Ultraman Vol. 2
Art: Tomohiro Shimoguchi
Ultraman created by Eiji Tsuburaya & Tsuburaya Productions
The second volume of the Ultraman manga reboot is paced exactly like the previous one, with smaller scenes building up to a massive decompressed fight beginning at the halfway point. But the action begins sooner, even as the manga continues the process of reintroducing elements from the original TV series while expanding the cast of supporting characters. In the last volume, it was revealed that original Ultraman host Shin Hayata had been permanently altered by his time bonding with the Giant of Light so that he retained a portion of the mysterious alien’s powers. Even more inexplicably, he passed those abilities on to his only son Shinjiro. Now that Shin has been injured in his battle with old nemesis Bemular, will Shinjiro take up the mantle of his father and continue to defend the planet from alien threats? This volume gives a definitive answer, but not before raising a whole host of thorny issues about the new Ultraman’s true purpose. Volume one ended with the introduction of this strange being:
Fans of the TV series will recognize this Edo to be a member of a race of evil aliens who were once Ultraman’s mortal enemies. So why is he not just a member of the Special Science Search Party, a.k.a the Science Patrol, but actually the one giving the orders? Since when has the SSSP become a covert organization, with its own complement of Men in Black covering up the existence of aliens? And how does Shinjiro fit into their plans?
The people who will probably end up helping him in getting to the bottom of this conspiracy are Endo, a determined police detective, and Rena, a teen idol and Ultraman superfan. Acting as foil is taciturn SSSP agent Moroboshi. At this point, everyone’s personality is broadly defined. Endo’s dislike for blindly following orders is going to get him into trouble with the bad guys. Rena’s nothing more than a damsel-in-distress and potential love interest. And Moroboshi is a dick towards Shinjiro because he’s the workplace newbie. Shinjiro himself still lacks any agency as the reluctant hero following in his father’s footsteps. He’s likeable in his desire to do the right thing, which makes it easy for Edo to manipulate him.
The most obvious departure from the entire franchise is that the new Ultraman is no longer the result of a magical transformation. Shinjiro has to don an armored suit built by the SSSP to fully replicate all of Ultraman’s superpowers. This has a number of significant consequence for the manga. This Ultraman now works for The Man, so he loses most of his customary independence. Gone is the larger-than-life kaiju-battling action, replaced by street-level violence. Shinjiro has to spend half the time worrying about keeping the fight away from innocent bystanders or rescuing trapped civilians. And the now human-sized enemies behave more like criminals and terrorists attempting to blend into the general population than traditional world-conquering villains. The true big bad could be hiding anywhere, including the SSSP. This is a superhero for a more paranoid era.