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Ultraverse Revisited: Freex #4

ultraverse_revisited

freex_0004Hounded

Writer: Gerard Jones
Penciller: David Williams
Inker: Michael Christian
Letterer: Tim Eldred
Color Design: Keith Conroy
Interior Color: Violent Hues
Editor: Hank Kanalz
Published by: Malibu Comics
Cover Date: October 1993
Cover Price: $2.50

This opens where I think I remember the previous issue leaving off–with some group of Ultras pursuing the Freex–this group being the "Hounds." The opening narration is from the point of view of the leader–who calls himself the "Master of the Hunt." He’s been maligned, so how dare these freaks think THEY can just go off the grid and be left alone? Speaking of the Freex, they’re gathered around the lifeless robotic "body" Michael left behind, trying to figure out what they’re supposed to do. Val and Ray fight, she blasts his book…though feels bad about it once realizing she’s done exactly what his mother had done in taking everything away from him. meanwhile, Michael–in electronic form–discovers the police don’t actually know where they are; they’re still safe, but doesn’t know who’s actually hunting them. He’s intercepted on his way back to his friends, which causes his thoughts/focus on Angela to manifest on a computer screen in the police office. The Hounds engage the Freex, who eventually escape. As they seek a place to hide for awhile, Val separates–with Ray thinking she’s being selfish, but it turns out she broke into a bookstore to get a replacement copy of his book she destroyed. As a group, the Freex then do find safety in some shop…invited in by its owner, Ruby. She offers Ray an insight: he taught HIMSELF how to read, which is NOT dumb or stupid. As the group starts to settle in…the peace is disrupted when someone blasts Ruby…the Master of the Hunt has found them!

Maybe it’s the covers, but I’ve a couple times now found myself almost "dreading" a Freex issue because of the cover. Maybe it’s that I’ve seen the image too many times with no real context, maybe it somehow doesn’t fully convey something the way I’d like…I don’t know. This issue’s cover shows us a hound blasting Val…looking to me like a singular villain; and the blast hitting her head making it look like he’s extracting knowledge or zapping her with some sort of mind-control ray or something. We can kind of make out some of the other characters looking in on the situation, but they’re hardly a focus, and not overly apparent at first glance.

That being said…I didn’t hate this issue. We get the continued development of our "Freex" gang, as the characters are still learning to work together and BE together, even having decided to stick together–safety in numbers and such. Michael’s still learning his own powers, and we see here that there’s someone else able to tap into stuff and influence the electronic interface–not just him. The kids behave like kids, and continue getting to know each other and how they all fit together.

The art on this isn’t bad, but doesn’t really blow me away. I like the interior art a lot more than the cover. It’s not hard to follow what’s going on from the visuals, and no one seems specifically unrecognizable or oddly proportioned in any unexpected ways. Again–the art is not bad, but it’s nothing that stands out to me singularly…it does exactly what it’s supposed to, but doesn’t feel above-and-beyond or such. Nothing in this issue strikes me as poster-worthy, and no singular image stands out as anything iconic.

rune_0eRune [E]: The Cursed
Plotted by: Barry Windsor-Smith & Chris Ulm
Drawn & Colored by: Barry Windsor-Smith
Scripted by: Chris Ulm
Inked by: John Floyd
Computer Color by: Albert Calleros
Lettered by: Patrick Owsley
Text Pages Designed by: Jim Chadwick
Edited by: Steve Gerber

Once again, we have a starts-abruptly "scene"–this time telling us the date: June 24, 1993…the day the Jumpstart Effect hit the cable car creating the Strangers and the resultant cable car crash to injure Johnny Domino. But we diverge, following Edwin Doyle–another passenger on the car. He has a bad headache attributed to the incident, but as he’s guided home by a frail individual that just showed up, he transforms–as does his new "friend" and we see that it’s a frail, sickly Rune guiding him…supposedly helping him, but it’s not hard to see that Rune intends to feed on this newly-created Ultra.

