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Ultraverse Revisited: Freex #1

ultraverse_revisited

freex_0001Freaked

Writer: Gerard Jones
Penciller: Ben Herrera
Inker: Mike Christian
Letterer: Tim Eldred
Color Design: Paul Mounts
Editor: Chris Ulm
Published by: Malibu Comics
Cover Date: July 1993
Cover Price: $1.95

I remember reading this issue and not really "getting" it. Now, the cover is one of the more "iconic" covers to me, of the Ultraverse line. Perhaps because I have a poster, and I’ve seen the issue so many times in quarter bins and such. It also stands out to me–in memory–because of being one of the earliest Ultraverse titles (it premiered in the SECOND month of releases, part of the "second wave" of titles, along with MANTRA). It was almost always THERE, whether or not I was reading it (and mostly, I was not).

But let’s look at this issue by itself, specifically, for now!

We open on a kid being chased into an alley by police. He seems just as concerned about "something" happening as about the police themselves. They bump into a huge golem entity–very strong and impervious to their bullets. He calls the kid Huck, and is admonished for blurring reality and fiction…then calls him Lewis, and we learn that he is Ray. As they begin to escape, another kid unleashes her freakish powers, and Lewis no longer has a choice and unleashes his powers to protect the officers. Val seems to have a green energy burst, while Lewis can liquefy and reform himself. He escapes to a sewer while they others retreat back to their hideout, and the police are left to wonder just what the heck actually happened. Lewis reflects on how he discovered his freakishness, while at the hideout, Ray and Val bicker until a new arrival provides a new target for Val’s rage. The new girl seems to have a torso made up of or covered by sentient/controllable ropes or tentacles. We get a flashback of Val discovering her power in a detention center where a guard tried to force himself onto her. Outside the hideout, the new girl meets Lewis as he returns to the group. Inside, there’s further bickering, while Ray spray-paints something on a wall. As we see that he’s tagged it for the group "Freex," another new arrival appears in a cobbled-together robotic body of pieces and parts in the hideout, and says he’s Michael, and wants to tell the group why he’s brought them together.

The obvious comparison here for me is X-Men. Teenagers suddenly and inconveniently developing freakish (mutant) powers, being hunted and feared by normal people and authorities, banding together to survive, and apparently brought together by a player behind the scenes, who also seems to have powers which he presently can control. Of course, these are new characters, a new group, they’re "freaks" rather than mutants; they’re Ultrahumans, but lack the publicity and stature of The Squad, Hardcase, Prime, and where most of the Strangers are adults, these are kids.

As first issues go, we’re introduced to an ensemble cast with a couple of pages each for several characters in flashback, showing where they were compared to where they are now; we’re introduced to a newer character with a bit less history than the first three kids seem to have; we see the situation they’re in, struggling just to have food and shelter to survive while dealing with powers that make them vastly different from anyone else. We get a reason for their "team name," and learn that they didn’t "just" bump into each other and band together, but they’ve been consciously, specifically BROUGHT together. It lets us see the starring characters, who are featured on the cover, we see them together, and get a number of little details…none of the more modern early-2000s-to-present "hide the hero" or five issues of solo characters finally meet in a sixth issue and show a hint of being a team, when it’s a team book. There’s a bit of mystery–who is Michael? Why has he brought them together? What’s his motivation? Will they accept it or turn on him? But that’s the "hook" to get one to come back for the next issue.

Visually, this is a colorful yet dark book. The characters are individually recognizable, if not entirely consistently rendered, and one can pretty easily follow along what’s going on. One bit that stood out to me, though, is when a police officer is thrown at a wall: we get a scratchy panel of him hitting a wall, seeming to indicate how hard he hit–like Ray’s killed or crippled him. Yet in dialogue later on, an officer refers to "silly putty walls," and there doesn’t to seem to be any concern regarding any dead/crippled officers. So whether that’s on me for the way I "read" the visuals or not, I lay partial blame at the lack of any "visual sound effects" to the panel (really, the entire issue!).

