Right in time for The Trials of Ultraman, Marvel Comics is releasing their excellent first stab at the character in trade paperback, fittingly called The Rise of Ultraman. Seeing Marvel take on the property is exciting and while it’s not set within the Marvel universe, it’s great to see a classic hero get a splashy comic book debut.
Series creators Kyle Higgins, Mat Groom, and Francesco Manna have outdone themselves with this first volume. It’s a great introduction to a world where monsters exist, but normal people don’t know about them. Higgins and Groom do a good job establishing the weirdness of this world starting with a flashback to 1966. This sets off alarms of what could be going on and establishes the weird sci-fi nature of the story. Soon after, we’re dropped into 2020 Japan and are introduced to the main characters. The story unveils an organization that’s highly secretive, a young girl who is rising up their ranks, her friend who has good intentions but can’t seem to make it, and a Captain who busts their balls. These characters are young, likable, and easy to root for. There’s a dynamic at work that will likely shift in the next issue, further drawing you into the story.
Clever ideas and sharp visuals abound in this book. Utilizing captions with literal redacted words, the reader is left in the dark on purpose to increase the mystery and the mysteriousness of the secret organization that keeps us safe. Ultraman himself is a mystery on top of all the mysteries which should be fun to untangle and understand. There are a lot of visceral visual elements at work in this story that help convey the mind-meld at work, from the dreamlike nature of Ultraman and our main character Shin floating above the ground to streaks of light that envelop the characters.
Each scene is set so well thanks to the use of colors by Espen Grundetjern mixed with the layers of foreground and background melding together. You can see it in an angelic forest Shin and Muramatsu drive through, as if their drive is anything but dangerous. The blending of background and foreground helps maximize dynamic range through much of the work, creating a sense of depth and drama in the slightest of scenes. There’s also some cool use of lens flare if you’re paying attention.
Adding to the high value of the main story are backups by Higgins and Groom with art by Michael Cho and Gurihiru. The Michael Cho short expands on the universe a bit more in an unexpected way, showing readers monsters have been around longer than the modern day. It’s clear Higgins and Groom have done a lot of work to establish this world and I wouldn’t be surprised if they have 20 times more story built out never to be seen unless this series goes to 100 issues. The comic strips drawn by Gurihiru reveal a bit more about the secret organization and start to shed light on the nature of its work. Told via helpful how-to guides with a grade school approach, these clips are fun and bubbly. They reminded me of the Captain America PSA clip in Spider-Man: Homecoming, and they add a sense of humor to the book.
The book as a whole wraps up its introduction by changing gears entirely, making this collection feel like a complete story in its own right. Shin’s adventure as so-so agent-turned-superhero is a clever idea wrapped in great world building. It blends ambitious ideas with gorgeous visuals in a slick sci-fi package you won’t want to miss.
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