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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: Night Man #2

ultraverse_revisited

nightman_0002Mangled!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ultraverse Revisited: Solitaire #1

ultraverse_revisited

solitaire_0001The Pleasure Principle

Writer: Gerard Jones
Penciller: Jeff Johnson
Inker: Barb Kaalberg
Letterer: Tim Eldred
Color Design: Keith Conroy
Editor: Hank Kanalz
Interior Color: Foodhammer
Published by: Malibu Comics
Cover Date: November 1993
Cover Price: $2.50

I’ve acquired this issue a number of times–out of its bag, with and without the bag, with and without one of the cards. But in all these years, I’d never gotten around to actually reading this this! In this particular case, I’m reading a bagless copy with a $2.50 cover price.

We open on a couple of thugs beating a woman, and see her rescued by a guy in a purple and blue costume–an obvious vigilante figure. He claims he’s "hard to hurt," and he’s looking for someone called "The King." Though he takes a bad gunshot wound–with the original victim he rescued actually approaching him to help HIM–he gets up under his own power, proving what he said about being hard to hurt. The scene cuts to the so-called King, quite angry about the intervention of this Solitaire into his plans. We see and learn that he considers himself King Pleasure–if it feels good, DO it. Back with Solitaire, we see the vigilante deliver the victim to safety while he continues tracking King’s men. We see that Solitaire’s HQ is in an old movie theater, that he’s good with computers, and he’s got an established network of people to help him with his crusade…and that he has issues with his father and isn’t surprised to learn that King Pleasure has some sort of tie to his Father. Solitaire puts a plan in motion, and is able to get into King Pleasure’s inner sanctum, rescue a couple of his captives, and END this King’s reign. We also see Solitaire reveal his identity to King…he is Nicholas Lone, son of the crime lord Anton Lone. While the King’s "palace" burns and the rescued victims watch, Solitaire speeds off in his car, brooding over his origin, silently vowing to himself that "this fight" has only just begun.

In a way, this issue feels too quick and simplistic. But that’s (as often the case for me in 2018) most likely due to being trained for most of the last 17-some+ years to read stuff for the larger story, for the 6-issue "graphic novel," as it seems that modern comics have mostly lost the "art" of the single-issue story.

Though this is the premier issue of an ongoing/12-issue series (in 2018 I know this as a 12-issue finite series, but do not recall if it was originally intended as such or if it was intended as an open-ended ongoing series) it feels like it could be simply a one-shot, a single issue introducing a character, showing him off, introducing and resolving an immediate story, and leaving him to "the universe" to be used or not as any creators might choose.

This works very well as a setup-issue, a foundation-laying issue. We meet the title character, see him in action, see what he’s about, see what he’s capable of, meet supporting characters/locations, see him resolve a case, and have a decently-proper sort of ending…all in one single issue. Which makes this great "pilot" for a series.

I like the structure of the issue, the way this story is presented. In tandem with the art itself, this looks and feels like a ’90s comic in general.

Visually, the art is good–though there seem to be panels where there’s some shortcutting going on, it’s nothing not seen elsewhere, and doesn’t detract from the story. One is easily able to read along and keep up with what’s going on, and there are some nice, dynamic layouts that move the story along fairly cinematically. Simply looking at the art, it doesn’t stand out to me in a "this is my favorite artist ever" sort of way, but it’s not bad, and I especially like the colors for Solitaire’s outfit!

I’m very pleasantly surprised at how much this issue seems to work as a one-shot and "first issue" together. It’s very solid as a first issue, and on my first reading seems to be independent of all the other Ultraverse titles thus far, with no real reference to Ultras, other Ultras, and so on. Solitaire’s own "hard to hurt" nature reminds me a lot of the Bloodshot character from Valiant, and I’m interested to see how far those similarities go in future issues of this book.

Buy this for the "bagged" gimmick, for the trading card…buy it because it’s a #1, buy it because you like the cover art, buy it for whatever reason…you don’t need previous issues, and there’s no actual "To Be Continued" and thus for this one-off issue you don’t even "need" any future issues–though the fact that there are later issues mean there’s more material for you to get if you liked this issue!

