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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: 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: Hardcase #5

ultraverse_revisited

hardcase_0005Friends and Enemies Part One: The First Cut

Writer: James Hudnall
Penciller: Scott Benefiel
Inker: Mike Christian
Letterer: Tim Eldred
Color Design: Moose Baumann
Editor: Hank Kanalz
Published by: Malibu Comics
Cover Date: October 1993
Cover Price: $2.50

This issue’s cover has long stood out to me. Our hero kneeling in a pull of his own blood, obviously distressed? Gotta wonder what happened! And that we see what’s done to Hardcase in the issue itself, that stuck with me, and surely got transposed to the cover. I didn’t remember the specifics of the story, and back in ’93 did not have the context–I’m sure at least on reading, I had read #1, and then this, so I’d missed everything from 2-4 and the Strangers crossover.

We open on a drug dealing being warned someone’s coming to kill him. Confident that one lone assassin can’t possibly do anything, he’s ready to disregard this–but finds out his guys have already been taken out. We then cut to a photo of the slain dealer in Detective Brown’s hands, as he’s pondering the case, and Hardcase walks in with Choice. They want a meeting with the Choice Corporation, but ideally without the trouble that there’d be with them just walking into the HQ. Getting an appointment made by the police shows that they have ‘friends’ and such, as well. Once there, some sort of control is exerted, showing that Choice is definitely NOT free; she and Hardcase get outta there. Meanwhile, a couple of kids find the head of NM-E in a dried-out flood channel in LA…and it attaches itself to one, and as the other runs away, blasts him. NM-E is composed of molecule-sized machines, and has been rebuilding itself, and is still on-mission. As Hardcase and Choice head back to Hardcase’s place, we see a meeting between a major power broker and Rex Mundi. At Hardcase’s, he and Choice meet someone calling herself The Alternate, who has a warning for them. They head out on the town anyway, needing time away from everything. They’ve been followed by an assassin hired by Mundi’s broker–the same assassin that killed the drug dealer. While Choice is in a restroom, he attacks Hardcase, and quickly surprises the hero by being able to badly cut him. He then stabs him in the gut, and leaves him for dead, as Choice emerges to see what’s going on, and finds Tom dying.

This issue is another art change…I can definitely say that I’m not caring a lot for the lack of singular, steady art team on this title. The art’s not bad…but I’d much prefer consistency! The characters are recognizable without much issue, though, so the art does its job. I know I did not particularly notice the art change when I originally read this, having missed 3 issues. And something about the cover for this issue reminds me that if nothing else, I can look at this like the ’90s Superman titles, where every week was a different art team (4 and then 5 different titles)…so this issue has art by an art team that’s not my favorite/preferred, but is not inherently bad or anything like that! I think I prefer Callahan‘s art because of getting it in the first issue in particularly, and having had a second issue of it in Hardcase #3.

On the story, we continue to move forward with Hardcase and Choice, as he plays hero to her, trying to help her escape the Choice Corporation. We also have Detective Brown and a bit of a throwaway mystery (for the moment) of someone impersonating him, which likely means something’s coming up later relating to that. We also have the reappearance of the NM-E creature, as another brief subplot that surely will be coming back into play eventually (I remember covers later in this series with the rematch!). Having been more aware of Hardcase in a loose sense, not truly following his title "back in the day," I’ve not had much idea of the fine details of the character within his own title or any recurring characters and such–so I’m enjoying seeing stuff with Choice, as well as Det. Brown. I’m also really liking the existence of "subplots" as I’m getting back into these very-much-of-their-time ’90s comics…reminding me that comics used to be ongoing stories that might be punctuated with specific finite (named) arcs, but they were not specifically geared for a 4-6 issue collected volume…they were serialized stories, not serialized graphic novels.

rune_0dRune [D]: The Power of Gods
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

This fourth chapter of Rune continues to build a bit on stuff–now being up to 12 pages of the story, a little more is taking shape. The previous segment showed Rune meeting with Tesla and learning about an energy source; here in this chapter we find Rune nearly 60 years later at the heart of an atomic blast–getting a heckuva lot more than he bargained for. An incredible energy, sure–but rather than energize him, it devastates his body, leaving him a mere shell of his former self!

