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Ultraverse Revisited: Sludge #2

ultraverse_revisited

sludge_0002Because They Pay Me

Writer: Steve Gerber
Penciller: Aaron Lopresti
Inker: Gary Martin
Letters: Patrick Owsley
Color Design: Robert Alvord
Interior Colorists: Violent Hues
Editor: Chris Ulm
Cover Date: November 1993
Cover Price: $1.95

It feels like ages since I read Sludge #1–though it hasn’t been THAT long. I remember vague details but not character names and such. Even the main character, I "only" remember as "Sludge," though I remember he was a dirty cop who maintained certain principles and was shot up for it.

In that regard, this issue felt like "another episode" if not "THE next episode" of stuff, comparing this to a tv series.

We have a cold open on an inner monologue, someone who was bullied as a kid. We come to see that the kid has grown up and become a mercenary…his "defenses" and "coping mechanism" to deal with the bullying led him to this position…and he’s good at his job, enjoying dishing out the killing. Meanwhile, a couple thugs are pressuring someone to pay up on a debt, and to send a message plan to take a body part. It’s up to the guy who owes to determine which–and whether it’s external or internal. Sludge comes across them and recognizes one of the thugs, which leads to confrontation and the thug winds up dead. Also meanwhile, authorities are trying to figure out what the connection is with dead folks and their having been killed by massive overgrowth of cells where the faces essentially grow over themselves, suffocating the individuals. As readers, we know–we’ve seen–it’s Sludge, where his touch does the deed. Getting these multiple viewpoints, we’re learning and seeing more than Sludge for the moment, as this issue’s stuff comes together. Someone at the pharmaceuticals company involved in stuff hires the mercenary, and after we see him deal with another contract, he’s on to Sludge. As we’ve seen the mercenary’s internal state, we see that on first sight, Sludge becomes the embodiment of all the torture he went through as a kid, the creature MUST be killed, it was born to die as he–this mercenary–was born to kill it. We end the issue with him standing over the apparently-dead body of Sludge.

I tend to think of Sludge as a dark title visually…probably I’m thinking of the blues and blacks from the first issue’s cover, which is the main cover I think of for the character/title. This issue felt "colorful" overall, which made Sludge himself seem a bit out of place and more "alien" or "Other." That’s a good thing, especially if it was done intentionally and is not just me "reading too much into it" or "finding more than what’s actually there." I also like some of the subtleties and "moments" that are actually left to the imagination–such as a woman who is killed. We know she’s killed, but it’s not overtly shown, it’s not gratuitous. The visuals convey what’s needed and get the story across very well!

Story-wise, this issue focuses on the villain, while giving us incidental additions to Sludge’s character and situation. It’s a bit scary how well I can identify with the villain’s experience as a kid–not that it’s a direct matchup–and reiterates to me what a difference there is in how one handles a situation. Regardless, this makes the villain more sympathetic than he’d be otherwise. It’s interesting to be able to get into the guy’s head a bit–it grounds him, makes him more authentic–even though I never rooted for him and certainly don’t condone his line of business.

We get the introduction of this villain with his background and all; we also get development in the overall story as far as Sludge himself is concerned, and he gets a bit of resolution regarding individuals involved in his becoming the creature he is now; and there are more underhanded dealings with the pharmaceutical company as the whole thing is pushed to be covered up and principle loose ends–namely Sludge–are to be dealt with. And the cops are figuring out that something is out there and something is going on, which makes things doubly problematic for the "bad guys."

This issue builds on the first issue, but also stands alone fairly well. As a reader you definitely benefit from having the context and setup of the first issue; aside from the context, this doesn’t really refer back to stuff and doesn’t do the "continued from…" thing. It’s surprisingly readable and enjoyable as a one-off, and as with many Ultraverse issues…it’s well worth 25-50 cents to buy and read from a bargain bin. As I’ve been fortunate to find so many Ultraverse issues as cheaply as I have, I’d tend to recommend not going over $1 or so for this…but if you have to order it online to get it at all, it wouldn’t be horrible to pay its cover price, give or take depending on your desire to read it yourself!

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Ultraverse Revisited: The Solution #2

ultraverse_revisited

solution_0002Showdown

Writer: James Hudnall
Penciller: Darick Robertson
Inker: Mike Miller
Letterer: Tim Eldred
Color Designer: Tim Divar
Interior Color: Violent Hues
Editor: Hank Kanalz
Published by: Malibu Comics
Cover Date: October 1993
Cover Price: $2.50

Rex Mundi realizes he and his people are being magically spied on…by The Solution! The scene then moves to the Shinjuku district in Tokyo…where we see The Solution in action! They’ve got a plan, and everyone seems to be in place as things unfold. Dropkick and Tech communicate, while Shadowmage  sits by to use her powers in a room next to the group’s target, who is dealt with by Lela Cho–Tech–herself. As Tech begins to realize something’s wrong, Shadowmage confirms that someone’s there, and both Outrage and Dropkick are forced into immediate action away from the building. Shadowmage fights an opponent named Book, while Dropkick deals with a red-clad woman with swords…who seems to recognize his fighting style. Outrage’s opponent seems to be of his own alien race (I guess Outrage is another alien…I did not remember that!), and he’s got some sort of bounty on his head. While Tech gets her client out of the building and we see them trying to escape this ambush, the unfolding battles of the other three unfold as well. In the end, their client is killed, so while The Solution survives, their case is a bust.