Given the nature of the issue…I absolutely recommend it if you find it in a bargain bin (25-50 cents for sure, with the bag/card insert, certainly up to $1 or so!). It’s a good read, and as with many of the other Ultraverse titles, I’m curious and looking forward to reading additional issues.

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Ultraverse Revisited: 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: Strangers #5

ultraverse_revisited

strangers_0005Dynamic Tension!

Author: Steve Englehart
Pencil Art: Rick Hoberg
Letterer: Dave Lanphear
Ink Art: Tim Burgard
Color Design: Rick Schmitz
Color Team: Foodhammer!
Editor: Chris Ulm
Published by: Malibu Comics
Cover Date: October 1993
Cover Price: $2.50

A fifth issue doesn’t seem like it’s that far into a series…but in the "meta" sense of this being 25 years old and well over two decades between the END of this series and the present…the series didn’t quite make it 25 issues. But even at 25 issues…this would put us 1/5 through the series now! That’s both discouraging in that the series had such a brief run, but encouraging to notice we’re getting into the meat of the thing, past the most initial of setup and foundation-laying. We saw the origin–the lightning bolt/Jumpstart that hit the cable car. We saw the characters come together, and saw them investigate Yrial and wind up with her the "final member" of the team; saw the team take on TNTNT, their first actual "supervillains" ("ultra-villains"), as well as meet up with Hardcase and have that adventure.

Now in this issue, we see the team–after "most of the series" so far–spit up to go back to their own individual lives. Bob Hardin (Atom Bob) visits with his parents and sees the crowd camped out at their house for a glimpse of him. Leon Balford (Zip-Zap) returns to his street and puts a bully in his place. Hugh Fox (Grenade) and Candy (Electrocute) view his house–overrun with media folks and such,  and head off, discussing their status quo, having a "moment." Elena La Brava (Lady Killer) works the phones on coverage of the team. Yrial takes to a rooftop, frustrated firstly with being "forced" to join the team, and secondly with having no place of her own to go when the team split to go their own ways…but soon spots trouble and prepares to page the rest of the team to regroup. Finally, David Castiglione (Spectral) visits someone in the hospital, and after catching up a bit, he tries to use his healing power. If he could heal a broken arm, surely he could heal this! The scene shifts and we find the rest of the team back together and wondering where Spectral is. They decide to proceed without him, and find Deathwish…who is not at all like the frail old man he "grew from." The Strangers launch into battle, but none of them can take the villain. Eventually Spectral shows up in his green-flame form and lays into the villain…emerging victorious. As things wind down, the team reflects on his action–they’d focused on trying to deny Deathwish any further power, while Spectral gave him more than he could handle. Realizing David’s effectiveness was part anger and venting, they probe a bit and discover that he was unable to heal his partner. They hadn’t realized he was gay, but the fact of it is simply matter of fact and casual…no more a focus than Hugh being attracted to Candy.

I really enjoy issues like this. Maybe it’s that I’ve been reading comics for nearly three decades, but seeing superheroes in action is such a "given" and seeing much of what they do out of costume or out of action is a relative rarity…so seeing a bit of focus on each of the characters reminds us that they’re individuals, gives us a fresh glimpse into their private lives and background, and generally fleshes them out and builds the individuals in a way that doesn’t work easily when they’re all together and being juggled in an action sequence. I often lament the drawn-out/padded-out nature of modern comics written for the 6-issue trade…and even though we’d had very brief foreshadowing bits in earlier issues for Deathwish, essentially he just shows up in this issue, is fought, and defeated–all in one issue. And that’s in addition to getting scenes of each of the individuals on their own…once again packing into one issue what could easily be drawn out to at least 5 or 6 issues in the present (if not 7 or 8 to give each Stranger a solo issue…and even as a single issue, a modern take would have at least 8-9 covers for this issue to give each character a cover, plus the cover we have, plus maybe a glow-in-the-dark Spectral cover on top of that).

