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Comic Book: Nth Man: The Ultimate Ninja

Nth Man: The Ultimate Ninja was a Comic Book series created by Larry Hama and published in 1989 by Marvel Comics. Though it only ran for sixteen issues, it is remembered as a quixotic blend of gritty realistic military action, fantastic ninja combat, and wide-eyed science-fiction.

The story begins six months after a powerful telekinetic named Alfie O'Meagan neutralized all of the world's nuclear weapons. With the balance of power abruptly upended, the world's superpowers immediately start waging World War III with conventional weapons. Among the chaos, the United States declares Alfie the most dangerous person on Earth, and retrieves the one person capable of killing him — John Doe, the Nth Man, the CIA's top assassin, the world's deadliest Ninja... and Alfie's childhood friend.

What follows is a whirlwind romp from war-torn Russia to the streets of Washington, DC, while simultaneously strolling across time, space, and alternate dimensions. As Alfie's power grows, his sanity slips even further, with everyone else trying to make sense of it all. Ultimately, the complex storyline leaves both John and Alfie finding out more about themselves than they ever wanted to know, with an ending as twisted as the beginning.

Not to be confused with The Nth Doctor.

This comic provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Action Girl: Colonel Vavara Novikova, head of the KGB's Spetsburo (Assassination Bureau) and the second-deadliest assassin on Earth.
  • Action Hero: John Doe, naturaly.
  • The Adjectival Man
  • A God Am I: Alfie, of course.
    "I'm Alfie O'Meagan, the beginning and the end! The only limit to my power is the limit imposed by my boundless compassion for all mankind!"
  • Always a Bigger Fish: Occurs when Alfie O'Meagan is waiting for a cosmic being called M'Gubgub. He barely avoids being stepped on by a massive alien who dwarfs the planet and proceeds to praise M'Gubgub... only for the alien to flee in panic as the galaxy-dwarfing M'Gubgub arrives.
  • Amazon Brigade: The KGB Swallows.
  • Animate Dead: When he leaves Earth, Alfie leaves behind two fragments of his power to run things in his absence. Those fragments re-animate the corpses of Mr. Biggot and Miss Gooch from the Merrivale Corners orphanage, who proceed to recruit mutated humans into an army to take over the world.
  • Badass Grandpa: Dr. Yagyu, whose satchel includes ninja throwing stars and an Ingram MAC-10 in .45 ACP machine pistol.
    "I may be a senior citizen but I'm not senile!"
  • The Baroness: Colonel Vavara Novikova. Despite being the head of the Spetsburo, she spends much of the series running around in a low-cut evening dress, stockings, and high heels... none of which reduces her lethality one iota.
  • Beware the Silly Ones: Alfie likes cookies and milk, plays video games, collects comic books, and has sandbox battles stomping on toy soldiers. Problem is, he's also a Psychopathic Manchild Reality Warper...
  • Bloodless Carnage: Both played straight and averted. As a Comics Code-approved title, Nth Man avoided graphic depictions of blood or gore. Even so, it never hesitated to show the brutality of combat or the senseless deaths of war, including the aftermath of a mass execution.
    Sgt. Levin: "What's that noise? An air-raid siren?"
    John Doe: "No, Debra. That's the combined screaming of hundreds of tank crewmen fried to a crisp in burning T-80's."
  • Cain and Abel: Though it's never established if they're blood siblings or not, John and Alfie otherwise qualify.
  • Charles Atlas Superpower: John Doe, who can perform various superhuman feats simply through a lifetime of ninja training.
  • Colonel Kilgore: Colonel Darling, an officer from psy-ops who encourages slaughtering unarmed civilians in order to enrage the Russians into a trap.
  • Crapsack World: Things are already bad at the start of the series, being in the middle of World War III, but gets worse after Alfie fails to neutralize a biological weapon exchange and turned them into a mutagenic virus instead.
  • Dead All Along: It is ultimately revealed that Alfie accidentally killed John Doe at the age of sixteen; he then created an imperfect copy out of guilt and repressed his memory of the event. This is why present!John is willing to kill people despite being an incorruptible pacifist in his youth. present!John later uses Alfie's power to recreate his original self.
  • Deal with the Devil/Leonine Contract: When Sgt. Levin was dying of a chest wound, she is instantly healed by Alfie after she agrees to perform a favor for him in the future. Subverted when Alfie tells her to shoot John in the back, and she simply refuses.
