This is the story of seven Strangers, picked by fate to get struck by lightning and find out what happens when you stop being polite…
And start getting super-powers! Your Major Spoilers (Retro) Review of The Strangers #1 awaits!
THE STRANGERS #1
Writer: Steve Englehart
Penciler: Rick Hoberg
Inker: Tim Burgard
Colorist: Paul Mounts
Letterer: Tim Eldred
Editor: Chris Ulm
Publisher: Malibu Comics
Cover Price: $1.95
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $2.50
Previously in The Strangers: Long-time Spoilerites know that I bear the emotional scars of the speculator boom of the 1990s and still hold some grudges that I probably shouldn’t. Because of that, it can sometimes be hard for me to admit that, even with the excesses of the era, 1993 wasn’t a bad year for comic books. With the success of Image Comics visually driven stories and Valiant Comics’ heavily intertwined continuity, many publishers leapt in with pre-made comic book universes: Comics Greatest World was a mixed bag, Malibu revived the defunct Centaur Publishing characters in their own world, and many a clawed loner appeared out of the dust. The Ultraverse was designed to emulate both Image and Valiant, combining the KEWL art of the day with Jim Shooter’s disciplined world-building to give us the yin AND the yang all at once. And like so many stories, it all started with a BANG!
Weeelllllll, actually more of a “KRAKKA-DOOOM!”, if we’re honest. Our story begins on a San Francisco street-car, where a number of regular guys and gals are riding to work or to school. After a slight interruption to evict one J.D. Hunt (whom you see in the foreground there, and whom we’ll get to later), the car is struck by a bolt from above, crashing into a passing sports car, and leading our dramatis personae to gather themselves after the crash…
Oh, yes… Mr. J.D. Hunt. The billionaire CEO of NuWare, a burgeoning biotech firm, he was canoodling with his inappropriately dressed lady friend, rudely ignoring the protests of his fellow passengers, which is what led to two young men chucking him off the trolley. Within a few seconds, we can tell that he’s truly a terrible human being, one who treats his beautiful companion as property. Fortunately, she’s not having it any longer…
This is where the intertwined continuity comes into play, as the man in the Miata is destined to become a player in the Ultraverse himself, while J.D. Hunt is a recurring villain in more than one title. As the lovely Candy flees what is probably the most crass relationship in comic-book history, the rest of the passengers are checked out by paramedics and released to their lives. Of course, as superstar fashion designer Elena LaBrava quickly discovers, they are not unchanged by the near-death experience…
Let me just take a second to commend artist Rick Hoberg for being able to draw Elena’s sketch in a style that is not his own, showing us HER pencil skills. It’s a lovely little touch (the kind of thing that the first half of the Ultraverse is full of) and one that helps to make the Strangers’ world more immersive. And remember the two young men who chucked J.D. off the trolley? Bob Hardin and Hugh Fox, college students and unlikely pals, find their own world a little bit weirder, when Bob accidentally turns his bag of sketches into a bag… of apples?
Hugh’s powers are, in keeping with his nature, somewhat more flashy and explosive, but both men know one thing for sure: Things are about to change.
Shift focus to Dave Castiglione, a baker who is woefully late to open his shop, thanks to the accident. Thankfully, though, his skills with flour more than make up for it, at least according to his loyal clientele…
Then there’s Leon Balford, a young man all of twelve-years-old, who comes from the rougher side of town. He quickly discovers that the young toughs aren’t going to be able to push him around any longer…
The harshest shock of all, though, comes for young Candy, who has cast off the shackles of her obnoxious boss/paramour, only to reveal to readers exactly WHY Hunt treated her like his personal property…
…because he built her. Also, that visual effect is a dead ringer for Twilight Zone episode 103, “In His Image”, where a young man named Alan discovers circuitry in his wrist after an injury. (It’s a good’n, check it out!) Candy panics and runs away, but not before we see Mr. Hunt angrily swearing that he must retrieve her and protect his company’s technological secrets at any cost! As for the man in the Miata?
Fans of 90s syndicated TV may remember Johnny Domino, the vigilante called Night Man, who received procognitive powers thanks to a chunk of shrapnel in his head. Though not a part of the regular cast of this series, he will appear later on in his own book, and during crossover madness, but it’s kind of neat to see the creators setting up another character’s origin in this book, notably one of the first releases of the Ultraverse line.
But, if Night Man isn’t Stranger Number 7, then who is?
The strange woman clearly has some sort of powers, making her too much for the SFPD to handle. Fortunately, Bob, Leon, Elena, Hugh and David all arrive to confront her, each realizing that their newfound powers come with a helping of responsibility. (This issue’s writer, Steve Englehart was one of Marvel’s stalwarts back in the day, so he’s heard that one a time or two before, I’d wager.) Elena even realizes that she, too, got super-powers from the “Jumpstart.”
Five heroes engage the strange woman in combat, but a sixth stands on the sidelines, wrestling with an existential query: Am I woman or machine? If you prick me, do I not… leak? Wrestling with such quandaries won’t be easy, it’ll take at least… I dunno, six or seven panels?
And thus does Candy find that she, too, has gained powers from the strange blast from above. The united Strangers prove formidable enough to drive the woman away, leaving only a series of meet-cutes, as each discovers that he or she isn’t the only new superhuman in town…
Bob realizes that there were dozens of others on the cable car, any of whom could have powers, and suggests that it’s better for the six of them to stay together for safety. Elena, who is coincidentally super-rich as well as talented and super-powered, which honestly seems unfair, is excited by the new challenge, and has an idea of what they all might do as a unit…
No, it’s not that.
Taking off into the night, The Strangers have embraced their first mission and taken the step that will make them the Ultraverse’s most powerful super-team in just a few issues. Even 20 years on, this book is still entertaining to me (although Englehart’s tendency to end every sentence with an! exclamation! point! is a little! bit! odd!) on both an art level and in the writing, as this story does a LOT of heavy lifting to get everyone in place inside of 40 pages. The seeds of something truly special are all here, and Hoberg’s art can even overcome the garish coloring that was Malibu’s house style (and pretty much everywhere besides) in 1993. The Strangers #1 is one of those comics that is bittersweet to read, not because of it being bad, but because of the horrors to come for the Ultraverse and the ugly demise of Malibu, but still manages to deliver a lot of story well, with fewer awkward moments of 90s ugly than I expected, earning a well-deserved 3.5 out of 5 stars overall. If nothing else, I will fondly remember it as the book that gave us the wonderful super nom de guerre, ‘Atom Bob.’