Every so often, as I try to think up new characters to write up for this weekly series, I remember the Ultraverse was a thing. After Malibu Comics helped Image get off the ground, it turned around and made its own superhero universe, advertising it as the “writer’s turn” since Image was artist-focused at first. But then Marvel bought Malibu and, well, proceeded to basically ruin a charming little superhero line.
The Ultraverse was full of weird and strange heroes, and the weirdest and strangest may have been the thing called Sludge.
Sludge was, originally, Frank Hoag, a corrupt NYPD officer who finally decided he didn’t want to be a corrupt officer anymore when his mob boss employers ordered him to kill another cop. Naturally refusing the mob anything is never a good idea, so they shot him. Then they set a bomb off near him. That somehow resulted in his being coated with a ton of chemicals and finally, they tossed his body into the sewer.
And since this is a comic book, one written by noted cynic Steve Gerber, a man with experience writing about misshapen muck monsters, Frank didn’t stay dead. He emerged as a creature made of, well, ooze. Now phenomenally strong with a body that regenerated even the most horrible injuries, Frank had one problem: he couldn’t concentrate very well and often got words mixed up in his own mind.
He was also physically rather slow, except for those instances where he had to be faster, like when he smashed a car speeding right at him full of gang members who had just done a drive-by on a street above Sludge’s head.
But the nastiest power he had was his skin caused flesh to melt. It wasn’t something he could control exactly. Theoretically, any contact with human flesh would cause the effect, even if he was sleeping and someone tried to move him. Since melting an enemy’s face off can be rather…unpleasant, he truly was one of the nastier heroes in the Ultraverse line. And that was before the reader discovered he ate garbage for nourishment.
So, what set this character apart from the rest of the line? You know, beyond having Gerber as a creator? In many ways, he may have been one of the shortest lived characters in the line. His solo series only ran 12 issues, and his book had a back-up feature for a vampire character named Rune who never had anything to do with Sludge’s own adventures. If anything, the most noteworthy moment in Sludge’s series was the first appearance of Lord Pumpkin, an evil scarecrow animated through dark magic that became not only a reoccurring foe for Sludge but the Ultraverse at large. Yes, like Dr. Doom in the Marvel Universe, just about every Ultraverse hero probably matched wits with Lord Pumpkin sooner or later. Lord Pumpkin was acting as a crimeboss in the sewers with a kid dressed like a 30 movie gangster acting as his second in command. Sludge initially went to work for the Pump (as the kid called him) looking for the magical boogieman to help Sludge kill himself. That never quite worked out and Sludge eventually turned on Lord Pumpkin. Oddly enough, when Lord Pumpkin appeared on the Ultraforce animated series, Sludge was his minion and not his eventual enemy.
Then again, I haven’t seen that episode. I saw one or two episodes of that show on YouTube and…they aren’t very good so I am not likely to go track them down now.
Anyway, that was Sludge, the blue sewer freak who melted human flesh while messing up words and eating garbage. The Man-Thing he was not, for better or for worse.