Yet again, the art is perfectly consistent with the earlier chapters as this is all the same creative team. We met the sickly shell that Rune has become in the first chapter, then witnessed him as a god-figure, found him in a more recent setting seeking information about power, and now see him caught in a nuclear blast that leaves him needing energy just to survive, to say nothing of getting more powerful or such.

While this flip-book feature has started a bit slow and a bit choppy, and I’d felt there wasn’t much to be gleaned story-wise, it’s shaping up to be a series of scenes, showing us apparently-key moments throughout Rune’s existence, such that we’ll have a general idea of the character by the end of these 11 pieces, even if it’s not some tightly-woven single-issue chunked into 3-page pieces.


I remember having read this Hardcase issue back in 1993 when it came out. I enjoyed and appreciated it far more this time around, now having had the in-between issues read so that I know more about Choice and why they visit this Choice Corporation; and I have context for Detective Brown; and I’m generally just more invested in the story and able to appreciate the stuff that was way over my head as a kid with the missing issues.

And I’m beginning to really enjoy the Rune stuff in a way that I didn’t even as a kid–and Rune was one of the main titles I followed even then! I’m thinking that as neat as it is to have 9 of the 11 flipbook covers making up a large image, different full images might have been a bit more appropriate to accentuate the various time periods/points in the character’s long existence in the Ultraverse as a universe.

Whatever the case…this is the fifth issue of an ongoing series…there’s really not much to this to make it worth seeking out in isolation, but this is definitely worth getting as part of a "run" of issues. As I’ll keep pointing out, this is an issue I’ve seen in bargain bins plenty of times, so I wouldn’t recommend paying much for it–I consider it a 25-cent book, but depending on where one gets their comics, that could mean 50 cents to $1. I would definitely suggest getting this as part of a run–perhaps the first few issues, or as the start of the next few issues. As a cheap 25-year-old comic, some of that’s almost a moot point, though, as the bulk of the entire series could be had for less than what a couple of modern comics might cost.

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Ultraverse Revisited: The Night Man #1

ultraverse_revisited

nightman_0001The Night Man

Writer: Steve Englehart
Penciller: Darick Robertson
Inker: Andrew Pepoy
Letterer: Dave Lanphear
Color Designer: Paul Mounts
Interior Colorists: Foodhammer!
Editors: Chris Ulm & Hank Kanalz
Published by: Malibu Comics
Cover Date: October 1993
Cover Price: $2.50

I think this issue’s cover is one of my favorite #1s of the Ultraverse. I really like the gradient from dark purple to a pink for the background, as well as the full moon, a bit of city architecture, and the gargoyle at the foreground with our title character perched on it, looking quite ready for action. The visual is rather striking, and seems quite "iconic" to me, despite being a generic pose or such–perhaps because this is the (only/main) cover for a #1 issue officially introducing the character. batman_608_2nd_printThis single image is truly "selling" the thing–visually and conceptually. This is no Batman, but perhaps borrows a bit of the imagery (though the most "iconic" Batman-and-a-gargoyle image I can think of–at age 37 in 2018–is the Jim Lee cover to Batman #608, which came nearly a decade after this cover). The fact of this being a #1 likely also lends to the "iconic-ness" of the cover…it’s simply a first issue, and carries a whole other sort of significance as such.

