Saturday, August 25, 2012

Back In the Day # 1 - The Strangers # 5

Welcome to Back in the Day. This segment is where we look at older comics and story arcs that are a bit older and see how they read today. While this is a review, there are gonna be a few things added to it. First, how does the story hold up. Secondly, what is the significance of the story to the characters and/or reader. Finally, the overall enjoy or disgust of the story and/or any of its elements. Any books from Back In the Day have to be at least 10 years old or more.

This week, we unveil Back In the Day with our first book ... well, books, The Strangers issues # 5 and 6.

Issues 5
Written by Steve Englehart
Art by Rick Hoberg, Tim Burgard & FOODHAMMER 

Ultraverse/Malibu Comics 


The Strangers # 1
     The Ultraverse was one of the many lines of comics that came out during the great comics boom of the 1990s. Ah yes ... the comics boom. Gimmick covers, over saturation of titles & books selling millions of copies. Ah .. the 90s. Malibu Comics was kinda of like how IDW was now ... having many popular tv licences, like Star Trek, while also having original stuff. Malibu Comics are one of the pioneers of digital coloring, better paper quality and had several lines of comics. And yes ... they helped Image Comics get their start.

   Malibu Comics also helped Mike Barr, James Robinson,Gerald Jones, Steve Englehart and more helped create the Ultraverse line of books; a super hero line with new, original characters with tight continuity amongst all the books. Englehart, a renowned and fan favorite writer with legendary stints on Avengers, Doctor Strange, Batman, Justice League of America and more, ended creating two main titles for the new line of books. Yet, before those titles were unleashed, the creators gave a starting point for their universe ... the Jumpstart. This Jumpstart happens when mysterious energy comes down and hits a cable car and a man who crashes into it one day. Englehart takes seven characters from that crash to make two books. The man who crashed in the car eventually became Night Man. And we'll talk about Night Man another day. The other six ended up being the basis of the super hero team that became to be known as The Strangers.

   The Strangers who gained powers from the Jumpstart event were soon joined by the mystic known as Yrial. The seven of them took on threats and worked hard to find out the mystery behind the Jumpstart, Yrial's people and learn to live in the world with their powers. But enough with the background, onto the story.


The Issue In Question: The Strangers # 5
   Our story begins with  . . . interestingly enough, the The Strangers going their separate ways. We start with the leader of the Strangers, Elena La Brava, codenamed: Lady Killer. No, she does not kill women. She can turn any piece of clothing into a weapon. Yes. That dress you say is always sharp? She can use it to cut you or works.

   There is the young speedster, Zip Zap. Leon Balford gained the abilities of super speed, dressing with a trenchcoat with lightning on his shorts and one lightning bolt on his shirt with shades. He may be the youngest but he is street savvy.

   Next up is Atom Bob. No. I did not misspelled that. He is really named Atom Bob. He seems to be just your average,  All American guy who does not have much confidence. Yet, his powers and his teammates are helping him gain confidence with his powers to change anything from anything. Yep. His power is transmutation. Which makes him among the most powerful of the group.

   Following Atom Bob is his best friend and fellow art student, Hugh Fox, better known as Grenade. Hugh was a football player till he was injuried. He joined Bob in art school when they, like the majority of the Strangers, got struck by the Jump Start event and gained powers. His powers are to discharge his own kinda of shrapnel; hence the codename. And while his best friend is Atom Bob, his love interest is . ..

   Electrocute. And here is where things get looping. Electrocute gained powers from the Jump Start event and more. Candy, her real name, is not actually human but an android. And while she's a life style replica, she was originally built by JD Hunt for the main purpose ... of being a sex toy that he can do whatever he wishes to.

 She was originally created to be life sized, extremely detailed sex doll who was supposed to be only for pleasure.

   And suddenly the movie Love Object just popped in my head. Ewwwww

  The Jumpstart gave Candy her electricity abilities and seemingly gave her life like a human . .. only in an androids body.

 Next up is the sorceress known as Yrial. She is the only member of the Strangers to not get her powers from the Jump Start; rather already having magical abilities from going up in a remote island in the sky. (this predates Gaoranger and Wild Force by nearly a decade) She acts stand offish to the team while trying to investigate the Jump Start alongside them. Plus ... she uses multiple kinds of magick. Yes. She spells it like that. And that is actually a small point in the issue.

