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Ultraverse Revisited: Prototype #3

ultraverse_revisited

prototype_0003Hero and the Terror

Writers: Tom Mason & Len Strazewski
Artists: David Ammerman & James Pascoe
Letterer: Dave Lanphear
Colorist: Rob Alvord
Editor: Chris Ulm
Published by: Malibu Comics
Cover Date: October 1993
Cover Price: $2.50

Something in seeing this cover surprised me that it’s "only" #3. This also seems ripe to be the right-half of a 2-part image, with whoever is blasting Prototype on the other side…but alas, this is a Rune Month issue with a flip cover (no wraparound). On the plus side, I’m not aware of any VARIANT covers, so this is simply THE cover for #3!

We open on Jimmy (Prototype) and his handler stuck on a plane–their flight’s been delayed. As they wait, terrorists calling themselves Terrordyne, Inc. attack another plane with a baseball team on board. Jimmy’s excited at the prospect of some action; meanwhile, we get a scene with someone in shadows on the phone turning down an offer, before leaping into some sort of action, gun blazing. As another subplot, we get a page with a lab and a revelation that Glare’s body (the Ultra that apparently died at Prototype’s hands in #1) shows he’s got wetware implants, and the body will be shipped off to Aladdin for analysis. As Jimmy suits up, and reveals that he’s disabled a shutdown failsafe in his armor, we cut to Bob Campbell explaining what happened to lead him showing up at his ex’s place in such horrid condition; as she patches him up, he reminisces about their past, providing us plenty of exposition. From there we get to the "meat" of the story as Prototype stops the terrorists, only to then face their leader: someone with flame powers calling himself Heater. The Prototype armor shorts out–Jimmy suspects it might be from his tinkering–but he gets the auxiliary power going in time to survive. His handler is tossed out of the plane (when did it take off?), so Jimmy opts to save him, figuring he can catch the villain after…but by the time the get back to the ground, Heater’s vanished. In frustration, he blasts the corporate jet out of the sky (the pilot had already been killed). This, as well as the earlier scuffle and the Prime incident (see Prime #4) has Leland–Ultratech’s president–more than fed up with the young "hero." As he asks for interviews to begin on a replacement, we cut to someone called Wrath being brought in on a plan of industrial espionage and heading out after Prototype.

Starting with the end of the issue…we have a page marked as "25" but it has no captioning, dialogue, etc…and with plenty of open space at the top and bottom, looks like a cover image thrown into an issue. If it wasn’t numbered to appear to be a story page, it’d look like basically an ad for the next issue or such!

I continue to feel (mostly pleasantly) like there’s almost too much going on in a given Ultraverse comic…they’re much denser than modern 2018 comics, with a lot more story and development packed into a single issue! I’m definitely enjoying that we’re getting a story of not only the new/current Prototype, Jimmy Ruiz, but also the original–Bob Campbell. And rather than only piecing something together issues later in denouement at the end of a multi-issue arc, we get cut scenes to other characters and stuff going on simultaneous with the main story…stuff going on that we as readers get to actually see developing instead of being told (after the fact) did happen, later. Jimmy’s a hothead, and that comes off with his impetuousness at the start of the issue–eager for battle, even though it means there are people getting hurt. Still, he wants to be the hero he’s playing–for real, not just looking good for cameras.

I know Wrath as an Ultraverse title, though that title’s logo is not this initial WRATH logo on the final page with the character Wrath. I don’t think I realized that he came out of Prototype, but definitely like that the title apparently was a spinoff (though I’ll get to that in awhile when I get to the 1994 books!).

