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Ultraverse Revisited: Hardcase #4

ultraverse_revisited

hardcase_0004_frontStrangers in the Night

Writer: James D. Hudnall
Co-Plotters: James D. Hudnall and Steve Englehart
Penciller: Roger Robinson
Inker: Larry Welch
Letterer: Tim Eldred
Color Design: Moose Baumann
Edited by: Hank Kanalz and Chris Ulm
Special Thanks to: Dave Lanphear and Aaron Sowd
Published by: Malibu Comics
Cover Date: September 1993
Cover Price: $1.95

Prime #4 was the first "full" crossover of sorts I’ve gotten to in this Ultraverse Revisited project, with Prime vs. Prototype. But this issue of Hardcase is the start of the first multi-issue such thing, with the Strangers having appeared on the last page of Hardcase #3, they’re in this issue, and then the story itself continues into The Strangers #4.

Hardcase and Choice are just getting back to Hardcase’s place after being assaulted by a team of armored goons trying to kidnap Choice to take her back to the Choice Corporation. So they’re not very happy to find another group of Ultras here waiting for them. After the initial confrontation of surprise, things settle down as the Strangers and Hardcase/Choice feel each other out, so to speak. The Strangers want Hardcase’s advice on the whole "being in the public eye as an Ultra" thing, and he’s willing to share what his own experience has been (which also gives us as readers further insight into the events that led up to where we got dropped into the middle of things in issue #1). A group called Aladdin has stuff going on–they’re a shady government group, apparently–and Hardcase "connects" them to The Squad’s final battle. The Strangers had their own run-in with the secretive government types, and consider that maybe they’re dealing with the same group. So, with Hardcase and Choice joining them, the Strangers set out (based on info Electrocute has from her time with JD Hunt) to confront the Aladdin folks. They’re not allowed into the facility in question, and the group is actually taken down after a brief skirmish with some Ultras sent out to check on them…ending with some surprise at an off-panel figure that shows up.

Because of this crossover, this was an issue I have been really looking forward to getting to. I was pleasantly surprised when the Strangers actually showed up at the end of #3, so they’re "here" for the entire issue. And I really liked that we get some (rightful) conflict starting the issue–Hardcase returns home from a fight and there are these strangers (THE Strangers) in his place unexpectedly. But we don’t get some stupid fight with the place being destroyed or such–Hardcase is authentically concerned, but they’re able to talk things out. He realizes they’re not there to do him or Choice harm, so he’s even comfortable enough to leave them in the main space while he grabs a shower–telling these unknown Ultras that he’s going to be completely without any armor/etc!

It’s a bit cheesey the way everyone interacts, but it works well enough for me. Hardcase sharing his background with the Strangers is a great excuse to get more detail of that out there, given the way we were given the very end in the first issue and just Hardcase dealing with stuff present-day since. The "cheese" continues as Electrocute just happens to have information about a base Aladdin might be operating from, and when the group just simply goes there, where they just happen to wind up in a fight because of Ultras that ARE there.

Still, things keep moving forward at a decent pace, and we’re shown macro and micro interactions that make the characters ring true with a definite feel of authenticity individually and as a group.

Visually, I feel like this title’s all over the place…with this issue having the third different art team in four issues! That said, Robinson does a good job of keeping everyone recognizable and clear…there’s really no mistaking any of the characters, even when I’m still not able to rattle off all the Strangers’ names just off the top of my head. They’re visually distinct and familiarly so. That I notice we’re on the third artist of the title is more paying attention to the credits, as it’s not something I’d have noticed as certainly "just" reading through. The cover is by Strangers artist Rick Hoberg, which adds its own positive to this.

hardcase_0004_full

And the cover itself is another point of discussion. While Prime #4 did have a variant cover, this issue and Strangers #4 go out of their way on a physical production level to AVOID doing "variant" covers. This issue has a fold-out front cover…when you open it out, you have this extra panel to the image with Atom Bob and Electrocute prominent. This is the same image from the front cover of Strangers #4. The two issues can fit together side by side and give a singular double-panel image. This issue has the fold-out, though, to give the full image on its own. And the Strangers issue has a wraparound cover to do the same.

As we’re getting a bit deeper into the series, there’s just enough space between this and the first issue that it’s going to get very repetitive and potentially impractical to "just" say "get ’em all" rather than grabbing this issue by itself. However, I definitely strongly recommend getting the Strangers #4 along with this to have both parts, rather than this issue alone. Still, this issue can work somewhat on its own…but you’ll be left with an unresolved cliffhanger if you grab this in isolation.

