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‘The Rise of Ultraman #1’ (review)

Written by Kyle Higgins, Matthew Groom
Art by Francesco Manna, Michael Cho,
G Gurihiru, Ed McGuinness

Published by Marvel Comics

 

Marvel Comics has a history with the tokusatsu genre, going back to its 1970s Godzilla ongoing series. You could make an argument that the connection goes back further, that the monster comics of the late ’50s, featuring beasts such as Fin Fang Foom, were inspired by the kaiju movies being imported from Japan.

In this tradition, the House of Ideas has turned to the one of the best known tokusatsu characters of all, the kaiju-fighting hero Ultraman, making his return to American comics after a short stint in the early ’90s. To bring him back, they’ve recruited writer Kyle Higgins, no stranger to the milieu, having helped launch BOOM! Studios’ wildly successful Mighty Morphin Power Rangers series.

In The Rise of Ultraman #1, Higgins and co-writer Mat Groom reimagine the red and silver sentinel in the present-day. Shin Hayata is an overzealous young man who was rejected by the United Science Patrol, while his best friend Kiki Fuji (Akiko in the original series) was accepted, yet finds she’s kept in the dark about far more than she feels she should be.

The two are drawn into a mystery involving a mysterious UFO that may be connected to the apparent death of pilot Dan Moroboshi more than 50 years earlier, and by the end of the issue, Hayata looks to follow a similar fate–but if you know your Ultras, you likely have an idea of what to expect.

The Rise of Ultraman #1 is a decent start to the five-issue mini, centering on the strained friendship between Shin and Kiki, and the USP’s secret war against kaiju. The Francesco Manna artwork is animated and dynamic, and Espen Grundetjern’s bright colors are a perfect complement.

But the pacing, while perfectly fine for American superhero comics, is a bit slow compared to the series’ inspiration. We don’t see the title character until the end of the main story, compared to tokusatsu shows, which start things off pretty fast. Granted, this is geared more toward modern American readers, so that’s more of a personal nitpick.

Fortunately, the issue is pretty packed, and has something for diehards too. In addition to the main story, there’s a black and white backup story starring the Ultra Q team. For those unaware, Ultra Q was the very first Ultra TV series, centering on a team of supernatural investigators battling kaiju. The backup is handsomely illustrated by Michael Cho and seems to hint at a broader plan for Marvel’s Ultraman slate.

For my money, however, the most fun are the Kaiju Steps comedy strips, drawn by Gurihiru and featuring the Science Patrol’s buddy Pigmon. These irreverent strips seem to get at the goofy spirit of the original TV series in a way that seems truer than anything else here.

But given Higgins and Groom have penned all of these features, there’s a good chance they get it and are building towards a sci-fi epic that nonetheless leans into the weirdness of the five-decade-plus strong Ultraman franchise.

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