The End of the World! Sort of.

The Strangers #11 cover by Rick HobergThe Strangers # 11
“Detour”
Written by Steve Englehart
Art by Rick Hoberg & Tim Eldred
Edited by Roland Mann

As the title suggests, this story veers away slightly from the main arc surrounding Yrial. That’s not a bad thing, however, This issue not only features some amazing artwork from Hoberg & Eldred (particularly in depicting the various locales our heroes find themselves in) but Englehart’s character work truly shines — especially with Zip-Zap.

In this story, The Strangers have escaped from the world of demons they were in last issue, only to find themselves on an odd planet composed of pieces of many different worlds. Zip-Zap not only saves the team from certain death at the beginning of the tale (borrowing a gimmick from The Flash) but he then puts the together the true nature of this world, befriends some locals and even challenges The Entity who gave them their powers to actually do something useful. We really get a good feel for something that I’ve always felt to be the case — Leon is the heart of this team. I’d argue that Candy, ironically, is the “soul” embodying their mutual desire to figure out who they are and what they can be but Leon is the kindest of them all. To him, nobody is truly a Stranger — they’re just somebody he hasn’t gotten to know yet.

Elena also comes out and makes a strong statement about being the leader of the team in this issue — and nobody challenges her on it. In fact, Bob seems to endorse the idea and they two of them sneak away for some alone-time, which doesn’t go unnoticed by others. We get some more Hugh & Candy loving, as well, while Dave obviously feels left out as the group is breaking into little romantic cliques.

While the issue doesn’t progress the Yrial storyline very much, I still really enjoyed it. Englehart is at his best at times like this — multi-issue epics where he can mix-and-match the heroes in different settings and get deep into their emotional connections. While I wouldn’t put this story on the level of something like The Celestial Madonna storyline from Avengers, I can’t help but see echoes of such in this issue and others.

A truly fine example of why this title deserved a much longer lifespan!

“Atom Bob Brought You Down! Remember The Name!”

The Strangers #10The Strangers # 10
“The Door To Doom!”
Written by Steve Englehart
Art by Rick Hoberg and Tim Eldred
Edited by Roland Mann

This issue starts off with a really fun cover as The Strangers are engaged in undersea combat with some sort of demon that’s partially emerged from a rift of some kind. At first glance, it’s kind of confusing as to where they are and what’s going on but I find myself spending a lot of time looking at it and it’s got some definite energy so I give it a thumb’s up.

Story-wise, the team has finally found the coordinates that Yrial gave them and they end up traveling through a rift into another dimension — one inhabited by a demon king named Bastinado. Bastinado has a peculiar way of talking that’s amusing but it also sort of undercuts the threat we’re supposed to be feeling. Here’s some examples: “Bastinado! Bastinado me! you t’ink Bastinado foolish — Bastinado no speak your words good!” Honestly, Bastinado, you speak English as well as some folks that I know around here. You’re fine, really.

After an epic battle, Atom Bob steps up to the plate and kicks Bastinado’s ass, pretty much single-handedly. The team then departs, having learned some powerful secrets about Yrial’s people that they believe will help convince the chief to let her go… or else they’ll spill the beans about what they know.

If it sounds like I’m giving the plot short thrift, it’s because I am.

I want to talk about something very specific here — in the previous issues we’ve seen Bob struggling with his role on the team. Is he a leader? He’s clashed a bit with Elena because while people naturally gravitate to Bob, she’s the one with the actual experience running groups. In this issue, she saves his life at one point, leading to a bruised ego on his part.

And that leads to something else we’ve seen from Bob — a desperate need to prove himself, not just as a hero but as a man. He’s tried and failed to impress Choice, Electrocute and Elena. While the implication is that Elena and Bob may have gotten physical between last issue and this one, he still feels like he’s a failure in her eyes. He wants to show everyone that he’s strong, capable and potent. In the battle with Bastinado, we see Bob’s power really come to the fore and he looks almost demonic in battle, with his eyes glowing red and with him shouting his name, demanding that everyone take note of him.

I generally try to stay away from spoilers for later in the series, instead pretending that we’re all reading these books for the first time as I review them. But all of these story points really come to fruition down the line and it’s worth noting that Englehart has planted these seeds early on. It’s a remarkable bit of plotting and character building.