All in all, though, this is a good first issue, and far better than I remember from any previous read-throughs. Though this got a CD-Romix Comix release over Strangers, and I’m very familiar with the Hardcase and Prime ones, I never really cared for this one. I’d put off reading this issue, not really looking forward to the (re)read, but wound up enjoying it a lot more than I’d expected. I’m actually interested in the next issue, and learning more of the ACTUAL details of this group of characters than just seeing covers from later in the run and such.

This is another first issue that’s definitely worth getting (and reading!) if you find it in a bargain bin. And let’s face it…the early Ultraverse #1s are quite plentiful. It’s the later issues of the series that you’ll be hard-pressed to find.

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Recently Redone Action Figure Shelves (Early April 2018)

Along with recently redoing the setup of my comic space with new bookcases and such (which I will "eventually" be showing off here), I’ve been working on redoing some action figure shelves.

tmnt_shelves_april05

I now have a shelf set up with the various TMNT villains, and another for variants of the Turtles themselves as well as allies. (Some folks might notice a potential villain in with the allies, but to me he is one of the Mighty Mutanimals and thus an ally!)

tmnt_display_april05

I also have this old wall-display shelf I "rescued" from the attic of my parents’ old house. It’s perfectly-slotted to display the three "generations" of TMNT so far, along with Splinter and April. Whether this display remains somewhat permanently or not remains to be seen…especially with a new "4th generation" line due out soon (for better or worse).

superman_shelf_april05

Then there’s my Superman shelf. Previously, I’d had most of these crammed onto one shelf on the same level and couldn’t even see many of them. Redoing the display, I’ve been able to incorporate a tiered system that allows for better overall display and visibility of the various figures and such–from the 12" figures to DC Direct to Multiverse to regular size to the various miniatures and such…as well as a statue and even a Heroclix figure.

…And these are not even all of my Supermen! But I barely got these to all fit into one shelving slot, and with other figures that I will eventually have displayed and such, it won’t hurt to still have Superman mixed in with those as well!


I have several other "shelving slots" to fill, but have to get more supplies yet for my "tiered system" so my efforts were put on hold for a bit. Given events going on in my personal life, that’s not a bad thing, and it’s certainly not a rush to get done!

I’m sure I’ll show off other shelves in the near future. (And those of you who follow me on Twitter, you probably recognize the above photos from me sharing "in the moment" as I finished up the displays!)

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Ultraverse Revisited: Strangers #1

ultraverse_revisited

strangers_0001Jumpstart!

Author: Steve Englehart
Penciller: Rick Hoberg
Inker: Tim Burgard
Letterer: Tim Eldred
Color Design: Paul Mounts
Editor: Chris Ulm
Published by: Malibu Comics
Cover Date: June 1993
Cover Price: $1.95

I know I’ve read this issue several times over the years. I’d guess this to be at least my 3rd time. And yet, it’s not one that has stuck well in my memory; especially for–as one of THE initial #1s–it NOT having one of those CD Romix-Comix deals.

We open with some narration about San Francisco and get a quick glimpse of several people, before their cable car is struck by a bolt of energy. Just before the bolt hits, several work together to throw a guy OFF the car for refusing to cease with the PDA-ing with his (apparent) girlfriend. The bolt of energy hits the car, costing its operator control, and it slams into a passenger vehicle, gravely wounding that driver. Later after the incident, as everyone’s gone their separate ways, we check in on several of the passengers, and see them discovering strange new abilities and experiencing a profound change in the wake of things. When another disturbance occurs, several make their way to the scene, where they band together to drive off a strange woman, and then decide to stick together while they learn about their new powers and life-situation.

This is another issue to just SCREAMS "’90s!" to me; from the fonts to coloring to dialogue and character names (well, knowing some of the names, as the characters don’t really adopt them here in this issue). To best of my recollection, this was the FIRST of the Ultraverse books to be available for purchase…though it’s the one I was least looking forward to (re) reading. That being said…I actually enjoyed this a fair bit, and am now interested in checking out some subsequent issues. This is one series that from #2-forward will be all-new reads to me, or close enough to it for lack of memories of actually reading them.