I enjoyed this, and look forward to the second part of the story in Strangers #4, even as I truly can’t think who the mystery figure on the last page is (though I imagine I might wind up kicking myself for not realizing). This issue is definitely worth at least 25-50 cents to buy and read, and is best paired with The Strangers #4.

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Ultraverse Revisited: Early House Ads August 1993

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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.

ultrafiles_august1993a

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.

ultrafiles_august1993b

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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Ultraverse Revisited: Hardcase #3

ultraverse_revisited

hardcase_0003Hard Decisions

Writer: James Hudnall
Penciller: Jim Callahan
Inker: Rodney Ramos
Letterer: Tim Eldred
Color Designer: Moose Baumann
Editors: Chris Ulm, Hank Kanalz
Published by: Malibu Comics
Cover Date: August 1993
Cover Price: $1.95

This is another "new" issue to me, that to the best of my recollection I have never before read. As such, I’m continuing to rather enjoy the building of the earliest part of the Ultraverse, and at three issues in, beginning to get a bit more of an appreciation of the world of this one title at least.

First off, I noticed that we’re back to Jim Callahan art, which is a welcome refresher after the "studio art" we had for the second issue. Having Callahan‘s work again brings us back around to the first issue in visual familiarity/continuity, making this feel like a more "authentic" issue of the title, based on first impressions from that first issue.

The issue’s story opens with the Choice Corporation (Choice the character being their public spokesmodel) as we get a glimpse into the recent past, and then the top men of the corporation are trying to figure out how to get her back/neutralize her…and we have a bit of a reminder of "The Man Who Isn’t A Man" existing (and truthfully, I’d forgotten about him entirely in context of this title); TMWIAM sends his group of assassins/enforcers "The Omega Team" in to try to deal with Hardcase and collect Choice. Meanwhile, Hardcase and Choice speak with a Detective Chuck Brown–I believe he’s the brother of the police officer that was killed in the first issue…showing that that character wasn’t just a throw-away to "guilt" Hardcase, but something for lasting connection and repercussions. We also get the development than apparently Choice is able to be frank with Hardcase, but talking to anyone else, her "conditioning" kicks in and she denies any and all notion of impropriety regarding the Choice Corporation and any of their actions. Hardcase takes her to a beach to get away so he can get more information out of her, when Gun Nut, Trouble, and The Needler (The Omega Team) attack. Most of the rest of the issue is their fight; three against two. When the Omegas are down, a camera crew catches up, asking Hardcase about the fight, and Choice chimes in blaming them on a rival corporation (despite knowing the Choice Corporation had sent them, after HER). Back in the offices of the Choice Corporation, The Man Who Isn’t A Man assumes control of "cleanup" of the situation, and Hardcase and Choice get back to his house…and find The Strangers waiting for them!

In pulling issues for Months 3 and 4, I was reminded of the Hardcase/Strangers crossover in the #4s, but was somewhat surprised to have this issue actually end on the Strangers showing up–I’d "assumed" they’d show up partway into the next issue, and the story would then cross into their title; or vice-versa of Hardcase showing up partway into their issue and then everyone follow over into Hardcase. But I think I do like this better than my assumption…as even without recalling/knowing of the "crossover," just having them show up here at the end of #3 kinda mirrors the ending of Prime #3, with the third issues leading into the shared world of the Ultraverse at large, where the first couple issues of each title pretty much stuck to themselves.

This issue continued the situation of folks being after Choice, and Hardcase being involved. The fight sequence seems a bit long-ish, but when we have 26 story pages, that makes it less problematic to me, as it keeps the fight-to-other-stuff ratio lower for the issue itself.

Another good issue that leaves me curious about where things go and thus looking forward to the next issue!

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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: Hardcase #1

ultraverse_revisited

hardcase_0001Winners Never Quit

Writer: James Hudnall
Penciller: Jim Callahan
Inker: Norm Breyfogle
Letterer: Tim Eldred
Color Designer: Paul Mounts
Editor: Chris Ulm
Published by: Malibu Comics
Cover Date: June 1993
Cover Price: $1.95

Based solely on memory/nostalgia, even though some part of me recalls Strangers #1 as the first Ultraverse book released, it’s the one I least look forward to (re)reading, putting both Prime and Hardcase ahead of it. When I caught myself reading Hardcase #1 this time through, I was slowing myself down "hearing" the voices from the audio version that I finally gave up and pulled that up on Youtube to have the audio, as I read along WITH it with the comic itself.

For this time through the issue, I felt like–as with Prime #1–this really exemplified the ’90s for me. Often, folks point to Image for the ’90s visuals, but as I largely embraced the Ultraverse line over Image, the Ultraverse visuals are imprinted on my own memory and personal "picture" of what a "’90s comic" was.