We open on a black-clad figure with goggles coming at us, apparently leaping down from above; the figure is narrating, informing us that he’s not who he was, and that he is (and this gives us the title of the issue itself) The Night Man. Our hero’s about to hit a roof, and flashes back to earlier. First, an accident he was in (this is "Johnny Domino," and he was in the car hit by the cable car when the Strangers got their powers back in Strangers #1). Then when he got out of the hospital, he now needs to shield his eyes from bright light…and discovered that he could "hear" evil thoughts. We follow him trying to deal with that and realizing the ridiculousness of the premise, eventually settling on having to do something himself. His first foray into thwarting evil leaves him banged up and this initial costume quite damaged. During the day, he meets with his father, and we see their interaction, and get a bit of setup for what’s likely coming later. Johnny continues his ‘detective’ work, and tries to save the woman who’s been threatened. Unfortunately, we find that he’s too late–when he gets to her place, she’s already been killed, and the killer has literally stolen her face. A chase ultimately leads to a fight on a boat, and the villain winds up in the water, apparently eaten by the shark. And of course, Johnny didn’t sense any evil from the shark–it’s just a shark looking for food. Closing out the story, having survived a couple of nights AS The Night Man, he takes full ownership of the role, that this is his duty, put on him by the cable car accident, and he is The Night Man! (and then a menacing fist with a knife sticks out of the water–the villain’s apparently not completely dead).

This is a strong first issue. We have ties to the larger Ultraverse–the story universe in general–as Johnny first showed up in Strangers #1. That was a nice bit of detail that at the time was sorta throwaway, but comes into play here in a major way–what was "just some guy in a car" is a major character with powers and his own series, now! But while those details are great for tying this to the larger universe…they’re conveyed in such a way that you don’t have to have read Strangers or other issues…you just get a better appreciation for the details if you have. In typical/trope-ic fashion, we’re tossed into the action and essentially given the "…see that guy? That’s me. You’re probably wondering how I got here…" thing. We get Johnny’s name, what he does, what’s happened to him, his current status quo, meet his father, see that he’s the owner of an amusement park resisting a takeover, get plenty of exposition to flesh out the relationship between father and son, etc. We see the character discover his power, start figuring it out, make decisions based on it, don multiple iterations of a costume (learning from near-fatal experience); we’re introduced to a "super villain" or potential "arch enemy" (at least "first major enemy who might be a recurring figure"), and generally have all this stuff packed into this one issue.

In 2018, this issue alone would probably be spread across some special issue/one-shot(s) and no less than 6 issues, each with umpteen variant covers.

That it’s all crammed into one issue makes it a very good value, and a strong stand-alone piece that sets you up to want to find the "sequel" in the form of subsequent issues.

Visually, I really like the issue. The art is quite appealing, with a great sense of realism, while not trying to be something other than a comic book. That is, it’s not particularly cartoony, nor is it hyper-realistic. There’s a good amount of detail throughout, with an assortment of page layouts that change things up nicely, keeping stuff from being just a bunch of pictures placed evenly on a page. The coloring also plays a huge part, and like with the cover, I particularly like the night-time stuff with the purple skies, full moon, and dark water.

rune_0cRune [C]: The Sorcerer
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

I feel like this is the most detailed piece of the Rune story so far. We’re given visuals to go along with what is essentially a journal entry or letter written by Tesla–presumably the actual historical Nikola Tesla–used here in fictitious context. He writes about someone coming to him for information about energy, and muses on who or what the figure was, figuring it must have been a vision…except for a stone he found on his desk with a particular rune on it, that meant "fire" or "sorcerer."

Essentially, this segment shows us that Rune met with Tesla…and that he has the ability to influence how he is perceived. In this case, perceived as quite the cleaned-up, respectable figure. This could be interpreted as shape-shifting, but the detail of Tesla noting that he could almost see something else, suggesting that this truly was his being influenced to see one thing despite the actuality of Rune’s true appearance. The emphasis on the word "sorcerer" gives us a bit more insight into Rune; that where once he was worshipped as a god, as time went on he’s gone from being a god to being a sorcerer, as an explanation for "what" he is and how he’s beyond human.

As a stand-alone piece, I feel this is the most effective so far, as it is an entire thing within three pages. We have Tesla’s letter/thoughts/recollection and the visuals show us both what he saw and what was actually there; the entire episode is conveyed right here. The lengthy wordiness really helps, given the limited page count, making it seem like more than just taking in a page, turning the page, and being at the end of the segment.

