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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: Early House Ads September 1993

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With the September 1993 Ultraverse books, we have our largest month yet for house ads…with the largest house ad yet in Firearm #0!

Firearm #0 4-page ad:

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It’s interesting to see four pages per (most issues) dedicated to this. Rather than just a one-page piece advertising this video/comic combo pack, we have an opening page, a double-page spread, and a closing page, introducing us to this concept of a live-action video where the story starts in the video and concludes in a comic book! This was one of many interesting multi-media things Malibu did for the Ultraverse line, and to my knowledge remains a one-of-a-kind thing!


ultraverse_ads_flood_relief

I’d forgotten how early on this Flood Relief issue came about. For a donation to the American Red Cross, one could get a special edition comic book featuring the Ultraverse. An interesting fundraising device. I have no idea how well it did, or how ‘limited’ it actually was. Offhand, this would be the second "mail-away for a limited-edition Ultraverse comic" promotion from Malibu.

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Where it seems all the other titles got ads ahead of time, I had noted for the August 1993 house ads that there’d been no ad for The Solution before its first issue was out. Instead of a "coming in September" we got an ad for it in September with the "On Sale Now!" note.

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I believe this is the first full-page ad for a title that is not a #1 issue. We had the split-page ad for several of the continuing titles, but this seems to be the first full-page ad. In this case, for Hardcase #5, coming in October 1993, part of the Rune Month stuff. Here the ad is just for the title but I recognize the cover image from the fifth issue!

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The Night Man is a new title that debuts with the October 1993 titles. I’ve always been a fan of this cover and its coloring. That I can say that based on this ad is–as I’ve noted with previous such reflections–one of the things I really, really like with the ads. They are the cover image of the first issues, so you know exactly what you’re looking for! No arbitrary image to get confused over when there are several other images on issues when you just want THE first issue. This use of the cover images also helps make them that much more memorable and recognizable, and thus "iconic" in a way that publishers in 2018 seem to despise.

ultraverse_ads_sludge0001

However, while I say that above about Night Man, this image of Sludge actually is not the first issue’s cover image–whether it was a last-second change or something else, I don’t know. Perhaps for nearly 25 years of knowing the actual cover, I think I prefer the actual cover of #1 to this…though this image gives a bit more to go on with the character, as the cover to #1 is an extreme close-up of Sludge’s face; here we see more of the (shadowed) body. But combine this ad with the actual cover, and there’s a bit more of an idea what one’s dealing with before ever getting past the cover of #1!

ultraverse_ads_solitaire0001

Finally, getting a bit ahead of things, we have this Solitaire ad for November, giving us a look beyond "just" the very next month. Of course, we already had that with the Rune ad previously, that basically only told us the character was coming (and in September 1993, Rune #1 was still some four months away!). There’s no mention in this ad of the polybagged-with-a-playing-card promo that would come with the first issue of Solitaire…I don’t recall if there ever was any mention of it outside of something like Wizard or Hero Illustrated.


As I’ve mentioned several times recently…next, I’ll be getting into the October 1993 Ultraverse issues–"Rune Month!" Each issue has a flip-cover and several extra pages. The short segments collectively make up a #0-issue for Rune, and by collecting all 11 coupons and mailing away, you could receive a standalone edition of Rune #0 as a single-issue (plus a poster, some other goodies…and also a #0-issue for The Solution!)

More on that at the end of covering the October books!

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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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Ultraverse Revisited: Early House Ads August 1993

ultraverse_revisited

Here are house ads from the third month of the Ultraverse line: August 1993! We have one full-page and one split-page ad for actual Ultraverse titles, one for the "other" group of Malibu titles (that preceded the Ultraverse line), and then the "Ultrafiles" pages which were all the same across the various titles.

ultraverse_ads_firearm

I’m almost certain this ad was the first I saw of the Firearm character. It’s certainly (to me) an "iconic" image–something far too lacking in modern comics! This title would be one featuring a "non-Ultra" dealing with a world of Ultras. Though I recognize James Robinson now by name, the name didn’t stand out whatsoever to me in 1993, where I barely knew creator names.

I like the continued "tag line" nature of text on the ad…this would be right at home on an ’80s/’90s action flick.

ultraverse_ads_hardcase_strangers_prime_04s

This is the first of the house ads to 1. feature multiple titles and 2. be for something other than a #1 issue. I like the use of the single page to show off three titles. Not every issue needs a full page, but seeing the stuff at all puts it or keeps it "on the radar" as well as showing at least part of an image to be on the watch for, in terms of covers.

