By Steve Englehart, Rick Hoberg & various (Malibu Comics)
I sometimes give the impression that I don’t like superhero comics. Nothing could be further from the truth. What I don’t like is mindless retreads or endless repetition – and rubbish.
Mercifully none of those terms applies to The Strangers, premiere team-book of the Malibu Ultraverse. Purpose-built as a shared universe by a potent handful of creators including Mike Barr, Steve Gerber, James Hudnall, Gerard Jones, James Robinson, Len Strazewski, Larry Niven (oh so briefly) and Steve Englehart (probably the most accomplished – at least in terms of commercial success), they had a short burst of impressive creativity before being bought out lock, stock and bombastic barrel by corporate monolith Marvel Comics, who made a cursory attempt to integrate the various properties before shelving the lot.
Nevertheless the introductory yarn ‘Jumpstart’ easily falls into my “lost little gem” category, and as it was one of the very few story-arcs to make it into a trade paperback I can take this opportunity to recommend it and ask for more.
Collecting issues #1-3 and 5 of the comic-book (issue #4 being part of a company-wide crossover entitled ‘Breakthrough’) this breezy yarn introduces us to the Ultraverse as a San Francisco cable car (like our own dear-departed trams) is struck by an energy bolt out of a clear sky. The fifty-nine passengers on their morning journeys are all given different super-powers by the bolt and a motorist hit by the careening trolleybus is critically injured (he’ll eventually become the hero Night Man, with his own great comic and bad TV show).
The story focuses on six of those passengers as they band together to find out what happened to them and to ensure that none of the other passengers abuse their new gifts. Ultimately they’re joined by a mysterious sorceress from a floating island and plunge into the colourful chaos of full-on super-heroics.
Englehart and Hoberg managed to impart fresh characterisation and old-fashioned gusto to a jaded sub-genre, and if you can find this slim volume there’s a huge amount of simple fun to be had here. The entire line was geared to the reading, rather than collector audience, and Marvel – or whoever currently owns these properties – would be very smart to repackage them for today’s graphic novel-oriented marketplace.
But I’m not holding my breath…
© 1994 Malibu Comics Entertainment, Inc. All Rights Reserved.