Since this is a serialized piece of a single issue and the creative team remains entirely the same, the consistency of visual style keeps this feeling like the next bit, without some jarring change. Where the first chapter was just there to be taken as itself, and then a drastic change in setting for the very next segment, and now another here…at least at this third part the "story" begins to take a bit more shape or pattern as it grows clearer that we started in the present with Rune, and now are seeing moments from the past, leading us to the present, perhaps.


nightman_dvdThis issue comes off like a pilot episode of a tv series, and while there’s the Firearm #0 thing advertised in the Sptember 1993 Ultraverse titles–giving a short live-action piece that continues in a comic, this feels more like something that would fit as an ongoing live-action thing, like a tv series…

…which is rather fitting, as there actually WAS a tv series of The Night Man, that ran 44 episodes across two seasons! (And is freshly available on DVD!)

With the Rune piece on the flipside of this issue feeling a lot more substantive than the previous couple of segments and working nicely as its own standalone unit…The Night Man #1 as a whole is an excellent single issue! Most of the Ultraverse #1s make strong jumping-on points, but this one seems like one of the best so far (if only for being the one I’m currently taking in). This issue’s definitely worth 25 or 50 cents in a bargain bin…and really, is one I’d even consider worthwhile to get for up to its original $2 cover price…especially given the tv series is now (June 2018) out on dvd. This is a great piece to read to get a sense of the original comic and the comic-version’s origin for the character, before perhaps diving into watching the tv series.

I’m feeling like I definitely missed out on something special by not having followed this series back in the day–I definitely remember GETTING this issue, and reading (but not caring for it) back then…but now it seems like this would have been one of my favorite Ultraverse titles! I’m looking forward to getting into the coming issues as well as hopefully getting and digging into the tv series.

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Ultraverse Revisited: Prime #5

ultraverse_revisited

prime_0005Villains

Writers: Len Strazewski & Gerard Jones
Artist: Norm Breyfogle
Letterer: Tim Eldred
Color Design: Keith Conroy
Editor: Chris Ulm
Published by: Malibu Comics
Cover Date: October 1993
Cover Price: $2.50

It’s hard to believe I’m "only" up to Prime #5 here. Nostalgia plays a large part in that, I think–part of me is itching to just fly through this series to revisit all the stuff I remember, and see what changes now that I’m a quarter-century older. But I’m hanging back, going through the entire Ultraverse one issue at a time, endeavoring to get the "full context" of stuff (though some of that detail is lost in translation as I’m providing my thoughts and RE-actions to the issues, and not panel by panel summaries/adaptations of the issues).

Picking up where the previous issue left off, we find Kevin and Kelly facing a "real life" version of Maxi-Man: a character THEY know as a cartoon, and that we as readers know is one of Boneyard’s demons trying to "prove" itself important and gain Boneyard’s favor. (Boneyard being the main villain in the Mantra title). Kevin strains to re-generate Prime, while Kelly is nearly killed. Once "Primed up," we have several pages of battle between Prime and Maxi-Man, before cutting to Kevin’s father and Colonel Samuels, discussing their past, and Green telling Samuels that Prime is his kid–Kevin! Back to the fight, Prime thinks Maxi-Man is some Ultra-human, until the demon reveals itself (apparently with disdain–it is above humans and Ultrahumans). As the two spar verbally amidst the physicality, Prime lets slip that "No one threatens my girlfriend!" referring to Kelly…which shocks the poor teenager. (Prime’s this huge adult…why would he be interested in a 13-year-old, after all?) Prime realizes that he’s running low on power, and has to put an immediate stop to Maxi-Man’s rampage…so he gathers what remains of his energy and releases it in some sort of energy-burst from his chest, and expends the rest in a quick, brutal beat-down that destroys Maxi-Man (who melts down into a puddle, as the demon disperses, vowing revenge [with a footnote referring us to Mantra #5, coming next month!]) Though Prime is victorious, it’s at a cost–Prime collapses into Kelly’s arms, and she quickly realizes he’s melting! Before anything can be done, Samuels’ men rush in and take the melting hero against the girl’s protestations. As Samuels and his crew rush off, Mr. Green’s left behind lamenting that this wasn’t supposed to happen–and he’s answerless when approached by Kelly as to what’s going to happen. Moving back to Samuels–now in a lab with techs rushing about–the melting Prime-body is stabilized…with no regard for the boy within. When questioned, Samuels declares "I don’t care about the boy! I want the ULTRA!"