This issue is largely a huge fight scene. The previous issue really being the first time I’d ever read an issue of this series (despite owning issues and being aware of the team–mainly from getting Rune #0 and it coming with The Solution #0 as well) I’m still figuring out the characters. And of course, that’s not helped by the way I’m undertaking this reading project–trying to read ALL titles in release-month order, rather than zeroing in on just one series at a time.

So this issue served to really “show off” a lot more with the team. We already know Shadowmage can use magic, but we see more of that here. Lela Cho has a certain skill set, which is also shown off. We see Dropkick in action, and some hints at him being more than he appears. And we see Outrage similarly, as he faces someone that knows more about him than we do, which leaves another question in the air, further details to be sussed out presumably in subsequent issues.

Visually, I thoroughly enjoyed this issue. The detail’s great, the layouts are dynamic, the characters seem consistent and it’s easy enough to follow the general action of it all. Seeing that it’s Darick Robertson art, though, I suppose I should not be surprise, enjoying his work on the likes of Transmetropolitan. I can’t quite figure out a better phrasing, but I felt like the main characters especially were “full” while “sleek” in the way they’re depicted in this issue. Ultimately, the issue in general is nice to look at, as it also totally carries a ’90s vibe.

Story-wise, there’s not a lot: the characters fight, their client is killed, everyone goes home. That’s the broad strokes view. The details are where the depth is, and I’m definitely interested in learning more about these characters. Maybe I’m the odd guy out, but I’m pretty sure I’d totally enjoy several issues of the characters simply interacting with each other and learning of them that way, without even needing a lot of action.

rune_0kRune [K]: The Fury – Part Two
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

Wayyyy back (it seems) with the start of the Rune stuff (Sludge #1), the cover showed the open mouth with fangs, and the words “The Stones are Cast…” Here in the final issue, we again have that cover image (the 9 issues between being the “poster image” pieces) but with the text “…And Death Walks the Earth.” A fitting sort of symmetry. “The stones are cast and death walks the Earth.” That’s Rune.

This final chapter of the Rune #0 issue, we see a kid named Erik talking with his Dad…as they discuss nightmares, monsters, and keeping things at bay; an incident with Erik forgetting to take his pills, and this hint at there being something more to the kid. Their conversation is largely narration boxes overlaid on scenes of destruction, as Rune gets through the last barriers between himself and Erik, leaving us with Rune perched in a tree outside Erik’s house, apparently preparing to attack.

The art continues to be consistent with prior chapters, as the creative team did not change…this is “merely” three more pages of the same issue, so no surprise there. After all these previous “chapters,” we finally see Rune where he wants to be, after bitter disappointment and destructive confrontations…poised to  take in some incredible power that might restore or maintain his wasting body.

As prologue, as setup, as a #0 issue, it provides an introduction to the character, and leads into what I recall of the Rune #1 issue, such that one certainly can better appreciate things with the main series having read this first, and yet, this isn’t absolutely required reading for that.


I enjoyed this issue. It’s been nearly 25 years since my initial $2.50 was spent on it (that’s less than one penny per month from then til now, I think!) so while I’d be less than thrilled with an issue that’s basically a massive fight scene for a full/premium price in 2018, I’m ok with this 1993 issue being this way…all the more for so enjoying the art.

Yet again, the Rune chapter is an identifying mark on the issue, dating it at a glance to one of the October 1993 issues; and as with others, it is not singularly a selling point in my eyes, as far as this issue in isolation. It’s certainly a selling point for getting all 11 serialized chapters of Rune #0, or the coupons for the mail-away, and such.

But along with most of the “early Ultraverse” issues, I routinely see the issues in bargain bins, so don’t consider them to be worth one paying more than $1 for as of 2018; but that’s also easy enough for me to say, owning all the single issues myself already, and not being on the hunt for them.

I would definitely recommend pairing this issue with the first issue to have SOME context of stuff…and though I didn’t do it myself, I think this issue probably reads a lot better in context of being read immediately after the first issue, rather than with 17+ other issues read in-between.