The art is solid and gets things across as any art should do. The only point I found myself not entirely clear what had happened was when Prototype blasts Heater…there’s an impact, but also an exclamation balloon of "YARGH!" nowhere hear Heater’s mouth, actually looking like he might’ve taken the worst of the blast below the belt…or that something was positioned in the wrong part of the panel…presumably definitely something with the infamous computer design stuff Malibu had going on. Otherwise, the issue looks good–especially Prototype. I still really dig the look, even if it is very ’90s!

rune_0fRune [F]: The Nectar of Life
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

Picking up shortly after the previous chapter (in Freex #4), where we were left to assume Rune killed Edwin, here we get visual confirmation that he definitely did–with exposed rib bones and reddish coloring to suggest the gore. Edwin–briefly–was the most powerful being on the planet, according to "previously" text, but Rune killed him…and now imbued with his power, has filled out, transforming back to a younger, vital self. Moments later, though, his body reverts back to the frail, sickly creature he’s become, and he realizes that even this was not enough.

I thought Rune was a vampire…if not 100% typical, then at least using his fangs to leech life/bio-energy from his victims. Not physically consuming the bodies! A cannibalistic vampire, I guess? Whatever the case, the visuals add to the bloody violence of the thing, which seems fitting given Barry Windsor-Smith‘s other works (first in my mind being Conan and Weapon X).

This chapter works pretty well in directly following the previous, yet a bit of time has passed. That makes for something choppy going page to page, but for being a new piece of the story in a separate publication than the previous piece, it’s little worse than any other "returning from a cliffhanger but some time has passed" instance.


Though the cover seemed somewhat incomplete or generic-ish, I liked this issue. There’s a lot of story between the covers, and while there are only 25 story pages (as with the other titles, the cover proclaims the issue a 40 page special), this is still a very full issue with development and forward movement on multiple plot threads.

The Rune chapter is again not something to singularly "sell" the issue, but doesn’t detract. The segment moves that narrative forward, and I find myself looking toward getting more info about what Rune is, how he gets power from beings he consumes (does he absolutely have to consume their flesh or is that a ‘pleasure,’ for example?) and so on. I haven’t read the title in nearly two decades, so it’s like getting Rune fresh, and I don’t recall many particular details.

Yet again, this issue isn’t something I’d recommend seeking out as a single issue in isolation…you’re better off with the #1 for that. But this is definitely worth picking up as part of a run, and in that context certainly worth 25 to 50 cents. Though its original cover price is $2.50, and this IS an "early Ultraverse" issue, I frequently see these in bargain bins, so it should be able to be found for $1 or less, and I wouldn’t go much above the $1 unless you’re ‘desperate’ for the issue in some form.

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Ultraverse Revisited: Prototype #2

ultraverse_revisited

prototype_0002Games of Death

Writers: Len Strazewski, Tom Mason
Penciller: David Ammerman
Inker: James Pascoe
Letterer: Dave Lanphear
Colorist: Moose Baumann
Editor: Chris Ulm
Published by: Malibu Comics
Cover Date: September 1993
Cover Price: $1.95

We open on Prototype in a training session. He’s prevailing, but then gets to a new "level" and finds the challenge more than expected. After a bit of confusion over the state of affairs, he kicks things into high gear and overcomes his opponents…only to find himself–his suit–on fire! As things settle, we get some exposition showing us that Jimmy still having trouble with the drugs that help him to be a more streamlined Prototype…and that he’s still recovering from his battle with Prime! [Oops…apparently the Prime issue I’ll be covering in a couple weeks takes place before this one…but I don’t recall any indicator from Prototype #1 that suggested going to Prime next, instead of this issue and THEN into Prime…] The story then shifts to Stanley Leland with some backroom deal and references to some THIRD Prototype (Prototype 2000) being his true legacy, once it’s built. Next we find Bob Campbell, also making some deal, as we come to learn that he’s building a new suit for himself. In the midst of his latest parts deal, he’s approached by a strange woman, and apparently decides he can also afford an expensive ‘date’. Back at his place, rather than an intimate night, things turn violent, as the woman turns out to not be human at all, and to have retractable daggers for fingers. Campbell’s nearly done in, but his cat joins the fray (she survives…so I’m ok with this issue!). The cat buys him enough time to quickly don his home-brewed armor-suit, and prevail. Finally, we find Bob’s ex on the phone with Leland, and after she’s rejected his advances, she goes to the door…and finds an injured Bob on her doorstep.