As with text on other ads, getting a "blurb" about the issues goes a long way in letting one know what to expect, to be "sold" on an issue along with having art from the cover(s).

ultraverse_ads_genesis

Genesis is not Ultraverse, but IS Malibu. I’m nearly certain this ad is what put most of these titles on my mental radar as a kid. To this day, I don’t think I’ve gotten all chapters of this Genesis story arc, but I’ve certainly meant to, and probably have several duplicates by way of getting issues when I’ve seen them in bargain bins.

Though this "line" went away not long after the Ultraverse hit, it’s one that I’ve contemplated digging into as a "finite universe" of issues. Whether I’ve known it in the past or not, I don’t consciously recall details about bringing these titles together as a group vs. the fresh launch of the Ultraverse, but that’s a topic I’ll surely research later for my own curiosity.

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Some things never change, and it’s interesting to me to see this "time capsule" bit of having to "pre-order" comics at a local shop to be able to get a copy.

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With only six covers displayed across the bottom of these pages, we’re missing the Hardcase cover. Not a huuuuge deal, but I would think with so few titles it could be worked in somewhere.

The "preview" of the Wrath character on this second page is interesting: at first glance I thought it was Marvel‘s Omega Red. I’m sure it’s the hair/color and the red/white color scheme. Also, this is from the ’90s, where many visual designs seemed to feed off each other as ‘trends’ and such.


And here we are–another "month" of Ultraverse books completed! Not many house ads this time around, and I noticed that none of the titles had an ad for The Solution, which also premieres in the September 1993 group with Firearm. I strongly suspect that is part of how I initially missed the title. The ads certainly helped cement the first issue covers as "iconic" for me, and so it’s odd that one title out of 8 or so got "left out."

NEXT WEEK: I’ll begin Month #4 of the Ultraverse with titles released for September 1993!

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Labor Day/End of Summer comics

newcomics002_thumb[9]My local comic shop was having an “end-of-summer”/Labor Day clearance sale last week. A bunch of sale books and games and such, as well as extra bargain bins, and all the bargain bins–usually 25-cent comics–were 5-cents apiece or $12 to fill-a-box.

On Wednesday, being there on my short lunch-break, I could only flip very quickly through a few of the bins, and found an issue of Siren and an issue of Necro Mantra/Lord Pumpkin; far as I can tell, the Necro Mantra/LP issue is new, newcomics002_thumb[8]while the Siren issue was a duplicate. But for 10 cents total…I can afford to take the duplicates’ chance.

Friday after work I went back, and scored Angels of Destruction #1 and Witch Hunter #1, both also only 5 cents each. Picked up Firearm #4 and Foxfire #2, both figuring to be duplicates, but for the price, I was taking the chance (and actually, I bought every Ultraverse comic I found, which is sorta sad there were so few in those bins!)

The store owner also gave me a great deal on some other sets. I was already picking up a run of X (Dark Horse Heroes) for $3 and Wonder Man (Marvel)

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for $2; (and the week before, had bought a run of Steel for $6ish and Zen: Intergalactic Ninja for $8). So between the 5-cent comics and pretty solid runs of Grendel, The Ferret, the Superboy series based on the tv show, and Resurrection Man…I walked out Friday with a full longbox and the equivalent of about half a shortbox, all for only slightly more than the cost of 8 or 9 new comics.

Mission: Ultraverse Revisited

ultraversespreadA few weeks ago, a Facebook group I had joined some years back–for the long-dead comics universe, the Ultraverse–suddenly exploded into activity. It’s been stirring my interest back up in the Ultraverse comics. I already had a stack of PRIME issues on a shelf, waiting for a re-reading project I’ve had in mind for over a year.

In addition, this past weekend I snagged a handful of Ultraverse comics from quarter bins at a couple different comic shops.

Monday night, I decided to take a peek in my “most accessible” longbox, and lo! Ultraverse comics! So I pulled the Ultraverse comics, and decided to look at the next box. Then the two shortboxes.

Amazingly, I found QUITE the mix of Ultraverse comics in just 3 longboxes and 2 shortboxes.

ultraversepilesSeems that without particularly realizing it, I’ve actually been grabbing a number of Ultraverse comics the last few years from various bargain bins and such sales. I even found that I’ve got the Black September: Infinity issue, as well as the Ultraverse: Future Shock. And turns out the that special PRIME issue I picked up a couple years back for $1 at a used media store is one of those Limited-5,000 editions.

So, now have a mission before me: to dig through all the longboxes I have in this apartment, to pull together whatever Ultraverse comics I have. From there, see what’s out there that I’m missing, and begin very specifically hunting these things down.

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