  • Deep Cover Agent: Usually played as deep-cover Soviets impersonating American citizens and soldiers.
    "Listen to those traces of palatalized consonants and glottal stops! That boy grew up speaking Russian!"
  • Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?: John Doe defeats M'Gubgub — an Eldritch Abomination that dwarfs galaxies — by using the Kuji In to turn it inside-out. Justified in that he was augmented with Alfie's powers at the time.
  • Dirty Business: Despite his lethal training, John takes no pleasure in killing anyone, and views his assignments as this. At the start of the series, he's even decided to stop being an assassin, and his friends have to talk him back into duty.
  • Dirty Communists: Subverted; the Soviets are highly skilled and competent adversaries throughout.
  • Dodge the Bullet / Super Reflexes: In the first issue, John Doe dodges a bullet fired at him from point-blank range. Later he dodges a sniper's bullets while running uphill towards his position.
  • Eldritch Abomination: M'Gubgub is a galaxy-devouring abomination with a million forms that has to spread his mass out over hundreds of light-years just to prevent his gravitational field from collapsing on itself. It wants to destroy the Earth in order to eliminate the temporal anomaly there.
    "This is but the merest pseudopod of my being! A single follicle protruding from a minor pore! I exist simultaneously in countless forms, stretching out beyond your planetary system into the cold barren emptiness between the stars."
  • Embarrassing Nickname: Dr. Yagyu calls John "Peachy", after Momotaro the Peach Boy. John himself teases Colonel Novikova by calling her "Novi-cakes."
  • Foe Romance Subtext: A flirtatious relationship gradually develops between John Doe and Colonel Novikova... to the consternation of Sergeant Levin and Captain Soloviev.
  • Friendly Sniper: Captain Alexander Soloviev's warmhearted nature shows through in less guarded moments, most notably when he calmly ignores Colone Novikova's orders to shoot a fleeing child.
    • Also Sgt. Marvin Sargent on the American's side. Very friendly and laid-back, but he won't hesitate to draw on anyone who tries to shoot his prize student.
  • Glorious Mother Russia: Often invoked in the dialog between the Soviets.
    Novikova: "If you keep acquiring bourgeois American slang, Lolo, our Unit Political Officer will sign you up for rigorous self-criticism."
    Lolo: "I am the Political Officer, comrade Colonel."
    Novikova: "...oh."
  • Good Colors, Evil Colors: John has white-hair, Alfie has black. Possibly a reference to the taijitu from Taoism.
  • The Great Politics Mess-Up: While the story's present-day period is never established, it's suggested to be on or near 1989, when the comic's first issue was published. Reading it in hindsight can feel rather anachronistic, given how much of the story relies on Cold War tensions and the Red Scare (particularly an exchange of warheads between the US and the USSR).
  • Heroic BSOD
  • Hopeless Suitor: Captain Soloviev, whose unabashed love for Colonel Vavara Novikova is forever unrequited.
  • Incorruptible Pure Pureness: John Doe. This is most apparent in the flashbacks to the Merrivale Corners orphanage, where John repeatedly protects Alfie, even covering up his most atrocious behavior. His willingness to kill is because the present-day John Doe is a flawed copy created by Alfie after the original was killed in a prank.
    Mr. Biggot: "You never lose your temper! You never lie! You never exhibit jealousy, envy, or sloth! How can you be so good? How can you be so... saintly?"
  • Insert Grenade Here: John Doe manages to insert a grenade into a sealed-up Soviet tank by throwing it down the barrel as it is about to shoot him, timing it exactly to match the tank's gunner opening the breach. He manages this feat by a combination of good hearing, good timing, and channeling his memories of zen concentration from playing baseball with his adopted father.
  • Inside a Computer System: Alfie drops John and Novikova inside a video game complete with horrible 8-bit music, Goomba Stomping, and secret Warp Zones.
  • Kuji In: John can use this chant to disorient everyone nearby, by making them feel the world has turned upside down.
  • Lightning Bruiser: John.
  • Master Swordsman
  • Meaningful Name: Alfie O'Meagan is a simplification of "Alpha" and "Omega".
  • McNinja: Irving Yagyu, the ninja dentist is probably Japanese, but John Doe, his blond-haired all-American protege is definitely not.
  • Not That Kind of Doctor: John Doe's adopted father is Irving Yagyu, DDS (Doctor of Dental Surgery).