Which brings us to Spectral. Dave was a baker who ended up gaining powers to become flame. But that is not all. He can fly and he can change the power of his flame to different colors to give him different powers. With Yellow, he's got typical fire and flight. With Indigo, he and anyone new him can survive underwater and in space within a certain area. And then there is Green which ... is actually a plot point. Yet, another interesting fact and plot point with Dave is that he's gay. Let me let you sink that in. The guy who can turn into a multicolored human torch ... is gay. A literal flamer huh? Not sure how to feel about that . . . at first anyway.

 So you know the characters. Let's get into the story itself for issue # 5. The Strangers go their separate ways, checking in on their personal lives. If you have not read any issue before this one, you find out that Lady Killer decided to out the identities of the Strangers right away ... because that always works. Bob goes and checks in on his folks who tell him a girl who never gave him a second glance before is now calling. Zip Zap goes to his hood, beats up a local gang banger with in seconds then speeds off. Hugh and Candy have an interesting discussion about his past and whether or not she will be with him; after she affirms to him that she will not be just a toy then tells him she likes him after forcing him to admit he likes her out loud.

   Grenade (Hugh): I'm Confused! You must be a real woman . . . !

 Ha ha. Hugh seems like a typical guy right there.

Elena, Lady Killer, starts working on getting coverage for the Strangers and well as catch up in running her fashion house. Yes ... the woman who can turn any piece of clothing into a weapon runs a fashion hows. God help the poor shmuck who tries to attack her there.

  Yrial goes out; lamenting she feels alone. She calls Earth Hell till she hears cries from a woman who is hurt. And while she even thinks about leaving, she decides to help the woman ... even calling in the other Strangers for help. The woman tells her that Deathwish, the baddie for this issue, has killed everyone in an entire city block. Joy. Mass murder and Yrial almost ignored the woman.

Then we go to Dave.He is visiting a friend in the hospital who we find out is dying of AIDS. This was during the height of the AIDS epidemic back in the 90s. They talk about whether Dave is out with his family and he says he is but then the surprise comes when he turns into his Green flame. He explained how he healed broken bones with it. And that he was gonna heal his friend of AIDS.

  Just a little side note: Anyone with special powers in the Ultraverse are called "Ultras." Yep. Not bad. It is different from Metas or Mutants. The Strangers, scans Spectral, go into the last building that Deathwish was last seen entering. And the Strangers find Deathwish ... who can rot people and certain thinks with a touch. Yet does not work on Electrocute cause she's an android . .. and she isn't afraid to point that out.

  Deathwish walks over most of the Strangers, all of them but Electrocute fighting him from a distance. Yrial's magic fails. Atom Bob's powers don't seem to slow him down. As things look bad for the Strangers, Spectral flies in and uses his Green flame, looking rather angry and not saying a word while pouring it on Deathwish ... making him grow to giant size. Deathwish seemingly shatters and the fight ends with the other Strangers asking him what is going on and how did he know that would work on Deathwish.

   You find out that his attempt to save his friend from AIDS not only made his immune system grow ... but the infection as well .. . KILLING HIS FRIEND IN HIS ATTEMPT TO SAVE HIM.

 Dave, at first, uses Cancer as a euphemism and walks off. Grenade stops him, saying that it was AIDS and asks Dave is he is gay. Dave says yes. Grenade and Lady Killer reassure him that the other Strangers are there for him if he needs.

Ending our issue.


    When I started this little segment, I said that I would be looking at things in different ways. Let's get down to business.

 The Cover:

    It is classic comic book cover, with an ominous man covered by shadows with the silhouette of Deathwish in the background of the city with the Strangers at either side of the cover. Even though there are 7 Strangers, artist Rick Hoberg balances it out by making both Yrial and Lady Killer larger on one side while Grenade, Atom Bob and the other members on the left side are smaller.

Character Design:
The Jump Start that birthed The Strangers

   Funny thing about the Strangers. They are the children of Steve Englehart with designs by Strangers artist Rick Hoberg ... and Darrick Robertson. Yep. The Boys, Oliver & Transmetropolitan Darrick Robertson. THAT Guy. Atom Bob, Grenade and Yrial were designed by Hoberg.

