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Ultima Thula
writers: David Greenblatt
and Phil Nibbelink
artist: Phil Nibbelink

(full disclosure: This book is published by Arcana, which did co-publish The Greatest American Hero with Catastrophic Comics.)

Sometimes a book just needs to be a ride, kicking ass and chewing bubblegum right to the end. Though Ultima Thula has a few reflections on the costs of being a soldier, they take a backseat - have to, really - to the main through line of one man saving his town from an alien abduction.

Early on, co-writer David Greenblatt reveals his intent by naming the town judge after Fred Dekker, director of Night of the Creeps and The Monster Squad If you're going to do schlock, you'd better be acknowledging some of the leading lights, and it would be easy to see this book adapted into a fun mid-level alien movie of the kind I'm not sure anybody does anymore. But lordy, did those get me through college.

It begins with ex-Iraq Special Forces Jason Battle waking up on an alien landscape. The sky bleeds red, as does a lot of Phil Nibbelink's art. Blood, it seems, will be a major motif, and human blood is of a very high value to these aliens, in a way that isn't as obvious as it could be.

Haunted by his past, Battle pieces together memories of both being the town screw-up in danger of losing custody of his daughter, and of the sudden and complete abduction of everyone in his small Oregon town. While the whole thing disturbs him, of most concern to him is that his young daughter was among them, hammered home by a grub-like alien offering him her teddy bear.

For reasons not quite spelled out, Battle has been chosen to upset the status quo on this alien world. In the wake of a plague, a civil war has broken out, and somehow Battle carries the key to victory. At least, the lone survivor of a previous abduction, Harry, thinks so. (Harry, by the way, needs to be played by Steve Buscemi in the movie.) Maybe he chose Battle at random out of a newspaper, or maybe there's something more.

Nibbelink's alien design is both cartoony and creepy, a race out of Ray Harryhausen's nightmares. Some of the rebels are almost cute, then the alien overlord appears, chitinous and yet with the vague outlines of a demon skeleton.

As for the bigger picture, Nibbelink has a great sense of layout. Well, he should, as he spent decades as an animator for Disney and himself, having directed Fievel Goes West, We're Back and the CG for Casper. Thus his humans have a rubberiness to them that comes from melding animation style with the demands of hard sci-fi comics. It's not a very mainstream style, feeling more like a throwback to so-called "underground" comics.

But it fits, driving the story forward and occasionally pulling out some pretty cool images. As for Nibbelink and Greenblatt's writing, it has a roller coaster feel with twists and turns that keep you from finding firm ground, but in a good way.

If you're a fan of Heavy Metal, you really should pick up this book. If you love the work of Dekker, Charles Band or the Chiodo Brothers, this book is absolutely for you. It's dying to be a cheesy science fiction movie in the way we haven't been able to enjoy at movie theaters for too long. Thankfully, there are books like Ultima Thula to revive that pleasure for us.

Hey, write to us and let us know what you think!

Derek McCaw

 

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