  • Obligatory War Crime Scene: Several, often pushing the boundaries of The Comics Code. These include the aftermath of a mass execution of civilians, children hacking to death a wounded soldier in reprisal for said execution, and a bombing run on a field hospital.
  • Old Master: Dr. Yagyu, of course.
  • One-Man Army
  • Only One Me Allowed Right Now: In the Nth Man universe, it is impossible for a person to be in two places at once. This causes Colonel Novikova to spontaneously combust when she returns to the past, as she arrives at the Merrivale orphanage at the same time she's being born in Russia.
  • Orphanage of Fear: Aside from the kind-hearted cook, Mrs. Parrish, the Merrivale orphanage is a textbook example. The Headmaster Mr. Biggot is a lazy drunkard who whips the children, skims the county payments, and spends his free time pawing at his girlfriend, Nurse Gooch. It's also implied that a child was killed at the orphanage in the past, with arson used to cover up the incident.
  • The Plague: When the Soviets and the United States launch biological warheads at each other, Alfie tries to neutralize them, but turned the pathogen into a mutagenic virus instead. Infected humans eventually turn into disfigured "moots" with a taste for unaffected human flesh.
  • Portal to the Past
  • Power Floats: Alfie floats off his bed the first time he truly activates his power, after having a conversation with his subconscious in the form of a giant animated face coming out his ceiling.
  • Psychopathic Manchild: Alfie, who often twists reality to emulate his favorite comic book, television, or video game situations.
    Alfie: "What? No tanks? I wanted to stomp some tanks!"
  • Reality Warper: Alfie.
  • Shown Their Work: Larry Hama's expertise with military hardware, tactics, and strategy is clearly evident in his use of jargon, names, and details. Many issues include a glossary to help readers understand the numerous terms used.
  • Shrine to the Fallen: Dr. Yagyu kept his son's room locked and intact after he died from pneumonia. He eventually opens the room and passes on his son's possessions after adopting John.
  • Smug Super: Alfie constantly alternates between casting himself as a selfless savior of humanity and gloating about being the most powerful person on Earth.
    "There is a purpose behind my ability to increase my own powers! My potential is limitless! You can't possible conceive of the wonders I have in store for the world! Lucky that I am a pool of endless compassion!"
  • The Sociopath: Alfie is a textbook example: he tortures small animals, shamelessly lies and shifts the blame to others, has sudden outbursts of anger and arrogance, manipulates the gullible, and lacks any form of sympathy or empathy.
  • Spontaneous Human Combustion: In the final issue, Novikova starts to combust soon after she arrives in the past with John and Alfie, because she's being born at the same moment and cannot exist in two places simultaneously.
  • The Squadette: Sgt. Debra Levin, 19-year-old Green Beret, complete with crew cut and freckles.
  • Stable Time Loop: The entire series is entirely encircled by a time loop. Throughout the series, it is revealed that John and Alfie were left as infants at an orphanage by a screaming, burning woman. In the final issue, they realize they're part of a never-ending time loop, and must go back in time to avoid a temporal paradox. As the two step through the time portal (reverting to infants in the process), they're followed by Vavara Novikova. However, because she was being born at the same moment, she begins to self-immolate on arrival. Mr. Biggot opens the door just in time to receive two infants from a screaming, burning woman...
  • Suicide Mission: The rescue of Joe Doe in issue #1.
  • Super Empowering: Alfie is able to give some or all of his power to other people, including corpses.
  • Super Senses: Part of John and Dr. Yagyu's ninja repertoire.
    Dr. Yagyu: "You're getting mighty sloppy, boy! I could hear you breathing and walking through a solid steel door! I taught you better than that!"
  • Super Weight
  • Utopia Justifies the Means: Alfie believes this justifies everything he does.
  • War Is Hell
  • Warrior Poet: John Doe, who refuses to kill without good reason and won't hesitate to ignore an order he disagrees with.
    "If belonging to a 'side' means doing wrong stuff simple because everyone else is... count me out."
  • With Great Power Comes Great Insanity
  • World War III

New GodsScience Fiction Comic BooksOMAC
NovaMarvel Comics SeriesOfficial Handbook of the Marvel Universe

alternative title(s): Nth Man; Nth Man The Ultimate Ninja
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