This is the first of these chapters to really feel like it has a narrative to itself, to be a bit of a story rather than a stretched out "moment" or other vignette. It’s still only 3 pages, but there’s a lot of narration  on the full single page that opens, and lots of dialogue, broken up amidst 4 and 5 panels on the second and third pages. We meet Edwin, are given context of where this is and what’s happened, get to see him meet Rune, see him transform into an Ultra-form…and presumably see his end. A very brief but nearly-complete "hero’s journey" of sorts.

Visually this fits with the other chapters–obviously, given the creative team doesn’t change with each segment of what’s essentially a single issue serialized. I like that we essentially have a beginning, middle, and end here…it’s the most "actually-a-story" so far. As I think I suspected–and indeed noticed–the first couple chapters were just there, with nothing more to go on, so there wasn’t enough to really pick up on as far as any sort of story or narrative. As we’ve now seen Rune use his stones to learn he’ll live, seen him in ancient times feeding on a human offering, consult Nikola Tesla on energy sources, get caught in a nuclear explosion, now we see him about to capture some Ultra-energy.


All in all, this is a solid issue–well worth getting if you’re collecting the series and/or can get this along with the first 3 or (presumably) the next several issues. Nothing here stands out as this being some singular stand-alone thing worth hunting down in isolation. It’s worth a quarter or so to read "a Freex issue" or to fill in a run, of course.

The Rune chapter works pretty well as a standalone-within-a-whole: it’s by no means a sole selling point of the issue, either. That this is a Rune Month issue is sorta incidental…that marks it as October 1993 at a glance even without the cover date, but the issue doesn’t seem integral to anything other than the Freex title.

I continue to be interested in where things go with these characters, even if I don’t have quite as much "champing at the bit" excitement for the title.

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Ultraverse Revisited: Freex #3

ultraverse_revisited

freex_0003Targets

Writer: Gerard Jones
Penciller: Ben Herrera
Inker: Mike Christian
Ink Assists: Jasen Rodriguez
Letterer: Tim Eldred
Color Design: Keith Conroy
Editor: Hank Kanalz
Published by: Malibu Comics
Cover Date: September 1993
Cover Price: $1.95

This issue is yet another that feels chock-full of ’90s…’90s-ness.

Michael and Sweetface are dealing with the police–Michael gets shot, but Sweetface gets him to a neon sign and he’s able to slip back into the electrical pathways and such. By killing the lights in the area, the other Freex are able to escape. Meanwhile, Valerie and Rush end up destroying a lab, as Val gradually comes to realize just how not-good Rush truly is. When the other Freex find them, a fight breaks out–initially Rush and Val vs. the others. In the course of the fight and mouthing off, Rush reveals that he thinks any "natural" Ultras are genetic defects; and that he didn’t know Val didn’t choose to be artificially granted Ultra powers. She turns on him, and he’s run off, and Val "finally" "accepts" who she is–a freak, and one of the Freex.

Once again, this story fits very much into what I recall of the ’90s…both in cheesiness, as well as being quick-paced and "compressed," as the whole Valerie thing would easily be dragged across 6-12 issues in present-day stories–a full arc if not two; and here we have a huge change in her status within the pages of this single issue.

I’m recognizing characters a bit more, but I’m still not good with off-the-top-of-my-head recollection of codenames and character names. This IS "only" the third issue, though, and it’s been several weeks and a number of other titles’ issues since I read the second, so my foundation is growing but hasn’t solidified with this title yet. It continues to be interesting to read the Ultraverse titles this way, seeing the quick pace at which the individual titles are solidifying and then touching to other titles. It’s also interesting to see the various "named" characters and teams. By "named" I mean called out with some other font or a logo, as if there could have been "plans" for them already, beyond merely a "first appearance" in any given issue being an offhanded thing. In this case, The Bloodhounds, which we’ll presumably be seeing more of in the next issue.

Visually, I’m both ok with yet not blown away by this issue. The art’s solid enough, keeping the characters generally recognizable and consistent within the issue itself. I can appreciate some of the creativity in being able to show damage to characters’ outfits and such, and the "strategic placement" of objects or energy to avoid overt nudity while allowing it to be obvious that the characters are experiencing such exposure.