This issue does a solid job of BEING a first issue. It introduces us to a slice of life in the city, with the characters, shows us their "inciting incident," see them discover their powers, see them band together to face a threat and actually interact with said threat, AND have a reason to stay together past this one encounter, while leaving enough hanging to keep one curious about what comes next. There seems to be some "shorthand" in some interactions and dialogue that I’ll be looking for some quick payoff, as I’m not 100% if memory serves on where they go, and they’re definitely things that never even occurred to me in prior readings of this issue. The repeated use of narration to remind us of San Francisco and the light was effective twice…but hitting it three times in the issue seemed a bit much. It’s still a solid attempt, and gets points from me for "effort" and picking up on what’s being conveyed!

I like the art and character designs–the people all seem like real people, there’s no wonky anatomy or strange and obvious "shortcuts" or such, nothing that puts me off or makes me wonder what’s going on and all that. Even though I recognized all the characters, I’m not great on the names and would not be able to pull most out of thin air with any confidence…but their appearance does wonders here, and I imagine once I get a few issues in I’ll be doing a lot better with the names.

All in all, this is an issue that I would actually recommend…it’s very much worth the 25 cents or so if you find it in a quarter-bin, and probably even worth 50 cents if one of those bins. This was such a mass-produced issue, and the Ultraverse such an entity that while this doesn’t really have much financial value, the READING value is strong, and the series didn’t last long enough to really justify jumping in anywhere BUT this first issue…especially now, 25 years after its release!

strangers_0001_blogtrailer

Ultraverse Revisited: Hardcase #1

ultraverse_revisited

hardcase_0001Winners Never Quit

Writer: James Hudnall
Penciller: Jim Callahan
Inker: Norm Breyfogle
Letterer: Tim Eldred
Color Designer: Paul Mounts
Editor: Chris Ulm
Published by: Malibu Comics
Cover Date: June 1993
Cover Price: $1.95

Based solely on memory/nostalgia, even though some part of me recalls Strangers #1 as the first Ultraverse book released, it’s the one I least look forward to (re)reading, putting both Prime and Hardcase ahead of it. When I caught myself reading Hardcase #1 this time through, I was slowing myself down "hearing" the voices from the audio version that I finally gave up and pulled that up on Youtube to have the audio, as I read along WITH it with the comic itself.

For this time through the issue, I felt like–as with Prime #1–this really exemplified the ’90s for me. Often, folks point to Image for the ’90s visuals, but as I largely embraced the Ultraverse line over Image, the Ultraverse visuals are imprinted on my own memory and personal "picture" of what a "’90s comic" was.

The issue opens a year or so ago on a bloody battle between a group of ultra-humans called The Squad…and the battle is nearly over. We get things from Hardcase’s point of view. He’s injured, and he’d thought he couldn’t BE injured, certainly not this way. His team is down, and he is just able to get Starburst out of the vicinity of the creature that took the team apart before DJ Blast expends all of his remaining explosive energy at once–the final flash in the pan of the team. Hardcase and Starburst survive, DJ Blast and Forsa are dead…but Hardcase is the only "real" survivor, with Starburst in a coma she may never emerge from. Catching up to the present, Hardcase–Tom Hawke–has retired from the superhero gig and become an actor…though he plays "himself" as a super-hero for the camera. We get a sort of slice of life of that life for him before he finds himself pulled back into action, though it proves too late for a police officer he’d been talking with. Hardcase finds himself in mortal combat with another ultra-human, and lashes out desperately, overwhelmed with guilt and memory of his last encounter with an ultra. Ultimately, he wins his fight, and realizes that he can’t hide behind an acting gig, but has to do "the real thing," so he announces to the world that he’s back. Meanwhile, we get a cryptic scene of some player behind the scenes that has apparently had an extremely long involvement with the direction of events on Earth, and that now with Hardcase back, other ultras emerging around the planet…something must be done!

Somehow, I have it in my head that Hardcase was to be the "Superman" of the Ultraverse…though that could just be the cover, of him throwing a car, given the cover of Action Comics #1 introducing Superman with a car lifted above his head, smashing it against a boulder. And in a way, he was. Hardcase is largely invulnerable to normal stuff…but can still be badly injured. He has heightened senses, though he’s not omniscient. He can’t fly–but he can leap long distances. Etc. Different costume, different attitude/portrayal, but very much a similar power set to the original iteration of Superman.

