Ultraman is back!
by rick olivares
Like its North American superhero cousins, a much-beloved Japanese television/manga character is growing up.
Ultraman is back for a new generation with Ultraman: The Beginning of A New Age Vol. 1 as written by Eichi Shimizu and illustrated by Tomohiro Shimoguchi. The first tankobon, or compilation, features the first six chapters of the continuing adventures of this sci-fi hero.
In the new adventures, after the Giant of Light or Ultraman returned to stars after finally repelling the invasion of terrifying monsters known as Kaiju, his human host, Shin Hayata, went on with his life and built a family. However, Hayata, now working as Defense Minister of Japan, cannot remember his time as the human avatar of Ultraman. Yet, he possesses the powers that he calls the “Ultraman Factor.” And his son, Shinjiro, has inherited them too.
Hayata confides to his old Science Patrol colleague, Matsuhiro Ide, about his powers and that of Shinjiro’s. Around the same time, a mysterious alien appears and makes an attempt on Shinjiro’s life saying that the Ultraman power should not be used on Earth. Hayata appears to protect his son but in severely injured in the process. Shinjiro puts on an Exo-Armor to augment his powers and battles the alien named Bemular nearly destroying him with Ultraman’s signature finishing move — the Specium Ray.
The alien withdraws from the battlefield after sustaining major damage getting hit by a Specium Ray, the particle ray weapon used by Ultraman to vaporize foes.
At this point, I am not sure if this is the same Bemular that the first Ultraman battled. That Bemular was a Godzilla-like monster. However, the alien, of the same name bears some resemblance in spite of wearing its own suit of armor. It’s got spikes on its back.
And that isn’t the cliffhanger just yet.
Ultraman: The Beginning of a New Age is a bold new direction as a younger generation takes over with the stakes even higher against more sinister foes. The new series takes advantage the significant upgrades in design, technology or even storytelling techniques.
The Exo-armor worn by Shinjiro is sleeker, more dynamic and far better than those ugly but loveable eel heads of yore. No doubt, the influence of Mobile Suit Gundam extends to Ultraman.
Shimizu’s storytelling is fast-paced and keeps up with Shimoguchi’s dynamic art that reminds me of Yukito Kishiro of Battle Angel fame (my all-time fave manga series). They pay homage not only to the old Ultraman but also to some Western comic heroes. The part when Hayata arrived to protect Shinjiro is in fact, the first time he uses the Ultraman power alone. And it is a Holy Crap moment when he tears off his clothing ala this-is-a-job-for-Superman and says, “I am Ultraman."
The colored pin-up pages that precede the story are visually arresting and the first tome wraps up with character designs and other information making this 240-page tankobon an even more worthy pick up.
I loved the old Ultraman television show as only a kid can. And I collected the manga whenever there was one available domestically (you only found this at a shop in Greenhills in the pre-comic book specialty shop days). But now, thanks to VIZ Media, the Japanese-American publishing company based in San Francisco, California released the new Ultraman series (translated into English) last August 18 and should be available in your local comic book stores.