Saturday, August 27, 2011

Under the Radar: Firearm

When it comes to comic books, I'm often asked what my favorite series/character/etc. is.  Hmm ... well, I like a LOT of comic books and characters.  Iron Man, Green Lantern, Ghost Rider (both Johnny Blaze and Dan Ketch), Witchblade, Daredevil, Hellblazer ... I could go on and on.  I've got a lot of fond memories growing up with various superheroes and supervillains, and I still love making weekly trips to the comic shops to see all the new stuff.  I'm also lucky enough to work in a field where I get to follow all sorts of cool comic books projects.

What can I say?  I'll forever be a comic book fanboy.  But when it comes to my personal FAVORITE series?  Well, it's probably one you'd never expect and may not have even heard of ... which naturally makes it the perfect choice for this Under the Radar piece.

It's Firearm, a relatively short-lived series from the now defunct Malibu Comics' Ultraverse line.  And this is why you should try to find it in the back issue bins of your closest comic shop.

First, I think you need a little background on the whole "Ultraverse" thing.  Back in the early 90s, the comic industry was booming and everyone wanted to get a piece of the action.  In that time, fans saw the birth of Image Comics (Spawn, WildC.A.T.S., Youngblood) and Valiant (X-O Manowar, Magnus: Robot Fighter, Turok).  Well, Malibu Comics wasn't about to be left behind ... and so the Ultraverse was born.  The characters of the Ultraverse were all unique in their own right, from the Superman archetype who was actually a 13-year old boy to the actor-turned-superhero icon Hardcase.  And right smack in the middle of it all was Alec Swan, a.k.a. Firearm.

In a world filled with superpowers, Alec Swan was just a private eye trying to get by.  Okay, so maybe he was a little more than just a regular guy.  While Swan didn't have superpowers, he had a hell of a lot of training, first as a soldier in the British Special Boat Service and then as an agent for a covert government agency known simply as "The Lodge".  After one particular mission with The Lodge goes south, Swan quit the agency and relocated to the States to start a new life as a private investigator.  While Swan thought he could finally settle down a bit, fate (and some excellent writing by James Robinson) had other things in mind.  Whether he was fighting for his life against a group of cannibalistic Ultras, breaking into a government facility to rescue a missing teenager who just so happened to be one of the most powerful characters in the Ultraverse, or facing off against a demonically possessed Ultra trying to release a dark god, Swan always happened to find himself in the wrong place at just the right time.

Eventually, Swan found himself in a cat and mouse game with a serial killer known as Rafferty.  Like Swan, Rafferty was well-trained in combat and had a disdain for those with supernatural powers.  However, Rafferty found joy in killing off these "Ultras", and in taunting Swan, challenging Swan to stop his murderous machinations.  The Rafferty Saga crossed over into a number of Ultraverse titles, with Rafferty hunting down Ultras and Swan hot on his heels.  It made for a great read and culminated in an epic battle between the two.

Firearm lasted for a total nineteen issues (#1 through #18, plus a limited edition issue #0 that came packed with a live-action 30-minute "film" telling the first half of the story). What made the book so great for me was the superb scripting by James Robinson.  I grew up reading classic pulp detective stories from the likes of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, and for me, Robinson was right up there with them.  I could actually picture Alec Swan, Philip Marlowe, and Sam Spade all sharing a round of drinks and comparing stories.  Of course, in comics, it's not just the words that matter, but the pictures as well.  And regular artist Cully Hamner did an amazing job telling Swan's stories.

Sadly, after Marvel bought Malibu in 1994, the end of the Ultraverse wasn't far behind.  Adding insult to injury, due to the way that the original contracts were written, it's not likely that the Ultraverse will ever make a return under the Marvel banner.  On the upside, Robinson was able to wrap things up nicely in the end ... giving the book a proper "Swan" song, but in a way that still left things open for an eventual return, should the stars ever align correctly.  In the meantime, though, you can't go wrong tracking down the back issues of this cool modern take on the classic pulp stories.

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