One of the first things that stands out for me with this issue is Breyfogle‘s art. I love the much thicker lines and less "detail" used for Maxi-Man…giving the character that much more of a "cartoon" look, compared to the usual thinner lines and more realistic style for everyone/everything else. This entire thing is a comic book, it’s all drawings–even the thing that to the drawings (characters) is a drawing. So the different line art makes a big difference, and is pulled off quite well, to me. It’s also interesting to see from the visuals just how similar the two characters are–both are hugely over-muscled brutes–but we get dialogue to realize that Maxi-Man is a character Kevin has "grown up" on, and is clearly one of his "inspirations" for the hyper-muscled Prime body his subconscious generates.

Story-wise, we get most of our forward-movement in non-Prime characters. We see some in Kelly realizing this adult hero has a crush on her–considers her his girlfriend–which is a much different thing put to words than her schoolgirl crush on a new super-hero that she’s encountered several times. We see more in Mr. Green interacting with Samuels as we get more perspective on Prime’s "origin," as the result of these genetic experiments by the military…and that while this is Kevin’s story, Prime’s story…in a very real way, there’s a lot to be said of it being Mr. Green’s story, watching his son suffer for his sins a decade and a half earlier.

The disembodied/extra-dimensional demon provides a "convenient" means to have some giant brute slug it out with Prime. Most of the issue is a slugfest…but we get the other developments amidst it. It also adds to the interconnectedness of this universe, as the demon ties to Boneyard, who other than this has been strictly a Mantra villain. But because Boneyard exists, this demon is here…but the demon isn’t tunnel-visioned on Mantra, but on his master, and so stirs up trouble with Prime.

I feel a bit of a twofold shift in perspective on this series at present: firstly, I’ve more than flipped sides, from being the same age as Kevin–the kid–to being older than even Prime is supposed to be (assuming he’s assumed to be in his 20s). Second, the real-life stuff going on with Gerard Jones. I choose to dissociate Prime and my enjoyment of the title with what he’s pled guilty to, but just seeing things play out on the page–the idea of the adult hero with a crush on a young teenager–is that much more uncomfortable. Yet, as readers, we know darned well that this "adult" in Prime is himself truly a teenager, and so DESPITE the obvious and intended appearances and uncomfortableness built in for added drama…we have a 13-year-old interested in a 13-year-old.

rune_0bRune [B]: The Sorcerer
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

This issue’s 3-page segment of Rune shows us the character in the distant past, being presented with an individual as a sacrifice. He feeds on her–showing/confirming to us that he’s a vampire–and see what a difference so many years makes between this and the wasted figure we saw in the first chapter. This also shows us that the younger, more vital Rune was worshipped as a god, which–again–is a far cry from the wasting creature we’d already ‘met’ and leaves us to wonder at all the events between.

Visually, this continues to clearly be Barry Windsor-Smith. The creative team is exactly the same on the entire story, so I’ll be repeating that, I’m sure–the consistency is a very welcome "given," as this is essentially "just" 3 more pages of the same issue, serialized across the 11 October Ultraverse titles.

Story-wise, this continues to be a slow-burn, or moreso, "drip" as three pages at a time is hardly room for any real story or development as a standalone piece. Presented with different core issues–this one with Prime #5, a distinctly different unit than Sludge #1–there’s "excuse" to be choppy, for 3 page segments to give us different perspectives or glimpses into Rune–what he is/was, what he means, etc. I recall the "complete issue" being rather choppy with such brief scenes…but I’ll likely re-evaluate it as an entire unit when I get to the standalone version of the issue when the ongoing series starts.

I was already getting Prime as a series, so this didn’t sell me on Prime; and all the more now 25 years later, Rune is NOT really a standalone selling point for this issue, or the month’s issues. Rune primarily serves as a time capsule or marker of sorts–an easy way to identify the October 1993 titles at a glance, despite dates not being printed on the covers.


