sink or float on its own while the "next big thing" is actively over-pushed).

Then we have what I think is the "final" issue of Supergirl (well, this current iteration anyway. Given the hit tv show, I can’t imagine there not being some sort of comic series going for it). And of couse, far behind as I am in the reading, the latest issue (again? Already?) of Detective Comics.

Finally, a True Believers reprint of The Infinity Gauntlet #1. From 1991…a 27-year-old comic that back then was "just comics" doing some gratuitous cosmic crossover and now is a multi-billion-dollar basis of movies. Though I’ve gotten copies of this issue from 25 and 50-cent bins in the ("distant") past…this is certainly the cheapest way I’ll acquire any new copies. And on shinier, cleaner paper, possibly with "cleaned-up" colors/restorations…and certainly the (print copy) "convenience" of the issue, without digging through all my unsorted longboxes. Plus…it looks like this 2018 edition reprints the ENTIRE ISSUE. The 2015 edition (around Secret Wars) did not–as I recall–give the entire issue.

Next week will have the issue that–in nearly 30 years of being into comics–I’ve waited the longest for; having looked forward to it for some 23+ months: Action Comics #1,000.

And really, in a way I’ve been looking forward to it for over 350 months…since my first issue of the title as a new comic, waaaaaaay back with #651!

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Ultraverse Revisited: Freex #1

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freex_0001Freaked

Writer: Gerard Jones
Penciller: Ben Herrera
Inker: Mike Christian
Letterer: Tim Eldred
Color Design: Paul Mounts
Editor: Chris Ulm
Published by: Malibu Comics
Cover Date: July 1993
Cover Price: $1.95

I remember reading this issue and not really "getting" it. Now, the cover is one of the more "iconic" covers to me, of the Ultraverse line. Perhaps because I have a poster, and I’ve seen the issue so many times in quarter bins and such. It also stands out to me–in memory–because of being one of the earliest Ultraverse titles (it premiered in the SECOND month of releases, part of the "second wave" of titles, along with MANTRA). It was almost always THERE, whether or not I was reading it (and mostly, I was not).

But let’s look at this issue by itself, specifically, for now!

We open on a kid being chased into an alley by police. He seems just as concerned about "something" happening as about the police themselves. They bump into a huge golem entity–very strong and impervious to their bullets. He calls the kid Huck, and is admonished for blurring reality and fiction…then calls him Lewis, and we learn that he is Ray. As they begin to escape, another kid unleashes her freakish powers, and Lewis no longer has a choice and unleashes his powers to protect the officers. Val seems to have a green energy burst, while Lewis can liquefy and reform himself. He escapes to a sewer while they others retreat back to their hideout, and the police are left to wonder just what the heck actually happened. Lewis reflects on how he discovered his freakishness, while at the hideout, Ray and Val bicker until a new arrival provides a new target for Val’s rage. The new girl seems to have a torso made up of or covered by sentient/controllable ropes or tentacles. We get a flashback of Val discovering her power in a detention center where a guard tried to force himself onto her. Outside the hideout, the new girl meets Lewis as he returns to the group. Inside, there’s further bickering, while Ray spray-paints something on a wall. As we see that he’s tagged it for the group "Freex," another new arrival appears in a cobbled-together robotic body of pieces and parts in the hideout, and says he’s Michael, and wants to tell the group why he’s brought them together.

The obvious comparison here for me is X-Men. Teenagers suddenly and inconveniently developing freakish (mutant) powers, being hunted and feared by normal people and authorities, banding together to survive, and apparently brought together by a player behind the scenes, who also seems to have powers which he presently can control. Of course, these are new characters, a new group, they’re "freaks" rather than mutants; they’re Ultrahumans, but lack the publicity and stature of The Squad, Hardcase, Prime, and where most of the Strangers are adults, these are kids.

As first issues go, we’re introduced to an ensemble cast with a couple of pages each for several characters in flashback, showing where they were compared to where they are now; we’re introduced to a newer character with a bit less history than the first three kids seem to have; we see the situation they’re in, struggling just to have food and shelter to survive while dealing with powers that make them vastly different from anyone else. We get a reason for their "team name," and learn that they didn’t "just" bump into each other and band together, but they’ve been consciously, specifically BROUGHT together. It lets us see the starring characters, who are featured on the cover, we see them together, and get a number of little details…none of the more modern early-2000s-to-present "hide the hero" or five issues of solo characters finally meet in a sixth issue and show a hint of being a team, when it’s a team book. There’s a bit of mystery–who is Michael? Why has he brought them together? What’s his motivation? Will they accept it or turn on him? But that’s the "hook" to get one to come back for the next issue.

Visually, this is a colorful yet dark book. The characters are individually recognizable, if not entirely consistently rendered, and one can pretty easily follow along what’s going on. One bit that stood out to me, though, is when a police officer is thrown at a wall: we get a scratchy panel of him hitting a wall, seeming to indicate how hard he hit–like Ray’s killed or crippled him. Yet in dialogue later on, an officer refers to "silly putty walls," and there doesn’t to seem to be any concern regarding any dead/crippled officers. So whether that’s on me for the way I "read" the visuals or not, I lay partial blame at the lack of any "visual sound effects" to the panel (really, the entire issue!).

All in all, though, this is a good first issue, and far better than I remember from any previous read-throughs. Though this got a CD-Romix Comix release over Strangers, and I’m very familiar with the Hardcase and Prime ones, I never really cared for this one. I’d put off reading this issue, not really looking forward to the (re)read, but wound up enjoying it a lot more than I’d expected. I’m actually interested in the next issue, and learning more of the ACTUAL details of this group of characters than just seeing covers from later in the run and such.

This is another first issue that’s definitely worth getting (and reading!) if you find it in a bargain bin. And let’s face it…the early Ultraverse #1s are quite plentiful. It’s the later issues of the series that you’ll be hard-pressed to find.

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