The issue opens a year or so ago on a bloody battle between a group of ultra-humans called The Squad…and the battle is nearly over. We get things from Hardcase’s point of view. He’s injured, and he’d thought he couldn’t BE injured, certainly not this way. His team is down, and he is just able to get Starburst out of the vicinity of the creature that took the team apart before DJ Blast expends all of his remaining explosive energy at once–the final flash in the pan of the team. Hardcase and Starburst survive, DJ Blast and Forsa are dead…but Hardcase is the only "real" survivor, with Starburst in a coma she may never emerge from. Catching up to the present, Hardcase–Tom Hawke–has retired from the superhero gig and become an actor…though he plays "himself" as a super-hero for the camera. We get a sort of slice of life of that life for him before he finds himself pulled back into action, though it proves too late for a police officer he’d been talking with. Hardcase finds himself in mortal combat with another ultra-human, and lashes out desperately, overwhelmed with guilt and memory of his last encounter with an ultra. Ultimately, he wins his fight, and realizes that he can’t hide behind an acting gig, but has to do "the real thing," so he announces to the world that he’s back. Meanwhile, we get a cryptic scene of some player behind the scenes that has apparently had an extremely long involvement with the direction of events on Earth, and that now with Hardcase back, other ultras emerging around the planet…something must be done!

Somehow, I have it in my head that Hardcase was to be the "Superman" of the Ultraverse…though that could just be the cover, of him throwing a car, given the cover of Action Comics #1 introducing Superman with a car lifted above his head, smashing it against a boulder. And in a way, he was. Hardcase is largely invulnerable to normal stuff…but can still be badly injured. He has heightened senses, though he’s not omniscient. He can’t fly–but he can leap long distances. Etc. Different costume, different attitude/portrayal, but very much a similar power set to the original iteration of Superman.

That he’s introduced at the end of his time with The Squad–we see the team at its nadir, taken down by NM-E (a large, bulky techno-organic creature very much resembling the Xenomorph from the Alien franchise). As such, we’re plunged into a character’s world with an immediate backstory, more strongly hinted at than shown, but it immediately grounds the character, and puts him in a sort of "senior class" over other characters that we’re about to be introduced to. He’s part of an "earlier wave" of ultras, having been on the scene a at least a year BEFORE the emergence of Prime on the scene, or the Strangers, the Freex, Mantra, Prototype, etc. He’s had his initial journey, his crisis of faith, and now a new inciting incident thrusting him back into the world of the superheroes…though this new phase of his life is a fresh start, fitting of a #1 issue.

There’s something to the art of the issue that sits slightly askew to me. It’s not bad by any means, but there’s something slightly "off" to it, and it definitely doesn’t look quite so "refined" as many comics I’m used to reading in 2018, created and published in 2018. Of course, there’s a quarter-century difference in time, and this issue’s art and story are rooted very much in 1993. As said, the overall visuals really embody "the ’90s" to me, as do the character designs.

Story-wise, it’s interesting to get the character with all this sort of built-in backstory, conveyed in so few pages. By "modern" standards, the ground covered by this issue would surely be at least a six-issue opening arc of a series. We’re left with plenty of questions and potentials out of this issue; lacking in-depth concrete details of The Squad and such, and it’s rather choppy going from the NM-E battle to news to Hardcase acting a year later, a sort of clichéd interaction with a cop, to a convenient attack of another ultra…but it is a lot of detail crammed into a single issue, setting up the character’s past, present, and future, world-building, and generally serving as the sort of #1 issue I much prefer. It may not quite be a "contained" story, but it sort of gives three stories at the same time; it introduces a lot, and leaves plenty to be expanded on in upcoming issues.

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Ultraverse Revisited: Early House Ads

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Here are several early "house ads" for the first few Ultraverse titles, plus the "Ultratorials" from Prime, Hardcase, and The Strangers #1s.

ads_0001_prime

For me, one of the most noticeable differences from ad to print with Prime was the title logo–the lower portion was removed, and the cover of the first issue features only the full, heroic Prime–not the two-stage transformative part next to it.

The text description sorta fits what I remember, in the "hype" sense, but doesn’t feel entirely accurate on the first issue in particular.

ads_0001_strangers

This Strangers ad is the image for the first issue’s cover, and offhand seems like what was printed, albeit with some different coloring, perhaps. And with Malibu‘s coloring department (long-rumoured to have been why Marvel bought the company) it makes plenty of sense to me offhand that that would make for some simple changes, and the coloring (of the background) can make an image look at once familiar yet suitably different like this.

