Writer(s): Larry Hama
Artist(s): Ron Wagner (and others)
Published Date: 1989-90Plot:
Two orphans are raised differently, one to become the most dangerous weapon for the CIA the other to be the most powerful psychic villain that can disarm all nukes with his mind. Ah, and he can dress up as Galactus, too.
Some things should have a cult following that transcends the test of time. Some do, but inexplicably the following are not big enough.
Take for example, the Nth man, published by Marvel back in 1989.
Larry Hama was still hot from his success with GI Joe, partially because of the cross-over marketing on the TV Cartoons and the lunch-boxes, partially because of brilliant writing, of course.
He took Nth Man as a special pet project, insisting in dwelling on some more mature topics and blurring the lines between good and evil.
Towards the end of the 1980’s the US was still riding the hype of the Red-Scare, so everyone was baffled when the Berlin Wall Fell. “Wait, aren’t they horrid monsters? So why are they taking down the wall?”
Well, it turns out the “ruskies” were not all that receptive to imposed communism and in one of those rare cases of life imitating art or viceversa, we were offered (via Marvel publishing and the series Nth Man) a comic where things were always different shades of gray.
Don’t get me wrong, the good guys were handsome and charming and the bad guys were contrived and despicable, but here you have an American born child becoming a global terrorist, while another American kid learns ancient martial arts from the east, and tries to defeat him.
In the Nth Man not only did Hama got to write a balanced do-over about what GIJoe could’ve been; he went beyond the restrictions that the GIJoe universe was setting upon him and in the process created a vehicle that gave us a little bit of everything us comic lover’s in the 80’s could ask for:
- A villain who turns himself into Galactus? Check!
- A Russian agent that is hot as heck (and gives us the first view on how to use of garters as part of a uniform!)? Check!!
- A moral condemnation of the children of war?
- More condemnation about indoctrination of both sides of the wall (albeit, of course, the American indoctrination is tame compared to the Russian indoctrination!) and enough geo-political conflict to last us 2 decades? Check and check and check!!!!!!
The artwork in this book is pretty clean and effective. We don’t discover any new rising stars, no Wrightsons or Corbens are lurking in the splashpages here, but remember, Marvel was in full corporate-mode in these years, and any book that was mildly successful, would immediately be handed over to some up-and-coming unknown artist that wasn’t ready for the big time, but who worked for cheap, that contributed to the comic-overkill we suffered at the end of the 90’s. We are lucky that didn’t happen in this book, and we got Marvel-style artists that stayed more or less true to the form throughout the whole run of the series.
From the covers to the interior art, this series was treated with care, with gleeful sense of adventure, and in a bold move, they steered clear of the new trend started by Tim Burtons Batman where everything was grim and the darker the better, and put things in its place laughing in the face of death when needed, and bringing a campiness and humor that was very much needed at the time.
All of us who enjoyed this series should be up in arms requesting a TPB, and on the same lines, some advertising to help promote this jewel to its rightful place.
But I fell I should give a warning here: I wouldn’t be surprised if the historical context was lost on the new generations who thing that Russians are just some guys who live near Brighton Beach in Brooklyn, and mostly go into programming in Brooklyn College.
To appreciate this comic to its full extent you had to live through the 80’s in the US.
So, on my Critic’s rating, Nth Man, The Ultimate Ninja gets