Though they have no shortage of their own characters Marvel Comics has made another exciting addition to their publishing line with The Rise of Ultraman #1, a modern reinvention of the classic Japanese franchise. This new series reboots the property for new audiences and old fans alike with a direct approach to the concept in a fun inaugural issue. The only real downside for the series' kickoff is that it has to spend more time establishing its world than really playing in it, though it features quality backup tales to supplement that shortcoming.
Co-written by Power Rangers scribe Kyle Higgins and Self/Made’s Mat Groom, the series performs a fine balancing act introducing readers to this world and its core concepts: secret science organizations, laser weapons, and, of course, kaiju. The only stumble is with the titular hero himself, whose appearance is relegated to the mystery of the issue at large and becomes the set up for the series to come. We shouldn’t expect a full-blown Ultraman fight in the first issue, but the teases alone don’t satisfy the hunger, though they offer enough intrigue for upcoming issues to keep readers coming back.
The reason that this conservative approach to Ultraman works here is that new characters provide the foundation for what comes next. Higgins and Groom do their best to introduce some new faces and corresponding elements of exposition with grace and poise. One of the best things they do in Rise of Ultraman #1 is to put the reader in the place of its lead character, Cadet Fuji. Still a newcomer to the United Science Patrol, some elements of the story (including key sentences in dialogue boxes) are scratched out, classified above her clearance level. It’s a nice touch that adds another layer to the story.
Francesco Manna provides pencils for the first issue and brings a slick style to the narrative that is mostly composed of set-ups and details. He has a flair for creating technology and gadgets for this futuristic world, which goes a long way in a series like this, but it's his ability to maintain the story's momentum that make his work indispensable. Manna also provides the right mood for each sequence. A kaiju hunt offers a grim approach, while a romantic dinner possesses a warm touch. Colorist Espen Grundetjern aids in these moments, too. The artists fully capture the aesthetic of the Ultraman kaiju to a T, as they capture the feel of a man in a suit, not summoning a souped up version for the sole sake of "coolness."
Two back up stories fill out the issue, also written by Higgins and Groom. Michael Cho brings the art to “Utlra Q,” a flashback series that provides some prequel context to the world of Ultraman while also raising even more questions for the series ahead. Some more light-hearted “Kaiju Steps” pages (a series of one page gags) from Higgins, Groom, and artist Gurihiru are fun and fill in a few blanks, but don’t add a lot to the story.
The Rise of Ultraman #1 does a rare thing beautifully, condensing an exhaustively explored older franchise into a new style of story, somehow remaining accessible to newcomers while delighting old fans. Higgins and Groom have a solid grasp of what makes the concept work and are juggling its retro ethos with a modern perspective. Here’s to hoping that Ultraman continues beyond this five-issue series, and that he isn't complicated too much in interacting with the worlds of Marvel Comics.
Published by Marvel Comics
On September 9, 2020
Written by Kyle Higgins and Matt Groom
Art by Francesco Manna
Colors by Espen Grundetjern0comments
Letters by Ariana Maher
Cover by Alex Ross