That he’s introduced at the end of his time with The Squad–we see the team at its nadir, taken down by NM-E (a large, bulky techno-organic creature very much resembling the Xenomorph from the Alien franchise). As such, we’re plunged into a character’s world with an immediate backstory, more strongly hinted at than shown, but it immediately grounds the character, and puts him in a sort of "senior class" over other characters that we’re about to be introduced to. He’s part of an "earlier wave" of ultras, having been on the scene a at least a year BEFORE the emergence of Prime on the scene, or the Strangers, the Freex, Mantra, Prototype, etc. He’s had his initial journey, his crisis of faith, and now a new inciting incident thrusting him back into the world of the superheroes…though this new phase of his life is a fresh start, fitting of a #1 issue.

There’s something to the art of the issue that sits slightly askew to me. It’s not bad by any means, but there’s something slightly "off" to it, and it definitely doesn’t look quite so "refined" as many comics I’m used to reading in 2018, created and published in 2018. Of course, there’s a quarter-century difference in time, and this issue’s art and story are rooted very much in 1993. As said, the overall visuals really embody "the ’90s" to me, as do the character designs.

Story-wise, it’s interesting to get the character with all this sort of built-in backstory, conveyed in so few pages. By "modern" standards, the ground covered by this issue would surely be at least a six-issue opening arc of a series. We’re left with plenty of questions and potentials out of this issue; lacking in-depth concrete details of The Squad and such, and it’s rather choppy going from the NM-E battle to news to Hardcase acting a year later, a sort of clichéd interaction with a cop, to a convenient attack of another ultra…but it is a lot of detail crammed into a single issue, setting up the character’s past, present, and future, world-building, and generally serving as the sort of #1 issue I much prefer. It may not quite be a "contained" story, but it sort of gives three stories at the same time; it introduces a lot, and leaves plenty to be expanded on in upcoming issues.

hardcase_0001_blogtrailer

The Weekly Haul: Week of April 4, 2018

Well, this proved to be a small week for new comics!

weeklyhaul_04042018a

New issues each of Superman and Batman; sadly, I believe this run of Superman is being cut off in another issue or two, not EVEN making it to #50; and who knows on Batman?

While I’m highly annoyed at the early-release at a convention, and at the constant variant covers…I decided to check out the first issue of IDW‘s Sonic the Hedgehog series. I passed over 20 years ago on the Archie-published premiere, so here I am with a likely-near-"worthless" one now. But hey…nostalgia. (Sonic the Hedgehog was the first videogame I ever "beat" with no cheat codes or "Game Genie" and so on!)

Then we have the second-to-last issue of the Rogue & Gambit mini…I’m pretty sure as "regular" "full price" issues go, that leaves me with only 2 more "planned" Marvel issues (#5 of this series, and the final issue/epilogue of Mighty Thor since I already have the 6 chapters I do, might as well finish out the last issue before Yet. Another. Renumbering). And while I was aware of a Kickstarter thing, I’m verrrrry glad to see Demi-God get a regular, actual, real release…and I’m happy to support it this way, having access to the "A" cover vs. a variant, and it actually having regular distribution and not being limited just to some Kickstarter thing!

And finally, the first of another wave of True Believers issues, this time featuring Thanos…because hey, there’s a movie coming out in just a few short weeks! I do definitely prefer when these True Believers issues are basically a straight up "reprint" of a particular issue–a True Believers Edition–rather than being made out to be a whole other thing–Thanos: The First is a reprint of Iron Man #55–the first appearance of Thanos (and another short/early story from an issue of Logan’s Run). I’d much rather a True Believers Iron Man #55. For a less-iconic singular issue like the Thanos vs. the Avengers I’m ok with it as it’s not the same sort of "key" issue like a first appearance, "death," or "return."

Overall, a nice small-ish week that didn’t leave me with "sticker shock" or such!

weeklyhaul_04042018_blogtrailer

Ultraverse Revisited: Prime #1

ultraverse_revisited

prime_0001Prime Time!