Art-wise, things are very strong here. I liked the demons and any time Hoberg gets to draw Elena in a swimsuit is fine by me. There’s a nice shot of several team members in their costume that’s almost pin-up worthy, as well.

At the back of the book is a tribute to Jack Kirby, with remembrances from various people in the Ultraverse family. Well worth checking out.

Another great issue – the book has definitely hit its stride!

 

Arr! Here Be Pirates!

The Strangers #9 cover by Rick HobergThe Strangers # 9
“Taken By This Guy!”

Written by Steve Englehart
Layouts by Rick Hoberg
Pencils by Steve Skroce
Inks by Tim Eldred
Edited by Roland Mann

Let me start by saying that this is one of my all-time favorite issues of The Strangers. There’s some seriously whacked-out stuff that goes on in here but it’s delightfully strange and I love it.

Our heroes are in hot pursuit of answers when we begin our story, intent on following up on the coordinates given to them by Yrial before she was taken away by her people last issue. As such, they’re boarding a yacht in the Caribbean and we get some incredibly awesome character work from Englehart here — we get to see more of Hugh and Candy’s romance, which while extremely physical does seem to include some genuine emotional connections, as well. Hugh seems to recognize that he’s lucky in this relationship and doesn’t want to screw it up. Meanwhile, romance is brewing in other quarters, as well — Bob has taken an interest in Candy’s physical attributes while Elena is admiring him, in turn. There’s some fun stuff where Elena is thinking how strange it is that age 31, she’s the “old woman” of the group. She decides to try flirting with 19-year old Bob to prove that there’s some life left in her!

Meanwhile, Leon continues to prove that he’s really the heart of the group as he worries about Yrial. Leon is usually the one who shows the most genuine concern about the other members — especially Yrial, with whom he bonded early on. It’s a sweet side to his character and I’m glad that Englehart didn’t go the “angry black youth” route with the character.

Once they decide to take a break on an island they’re passing, we get to see my favorite parts of the issue — Cap’n Scar and his gang of Ultra pirates: Scar himself is able to absorb powers via a scar on his chest; Gecko is a lizard man; Sandblast is basically Marvel’s Sandman; Yardarm is able to stretch his arms; and Sangre seems stronger and faster than a normal woman. The villains talk in pirate-speak and attack passing ships, looting them for all they’re worth… and they’re thrilled to see The Strangers. Why? Because they were also on the cable-car in issue one! When they got their powers, they decided to become pirates.

That’s right!

They decided to become pirates.

I adore that. I do wonder — did they talk like pirates before they got their powers? Did they always have a fondness for nautical stuff? Or did one of them pitch it to the others as a gimmick? I’d really like to know! It just doesn’t seem like something a normal group of people would do. Rob banks? Sure. Get revenge on bullies from school? I could see that. Start hanging out in the Caribbean talking like pirates and dressing like one? Huh.

Anyway, The Strangers defeat the bad guys and leave them for the Coast Guard to pick up. They then resume their trek towards the coordinates that Yrial gave them. In terms of progressing the “epic” from last issue, this one didn’t do much but it gave us some great character moments and the villains were a blast so I give it an enthusiastic thumb’s up!

The art here is by Skroce, following Hoberg’s layouts, and the stuff is gorgeous. Everyone looks great and the action scenes are never confusing. I love the designs on the pirate villains, too.

Great stuff!

Next issue: The Door to Doom!

Lady Killer Joins Your DC Heroes RPG Campaign?

Lady KillerIf you’re a fan of classic roleplaying games, you probably remember DC Heroes, a much beloved game published by Mayfair back in the 1980s. A number of people still play this system and over at writeups.org, you can find a number of heroes that have been statted up and are ready for play.

Lo and behold, one of them is Lady Killer from The Strangers! Sébastien Alexandre Andrivet did the honors and I’m sure he’d appreciate hearing some feedback if you use her in your campaigns.

Here’s a handy page listing all their Ultraverse writeups — you’ll have to keep clicking through the pages to see them all.

Enjoy!

The Strangers # 8: An Epic Begins

The Strangers #8 by Steve Englehart and Rick Hoberg The Strangers # 8
“Taken By the Sky!”
Written by Steve Englehart, Art by Rick Hoberg (pages 1-16), Steve Skroce (17-24) & Tim Eldred (inks)
Edited by Roland Mann

The cover proclaims “Beginning Their First Epic!” which kinda discounts the recently concluded Break-Thru, doesn’t it? Anyway, we start with our heroes returning to Earth and finding a large contingent of media (and military) waiting for them. As Grenade points out, “Stealing J.D. Hunt’s rocket from an air force base will do that for you!”