The Prime portion of the issue feels a little padded-out with the extended fight scene. The three story-pages of Rune, plus the recap page and credits/premise page don’t truly stand on their own. But given this is an issue of Prime, the Rune stuff makes for an interesting "bonus." Of course, the proclamation on the Prime cover of this being a 40-page special dampens that–as with Sludge #1–given the 40 pages implies the story, the issue itself, but you really have to add non-story pages to the count to get to 40 pages. That would be more of a problem 25 years ago. Now, in 2018, where these are 25-cent-bin books (maybe 50 cents, but really not $1+, in my eyes!), it’s a moot point.

This is absolutely worth 25 cents or 50 cents just for the Prime portion; and if you’re particularly OCD about filing comics, worth twice that with an extra copy to file with the Rune-side forward. Given there’s a standalone Rune #0 available, and a partial-edition that was packaged with an issue of Spin magazine, I would not recommend seeking this issue out just for the Rune chapter. And as a Prime issue, there’s not MUCH to it to make it stand alone as something unique to seek out…unless you specifically want "the issue with Maxi-Man vs. Prime." Definitely seek this out if you’re putting together a run of the title, obviously. This is best read as part of several issues–ideally the first four and forward.

All that said…for 25 cents, if you’re looking for a colorful slugfest between two hyper-muscled figures and a couple pages of a colorful BWS vampire…there’s no real reason to AVOID this issue, as a whimsical one-off!

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Ultraverse Revisited: Sludge #1

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sludge_0001You Can Take the Cop Out of the Sewer…

Writer: Steve Gerber
Penciller: Aaron Lopresti
Inker: Gary Martin
Letterer: Patrick Owsley
Color Design: Paul Mounts
Interior Colorists: Violent Hues
Editor: Chris Ulm
Published by: Malibu Comics
Cover Date: October 1993
Cover Price: $2.50

I’ve been looking forward to the Rune Month stuff for awhile. I have some clear memories of getting issues from that month, concertedly tracking down all 11 coupons to get the Rune #0 issue (which also fed into getting the main Rune title, and Rune being one of my three "core titles" I stuck with…even leading to the only fanfic stuff I’ve ever written over half a lifetime ago.)

The extreme close-up of Sludge’s face as the cover has long been an "iconic" sort of image for me, and yet another singular issue (albeit another #1, too!) with a single, memorable cover that is instantly recognizable and stands out.

As the issue opens, we see things from the creature’s point of view–It’s in the sewer, watching a group of homeless, listening to a radio. On the radio, the host talks about a missing cop and the suspicious circumstances behind his disappearance. As the broadcast continues, our point of view shifts a couple times, to include the gang members that had something to do with the cop…as they head out and shoot more people. The creature hears the gunfire and gets involved. Despite their surprise at the creature, they seem to overcome it, preparing to leave it for dead before realizing it’s not so easily killed! We get internal dialogue from the creature–who struggles to recall the proper words, and its frustration grows the more this happens…and the frustration’s taken out on the gang members. The creature also seems to have the ability to melt/mold flesh–grabbing one kid’s face, and "melting" it to a blob of skin, with no way to inhale or exhale…a gruesome way to die, but perhaps deservedly for the innocents killed shortly before. We move into a flashback and see that this creature IS the missing cop, who wasn’t exactly squeaky-clean…but drew a line at killing people. For this, he himself is shot up–certain overkill–and the still-living body dumped in a sewer, where it contacts some sort of chemical, and mutates the body into a walking pile of–you guessed it–SLUDGE. Back in the present, police find the gang members’ bodies and speculate what could have killed them–while back in the sewer, the creature finds and crushes the radio, stating that he can’t stand the host. As he leaves, a couple of the homeless comment on the creature being a walking sludge heap–or "Santy Claus."

