Just before we dive into today's review, a shoutout to Jon M. Wilson and Zach Henderson over at Teenage Wasteland: A Ultimate Spider-Man Podcast, who spent a bit of time at the start of their most recent episode giving some lovin' to this blog. Many thanks for the shoutout guys, and keep up the great work!
ULTRA Humanite Part II: Mad Science
Writer: James Robinson
Penciller: Val Semeiks
Inker: Paul Neary
Letterer: Janice Chiang
Colorist: Kevin Somers
Assitant: Maureen McTigue
Editor: Joey Calvieri
Cover Artist: Glen Orbik
Cover Date: March 1998
It's several months after the last issue. Luthor Towers is days away from completion, but the upcoming celebrations are marred by a series of setbacks to LexCorp. Software and equipment failures have resulted in huge losses for Luthor, and all the evidence points to internal sabotage, although Lex's investigations have failed to reveal the culprit. The latest catastrophe involves a construction droid going rogue, only to be taken down by Superman. At the same moment, Madness strikes the First Metropolis Bank, causing chaos and making off with a large amount of money.
Meeting up with Lois after the events, Superman learns that LexCorp had provided the software for the construction droid, and that Madness has struck again, following his trend of striking at the exact moment that a crisis strikes LexCorp. Also at the same time, a theft of high tech equipment takes place. Superman then meets up with the LexCorp City Security Commander Drake who gives him information about the attacks on LexCorp. Two suspects have been identified, Senior VP Edward Carlisle, and Junior VP Thomas Hewett, but Drake is afraid to act in case he has it wrong. Their conversation is interrupted when an urgent call comes through for Superman - Lois is in trouble.
Lois is being attacked in her apartment by two of Luthor's suited goons who are searching for the photograph given to her by Professor Wilde before he died. Superman arrives and takes care of them. Drake arrives on the scene, revealing that the order to attack Lois had been sent by the saboteur, and that Luthor had no knowledge of the photograph. Superman examines the photo with his microscopic vision, discovering a message in a microdot. The message details Wilde's research into a bioelectric field generate by all human beings, which he was able to monitor via a device he called ULTRA. The possible benefits of his research included a cure of Parkinsons, which was why LexCorp became interested. The message continues to explain that Wilde discovered that he could use his research to move the field from one body to another, effectively switching minds between bodies. They realise that Wilde survived the explosion and is the mystery saboteur. Their deliberations are cut short by a LexCorp-built bullet train running wild, which Superman heads off to save. At the same time, Madness strikes, and more tech is stolen.
After the crises, Drake confronts Edward Carlisle, revealing him to be Wilde, the ULTRA Humanite. As Superman and Lois arrive, they discover Carlisle dead having blown his brains out.
The middle chapter of the ULTRA Humanite story feels is a very different beast to the first part. The industrial sabotage plotline that drives the majority of the issue is completely new, and the Professor Wilde plot, so prominent in the first, is all but forgotten about until the latter half of the story. Madness, who had a great introduction in the first issue, is relegated to a couple of panels, his presence reduced to one element of the three-pronged attacks that occur rather than as a menace in his own right.
I found this issue very unsatisfying, due to the amount of information that is dumped upon the reader. There is a lot going on in this issue, and a gap of several months between this issue and the last only serves to highlight how much we have to be told rather than shown. From Lois' 'narration', which feels more of an extraneous narrative device than normal, through to the incredibly dense and awkward 'Superman reads the plot from some text in a microdot in a photo' scene that sets up the entirety of what this story is about, the reader is inundated with plot information that does not flow naturally from the story itself. The scene with the photograph is torturous to read and understand, and also features one of my pet hates when it comes to reinventing characters and concepts in comics and science-fiction - taking an established name and revealing it to be an acronym, in this case ULTRA.
If anything, this story is too condensed, and should have been spread across two issues. We could have seen things go wrong for LexCorp, whilst hints of the posession strand of the story come to the surface. Madness could have played a much stronger role. We are presented with a whodunnit in terms of the industrial sabotage plot, but with no insight into the characters of the two chief suspects, they might as well be anybody. In fact, the only difference between the two suspects is that one is a Senior VP and the other one is a regular VP. There may be a moustache involved. The cliffhanger to the issue is supposed to shock us that the main suspect has either comitted suicide or been murdered by Drake, but the climax is rushed, with Superman and Lois quite literally appearing out of nowhere, ruining the suspense.
The Geeky Bits: Val Semeiks makes a rare Superman pencilling appearance in this arc. Outside of LotDCU, Semeiks pencilled the 1999 Lex Luthor miniseries, and 1998's Adventures of Superman #557, as well as Grant Morrison's first DC crossover, DC One Million. Outside of Superman, Semeiks is best known for lengthy runs on Lobo and The Demon, paired with Alan Grant as writer.
Glen Orbik is an occasional cover artist for comics, graphic novels, and novels.
Next on World of Superman: We wrap up our coverage of the ULTRA Humanite arc, before putting it all behind us.