There’s a nice exchange between Leopold (of Aladdin) and Captain Christopher Dugan. While Aladdin wants The Strangers to come in for questioning, the Captain refuses, claiming that he gave our heroes permission to use the rocket — this is obviously not the case but Dugan feels the world owes The Strangers thanks for their role in defusing the crisis. Awful nice of him, isn’t it?

We also get a conversation between David and Dugan about gays serving in the military. Keep in mind that this was during the Clinton era and the topic of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was definitely seeping into the minds of the populace. Englehart’s own views come across pretty clearly, I believe, as Dugan responds to David’s admission of his homosexuality by saying, “We’re not all neanderthals in the service, son! I signed up to protect the country, not worry about its love life! The only way I rate people is by effort on the job!”

It’s interesting to see how far we’ve come on discussions like this in just a couple of decades — by today’s standards, dialogue like this seems very heavy-handed and preachy but at the time, it was a pretty bold declaration.

It’s at this point that Chief Aula shows up and informs Yrial that it’s time to come home — she was assigned to The Strangers to help them learn about their origins and she’s done so. Thus, her mission is over. To everyone’s surprise, Yrial states that she’d like to remain with the group and learn more about their ways but this only proves to the Chief that she’s grown too close to them. Yrial strikes out at her leader but eventually relents, telling her friends to abide by her decision to follow the dictates of her people.

The Strangers, of course, ignore this and fly to Sky Island in hopes of getting her back. They liberate Yrial and she tells them that she’s secretly visited their world many times and grown to appreciate it. After a terrific battle between Sky Island’s inhabitants and The Strangers, Yrial once again submits to the Chief’s orders and she’s imprisoned. The Strangers leave but Elena discovers that Yrial slipped a small piece of clay into the folds of her cloak — one that hads longitude and latitude coordinates on it. The Strangers realize that Yrial still needs their help and they swear to follow through on this clue.

Story-wise… some good moments, especially for Yrial. She was always my least-favorite member of the team and so any storyline set amongst her people were never my favorites. Even so, we have nice scenes for several different characters, though by this time I was beginning to feel that David was being defined by his sexuality, as opposed to having it just be a part of who he was. Again, I realize what Englehart was going for and applaud it but it’s still a bit cumbersome.

Steve Skroce, who would do some fine work at Marvel, fills in here on the latter half of the book and does a nice job. In fact, he does a passable imitation of Rick Hoberg — which may be attributable to Eldred on inks. Skroce draws a very fetching Electrocute, in particular.

The cover… I don’t like it. Several characters (like Candy) look stiff and weird and the colors on Yrial makes her fade into the background.

So we’re off and running on this ‘epic’ and we’ll have to see if it lives up to the billing.

Steve Englehart Speaks (Circa 2005)!

230px-SteveEnglehartOne of the big movers and shakers of the Ultraverse was, of course, Steve Englehart. Between The Strangers and Night Man, he did a lot to define the universe that we all love. I came across this chat transcript from 2005 and thought it might be of interest to everyone. The entire thing is fascinating and covers the whole gamut of his writing career but there is a little nugget of Ultraverse info that I’m sharing here:

Jellobay: Any chance Night Man or the Strangers might make a comeback?
Steve Englehart: I don’t think there’s much chance of Ultraverse stuff coming back.
Steve Englehart: I had a long talk with Marvel recently and they gave me no hope in that direction.
Jellobay: Too bad. There would be a market for it.
Steve Englehart: I agree there’d be a market for the Ultraverse, but Marvel says no.
Brian Cronin: Is it a sales thing, or a rights thing, Steve? Or an “I can’t talk about it” thing?
Steve Englehart: It’s some sort of contract thing, as best as I can tell. I was skeptical of that for a long time, but I keep hearing it.
Steve Englehart: Something evidently in the agreement between Marvel and Malibu, though I can’t even imagine what it could be. In the end, the contract explanation could just be hot air. All I know is, they don’t want to go there.

