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Ultraverse Revisited: Mantra #3

ultraverse_revisited

mantra_0003Kismet Once…Kismet Twice…Kismet Deadly!

Writer: Mike W. Barr
Penciler: Terry Dodson
Inker: Al Vey
Letterer: Tim Eldred
Color Designer: Moose Baumann
Editor: Chris Ulm
Published by: Malibu Comics
Cover Date: September 1993
Cover Price: $1.95

We open on Lukasz–Eden–being held down by the Repo Men! They’re trying to get her mask, the source of her magical armor off, for their boss. Meanwhile, Eden’s kids are looking for her and don’t recognize her as the masked woman all the commotion’s about. Eden fries the Repo Men and makes her escape. She flies off and confronts their boss, eventually forcing a deal of sorts, pointing out that she’s the only person on Earth the mask will even work for, so it’s not in the guy’s interest to possess it anyway. She then–belatedly–remembers the kids, and collects them awkwardly from Child Services, deals awkwardly with them in the car and back at their house, and doesn’t quite convince Evie that everything’s alright. (In fact, Evie realizes quite a difference and goes to Gus–her brother–claiming this isn’t their mom!) The next day, the kids are handed off to their grandmother, after a brief run-in with Brent. Lukasz begins trying to track "the Judas" that betrayed Archimage, which leads to private investigator Dalmas. While in his office, a magical creation of Archimage’s–"Kismet Deadly"–challenges/tests Lukasz. Lukasz finds a ring in Dalmas’ safe that leads to Hamath…who in turn is killed when Kismet Deadly re-manifests, before Lukasz points out what "living" actually entails–including death! Mourning Hamath’s death but facing the practicality of it, Lukasz is decked from behind by someone whereing what looks like an Infinity Gauntlet knock-off. We then shift to someone else bound to a chair, and see that Warstrike is tracking Eden/Lukasz. Finally, Lukasz wakes to find himself before Boneyard, apparently to be a bride.

Since there’s no "previously" page, it was quite helpful that this issue basically opened right where #2 had left off…or close enough that opening on Lukasz being held down reminded me that we left off with these Repo Men pinning the body to take the mask. It’s interesting to see the development of the "superhero name" Mantra develop here: Lukasz thinking back to what he was told–to let "Change, growth, power" be his mantra; and someone overhearing the word "mantra" being spoken and taking it as the woman calling herself "Mantra." And thus, we have an on-panel, on-page explanation/reason for this body being called Mantra. Hokey as it may be, this is something I really enjoyed seeing here (and usually enjoy generally)–having some "moment" specifically reference something with its own title–book, movie, comic book–and yet not make a big deal of it. Someone hears this woman say the word "mantra," thinks she’s called herself "Mantra," tells others, and voila! Super heroine named Mantra! That Lukasz doesn’t quite "get" it and/or seems a bit annoyed by it is an added touch I like.

Story-wise, there’s a lot going on here…this is definitely a rather "compressed" issue (compared to the "decompression" in comics of the last 15+ years into 2018)…yet we still manage to have a sort of "subplot" and "immediate plot" dichotomy going on. There’s a lotta stuff happening, and we’re getting actual forward progression; Lukasz is actually going through tracking leads down and such rather than simply talking about it. As a single issue we get to see all sorts of stuff–Lukasz as Eden, Lukasz in action, Lukasz dealing with the kids, Lukasz interacting with the grandmother, and Brent; Lukasz putting this new body to use; we see Warstrike, we see Boneyard, we have references and context to Archimage and why Lukasz is in a woman’s body, etc.

Visually, this is definitely a pretty issue to look at, and I really like the coloring–especially for the stuff with Kismet Deadly. It’s just a sort of bright-and-colorful that I don’t feel I often see in comics, period (new OR old). As a late-30s male, and whatever other factors one may want to bring to the table, I do feel that I have a different sort of "appreciation" for the art than I did even as a kid…despite the art definitely grabbing and holding my attention even then! There’s that "cheesecake" element to this stuff without being graphically gratuitous…and I rather like the line it walks where a straight up live-action adaptation would almost certainly be PG-13…but it doesn’t cross the line into R-rated territory. One panel when Eden snaps at Evie threw me outta the story for a moment…Evie does not look AT ALL like a child to me, and taken out of context I’d absolutely swear her face is that of a full-grown woman, on the page. So, pretty as the art is generally and all that, it’s not perfect. But this is a comic book, and from the ’90s at that, and when it’s really one single panel and not even a page that does this, that’s not bad.

pinups_mantra0003

In addition to the story-art of the issue (and there are 24 pages of the issue itself!) we have a letter column page, and a random "pinup" with art by Paul Pelletier and Al Vey. Just a static pose of Mantra standing amidst some rocks or such, some mist floating, sword drawn…nothing particular going on, just an image of the character. We do not tend to see this sorta thing anymore, unfortunately–today, publishers seem absolutely incapable of doing something like this, as if they absolutely cannot possibly have a non-story image that ISN’T a variant cover. I love seeing this–another artist’s take on a character, shown within an issue featuring that character…yet it is NOT a variant!

