Saturday, 12 June 2010

Sludge (Ultraverse)

Sludge was a title in Malibu Comics Ultraverse line, hence my previous posting about that imprint.

There was a lot about the earlier Ultraverse work that I enjoy, with some great runs of stories, marred only by very changeable art styles through those runs. Sludge is my favourite book of the imprint as a Dead Universe reader, one I didn’t pick up when it came out, and having read it in the past and re-reading it recently I feel it holds up pretty well and I wish I had been able to enjoy it when it came out. Of course my sensibilities were different then, so I may have dismissed it, but it is a comic-book I regard fondly.

Sludge centres on a man-monster, formerly Detective Hoag, a corrupt cop and a man transformed by a horrible accident. In this a tradition is continued, dating back to the Heap, and later characters such as Man-Thing (notable for a run written by Sludge co-creator and primary writer Steve Gerber) and Swamp Thing.

Hoag-as-Sludge is desperate. His mind has become addled by the process that has turned him into a monster, his thoughts incoherent. A grotesque figure, he possesses superhuman strength and resilience, tremendous regenerative capability and a touch that causes hyper-accelerated cellular growth – fatal to most he encounters through the series. Sludge becomes desperate to end his own nightmarishly-transformed life, and it is into this context that the series unfolds.

The scene is quickly set for the man-creature, an existence of sorts in the alleyways and sewers, where he encounters those on the periphery of society and vile creatures haunting those locations. Sludge soon gets drawn into a three-way battle between New York mobs, one of which is tied into his transformation. In this Sludge is manipulated by my favourite Ultraverse villain – Lord Pumpkin, the otherworldly interloper who sets out to create his own criminal empire aided by the child-criminal Pistol. Further tales cross paths with Prime, revealing more about the origin of the chemicals that transformed Hoag into the man-monster Sludge.

The series is very much the brainchild of two creative forces: Steve Gerber as writer and Aaron Lopresti as artist. It seems strange that for parts of the run Gerber takes a back seat to Lopresti’s creative influence. For whatever reasons he chose to do so, the book benefitted from the work that the artist delivered, which echoed past greats of the medium including Steranko, Frazetta, Basil Wolverton, Mike Ploog, the EC artists and many more. Sludge is visually a treat in my view, and holds up well today thanks to Malibu’s pioneering use of computer colouring techniques. Lopresti did not draw every issue, but his style is across the series through his covers and the design of Sludge he depicts in the early issues.

The series lasted only 12 full issues, a several page continuation in Ultraverse Premiere (UP 8 flipped onto the back of Sludge 12, and continuing the story from Sludge 12), and a one-shot – Sludge: Red X-Mas. Despite that I would argue it is one of the strongest books that the Ultraverse imprint spawned, and well worth tracking down since Marvel are at this time and for the foreseeable future very unlikely to reprint the title as a collected edition.

Characters and images are ™ and © 2010 Marvel Characters, Inc.

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