Writers: Len Strazewski, Gerard Jones
Artist: Norm Breyfogle
Letterer: Tim Eldred
Color Design: Paul Mounts
Editor: Chris Ulm
Published by: Malibu Comics
Cover Date: June 1993
Cover Price: $1.95

While I don’t recall offhand if all three books shipped the same week, or what order they came out in…to me, Prime #1 is where it all began…I remember it from that first month–June 1993–and I followed the series itself to its conclusion in late 1996 or so around #15 in its second volume. Whatever the original order, to me, it just feels "fitting" to dive in with Prime #1 to start my journey back into the Ultraverse.

Another thing going for this issue is that it has an audio-drama of sorts, from a one-issue "CD-Romix-Comix" thing where the first issue was chopped up into panels to display on-screen with some quasi-animation–think early "Motion Comics" or such–along with a cast audio track with sound effects and such. Having the AUDIO from that which often makes its way onto my iPod, this issue is one that I simply cannot read at a normal pace–I read it with the voices in my head, the vocal pace of the audio piece unfolding in my head. I can also virtually recite the entirety of the issue from memory, so there are no surprises revisiting THIS issue.

The comic is a lot "bigger," brighter, and "’90s" than I sometimes remember…but that’s something that makes sense, as this came out in 1993–as "the ’90s" were getting into gear–and that was a time with "big" art, non-traditional page layouts, and of course, the (infamous?) rise of computer coloring techniques. Though I know Breyfogle had a significant run with Batman in Detective Comics (including my own first-ever issue!), this series doesn’t look like what I remember of Batman…helping show a range as an artist, being able to tackle different types of material. Prime as a character is big, bold, and really very over-the-top with the huge muscles, and outlandish physique…take your mental image of the biggest, buffest super-hero (other than Prime!), amp that up, and you may well HAVE Prime. This comes into play with the character’s origin, but also helps the character stand out in its own way.

The cover is one of the more "iconic" covers out there, to me…certainly for my own experience with it, as well as being a generic/"iconic" sort of cover before that was totally "standard." I also have long REALLY dug the trade dress for these early Ultraverse issues–with the 3-D-stylized "U" and the issue number/price, publisher (Malibu Comics) in "corner boxes," with the Ultraverse logo as a banner across the top, and a border line framing the entire image, though said image breaks free of any constraint offered by this.

Story-wise, in some ways, this issue goes against my own sensibilities in feeling strongly that first issues need to introduce not only the main character, but also a supporting cast and antagonist, who/what they are and at least hints of motivation, and all that. I suppose this issue gets a "pass" on that for being 25 years old (twice as old as I was when it saw publication), and long since knowing where stuff goes, and all that…so it’s impossible to TRULY judge this by the same standard as I would a new #1 issue released in 2018. But this also comes from 1993, when collected editions were still pretty rare overall, and ongoing comic series issued in monthly form did not have (essentially) companion "graphic novel editions" trailing relatively close behind. So while this first issue doesn’t reveal everything, it’s by no means playing up to some "graphic novel" version.

We open on the first of several main scenes, as we learn a bit about this Prime character by way of others telling of their experiences encountering him. First, a disgraced gym teacher, attacked by Prime and accused of inappropriate interaction with young female students (this was 1993, but still right at home in a way with headlines 25 years later). Then we learn of Prime demolishing a drug house. Finally, he takes on terrorists in Somalia…thousands of miles away! Amidst a shadowy figure interviewing the first two and learning of the latter via tv news reports, we get further world-building and exposition via the tv news/entertainment reports–stuff about Hardcase (who had his own #1 the same month as Prime), a character called Prototype (who would come back into play later), as well as a slight sense of the way the public views these ultra-humans.

As said above, there’s no surprise for me in reading this issue, outside of reminder of how colorful it is, how ’90s it is. I see this issue frequently in bargain bins…I see many of the early Ultraverse #1s in such bins…but especially for 25 cents to 50 cents, I recommend checking it out, whether as an artifact from its time, or to get started on an Ultraverse journey of your own.

