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Ultraverse Revisited: Sludge #1

ultraverse_revisited

sludge_0001You Can Take the Cop Out of the Sewer…

Writer: Steve Gerber
Penciller: Aaron Lopresti
Inker: Gary Martin
Letterer: Patrick Owsley
Color Design: Paul Mounts
Interior Colorists: Violent Hues
Editor: Chris Ulm
Published by: Malibu Comics
Cover Date: October 1993
Cover Price: $2.50

I’ve been looking forward to the Rune Month stuff for awhile. I have some clear memories of getting issues from that month, concertedly tracking down all 11 coupons to get the Rune #0 issue (which also fed into getting the main Rune title, and Rune being one of my three "core titles" I stuck with…even leading to the only fanfic stuff I’ve ever written over half a lifetime ago.)

The extreme close-up of Sludge’s face as the cover has long been an "iconic" sort of image for me, and yet another singular issue (albeit another #1, too!) with a single, memorable cover that is instantly recognizable and stands out.

As the issue opens, we see things from the creature’s point of view–It’s in the sewer, watching a group of homeless, listening to a radio. On the radio, the host talks about a missing cop and the suspicious circumstances behind his disappearance. As the broadcast continues, our point of view shifts a couple times, to include the gang members that had something to do with the cop…as they head out and shoot more people. The creature hears the gunfire and gets involved. Despite their surprise at the creature, they seem to overcome it, preparing to leave it for dead before realizing it’s not so easily killed! We get internal dialogue from the creature–who struggles to recall the proper words, and its frustration grows the more this happens…and the frustration’s taken out on the gang members. The creature also seems to have the ability to melt/mold flesh–grabbing one kid’s face, and "melting" it to a blob of skin, with no way to inhale or exhale…a gruesome way to die, but perhaps deservedly for the innocents killed shortly before. We move into a flashback and see that this creature IS the missing cop, who wasn’t exactly squeaky-clean…but drew a line at killing people. For this, he himself is shot up–certain overkill–and the still-living body dumped in a sewer, where it contacts some sort of chemical, and mutates the body into a walking pile of–you guessed it–SLUDGE. Back in the present, police find the gang members’ bodies and speculate what could have killed them–while back in the sewer, the creature finds and crushes the radio, stating that he can’t stand the host. As he leaves, a couple of the homeless comment on the creature being a walking sludge heap–or "Santy Claus."

This issue’s story is pretty familiar to me, compared to some of the other Ultraverse books. I definitely remember getting AND reading this when it came out. I don’t remember any further issues, but I clearly recall the creature’s stumbling over words and his frustration at that. The story is rather formulaic, and the creature reminds me very much of the very-little I know about Marvel‘s Man-Thing (itself with a significant run by Gerber!), and by comparison there to DC‘s Swamp Thing. In some ways, this seems like it could be a darker take on a Ninja Turtles character–someone injured, dumped into a sewer, where they contact a strange chemical and mutate into some creature and then take on a new mission to fight crime/do good/whatever. I think that familiarity of elements kept the character from seeming as gruesome to me as a kid, and I don’t remember being bothered by him killing people…I probably just didn’t think much on that at the time.

The art’s pretty good, and I like it. The creature looks like a "creature" made of sludge, and the people look like people. The story is easy to follow visually, and the visuals do a good job conveying everything as expected. The page layouts vary quite a bit, and work well conveying mood and tone. While a couple pages are primarily a single image/panel, others have a lot crammed into them, making for a good mix that does NOT feel like there’s any "cheating" going on. One panel/page showing the creature smashing a car while yelling "Pull over!" stands out to me in particular–and I hear the "Get over here!" voice from the Scorpion character in the original Mortal Kombat video game.

Sludge is the actual series and main content of this issue; but it has a "flipbook" segment where you literally "flip" the book over to see a different cover and read some content from that direction–it appears upside down and out of order if you continue linearly from the front/main Sludge cover.

rune_0aRune [A]: The Prophecy

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

The flip-cover to Sludge #1 features a closeup of an open vampire-mouth, with a translucent Rune logo, the letter "A" indicating this as the first chapter, and the text "The Stones are cast…"

We get a title page with the Rune logo, and the story title, creator credits, and an outline of the Rune creature, as well as an explanation that each of the 11 October titles contain a chapter of Rune, and that 9 of the 11 flip covers combine to form one large poster image–and we get a white background/black silhouette showing that. The next page tells us a bit about Rune, with a Barry Windsor-Smith image of the creature.

As the story itself begins, we see bloody hands with long nails casting multi-colored gems toward a floor. Moving to the second and third pages, we see the creature contemplating the gems–with markings (runes) on them, and determines that there is a power that will restore him…Rune shall live!