Visually this is another strong issue, with all the characters seeming perfectly familiar, and quite consistent with the earlier issues…same artist, same quality and all that. The only thing that really stood out to me was the page split with the Strangers seeing Deathwish the first time…there seems to be a lot of different coloring effects going on with lighting and such that actually prompted me to go back to the credits to see if someone else had contributed a page. It has an almost painted sort of look to it, different from the usual colors of the rest of the issue.

rune_0gRune [G]: The Hunger
Plotted by: Barry Windsor-Smith & Chris Ulm
Drawn & Colored by: Barry Windsor-Smith
Scripted by: Chris Ulm
Inked by: John Floyd
Computer Color by: Albert Calleros
Lettered by: Patrick Owsley
Text Pages Designed by: Jim Chadwick
Edited by: Steve Gerber

I’m sort of surprised–we have our third in-sequence chapter without a great leap in time. This picks up the day after the bitterly disappointing discovery that even Edwin’s power wasn’t enough to permanently restore Rune to his former glory. This chapter picks up the next day and we see that Rune has killed a drunken homeless person…but the alcohol in the guy’s blood is poisoning Rune himself. As a storm rolls in, Rune flies into the sky to be struck by lightning–or perhaps calling the lightning to him–to purge his body of the poison, though it can’t purge the cancer that eats away at him.

This being another 3-page segment of a single issue-length story, the art is consistent as expected with previous chapters, as it’s the same creative team as those earlier chapters.

There’s not a lot of room for development or continuing story, but this shows us that while Rune might have trouble taking down anyone more powerful than a powerless human, he can still survive (and even thrive from) a lightning strike! His magical/sorcerous power is still there, even if he lacks the physical might he once had. And this does show his growing desperation, which likely makes him all the more dangerous!


As with the other Rune Month issues, this is one that is easily identified as a Rune Month (October 1993) issue, but the Rune chapter alone does not give cause to seek it out as a single issue. However, for the Strangers portion…this SOMEWHAT stands alone. It doesn’t in itself give much exposition or backstory, but if one is loosely familiar with the characters, this would not be a horrible issue to get on its own.

The cover is at once a bit bland to me, yet over-promises on Deathwish and his power. Sure, the character was a bit imposing and wielding a very dangerous power…but he was hardly holding sway over an entire city, nor much mystery to the team as to his identity. This cover would seem more fitting to me as the cover to a collected volume of a several-issue story against Deathwish or of multiple encounters with the character. The blurb "Vs. Deathwish" seems tacked on and somehow just LOOKS "’90s-ish" and seems far too symmetric…so basically showing off then-new-ish stuff done with digital elements for the cover.

This is well worth getting from a bargain bin, though as many times as I’ve seen this and other early Ultraverse issues in 25-cent and 50-cent bins, I suggest as with those not to go much over $1 for this issue if you seek it out.

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Ultraverse Revisited: The Night Man #1

ultraverse_revisited

nightman_0001The Night Man

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

rune_0cRune [C]: The Sorcerer
Plotted by: Barry Windsor-Smith & Chris Ulm
Drawn & Colored by: Barry Windsor-Smith
Scripted by: Chris Ulm
Inked by: John Floyd
Computer Color by: Albert Calleros
Lettered by: Patrick Owsley
Text Pages Designed by: Jim Chadwick
Edited by: Steve Gerber

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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Ultraverse Revisited: Strangers #4

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strangers_0004_frontBetween a Rock and a Hardcase

Author: Steve Englehart
Pencil Artist: Rick Hoberg
Ink Artist: Tim Burgard
Plot: Steve Englehart and James D. Hudnall
Letterer: Dave Lanphear
Color Design: Rick Schmitz
Interior Colorists: Foodhammer!
Editor: Chris Ulm
Published by: Malibu Comics
Cover Date: September 1993
Cover Price: $1.95

The way Hardcase #4 ended with our heroes suddenly facing some off-panel figure they seemed to recognize, I figured I’d just managed to "forget" someone that had been rather minor up until now…so I was looking forward to the "reveal" in this issue.