Here is some more about The Strangers in particular:

Lex: Mr. Englehart, I just wanted to thank you for your “Strangers” comic. It was one of the comics I followed when I first became a comics reader. I think of it as starting my love of this medium. So, thank you for that.
Jellobay: “Strangers” was the best, I still read through them from time to time.
Steve Englehart: I liked that book a lot, too, and it tends to get overlooked now because of the “Night Man.” But I have to say, overall, I get asked about the Ultraverse a lot, which tells me people really would like to see it again…which brings me back to Marvel’s not wanting to go there

Lex: Which was your favorite “Strangers” character to write?
Steve Englehart: Well, I have to say Atom Bob, because he was, in the beginning, so laid back about it all…and in the end, he was something else entirely.

Lex: Atom Bob. He was always my favorite. Did you intend for him to become the Pilgrim from the beginning?
Steve Englehart: No, I did not intend the Pilgrim thing from the beginning. I just sort of said one day “who would be the least likely person…?”
Brian Cronin: I remember being really freaked out by that
Brian Cronin: The pilgrim revelation.
Lex: Well, yeah, he was the least likely person to become Pilgrim. I didn’t realize how emotional invested I was in the Strangers characters until that happened. It was huge!
Brian Cronin: Yeah, Lex. It is long enough ago that I’m detached now. but at the time, I’m sure I was foaming at the mouth, “how could you do that?!?”
Steve Englehart: I love to make readers foam. :)

Brian Cronin: By the by, “Strangers” can’t be as good as “Night Man,” because Night Man had a team-up with Gambit!
Jellobay: I’m a Marvel fan boy, but they ruined the Ultraverse.
Steve Englehart: Yeah, various Ultraverse characters have appeared in the Marvel Universe– but now there’s an edict that they can’t any more, for the same unclear reasons as below. But I have been saying for ten years now, it would so cool for these guys, who only knew a few superheroes among themselves, and had achieved a level of celebrity in their universe– if they came to the Marvel Universe, they wouldn’t know they were supposed to be impressed by Spider-Man, or care who the X-Men were. It would let us see the Marvel U with fresh eyes. But it’s never happened.

Brian Cronin: Did you write for the “Night Man” TV series?
Steve Englehart: I wrote 3 episodes of the TV series.

Do check out the entire transcript for more!

 

 

The Strangers # 7: Prototype!

strangers7The Strangers # 7
“Prototype-A Behavior”
Scripted by Steve Englehart with co-plot by Tom Mason & Len Strazewski
Art by Rick Hoberg & Tim Eldred
Edited by Roland Mann

This issue picks up from Break-Thru # 1 and Prototype # 5 so we start in the middle of the action — The Strangers, we are told, have stolen J.D. Hunt’s rocket to get to the moon in hopes of investigating the strange energies that are found there. Now, I thought about doing mini-reviews of those other issues but I chose not to because both series will be covered elsewhere and I think we all need to be reminded sometimes of what it’s like to follow only one or two series — and then have said series hijacked by a crossover. It’s been about 20 years since I’ve read Break-Thru and much of my memory is cloudy… so reading this issue of Strangers is very much like being a reader who chose not to follow the rest of the crossover.

How does it hold up?

Pretty well, actually!

We get some really fun interactions between Prototype and The Strangers — I particularly enjoyed Prototype claiming that he’s a more experienced Ultra than our heroes and Electrocute pointing out that all he did was trade shows and public appearances until The Strangers showed up. We also get to meet Supra and Empire, who are there to reclaim the rocket — as is Prototype. Obviously, this means that we get some classic hero-on-hero action! That sounds kinda rude but you know what I mean…

We also learn that Dave’s indigo power allows them to survive in space. Yes, it turns out that whatever force gave The Strangers their powers knew they’d eventually need to leave Earth and journey into the stars.

Meanwhile, Yrial and Electrocute battle Prototype out in space and we’re reminded once more that our android heroine is one of the most powerful members of the team. Her actions lead to Prototype realizing that fighting is getting him nowhere so he surrenders and offers to work with The Strangers. A wise decision.

After battling some carnivorous aliens, Empire is killed and Electrocute is reminded once more of how little she understands about the human experience… seeing death so close and personal greatly upsets her and leads to her begging Grenade for comfort. If it sounds like I focus a lot on Electrocute in these reviews it’s because Englehart’s characterization really shines in her scenes. She’s the classic “tin man” who yearns to be human and while it’s a classic trope, it’s always effective when done well.