It’s hard to really talk much about only 3 pages, especially just the first three pages of a story. We have text telling us about the creature, and now we see the creature…but there’s just not much STORY to the pages. It reads much better as part of a larger whole…but on its own, this seems rather negligible. Visually, this is distinctively BWS art…perhaps distinctive because I recall this story, but also the similarity in visual style to the likes of Marvel‘s Weapon X and classic ’90s Valiant/X-O Manowar stuff I’m familiar with. It’s definitely unique enough to set this off as its own thing, and make Rune visually distinctive. This is clearly the character previously advertised.

This feels more like an "ad" than much else–and given the Night Man "preview" has a full text page AND 3 story pages out of context, it sorta negates the specialness to this premiere of Rune.


Especially as I’m reading this issue in 2018, the $2.50 cover price doesn’t phase me when virtually every comic out there is now $3.99, with only a few minor exceptions at $2.99. The issue itself–Sludge–has 25 numbered story pages. The cover claims this is a 40-page special…so we fall some 15 pages short of that! But add in 3 story-pages of Rune, and the two pages introducing those story pages and we’re up to 30. Further factor the Night Man preview (if that’s content) and we’re up to 34; a Mighty Magnor 1-page piece takes us to 35; the Rune #0 coupon stuff nudges us to 39 pages…so it’s iffy. But in 2018 and this being essentially a definite 25-cent book, max of $1ish…it’s more than worth that sort of price, whether 20 pages or the stated 40. And the 40 probably counts the main ads and such, so…it’s accurate. It doesn’t say 40 story pages, after all.

The Rune portion feels like little more than an ad–as said above, there’s a Night Man preview that has just as many "story pages" with about as much (if not MORE) context…so this could just as easily been a Night Man flip book with a several-page Rune "preview" and been functionally the same content between the covers.

Still, this having been designated "Rune Month" (I believe that was the thing back in the day, as it’s stuck with me all these years somehow) it at least makes for a "theme" that is carried across all the books, unifying them. And rather than just the same 3 pages over and over again in all 11 books, each has 3 unique pages that combined make up a prologue issue ahead of an ongoing series in a way that I doubt we’d see in 2018 from any major publisher.

As with other Ultraverse #1 issues, this is certainly worthwhile in itself as a single issue to check things out. I’ve seen this and many of these other early Ultra-titles in 25-cent and 50-cent bins, so I wouldn’t suggest paying more than $1 or so if you can help it. If you like Steve Gerber’s work, you’ll probably like this; if you like Lopresti‘s art, same deal. And though there are the comparisons to make to other publishers’ characters, this is a unique character so far for the Ultraverse itself, and worth checking out just because. This stands alone pretty well–and remains (thus far) the only issue of the series I know I’ve actually read, so there’s that as well.

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Ultraverse Revisited: Early House Ads September 1993

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With the September 1993 Ultraverse books, we have our largest month yet for house ads…with the largest house ad yet in Firearm #0!

Firearm #0 4-page ad:

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It’s interesting to see four pages per (most issues) dedicated to this. Rather than just a one-page piece advertising this video/comic combo pack, we have an opening page, a double-page spread, and a closing page, introducing us to this concept of a live-action video where the story starts in the video and concludes in a comic book! This was one of many interesting multi-media things Malibu did for the Ultraverse line, and to my knowledge remains a one-of-a-kind thing!


ultraverse_ads_flood_relief

I’d forgotten how early on this Flood Relief issue came about. For a donation to the American Red Cross, one could get a special edition comic book featuring the Ultraverse. An interesting fundraising device. I have no idea how well it did, or how ‘limited’ it actually was. Offhand, this would be the second "mail-away for a limited-edition Ultraverse comic" promotion from Malibu.

ultraverse_ads_solution0001

Where it seems all the other titles got ads ahead of time, I had noted for the August 1993 house ads that there’d been no ad for The Solution before its first issue was out. Instead of a "coming in September" we got an ad for it in September with the "On Sale Now!" note.