This is a mixed sort of issue for me. On the one hand, a lot really does happen throughout the issue, at least in giving us worldbuilding elements to the characters. On the other hand, I felt like Jimmy was given the short end of the stick in this issue.

The art’s not bad for this issue, but nothing to it blew me away. I don’t know what it was, but Bob looked a lot different than I was thinking he would in this issue…perhaps faulty memory, perhaps other elements in the time since I read Prototype #1. There was a panel where Jimmy looked a lot like Kevin Green (Prime) which seems a bit off as well–for one of them. WHICH one, I’m not actually sure. I guess that speaks to continuity and such, though. Somehow I’m just not thrilled with Jimmy’s appearance–and I feel like it somehow has something to do with seeing the Ultraforce cartoon series a few years ago, but I can’t place the exact reason…Jimmy must’ve looked different in his depiction there, or my brain managed to cross him with some other character(s). Yet another factor may simply be that this is another series I haven’t actually read in the past, so I have preconceived notions and expectations that far exceed what can be delivered.

Story-wise, I feel like for "only" a second issue, for a series that I’d thought was about Jimmy Ruiz, we’ve got an awful lot of Bob Campbell. See above about preconceived notions and such. I know from some external source(s) over the years that in post-Back September stuff, it’s Bob Campbell that serves as Prototype in that universe/in that iteration of Ultraforce, so I’m sure that impacts me a bit…future-details that I can’t shake or make my subconscious ignore as I read. That said…I find Bob’s story a bit more interesting, and can’t help but feel like he could actually BE the main protagonist. Jimmy is the shiny/new Prototype and Bob’s antagonist as a replacement that he’s gotta now measure up to somehow, as he fights his way back into the good graces of Leland and Ultratech. Outside of a comment and brief ‘footnote’ referring us to Prime #4, there’s nothing to tell us ahead of time that this issue takes place after that. Perhaps that’s something that allows for the lengthier focus on Campbell here, though–Jimmy’s "second month" sees him more active in Prime than his own book? Thankfully, despite reading this out of order, I don’t think there’s anything spoilery to reading this issue first, except that obviously we know Ruiz is: 1. injured and 2. survives.

I can’t complain about that for a shared universe that shares continuity and characters across titles. And I do like that this hits the ground running, so to speak. My primary problem is that we ended #1 with Prototype apparently killing someone, and then find him well after that event at the start of this issue, with little to go on outside of exposition. Maybe stuff’s elaborated on more as we go along…maybe it happens in Prime #4. We’ll see. Finding Bob’s story more interesting is rather gratifying, and leaves me even more curious about coming issues. Reading all the Ultraverse books in roughly publication-order, though, there are a lotta issues between this and the next issue of Prototype, so we’ll see how my interest holds or where I’m at by the time I get to #3.

As is, this is a solid enough issue, developing/continuing characters, referring to the first issue, and yet stands a bit on its own. Still, I recommend reading this along with #1, and apparently Prime #4. This is another issue that there’s no real point to seek out solely as a single issue in isolation; but nothing to say "skip" it if you have access to it.

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Ultraverse Revisited: Prototype #1

ultraverse_revisited

prototype_0001Budget Cuts

Writers: Tom Mason, Len Strazewski
Artists: David Ammerman, James Pascoe
Letterer: Tim Eldred
Color Design: Paul Mounts
Editor: Chris Ulm
Published by: Malibu Comics
Cover Date: August 1993
Cover Price: $1.95

I’ve long been familiar with this title, and especially this debut issue’s cover. Of course, that’s on the surfacey level. Actually READING the thing? I don’t know if I had ever read this. It’s possible that I’d only read a later issue or two, or perhaps only known the character from appearances in other titles (such as Prime and Ultraforce) as well as the Ultraforce cartoon…and of course, I love the design. ’90s though it may be, it’s got something to it that I always liked!

