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Ultraverse Revisited: Hardcase #4

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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.

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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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The Web #1 [Review]

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Quick Rating: Solid
Story Title: Spinning the Future; Bad Men

The Web works on tracking down his brother’s killers; Hangman is further fleshed out with a status quo beyond the origin from his one-shot.

web001Writer: Angela Robinson
Penciller: Roger Robinson
Inker: Hilary Barta
Colorist: Guy Major
Letterer: Travis Lanham
Editor: Rachel Gluckstern
Cover: Stanley Lau
Publisher: DC Comics

I’m not used to starting fresh with characters I’ve never interacted with before. With Spawn, I’d read a couple issues back in the 90s, saw a couple episodes of the HBO animated series, read an annual in college, and of course, saw the live-action film. With Invincible (which I started reading recently) I’d read the first trade and the zero issue prior to jumping onboard. Even the Milestone characters I have some passing familiarity with from their original run, Static’s appearance in the DC Animated Universe, and a book I’d read in college about the entire line.

All that said: after reading this issue, I’m not all that interested in The Web. Or rather, the character has potential and it’s cool to "get in at the ground floor" for the reading/discovery experience of the character. But the story doesn’t really grab me in a way that leaves me specifically looking forward to the next issue.

This issue follows on the heels of the one-shot, picking up with the hunt for David’s (brother of John–the Web) killers. We get a flashback to events of the one-shot, and also see the reading of David’s will where he leaves a pair of dice and a gun to John–and a request to protect April (a friend of the brothers). Pondering the meaning of the dice and recalling their history with April, the Web goes back into action to find the killers, and winds up with more than he bargained for.

The story itself is not bad in and of itself. It just feels rather cliched, and though we’re left with a couple of cliffhanger points meant to draw us in, something about it just doesn’t work for me. It’s one of those things like some tv shows–I don’t care to follow it particularly, but won’t necessarily go out of my way to avoid, either.
The art is pretty good and I have no complaint there. I don’t really have any preconceived notion as to how characters should appear, and as I’m still trying to remember who is who, care more that there’s both a difference in characters and a consistency in that difference…and that’s pulled off here overall.

The Hangman
Writer: John Rozum
Layouts: Tom Derenick
Inker: Bill Sienkiewicz
Colorist: Guy Major
Letterer: Travis Lanham
Editor: Rachel Gluckstern

Unlike the main feature, something about The Hangman pulls me in. I’m reminded both of a character from Astro City, and The Spectre as I read this feature…and to be honest, I liked it. There’s a brief scene set in the past of the character, and then most of the scene is spent in the present, continuing to build the character. My main take-away from the one-shot was that the guy can be shot and such–the bullets don’t penetrate the skin, but he still feels them and bruises and all that, which was an interesting concept.

Here we see the Hangman in action, confronting various criminals, giving them a taste–but not the full meal–of death for their sins, cutting them loose with the warning that this WAS their only warning and if they act out again, they WILL know death. We’re given more info about the change between the Hangman and his human self, and shown what his life is during the day (as well as given the fact that he doesn’t need to sleep, and any injuries, damage, and even clothing are refreshed from each transformation).

There’s no particular throughline exactly for this chapter, it’s basically all stage-setting and informing the reader through a slice-of-life look at Hangman’s life what he’s all about and presumably getting us geared up for more plot-driven story now that we’ve some real idea of his status quo (having gotten the origin in the one-shot last month).

I definitely preferred this feature to the main, and it is the Hangman’s story that will keep me interested in where things go for this title.

This issue as a whole isn’t all that bad. You definitely need to have read the one-shots to have solid context for what’s going on in this issue–The Web moreso than The Hangman–but you’re given exposition in both to figure out a bit of what happened prior to these stories. I find myself doubting the legs on these characters, unfortunately…and wonder if they might have been better extra features for other books.

If you’ve interest in the characters specifically, I don’t think this issue is bad at all. In terms of just checking things out, I’m not particularly impressed. The Hangman’s feature on top of the Web’s makes the issue worth picking up to check out, but I don’t recommend going in with any expectation of being blown away by what you read.

Ratings:

The Web
Story: 3/5
Art: 3/5

The Hangman
Story: 4/5
Art: 3/5

Overall: 3/5

Doctor Solar, Man of the Atom #2 [Review]

Full review posted to cxPulp.com.

Story: 3.5/5
Art: 4/5
Overall: 4/5

The Web #1 [Review]

Full review posted to comixtreme.com.

The Web
Story: 3/5
Art: 3/5

The Hangman
Story: 4/5
Art: 3/5

Overall: 3/5

Red Circle: The Web #1 [Review]

Full review posted to comixtreme.com.

Story: 4/5
Art: 3.5/5
Overall: 3.5/5

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