Thursday, 8 July 2010

Legends of the DC Universe #3

A good week for friends helping out with this blog continues. Jon M. Wilson, who already spent part of an earlier podcast mentioning the blog, read out two of my e-mails, along with associated plugs for this blog at the start of episode 12 of Amazing Spider-Man Classics. And then, in a moment of utter awesomeness, I have just tuned into episode 58 of From Crisis To Crisis, to hear both Mike and Jeffrey give a very welcoming thumbs up to the blog. Many thanks to my friends out there, I hope my little back-links can go a little way to repaying your kindness.

And now, on with the show!

ULTRA Humanite Part III: Mad Scientist

Writer: James Robinson
Penciller: Val Semeiks
Inker: Paul Neary
Letterer: Janice Chiang
Colorist: Kevin Somers
Separations: Digital Chameleon
Assistant: Maureen McTigue
Mad Scientist: Joey Calvieri
Cover Painting: Glen Orbik
Cover Date: April 1998

Two days before the LexCorp Tower opening, and thigns are still going poorly in Metropolis, with repeated LexCorp catastrophes, attacks by Madness, and technological thefts. Meeting with Drake, Superman discovers that he is now considering actress Dolores Winters as a viable host for the ULTRA Humanite. Whilst they talk, Luthor has one of his goons execute Merrit, the other original suspect.

That night, Superman takes Winters from her apartment and takes her to Lois, who will look after her. Superman isn't so sure about Winters being the ULTRA Humanite, and needs to get hold of Madness to question him about the timing of his attacks. But in order to do so, he's going to have to ask a favour.

Later on, as a blimp losees height and threatens to crash into Metropolis, Superman tackles Madness. He charges through the crowd of temporary insane citizens, careful not to hurt them and grabs the villain, lifting him into the sky. Superman is able to focus his madness into anger, intimidating Madness into agreeing to talk. As they fly away, Superman reveals that he had contacted Blue Beetle, who has saved the blimp from crashing. Superman and Madness arrive at the dockside hideout of the ULTRA Humanite, containing the mind-swapping machine. Superman accesses the computer and sees a list of people that Wilde had transferred his mind into, and realises who the ULTRA Humanite currently is.

Lois is driving through Metropolis with Winters, whilst under attack from LexCorp City Security, who Luthor has ordered to kill the other ULTRA suspect. Superman contacts her mobile, telling her to get to the LexCorp Tower opening ceremony. She pulls up just as Luthor is about to declare the tower open, and City Security back off, unwilling to make a direct public attack. Luthor demands to know what is happening, and Superman explains that the stolen tech had been installed into the tower to allow it to spread Wilde's soul throughout Metropolis at the moment of the opening. Superman flies to the top of the tower, destroying the transmitter and confronting the ULTRA Humanite - Drake.

Drake/Wilde is wearing a new prototype of the City Security armor, and the two fight for a while, Drake attempting to distract Superman enough that his backup plan to destroy the tower will succeed. Superman is able to direct the fight so that it destroys the supports of the LexCorp Tower, causing it to collapse inwards on itself. Drake/Wilde disappears in the confusion. Luthor is angry at Superman for destroying his dream, and as Superman leaves to try and find Drake/Wilde, he vows to build a new tower to remind everyone in Metropolis that the city belongs to Lex Luthor.

At the hideout, Superman finds Drake's body in the ULTRA machine. The computer records have been wiped, meaning that Wilde could be in any body. Alone in the night, the ULTRA Humanite plots his revenge against both Luthor and Superman.

 Following the rushed plotting and exposition of the last issue, the final part of ULTRA Humanite gives its story time to breathe, slowing things down without breaking the tension or ruining the pace. Stakes are raised, the ticking clock ticks away, but we are never rushed through the story. This is instantly an improvement, and whilst this issue still doesn't quite do it for me, or live up to the standards of the first in this arc, it makes for a much more pleasurable read.

I'm not a fan of this reinvation of the Ultra Humanite, but the paranoia over the identity of the ULTRA works well here, with red herrings being thrown at us with more credibility than in the second issue. I particularly like Dolores Winters as the most notable herring. Unless she has a fairly sever off-panel haircut, the sillhouette at the end of the story clearly isn't her, proving that whilst Robinson is happy to tip his hat to continuity, he doesn't feel the need to be beholden to it. Admittedly, killing off the two most notable suspects at the end of the last issue and the start of this one does make for a whodunnit with only one other main suspect, and the reveal of Drake as ULTRA is a little inevitable. The final battle is a little anticlimactic - Drake/Wilde/ULTRA turns up in a bigger battle suit that we've seen so far, and Superman smacks him into a building.

One nice little continuity touch is the cameo appearance from Dan Garrett, the original Blue Beetle. It's a small moment, but one that represents Superman's growing influence in the DCU, as well a nice bit of humility for the Big Blue - he knows he can't apprehend Madness by himself, and he's not afraid to ask for a favour. And talking of Madness... I rather like this villain and his MO, and especially the way that Superman overcomes his 'madness aura' by focusing his own personal madness into righteous anger and scaring the pants off the villain. I find it a shame that Madness has not reappeared since this series (based on the fact that there is quite literally no information that I can find on the internet, even at the normally very reliable DC Database). The idea of a villain that could never hope to go toe-to-toe with Superman but is able to fight him with chaos is an attractive one for me, and it's a pity that he's a one-shot villain.

Although Luthor has not muc on-panel presence, his villainous side seeps through the issue, from the opening page where he has an ULTRA suspect executed in his office through to his final vow to rebuild the tower as a testament to his power over the city. This is old-school-modern-era Lex (a classification of my own design, true old-school Lex is equivalent to new-school Lex, being pimped out in battlesuits and more of a mad scientist), a public smile but a private snarl.

I've avoided talking about the artwork across this series so far. There's a very simple reason for this - I have no feeling regarding the artwork at all. It does the job, tells the story, is pleasing to the eye, but very few images stand out. The most notable for me is the splash page of the Blue Beetle saving the blimp from crashing, mainly for the nice framing thaat simultaneously puts the focus directly on the Beetle whilst making him just about the smallest thing on the page. I do think that part of ambiguity towards the art comes from the fact that Glen Orbik's covers for these three issues have been absolutely superb. Nowadays, it's rare to see non-Alex Ross painted covers, so for me, these covers really stand out. There's a wonderful grace to the posing of Superman, especially in the cover to this issue, and his representations of the three classic descriptions of Superman's powers - Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound - make for a wonderful tryptich of covers.

The Geeky Bits: As far as I can tell, this 'reboot' of the Ultra Humanite never troubled the DC Universe again. Perhaps another brain jump went wrong and the consciousness of Professor Wilde dissipated into nothingness. Perhaps his surrogate body ate some dodgy chicken and died of food poisoning. We'll never know.

The real Ultra Humanite would keep a fairly low profile during the post-Crisis era. His origin was retconned so that he was a nemesis of the original Justice Society and other heroes from that era. His most notable 'current' appearance before Infinite Crisis was in the JSA story Stealing Thunder, where he occupied the body of Johnny Thunder, enslaved the Thunderbolt, and ruled the Earth for about five issues before he was defeated. Post-Infinite Crisis, he appeared in the Power Girl series.

ULTRA Humanite has never been collected.

Next Time on World of Superman: Superman finally joins the JLA.

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