I’m sure it’s that I’m so used to contemporary comics in 2018 and the last few years in general, but it actually (sadly) feels a bit "odd" to see so many "costumed" figures show up in a book such as this. It was perfectly acceptable and natural to me as a kid in the ’90s…and it’s a sign of how much things have changed in 25 years that I’d even think it odd to see costumed villains in a title such as this.

I’m glad that we seem to have a unified group/team of the Freex now, given the contentious start. We’ve briefly explored the characters’ resistance to the very notion of banding together, with Val’s outright rebellion against it, to now having a firmed-up set of characters as the group, where things are ready to move forward toward them facing specific villains instead of each other.

I definitely never read this issue before, so it’s cool reading it for the first time. And having read it now, I would definitely recommend it along with the first two issues–get all 3 together at the same time if you can, or at least it seems now like these three issues make for a good opening arc.

I’m curious for what comes next, even as I’m eager to get into the next issue of Mantra, as well as Prime and Hardcase.

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Ultraverse Revisited: Freex #2

ultraverse_revisited

freex_0002Blown Apart

Writer: Gerard Jones
Penciller: Ben Herrera
Inker: Michael Christian
Letterer: Tim Eldred
Color Design: Keith Conroy
Editor: Hank Kanalz
Published by: Malibu Comics
Cover Date: August 1993
Cover Price: $1.95

After the little bit of teambuilding/interaction in the first isue, this issue has an appropriate story title in "Blown Apart." While we ended the previous issue with a new player in the game showing up and promising answers…this issue seems to open a bit AFTER that, with Valerie already attacking Ray for being a monster (didn’t we hash this out last issue?) where we don’t seem to see what set her off. During the fight, the police have shown up, shown their spotlight into the space these "Freex" are using, and they scatter. Angela refuses to use her powers because she doesn’t want anyone to "see," (and flashes back to kissing a boy and his trying to go further and not understanding her reluctance to be touched); we also see Michael get pieced back together (including "goop") and forming an actual human body (naked), as well as some flashback stuff of him and how HE got his powers (much as we saw with the other characters in the first issue). While Val’s ditched the others, she’s "rescued" by another kid calling himself "Rush" (super speed, apparently) who recruits her to help him with a "job" (he’s being paid). Even though she finds out he’s basically serving as an "enforcer" for "loan sharks," and seems slightly distressed at hearing gunshots and seeing convenient news pieces keeping both her and Rush up to date on what’s going on with the other Freex…she goes along with him, merely asking what they have to do.

While I enjoyed the first issue more than I’d expected to, I did not enjoy this issue as much. I don’t like that I feel like there’s some "missing time" between issues–how I remember that issue ending and how this one begins don’t really match up. I didn’t notice this as much with other second issues, and I’m not quite sure why it jumped out at me here. Perhaps that somehow I was most specifically curious and looking forward to seeing how things played out.

The art isn’t bad, and is mostly consistent…though there’s something to it that just seems a bit "off" in the appearance of the characters’ ages. Perhaps I’m just getting old in their not looking as I’d expect for their age.

I really do not like Val. I get that the character’s supposed to be "hard" and is projecting a front and all; but just because I can be aware of that and the character element successfully conveyed doesn’t mean I have to like her or that I don’t see her as being stupid and petty. I don’t remember this Rush character at all, period. Story element, visually…the character just does not stand out to me from anything I remember ever seeing…as such, I’m pretty sure he’s a minor/throwaway character that’s not gonna last.

Despite the drawbacks, I’m still curious where this story goes, and interested in getting to the next issue. I just don’t have quite the sense of optimism I had with the ending of the first issue.

As usual…this isn’t really an issue to "target" as a standalone…you’ll want to at least get the first issue to read them together, and probably several issues. I think this is the roughest issue for me to read or write about so far in the Ultraverse books…so here’s hoping the next issue is more appealing!

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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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