This issue’s story is pretty familiar to me, compared to some of the other Ultraverse books. I definitely remember getting AND reading this when it came out. I don’t remember any further issues, but I clearly recall the creature’s stumbling over words and his frustration at that. The story is rather formulaic, and the creature reminds me very much of the very-little I know about Marvel‘s Man-Thing (itself with a significant run by Gerber!), and by comparison there to DC‘s Swamp Thing. In some ways, this seems like it could be a darker take on a Ninja Turtles character–someone injured, dumped into a sewer, where they contact a strange chemical and mutate into some creature and then take on a new mission to fight crime/do good/whatever. I think that familiarity of elements kept the character from seeming as gruesome to me as a kid, and I don’t remember being bothered by him killing people…I probably just didn’t think much on that at the time.

The art’s pretty good, and I like it. The creature looks like a "creature" made of sludge, and the people look like people. The story is easy to follow visually, and the visuals do a good job conveying everything as expected. The page layouts vary quite a bit, and work well conveying mood and tone. While a couple pages are primarily a single image/panel, others have a lot crammed into them, making for a good mix that does NOT feel like there’s any "cheating" going on. One panel/page showing the creature smashing a car while yelling "Pull over!" stands out to me in particular–and I hear the "Get over here!" voice from the Scorpion character in the original Mortal Kombat video game.

Sludge is the actual series and main content of this issue; but it has a "flipbook" segment where you literally "flip" the book over to see a different cover and read some content from that direction–it appears upside down and out of order if you continue linearly from the front/main Sludge cover.

rune_0aRune [A]: The Prophecy

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

The flip-cover to Sludge #1 features a closeup of an open vampire-mouth, with a translucent Rune logo, the letter "A" indicating this as the first chapter, and the text "The Stones are cast…"

We get a title page with the Rune logo, and the story title, creator credits, and an outline of the Rune creature, as well as an explanation that each of the 11 October titles contain a chapter of Rune, and that 9 of the 11 flip covers combine to form one large poster image–and we get a white background/black silhouette showing that. The next page tells us a bit about Rune, with a Barry Windsor-Smith image of the creature.

As the story itself begins, we see bloody hands with long nails casting multi-colored gems toward a floor. Moving to the second and third pages, we see the creature contemplating the gems–with markings (runes) on them, and determines that there is a power that will restore him…Rune shall live!

It’s hard to really talk much about only 3 pages, especially just the first three pages of a story. We have text telling us about the creature, and now we see the creature…but there’s just not much STORY to the pages. It reads much better as part of a larger whole…but on its own, this seems rather negligible. Visually, this is distinctively BWS art…perhaps distinctive because I recall this story, but also the similarity in visual style to the likes of Marvel‘s Weapon X and classic ’90s Valiant/X-O Manowar stuff I’m familiar with. It’s definitely unique enough to set this off as its own thing, and make Rune visually distinctive. This is clearly the character previously advertised.

This feels more like an "ad" than much else–and given the Night Man "preview" has a full text page AND 3 story pages out of context, it sorta negates the specialness to this premiere of Rune.


Especially as I’m reading this issue in 2018, the $2.50 cover price doesn’t phase me when virtually every comic out there is now $3.99, with only a few minor exceptions at $2.99. The issue itself–Sludge–has 25 numbered story pages. The cover claims this is a 40-page special…so we fall some 15 pages short of that! But add in 3 story-pages of Rune, and the two pages introducing those story pages and we’re up to 30. Further factor the Night Man preview (if that’s content) and we’re up to 34; a Mighty Magnor 1-page piece takes us to 35; the Rune #0 coupon stuff nudges us to 39 pages…so it’s iffy. But in 2018 and this being essentially a definite 25-cent book, max of $1ish…it’s more than worth that sort of price, whether 20 pages or the stated 40. And the 40 probably counts the main ads and such, so…it’s accurate. It doesn’t say 40 story pages, after all.

The Rune portion feels like little more than an ad–as said above, there’s a Night Man preview that has just as many "story pages" with about as much (if not MORE) context…so this could just as easily been a Night Man flip book with a several-page Rune "preview" and been functionally the same content between the covers.

Still, this having been designated "Rune Month" (I believe that was the thing back in the day, as it’s stuck with me all these years somehow) it at least makes for a "theme" that is carried across all the books, unifying them. And rather than just the same 3 pages over and over again in all 11 books, each has 3 unique pages that combined make up a prologue issue ahead of an ongoing series in a way that I doubt we’d see in 2018 from any major publisher.