But as we open up, we find Hardcase and the Strangers underground (I thought they were still aboveground where we’d left off) and facing an Aladdin agent through some pink force shield. The shield prevents anyone from attacking/using their abilities against the Aladdin folks, and unless they agree to join/work with Aladdin, our heroes aren’t going to be allowed to leave. After some back and forth between the two groups, Grenade realizes there’s a loophole, and seems to start a fight with Hardcase. They can’t use their abilities on their captors…but they CAN against each other. And if their captors get caught in the ricochets, well, that’s just too bad for them. Our heroes escape, though the captors aren’t far behind. Hardcase pauses–he’s going to destroy Aladdin’s DNA labs, as they’ve already violated his old friends by digging up bodies and harvesting their DNA. The Strangers wind up helping, though this means further fighting with Aladdin’s own Ultras. Of course, they’ve got a better idea of what to expect and have continued to learn about their own abilities…so achieve a momentary victory. Realizing at best they’d deal with this single base, a deal is struck–The Strangers (and Hardcase and Choice) walk away. No retaliation from either side. Aladdin keeps their data, our heroes get their freedom to fight another day. No one’s happy about it, but the confrontation ends without any deaths.

Perhaps it’s the larger cast being juggled here, but it seems like there are a lot of little "moments." We have the sorta heavy-handedness of Atom Bob’s obvious interest in Choice; we get Spectral tending to Lady Killer; Zip-Zap marveling at this group that accepts him without belittling him for being "just a kid," and even Hardcase gets a bit of a mentorship role with the group, as he’s been at the Ultra-hero game longer than all the rest. As is definitely a recurring thing as I’m going through these early Ultraverse issues–there’s a lot crammed into any given issue, overall. What we’ve gotten in just four issues of one title from 1993 would probably be stretched to at least 12 if not 18-24 with the way comics are "done" in 2018. There are some leaps of logic and plot holes–and this isn’t a 100% smooth continuation from Hardcase #4. Some of that seems likely that the co-plotting happened, but final fine details weren’t necessarily worked out in time to be reflected properly. That said…if one is just reading this one title, all they really have to know is that the Strangers went to Hardcase’s place and he joined them to fight these Aladdin folks. That can be picked up from context, so the fine details aren’t as important as such. And of course, twenty-five years ago you didn’t have "everything" available digitally or in guaranteed-everything-will-be-put-into-collected-editions, so it was essentially "expected" that one COULD "miss" an issue (not that it would be encouraged).

Visually I definitely enjoyed this issue. I recognized al the characters, and everyone looks good–on form–and the action and such is easy enough to follow. I didn’t get taken out of the story by anything wonky or having to really scratch my head wondering what I’d missed form one panel to the next.

Whatever the specifics and logistics of a story going across multiple titles…this felt like an organic sort of thing. It’s not part of some big event, it’s not even actually "chapter one" or "chapter two" of however many parts; it’s not some "structured crossover" or the like. We just have characters that share the same world interact as they would, SINCE they share the same world and are aware of each other.

We had several issues to establish the Strangers on their own, and now they’ve touched base with the wider world…though things are about to "come back home" for them with Deathwish in the next issue, apparently.

strangers_0004_full

The cover is quite familiar, as it is the "second half" of the front cover from Hardcase #4. Given the placement, though…where Hardcase #4 had a gatefold front cover where the Strangers part folded out…this issue has a wraparoud cover where the Hardcase part is the back cover. The two issues can fit together to make up the single image, and the two issues can each stand alone, giving the full image. No variants in sight, no being forced to buy multiple copies of the same issue chasing some ubiquitous, over-hyped gimmick.

If you can find the first few issues as well as Hardcase #4, this issue’s quite worthwhile. It’s surely got its long-term importance in the grand scheme by itself, but this would be best enjoyed along with Hardcase #4 at least.

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