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Ultraverse Revisited: Freex #4

ultraverse_revisited

freex_0004Hounded

Writer: Gerard Jones
Penciller: David Williams
Inker: Michael Christian
Letterer: Tim Eldred
Color Design: Keith Conroy
Interior Color: Violent Hues
Editor: Hank Kanalz
Published by: Malibu Comics
Cover Date: October 1993
Cover Price: $2.50

This opens where I think I remember the previous issue leaving off–with some group of Ultras pursuing the Freex–this group being the "Hounds." The opening narration is from the point of view of the leader–who calls himself the "Master of the Hunt." He’s been maligned, so how dare these freaks think THEY can just go off the grid and be left alone? Speaking of the Freex, they’re gathered around the lifeless robotic "body" Michael left behind, trying to figure out what they’re supposed to do. Val and Ray fight, she blasts his book…though feels bad about it once realizing she’s done exactly what his mother had done in taking everything away from him. meanwhile, Michael–in electronic form–discovers the police don’t actually know where they are; they’re still safe, but doesn’t know who’s actually hunting them. He’s intercepted on his way back to his friends, which causes his thoughts/focus on Angela to manifest on a computer screen in the police office. The Hounds engage the Freex, who eventually escape. As they seek a place to hide for awhile, Val separates–with Ray thinking she’s being selfish, but it turns out she broke into a bookstore to get a replacement copy of his book she destroyed. As a group, the Freex then do find safety in some shop…invited in by its owner, Ruby. She offers Ray an insight: he taught HIMSELF how to read, which is NOT dumb or stupid. As the group starts to settle in…the peace is disrupted when someone blasts Ruby…the Master of the Hunt has found them!

Maybe it’s the covers, but I’ve a couple times now found myself almost "dreading" a Freex issue because of the cover. Maybe it’s that I’ve seen the image too many times with no real context, maybe it somehow doesn’t fully convey something the way I’d like…I don’t know. This issue’s cover shows us a hound blasting Val…looking to me like a singular villain; and the blast hitting her head making it look like he’s extracting knowledge or zapping her with some sort of mind-control ray or something. We can kind of make out some of the other characters looking in on the situation, but they’re hardly a focus, and not overly apparent at first glance.

That being said…I didn’t hate this issue. We get the continued development of our "Freex" gang, as the characters are still learning to work together and BE together, even having decided to stick together–safety in numbers and such. Michael’s still learning his own powers, and we see here that there’s someone else able to tap into stuff and influence the electronic interface–not just him. The kids behave like kids, and continue getting to know each other and how they all fit together.

The art on this isn’t bad, but doesn’t really blow me away. I like the interior art a lot more than the cover. It’s not hard to follow what’s going on from the visuals, and no one seems specifically unrecognizable or oddly proportioned in any unexpected ways. Again–the art is not bad, but it’s nothing that stands out to me singularly…it does exactly what it’s supposed to, but doesn’t feel above-and-beyond or such. Nothing in this issue strikes me as poster-worthy, and no singular image stands out as anything iconic.

rune_0eRune [E]: The Cursed
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

Once again, we have a starts-abruptly "scene"–this time telling us the date: June 24, 1993…the day the Jumpstart Effect hit the cable car creating the Strangers and the resultant cable car crash to injure Johnny Domino. But we diverge, following Edwin Doyle–another passenger on the car. He has a bad headache attributed to the incident, but as he’s guided home by a frail individual that just showed up, he transforms–as does his new "friend" and we see that it’s a frail, sickly Rune guiding him…supposedly helping him, but it’s not hard to see that Rune intends to feed on this newly-created Ultra.

This is the first of these chapters to really feel like it has a narrative to itself, to be a bit of a story rather than a stretched out "moment" or other vignette. It’s still only 3 pages, but there’s a lot of narration  on the full single page that opens, and lots of dialogue, broken up amidst 4 and 5 panels on the second and third pages. We meet Edwin, are given context of where this is and what’s happened, get to see him meet Rune, see him transform into an Ultra-form…and presumably see his end. A very brief but nearly-complete "hero’s journey" of sorts.

Visually this fits with the other chapters–obviously, given the creative team doesn’t change with each segment of what’s essentially a single issue serialized. I like that we essentially have a beginning, middle, and end here…it’s the most "actually-a-story" so far. As I think I suspected–and indeed noticed–the first couple chapters were just there, with nothing more to go on, so there wasn’t enough to really pick up on as far as any sort of story or narrative. As we’ve now seen Rune use his stones to learn he’ll live, seen him in ancient times feeding on a human offering, consult Nikola Tesla on energy sources, get caught in a nuclear explosion, now we see him about to capture some Ultra-energy.


All in all, this is a solid issue–well worth getting if you’re collecting the series and/or can get this along with the first 3 or (presumably) the next several issues. Nothing here stands out as this being some singular stand-alone thing worth hunting down in isolation. It’s worth a quarter or so to read "a Freex issue" or to fill in a run, of course.

The Rune chapter works pretty well as a standalone-within-a-whole: it’s by no means a sole selling point of the issue, either. That this is a Rune Month issue is sorta incidental…that marks it as October 1993 at a glance even without the cover date, but the issue doesn’t seem integral to anything other than the Freex title.

I continue to be interested in where things go with these characters, even if I don’t have quite as much "champing at the bit" excitement for the title.

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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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