As with other Ultraverse #1 issues, this is certainly worthwhile in itself as a single issue to check things out. I’ve seen this and many of these other early Ultra-titles in 25-cent and 50-cent bins, so I wouldn’t suggest paying more than $1 or so if you can help it. If you like Steve Gerber’s work, you’ll probably like this; if you like Lopresti‘s art, same deal. And though there are the comparisons to make to other publishers’ characters, this is a unique character so far for the Ultraverse itself, and worth checking out just because. This stands alone pretty well–and remains (thus far) the only issue of the series I know I’ve actually read, so there’s that as well.

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Ultraverse Revisited: Early House Ads September 1993

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With the September 1993 Ultraverse books, we have our largest month yet for house ads…with the largest house ad yet in Firearm #0!

Firearm #0 4-page ad:

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It’s interesting to see four pages per (most issues) dedicated to this. Rather than just a one-page piece advertising this video/comic combo pack, we have an opening page, a double-page spread, and a closing page, introducing us to this concept of a live-action video where the story starts in the video and concludes in a comic book! This was one of many interesting multi-media things Malibu did for the Ultraverse line, and to my knowledge remains a one-of-a-kind thing!


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I’d forgotten how early on this Flood Relief issue came about. For a donation to the American Red Cross, one could get a special edition comic book featuring the Ultraverse. An interesting fundraising device. I have no idea how well it did, or how ‘limited’ it actually was. Offhand, this would be the second "mail-away for a limited-edition Ultraverse comic" promotion from Malibu.

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Where it seems all the other titles got ads ahead of time, I had noted for the August 1993 house ads that there’d been no ad for The Solution before its first issue was out. Instead of a "coming in September" we got an ad for it in September with the "On Sale Now!" note.

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I believe this is the first full-page ad for a title that is not a #1 issue. We had the split-page ad for several of the continuing titles, but this seems to be the first full-page ad. In this case, for Hardcase #5, coming in October 1993, part of the Rune Month stuff. Here the ad is just for the title but I recognize the cover image from the fifth issue!

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The Night Man is a new title that debuts with the October 1993 titles. I’ve always been a fan of this cover and its coloring. That I can say that based on this ad is–as I’ve noted with previous such reflections–one of the things I really, really like with the ads. They are the cover image of the first issues, so you know exactly what you’re looking for! No arbitrary image to get confused over when there are several other images on issues when you just want THE first issue. This use of the cover images also helps make them that much more memorable and recognizable, and thus "iconic" in a way that publishers in 2018 seem to despise.

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However, while I say that above about Night Man, this image of Sludge actually is not the first issue’s cover image–whether it was a last-second change or something else, I don’t know. Perhaps for nearly 25 years of knowing the actual cover, I think I prefer the actual cover of #1 to this…though this image gives a bit more to go on with the character, as the cover to #1 is an extreme close-up of Sludge’s face; here we see more of the (shadowed) body. But combine this ad with the actual cover, and there’s a bit more of an idea what one’s dealing with before ever getting past the cover of #1!

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Finally, getting a bit ahead of things, we have this Solitaire ad for November, giving us a look beyond "just" the very next month. Of course, we already had that with the Rune ad previously, that basically only told us the character was coming (and in September 1993, Rune #1 was still some four months away!). There’s no mention in this ad of the polybagged-with-a-playing-card promo that would come with the first issue of Solitaire…I don’t recall if there ever was any mention of it outside of something like Wizard or Hero Illustrated.


As I’ve mentioned several times recently…next, I’ll be getting into the October 1993 Ultraverse issues–"Rune Month!" Each issue has a flip-cover and several extra pages. The short segments collectively make up a #0-issue for Rune, and by collecting all 11 coupons and mailing away, you could receive a standalone edition of Rune #0 as a single-issue (plus a poster, some other goodies…and also a #0-issue for The Solution!)

More on that at the end of covering the October books!

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