Ultraman is one of the most popular TV/toy properties in Japan right now. Since its debut in 1966, it has remained consistently a hit over there. The actual quality of the shows has waned in recent years, but that's an article for another day. Interestingly, there hasn't been that many manga for the series. (Or at least, some we can find out about!) That's part of the reason why ULTRAMAN was highly anticipated. After being out for four years in Japan, it has surprisingly been licensed over here. Volume 1 nicely establishes the story and provides plenty of references to the original series while being something intriguing for new fans.
Decades ago, a being known as the Giant of Light joined Shin Hayata of the Scientific Special Search Party to save Earth from an invasion of terrifying monsters known as Kaiju. Now, many years later, those dark days are fading into memory, and the world is at peace. But in the shadows a new threat is growing, a danger that can only be faced by a new kind of hero—a new kind of ULTRAMAN…What I found most appealing about the story is that it places itself in continuity after the original series. The intro was great, giving us a rather intriguing scenario: a future where Ultraman is only a memory. The Science Patrol museum was a lot of fun, showcasing Ultraman's final fight with Zetton in figure form. Interestingly, we have Hayata straight from the original show. It's really cool how it looks like he'll be an ongoing character. Then we have Ide also. If you're a fan of the 1966 series, there's a lot to like here. The beginning introduces us to Shinjiro, our main character in child form. There's a nice slow buildup of intrigue as we see he has certain abilities. This leads us to Hayata himself revealing to Ide that he too has powers. "The Ultraman Factor" the manga is calling it. It's quite fascinating, though explained rather quickly. Hopefully in the next volume it'll go into that a bit more.
Shinjiro is an ordinary teenager, but his father is the legendary Shin Hayata. When he learns that his father passed on the “Ultraman Factor” to him, and that he possesses incredible powers, nothing will ever be the same again.
In modern day the story really heats up, and also where we find at least one negative. Shinjiro might have been a happy kid back then, but here the writer (Eiichi Shimizu) goes out of his way to make him the stereotypical high school student. I suppose with not comprehending his powers it could be understandable. Still, it was grating to get through some of those school scenes. He seems to pick up later on when he's given the Ultraman armor. The pacing is very good. The slow unveiling to the antagonist is great. Is that Ultraman? Why does he have a center hole like him? That's why when Hayata says "That's NOT Ultraman" the reader is extra intrigued. So then who is he?
The answer to this day is still one of the coolest scenes in the first volume. This alien revealing himself to be Bemular changes things quite a bit. Longtime Ultraman watchers will remember Bemular to be the very first monster Ultraman fought. This adds a mystery element to the story: has this monster transformed into an alien? Is this a new Bemular? His dialogue is a bit confusing when he says, "My name is Bemular...and I'm your very first enemy!" Is he referring to the fact that he was Ultraman's first foe? Or that he's the first to come? It seems like the latter, so it should be interesting to see how this Bemular connects to the original.
The art by Tomohiro Shimoguchi is definitely very good, even great. The Ultraman armor looks really well done. Bemular however deserves even greater recognition. The art succeeds at making him appear mysterious and ominous. The fight in the climax between them was fantastic and if that's any indication we have many more incredible fight scenes to look forward to. The ending leaves us with a nice cliffhanger, introducing Alien Z-Ton to the mix. These guys have been a fixture in Ultraman since the original show, so it's a really neat ending. Plus, the art nails the design perfectly.