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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: 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: Strangers #3

ultraverse_revisited

strangers_0003TNTNT!

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

Three issues in, and we get introduced to a villainous team for our Strangers team to face–TNTNT!

As the issue opens, we get an introduction to the villains of TNTNT, by way of simultaneous fighting and chattering, as they introduce themselves to the Strangers as each fights a Stranger. Tyrannosaur, Naiad, Torso, Neu-Ronne, and Tugun. Get it? TNTNT. We have some choppiness, between seeing parts of the fight and the aftermath of the Strangers (victorious) getting costumes made and such. Then we get another bit with the old man we’ve seen at the ends of issues, as his cancer reveals it’s actually a villain and he’ll never be healed. There’s also a quick check-in with J.D. Hunt, before we get back to the Strangers, who’ve gone to Hardcase’s place and are there waiting for him when he and Choice get there (see also: Hardcase #3!)

The art on this issue’s not bad, but doesn’t blow me away. It has the "look" and "feel" of the Strangers for me, and definitely has a ’90s vibe. The story is a bit choppy, and whether it’s lack of story elements (such as a caption denoting time) or the way the art is, I actually thought my reading copy of this issue had been misprinted and that pages were out of order. I eventually caught on to what was being done, but considering I’ve been reading comics for nearly 30 years, I don’t feel I should be so thrown by an issue or unable to catch on FASTER.

The story itself isn’t all that bad…this gives us a villain team for the Strangers to fight; obviously if you have a whole team of super-powered heroes, just a lone villain shouldn’t be a match, so having a whole team of super-powered villains works. The way everyone talked in-battle, and the way the TNTNT members introduced themselves felt cheesy as heck to me, and not exactly in a good way. Zip-Zap gets a bit of a subplot, with a bigger range to get away from the battle proper and discovering some suits watching the group; and even gets himself shot/drugged for his trouble. Confusing (and frustratingly so) as the issue could be structurally, I definitely do relish the inclusion of subplots; and whatever complaints I have, there’s a bit of nostalgia in the "old style" of focusing on team members individually in a battle that–were it to happen in real life–would absolutely not be one in which characters could interact as they’re shown here to do.

I wasn’t overly thrilled with this issue, but I’m still curious where things go, and looking forward to the Strangers/Hardcase crossover. I’m hoping that where I’m not terribly engaged with the Strangers as they’ve been thus far, I’ll enjoy them more once I see them interacting with the Ultraverse world as a whole.

This is only a 3rd issue, and Ultraverse issues not being terribly expensive–period–I would recommend getting issues 1 and 2 along with this, as this would seem more of a mess as an isolated issue. And there’s no real reason to read this in isolation without the first couple issues!

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Ultraverse Revisited: Strangers #2

ultraverse_revisited

strangers_0002Hey! Hugh! Get Off’a McCloud!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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