The text definitely fits, though sorta "gives away" the "lost city" bit…but had you asked me before looking at/reading this ad, I would have been able to tell you essentially the rest of it, just not "…with a sorceress from a lost city…"

ads_0001_hardcase

I feel like Hardcase was another logo that changed between ad and print, with a more "basic" and bigger/blockier design. This logo is familiar enough that I want to say it got used on later issues of the series.

This image is completely different from the first issue’s cover, though 25 years later, this would simply be a case of "I didn’t get the variant cover." I like the image in terms of the ad, but it would seem rather boring and "off" to me for what I recall of the first issue itself.

The text piece mostly gives the premise of the series, but I wonder (now) about the timing of stuff for what I recall of the character only having a year "off" from super heroics–is that really time to build a huge film career?

ads_0001_freex

I like this Freex ad–it’s the image I associate with the first issue, and I think I even have a poster of this. I prefer the text being part of the image, rather than a Microsoft Word "text box" dropped onto the image…it feels a lot more dynamic…and memorable!

I do notice a small "text box" but even that seems a bit fancier than the first three ads, and actually does NOT stand out so much. "Life’s tough when you’re a super-power freak."

ads_0001_mantra

Mantra is another where the image from the first issue’s cover is used, which I definitely like!

The text box seems a bit much, with two ‘paragraphs’ of premise given…it makes it look a bit more complicated. Of course, I like that this info is provided, as it beats the heck outta just simply giving the image and saying "blindly buy me!" It also somewhat spoils developments in the first couple issues, and as I recall, technically "spoils" the first issue’s cliffhanger.

Additionally, for a "solo title," the cover makes it look like a bit of a team-up book, with Mantra and Warstrike fighting together, and possibly for the shadowy guy in the background (the villain Boneyard). The main character is the smallest figure on the image!

ultrafiles_prime0001

Here’s the "Ultrafiles" page from Prime #1. While I the first part is the same across the several issues, the latter part is changed up to fit the specific issue, with small quotes from the creators of the specific issue.

ultrafiles_hardcase0001

Here’s the page from Hardcase #1…

ultrafiles_strangers0001

…and here’s the page from Strangers #1.

Though I’ve been almost certain that Strangers had been the first of the titles out (granted, this was 25 years ago and I was a 12-year-old kid at the time), that its page showed the covers of the next month’s new #1s has me slightly doubtful.

Regardless, I appreciate that these pages were changed to fit the specific issue–they were not just a one-size-fits-all static thing inserted into each issue.

This is also from a time when the "primary" cover was what was marketed–not the variants. Variants existed–specifically full-cover holographic covers, and versions with silver foil logos–but they were not the marketed versions. They were special "additional" versions! The hologram images I’ve come to learn were actually different from the printed art; but the foil editions are the same exact cover, just with the bulk of the logo as silver foil. The hologram covers are extremely distinctive–you’d know EXACTLY what you’re looking at to see one; and otherwise, the marketing (like these pages and most of the house ads) show you exactly the cover image you’re looking for, on whichever series!

Two and one half decades later, and going through back-issue bins, one can immediately tell what issues are what and the (series) reading order and all that.

ultraverse_early_house_ads_blogtrailer

Bargain Bin Haul – Week of July 23rd, 2014

Along with this week’s huge new issues haul, I also bought quite a few quarter-bin issues.

I picked up a number of Vampire comics for a friend, as well as most of the Call of Duty minis from Marvel from 2002 or so (The Precinct, The Wagon, The Brotherhood) for another friend.

quarter_bin_ultraverse_1

I was pleasantly surprised to find copies of the Ultraverse Premiere issues of Hardcase and Night Man, as I want duplicates so I can file Ultraverse Premiere as its own thing in my Ultraverse collection rather than having the series only dispersed as the flipbooks to all the others. I also snagged Night Man 22, and since the Hardcase issue was part 1 of the 3-part NM-E rematch, I picked those issues up as well.

quarter_bin_superman_1

I love the cover of Man of Tomorrow #1, and much prefer this “newsstand edition” cover to the Wedding Album. And for a mere 25 cents I wasn’t about to leave Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow there.

quarter_bin_superman_2

I was rather surprised to find this first-print newsstand edition copy of Superman #75 still there, so snagged it, as I’ve made it a point to snag all first print copies of the issue I come across in 25-cent bins. Wasn’t til I got it out at home that I noticed the huge crease down the center like the issue was folded in half–perhaps this had been a subscription copy where the postal delivery person folded it around envelopes when sticking it into a box. I’m also a sucker for chromium covers, so snagged yet another copy of Superman 82; and since they were there, snagged #100 and Adventures of Superman #505 for the shiny cover.

All in all a very satisfying bargain bin haul!

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