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I believe this is the first full-page ad for a title that is not a #1 issue. We had the split-page ad for several of the continuing titles, but this seems to be the first full-page ad. In this case, for Hardcase #5, coming in October 1993, part of the Rune Month stuff. Here the ad is just for the title but I recognize the cover image from the fifth issue!

ultraverse_ads_nightman0001

The Night Man is a new title that debuts with the October 1993 titles. I’ve always been a fan of this cover and its coloring. That I can say that based on this ad is–as I’ve noted with previous such reflections–one of the things I really, really like with the ads. They are the cover image of the first issues, so you know exactly what you’re looking for! No arbitrary image to get confused over when there are several other images on issues when you just want THE first issue. This use of the cover images also helps make them that much more memorable and recognizable, and thus "iconic" in a way that publishers in 2018 seem to despise.

ultraverse_ads_sludge0001

However, while I say that above about Night Man, this image of Sludge actually is not the first issue’s cover image–whether it was a last-second change or something else, I don’t know. Perhaps for nearly 25 years of knowing the actual cover, I think I prefer the actual cover of #1 to this…though this image gives a bit more to go on with the character, as the cover to #1 is an extreme close-up of Sludge’s face; here we see more of the (shadowed) body. But combine this ad with the actual cover, and there’s a bit more of an idea what one’s dealing with before ever getting past the cover of #1!

ultraverse_ads_solitaire0001

Finally, getting a bit ahead of things, we have this Solitaire ad for November, giving us a look beyond "just" the very next month. Of course, we already had that with the Rune ad previously, that basically only told us the character was coming (and in September 1993, Rune #1 was still some four months away!). There’s no mention in this ad of the polybagged-with-a-playing-card promo that would come with the first issue of Solitaire…I don’t recall if there ever was any mention of it outside of something like Wizard or Hero Illustrated.


As I’ve mentioned several times recently…next, I’ll be getting into the October 1993 Ultraverse issues–"Rune Month!" Each issue has a flip-cover and several extra pages. The short segments collectively make up a #0-issue for Rune, and by collecting all 11 coupons and mailing away, you could receive a standalone edition of Rune #0 as a single-issue (plus a poster, some other goodies…and also a #0-issue for The Solution!)

More on that at the end of covering the October books!

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Recent Acquisitions: Older Books

Along with the various “free” comics I picked up on Free Comic Day, I also snagged a couple other bargains: a fresh copy of the Superman Tribute issue from Wizard that came out after The Death of Superman stuff; a hardcover The Trial of Captain America, and most surprising of all (to me) a $5 copy of Solar, Man of the Atom: Alpha and Omega still in the original bag with a poster! (originally cover-priced $10 on initial release back in 1994). The Captain America book was also $5, and the Wizard issue was a mere 25-cents.

FCBDnonfreebooksI’d also found myself that Saturday revisiting eBay, checking on the current pricing of the Ultimates 2 hardcover. I’d snagged the first hardcover in early May last year, paying a bit of an unwelcome “premium” for it including shipping, on the expectation that its price would skyrocket with the Avengers movie as “everyone” would want the darned thing. I wound up getting Ultimates 2 (also out of print like Ultimates) including shipping for well under cover price, giving me the two-volume set I’ve wanted to have for years.

ultimatesHaving managed to track down the Ultimates 2 volume, I turned my attention to tracking down the Ultimate Galactus Trilogy hardcover. I’d first seen it at a Books-A-Million a number of years ago while visiting with a friend, and I passed on a $17 copy several years ago at Kenmore. Managed to get this copy, including shipping for under $14.

ultimategalactusandvaliantmastersI also have meant to get the Valiant Masters hardcover edition of Bloodshot since about the time the book came out last year. I wound up finding both it and the Ninjak volume, and got both–including shipping–for little more than cover price of either of the single volumes.

ultimategalactusandvaliantmastersstacked Continue reading

Mission: Ultraverse Revisited

ultraversespreadA few weeks ago, a Facebook group I had joined some years back–for the long-dead comics universe, the Ultraverse–suddenly exploded into activity. It’s been stirring my interest back up in the Ultraverse comics. I already had a stack of PRIME issues on a shelf, waiting for a re-reading project I’ve had in mind for over a year.

In addition, this past weekend I snagged a handful of Ultraverse comics from quarter bins at a couple different comic shops.

Monday night, I decided to take a peek in my “most accessible” longbox, and lo! Ultraverse comics! So I pulled the Ultraverse comics, and decided to look at the next box. Then the two shortboxes.

Amazingly, I found QUITE the mix of Ultraverse comics in just 3 longboxes and 2 shortboxes.

ultraversepilesSeems that without particularly realizing it, I’ve actually been grabbing a number of Ultraverse comics the last few years from various bargain bins and such sales. I even found that I’ve got the Black September: Infinity issue, as well as the Ultraverse: Future Shock. And turns out the that special PRIME issue I picked up a couple years back for $1 at a used media store is one of those Limited-5,000 editions.

So, now have a mission before me: to dig through all the longboxes I have in this apartment, to pull together whatever Ultraverse comics I have. From there, see what’s out there that I’m missing, and begin very specifically hunting these things down.

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