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Ultraverse Revisited: Early House Ads

ultraverse_revisited

Here are several early "house ads" for the first few Ultraverse titles, plus the "Ultratorials" from Prime, Hardcase, and The Strangers #1s.

ads_0001_prime

For me, one of the most noticeable differences from ad to print with Prime was the title logo–the lower portion was removed, and the cover of the first issue features only the full, heroic Prime–not the two-stage transformative part next to it.

The text description sorta fits what I remember, in the "hype" sense, but doesn’t feel entirely accurate on the first issue in particular.

ads_0001_strangers

This Strangers ad is the image for the first issue’s cover, and offhand seems like what was printed, albeit with some different coloring, perhaps. And with Malibu‘s coloring department (long-rumoured to have been why Marvel bought the company) it makes plenty of sense to me offhand that that would make for some simple changes, and the coloring (of the background) can make an image look at once familiar yet suitably different like this.

The text definitely fits, though sorta "gives away" the "lost city" bit…but had you asked me before looking at/reading this ad, I would have been able to tell you essentially the rest of it, just not "…with a sorceress from a lost city…"

ads_0001_hardcase

I feel like Hardcase was another logo that changed between ad and print, with a more "basic" and bigger/blockier design. This logo is familiar enough that I want to say it got used on later issues of the series.

This image is completely different from the first issue’s cover, though 25 years later, this would simply be a case of "I didn’t get the variant cover." I like the image in terms of the ad, but it would seem rather boring and "off" to me for what I recall of the first issue itself.

The text piece mostly gives the premise of the series, but I wonder (now) about the timing of stuff for what I recall of the character only having a year "off" from super heroics–is that really time to build a huge film career?

ads_0001_freex

I like this Freex ad–it’s the image I associate with the first issue, and I think I even have a poster of this. I prefer the text being part of the image, rather than a Microsoft Word "text box" dropped onto the image…it feels a lot more dynamic…and memorable!

I do notice a small "text box" but even that seems a bit fancier than the first three ads, and actually does NOT stand out so much. "Life’s tough when you’re a super-power freak."

ads_0001_mantra

Mantra is another where the image from the first issue’s cover is used, which I definitely like!

The text box seems a bit much, with two ‘paragraphs’ of premise given…it makes it look a bit more complicated. Of course, I like that this info is provided, as it beats the heck outta just simply giving the image and saying "blindly buy me!" It also somewhat spoils developments in the first couple issues, and as I recall, technically "spoils" the first issue’s cliffhanger.

Additionally, for a "solo title," the cover makes it look like a bit of a team-up book, with Mantra and Warstrike fighting together, and possibly for the shadowy guy in the background (the villain Boneyard). The main character is the smallest figure on the image!

ultrafiles_prime0001

Here’s the "Ultrafiles" page from Prime #1. While I the first part is the same across the several issues, the latter part is changed up to fit the specific issue, with small quotes from the creators of the specific issue.

ultrafiles_hardcase0001

Here’s the page from Hardcase #1…

ultrafiles_strangers0001

…and here’s the page from Strangers #1.

Though I’ve been almost certain that Strangers had been the first of the titles out (granted, this was 25 years ago and I was a 12-year-old kid at the time), that its page showed the covers of the next month’s new #1s has me slightly doubtful.

Regardless, I appreciate that these pages were changed to fit the specific issue–they were not just a one-size-fits-all static thing inserted into each issue.

This is also from a time when the "primary" cover was what was marketed–not the variants. Variants existed–specifically full-cover holographic covers, and versions with silver foil logos–but they were not the marketed versions. They were special "additional" versions! The hologram images I’ve come to learn were actually different from the printed art; but the foil editions are the same exact cover, just with the bulk of the logo as silver foil. The hologram covers are extremely distinctive–you’d know EXACTLY what you’re looking at to see one; and otherwise, the marketing (like these pages and most of the house ads) show you exactly the cover image you’re looking for, on whichever series!

Two and one half decades later, and going through back-issue bins, one can immediately tell what issues are what and the (series) reading order and all that.

ultraverse_early_house_ads_blogtrailer

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