  Yrial's red contacts help her stand apart from the rest of the Strangers and help her seem alien. Her simple outfit of a cape over a holter top and long covering between her legs give her a tribal look. Grenade looks like a football player with his outfit ... the green vest. The mask. The gloves. It works very well with his character. Atom Bob looks very typical super hero with tights and the left part of his outfit blue with a gold symbol, gauntlets and boots while Red dominates the majority of the outfit. Simple yet effective ... very much like Bob.

   Go over to the Darrick Roberston designs: Lady Killer is very wonderful. she has some fishnets but a hood and a top that covers her arms, hands and most of her body. A sash like dress that she can use as a weapon with a string of pearls or metal beads and her long sash dress she has. Zip Zap's design is simple but effective. The fact that he's got shades on with a solid colored trenchcoat over load clothing is very, very good. Makes him more balanced. Electrocute gives off her sexuality but still very classy with her green and yellow out fit. Like Zip Zap, there is electricity on it. Yet, hers are mostly on her sides and legs. The red hair gives her a great contrast to the green and yellow costume. Finally, Robertson's design of Spectral is easy ... maybe too easy but still works in comparison to the others.

 Deathwish, who I am not sure who designed him, is simple black with crimson accents on his face and arms. Still, Hoberg makes him look menacing and deadly; living up to his name.


  Hoberg is a great artist. Him along side Simons and Foodhammer do a magnificent job of giving us a colorful, semi realistic look to the book. It definitely works with the book that all these 7 individuals are very different, coming together cause they decided to. Each character looks distinct, not feeling that it was the same person drawn in with boobs or different hair. Elena has Latina features. Leon looks African American. The clothes work for the time period and even looks near timeless with few exceptions. Every page is colorful and tells a story, with emotion, action and drive in each panel. Great job.

Story Importance:

   Englehart weaves a good tale. We get to see part of the Strangers lives. We see the characters interact with others and each other, showing different facets of them. Elena is firmly a business woman and a capable leader. Grenade ... is a meat head with a heart. Bob is working on not feeling inferior. Yrial misses home but starting to show she is feeling connected to Earth and the Strangers. Zip Zap is showing how smart he is. Electrocute is really showing off her humanity. Dave ... ah Spectral . .. this story was very important to him . Or seemingly  important. In his few pages with Dave, he gives us the climate of what it was like in the 90s for  many gay men. It also dealt with AIDS, though that could have been substituted with Cancer. Yet, the choice of AIDS was timely at the point the book came out. The story ads depth to Dave's character but at the same time ... is kinda of handled oddly. More on that in a bit.


   After reading this issue for the first time in ... God, maybe nearly a decade, the story was entertaining. It made me interested in the characters. Made me want to know more about them. I loved that fact that this team was lead by a Latin-American woman. I loved that fact that this team was definitely a group of Strangers learning to work together and learn about each other. Electrocute's behavior proved that the Jump Start gave her life ... making her an interesting hyperbole on Pinocchio. This story, for the most part, holds the test of time. With some slight exceptions for clothes and some verbage on a few characters, this story could be issued today with little notice that it was originally made back in 1993.
Overall Story:

   Good story. Not Great. Why? I will tell you. Dave's "heroic" attempt to save his friend of AIDS. The bad about this is that while I definitely understand him trying to save his friend of the disease with his powers, I felt his reaction was a bit  ... off?  While there is part of me that things that he should have been mulling over what happened with guilt to the point that it made it hard for him to fight, there is a part of me that can see, not fully understand, his reaction.  I guess I was looking for some kind of extreme. Sure ... him being very quiet definitely had an emotional pull to it but ... something just felt off about reacting to the fact that he inadvertently killed his friend while trying to save him. Maybe I am missing something in Spectral's make up that would make that reaction believable. It just seems ... off. Maybe I am putting too much of myself in it, yet it just feels off. Not right. Not completely wrong. Just ... off.  Otherwise, this is an enjoyable book with a team I really can get behind. I actually started collecting Strangers because of issues 5 & 6. Really good jobs by Englehart, Hoberg and company.

Back In the Day opens with The Strangers # 5 ... giving it a solid 3.5 out of 5. It's good. It's fairly solid except for Dave's reaction which just has me a bit daunted.

Till next time, read ya later.

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