We were actually first exposed to the notion of Prototype back in the pages of Prime #1. One of the news briefs in that issue referenced Prototype being injured and possibly killed, and a statement from Ultratech’s Stanley Leland.

As this issue opens, we seem to be getting more info about that particular incident, where Bob Campbell (Prototype) was helping test weapons systems in the armor, and the situation went wrong, costing him his arm, job, and way of life. This opening scene turns out to be a dream/nightmare (rather than "just" flashback) as we find ourselves back in the present with Bob, now with a prosthetic arm, living alone with his cat. We cut to a couple PDAing in the street, when they run afoul of some large, green bulked-up guy screaming about and trying to find Ultratech. As he bellows to Ultratech and Leland that "Glare" is coming, we cut to Leland giving a presentation regarding Prototype…and this includes the NEW Prototype literally bursting onto the scene. While newer, sleeker, and perhaps more powerful, we get hints that this newer armor isn’t truly complete, as it’s still got issues…we also later get hints that it’s also causing its new wearer–Jimmy Ruiz–issues. Leland and his crew make the best of the presentation, despite Campbell trying to make a scene, and then Ruiz having to fly into action against Glare. We get several pages of the new Prototype vs. Glare, and then a mysterious intervention by Leland’s assistant before a crowd around the scene of the battle accuse Prototype of killing the guy.

Somewhere along the way, I learned that after the Black September stuff (essentially the Ultraverse‘s "reboot," which happened a couple years into the universe’s existence) the original Prototype, Bob Campbell, was Prototype again. Of course, I’d only really known Jimmy Ruiz, and as I type this, off the top of my head I can only really think that was due to Prime #4 and Ultraforce stuff. Seeing Campbell get more involvement in this issue makes me suspect he was a more important (and perhaps rounded) character than I’d thought. It’s also likely that somehow he was blended in my mind–in part–with Justin Hammer and the scene of Hammer’s failed attempts of duplicating Tony Stark’s armor in Iron Man 2.

This issue drops us into some action right away while contextualizing and expanding on the blurb we’d gotten in Prime #1. We see Campbell and where he is now/what his life is like; then we get the introduction of a villain-figure, move to the introduction of the new Prototype, while getting the seeds of some likely problems to come; we see how Campbell is treated by his former employer, we get to see the new Prototype in action beyond the "staged" stuff, and we’re left with a cliffhanger and to wonder where the kid stands on the matter of killing an opponent, wanting to be a superhero, his lack of training, etc.

In short, we’re introduced to key players, given context and development, and left with something to bring us back for a second issue.

Visually, this is a solid issue; I enjoyed it overall, and would really have to dig to find stuff I’d be able to cite as a problem. This is–and looks like–a ’90s comics (considering it IS one, that’s to be expected!). Probably one of the more standout elements to me is the design of the two Prototype armors–Bob Campbell’s, and the one worn by Jimmy Ruiz. The Campbell armor is large and bulky–an easy comparison for me is to the Iron Man "Hulkbuster" armor; while the Ruiz armor is a very sleek and slim "Iron Man Lite" armor that looks like pieces of armor on a skintight bodysuit.
This felt like reading a new issue for the first time…at most, I suspect this would be the second time I’ve actually read the issue. And for it feeling like the first time, it was a good issue. Since this is the first issue…it’s of course a great one to start with, to jump in on…and if you like Iron Man for the cool armor and tech stuff, this is definitely an issue to grab from a bargain bin! Heck, this is one that would be worth getting from a bargain bin for the cover alone, if you’re of a mind to display comics.

I look forward to reading the subsequent issues of this title and getting more context for the characters involved…all the more as I know the character crosses over with Prime "next month" in the fourth issue of that series. This is well worth 25-50 cents, and since it’s a first issue, if you’re curious about the character, I’d say even $1 is not bad to start at the beginning with this character!

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