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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: The Solution #1

ultraverse_revisited

solution_0001The Problem

Writer: James Hudnall
Penciller: Darick Robertson
Inker: John Lowe
Letterer: Tim Eldred
Editor: Hank Kanalz
Color Design: Keith Conroy, Tim Divar
Interior Color: The ‘Bu Tones
Special Thanks to: Brandon McKinney, Mike S. Miller
Published by: Malibu Comics
Cover Date: September 1993
Cover Price: $1.95

This is definitely an issue I know I have not read before…in fact, I’m honestly not sure that I’ve read any issues of this series–I’ve only been "aware of" it, and perhaps read the several-page Rune segment that would have been a flipbook on one of the issues. I do not remember having this issue initially, or even seeing it when it first came out.

We open on someone just before he’s killed…this is our introduction to a huge, hulking Ultra named Meathook. Then we’re introduced to a much more graceful Ultra with finesse (and a sword) in Deathdance. We’re quickly introduced to a teleporting member of this group called Gate…and then a fourth–Book. Having killed all the guards at this base, they steal a bunch of nukes, which leaves the former owners–Russians–none too happy. Later, the Russians speak to contacts at a group called Aladdin, and are referred to yet another group called The Solution. The scene shifts and we’re introduced to more souped up ’90s-style henchmen for hire, protecting a drug shipment. As they’re ambushed by none other than The Solution, we meet Incoming, Dropkick, Shadowmage, and leader Tech (Lela Cho). After defeating Black Tiger, the Solution heads back to one of their secret bases to decompress, and Tech reflects on all that’s happened in barely six months. Another member of the group–Outrage–shows off by smashing, to the amusement of the others. As they begin looking into the Russian nukes situation, Shadowmage uses her magic to let them spy on the perpetrators…but she’s "sensed" by them, and her surprise leads to our cliffhanger, and the Solution might be in trouble.

From the cover itself, I really enjoyed this issue! There’s something to the cover–perhaps the colors involved, with the shades of purple, blue, pink, and white on an orangey background–that just really works for me. And of course, it’s a typical ’90s shot of a group rushing at the viewer, the leader shooting ahead. I imagine another factor for this standing out to me is–as generally tends to be the case on all these early Ultraverse books–this is the only cover I’ve known for The Solution #1.

The interior art is quite striking, albeit strongly conveying the general ’90s vibe that I’m realizing–or re-realizing–I picked up on as a kid more than I realized. It’s sort of interesting to me seeing Darick Robertson as the penciller, as (offhand) I really only know his name from his Transmetropolitan work. Seeing it here is cool, and I really like the visual style. Though a bit gratuitous, there’s a panel of Tech in the shower while the Solution is at their base that stood out more than the scene in Mantra #1 where Lukasz wakes up in Eden Blake’s body. Given the way the Mantra scene stuck with me as a kid, the fact I don’t remember this instance from back then is how I know I never read this as a kid.

On the story side, this issue moves at a pretty fast pace. By modern (2018) sensibilities, it’s way too fast and leaves far too much unsaid and is rather choppy, leaping from one thing to the next. But this is from 1993, and frankly…I really dig the pace. This is "only" a first issue, and it introduces us to all sorts of characters–essentially two teams of villains along with the protagonists making up the titular team, and still other characters. There’s even plenty of room for violence and blood, which is a bit on the messy side but in ’90s shorthand shows off just how "bad-ass" the villains are and how good the Solution is in being able to take them on at all, let alone have victory.

In the modern lens, this would easily cover 3-5 issues…that we get it all crammed into one makes for a jam-packed first issue that is well worth its cover price even now, despite being something I’d typically associate solely as yet another quarter-book.

This is my first real look outside of the initial "core" of Ultraverse titles, and though it might not fly with me if it were new in 2018, I definitely like it as something from 25 years ago. Running with my usual, this issue is absolutely worthwhile if found in a cheapo-bin; easily up to $1. If you dig the art alone, this could even be worthwhile for a bit more. While I know I’ve seen many of the other Ultraverse #1s in bargain bins…I think this is the first I’ve gotten to that I have NOT. Perhaps it is just "that good" that fewer people have gotten rid of it; perhaps it had a smaller print run; I don’t know.

I’m looking forward to getting into the next issue and seeing where things go, and hopefully better associating character names with actual characters.

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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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