There’s an emotional sacrifice on the part of Supra that allows our heroes to escape with the rocket and continue their trek to the moon — kind of a shame to see both of the new characters we’re introduce to here killed off but they’re more interesting in death than they were beforehand.

We then get an absolutely hilarious two-page strip featuring Englehart and Hoberg explaining The Strangers and their origins to some young fans, who continually point out all the other heroes that are similar or that these creators have worked on previously. I loved this. Really, really worth seeking out.

Story-wise, this is a fun issue with solid characterization. Even if you aren’t reading the rest of Break-Thru, it made sense and progressed not just the crossover’s plot but the ongoing Strangers subplots.

Great art from Hoberg — as always, his facial expressions are solid and he draws a fantastic Prototype!

Next issue: The End of a Stranger?! Can it be? Stay tuned….

Strangers # 6: Deathwish Returns

strangers6The Strangers # 6
“The Tao of Physiques!”
Written by Steve Englehart
Art by Rick Hoberg and Dave Simons
Edited by Chris Ulm

After being dispatched last issue, the supervillain Deathwish makes a speedy return… it was such a quick rematch that even Englehart had to joke about it on page one: “Thought he was gone, didn’t you? So did they…”

Now, one might ask if Deathwish was an interesting enough foe to deserve a return bout, especially so soon. I’ll admit to not feeling the Deathwish love but both last issue and this one gives us the opportunity for some really great characterization – so even if Deathwish himself is kind of blah, he serves as a useful tool for exploring David’s powers and their limitations (last ish) and Electrocute’s status as an artificial lifeform (stay tuned).

After doing some cleanup at the scene of last issue’s battle, Zip-Zap continues teasing Yrial about her membership with the team. Though she continues to loudly proclaim that she’s not really a Stranger and has no desire to be, her actions suggest otherwise. At this point, Yrial is becoming a little more interesting but I still find her to the one member who sticks out like a sore thumb.

At the hospital, Deathwish returns out of the body of G. Lawrence Bushnell, empowered once more by all the beings who are lying near death in the medical facility. Another fight ensues, with Zip-Zap showing off his powers in close quarters. Eventually, Lady-Killer, Zip-Zap and Yrial follow Deathwish into the morgue, where they’re forced to take on their foe while the other members of the team rush to the scene. When Yrial initally refuses to enter the fray, a disappointed Zip-Zap declares “This is the coldest, lowest, sorriest, slimiest–! I thought behind all that shuckin’ an’ jivin’ — I thought we were friends!” It’s a powerful moment though I didn’t know a single person who still said shuckin’ an’ jivin’ in 1993. Perhaps I was just around the wrong people.

Anyway, the other Strangers show up and a massive battle takes place — with Electrocute taking center stage. In a really well-done scene, she declares “I was made in a factory! I can’t die — and I hate it!!! J.D. Hunt made sure the fear of pain and death weren’t programmed into me — so he could anything he wanted with me! You think I’m proud of that? I want to fear death! I want to be able to die — so I can know I lived! But I can’t die! I can’t die! I cant dieee!!!”

Yes, it’s powerfully overwritten but the moment kind of demands it. The expression on her face (as depicted by Hoberg and Simons), coupled with her words really makes the character (forgive me) come alive. Her desperate need and desire to be “real” has never been as clearly depicted to this point. It really, really works.

Meanwhile, Yrial has found the nurse for Deathwish’s host and unleashes Henrietta’s full potential. The nurse, too, was changed by the Jumpstart… and within her is a beautiful embodiment of Life itself. Freed from the shackles of her physical form, Henrietta goes in search of Deathwish and the two of embrace, vanishing before the eyes of our heroes. Yrial proclaims that “I helped the woman of light come forth, knowing she would nullify the man of darkness…!” Zip-Zap apologizes for doubting her while the rest of the team mulls over the fact that people changed by the Jumpstart sometimes don’t show those effects for many months. As they wonder who else is out there, we’re teased that next month brings the crossover known as Break-Thru… and for The Strangers, that means Prototype!

We get a nifty Lady-Killer pin-up by Statema & Schellinger to round out the issue.

Great story by Englehart, especially the parts with Zip-Zap, Yrial and Electrocute. The art was quite nice and I think that Simons is a really nice complement to Hoberg, especially on the facial work.

The series is really hitting its stride, folks!