I felt like this series’ story’s engaged me more than a lot of others…maybe it’s nostalgia, maybe it’s the art and having 25 more years on me, maybe all that and other factors. Something about the way I read this and enjoyed the issue as a whole makes me think it was no fluke that this was one of my favorite titles back then, as it’s quickly reasserting itself as a favorite of the bunch NOW as well.

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Ultraverse Revisited: Mantra #1

ultraverse_revisited

mantra_0001Reversal of Fortune

Writer: Mike W. Barr
Penciller: Terry Dodson
Inker: Al Vey
Letterer: Tim Eldred
Color Design: Paul Mounts
Editor: Chris Ulm
Published by: Malibu Comics
Cover Date: July 1993
Cover Price: $1.95

This is an interesting issue, starting at the cover. The coloring overall gives it a sort of pink look, and makes it instantly (to me) identifiable as what it is at a slight glance. The main character–Mantra–is in some odd mid-air motion like a jump-kick or sideways fastball-special…can’t really tell. But it’s from the ’90s, so doesn’t have to totally make sense, apparently…but at least you can see she has feet! Almost as much so or more prominently, you have Warstrike (a Cable-like huge overly-muscled character with a huge gun) firing away at something "off-panel" of the cover. While in the background, partially obscured by the cover dress–the title logo and the corner box stuff–you have a ghostly image of the villain Boneyard. So this is hardly a great cover in design…its being recognizable and iconic comes from being a #1–a #1 that does NOT have umpteen variants, as this was only the ’90s and not modern 2010s. The cover matches the ads that preceded it, advertising its pending arrival, and contributes to its recognizability.

As I’m essentially "over-familiar" with Prime #1 due to the audio comic, of the early #1s, this was the issue I was most looking forward to getting back to. I don’t actually recall the last time that I read this issue cover to cover rather than skimming it to verify certain details (Lukasz’s final death and the specific killer, for example), but it’s absolutely safe to say I don’t recall reading this within the last 10-15 years, if not longer. So there was some surprise on my part at stuff I’d forgotten, along with certain familiarity that’s stuck with me since the very first time I read the issue back in 1993!

We open on a frontispiece…no actual action or identification of characters, just an image of Mantra as a body/mask/cloak/armor, a black man to the upper left, a ark-haired woman to the upper right, and green energy/lightning and smoke billowing at the bottom. The creator credits and issue title are here as well. Turning the page, we meet Bill Cooper interacting with a Mr. Dalmas, apparently finalizing paperwork for a divorce. The wife has tailed the lawyer and manages to get in, appealing to Cooper to at least not turn his back on his son. While they’re dismissed, we have the growing sense of something supernatural or at least abnormal going on. A ghostly image of an old mane addresses Cooper as Lukasz, and in turn is addressed as Archimage. Cooper makes his way to a club, and getting reacquainted with Yaron, Hamath, and Thanasi. Meanwhile, someone is tied up and being questioned by a garishly-dressed man apparently called Notch. He has a ghostly image of another old figure–Boneyard! Cooper–Lukasz–and his fellows burst in, and battle commences! While the men struggle, we get a momentary glimpse of Boneyard and Archimage hand-to hand struggling themselves…as blood is shed on both sides. Cooper lays dead as the others escaped, and Notch cuts the heart from the body…making it quite official the notch he’s cut in his staff. We meet Warstrike as he answers a call, and then the scene shifts to show us a couple–Marla and Carl, apparently recently-reconciled arriving at a house…and we meet Eden Blake (the dark-haired woman from the frontispiece) interacting with her kids, mother, and her own date. Marla’s gone in while Carl properly parks the car. The view shifts to a trippy/cosmic "hall of bodies" called The Soulwalk, as we find Lukasz’s soul preparing to go into its next body…which he does as it rings a doorbell, and we see he’s displaced Carl. Breaking another heart, he walks out on Marla and an angry Eden. In Carl’s body, we follow Lukasz as he meets up with the rest of Archimage’s group–12 in all–and they get a final speech from the old man as he reveals that they’ve been betrayed by one of their own.

Boneyard arrives, Archimage is captured, his men are killed…Carl/Lukasz killed by Warstrike. Lukasz thinks this is it…before discovering Archimage–even captured–is bringing him back. Lukasz wakes up in bed next to a man, and discovers that this time, he’s been reincarnated as a woman. The woman he saw earlier–Eden Blake!  As Eden, he makes a hasty exit, and immediately experiences the some changes on the streets of LA as a woman instead of man…including being pulled into an alley for an attempted rape, before the would-be-rapist’s cigarette sets him ablaze. Eden makes it to a hospital to meet the last of Archimage’s helpers, who reveals that this is the final reincarnation, Lukasz’s soul was put into this body as a last-ditch backup failsafe, and after centuries of technology, must now embrace magic. A mask charm suddenly flips Eden into the scantily-armor-clad figure of Mantra with a cloak, thigh-high boots and arm-length gloves. As Katinya dies, police enter and assume this figure is a murderer, forcing Eden to escape. Getting home to the address on her driver’s license, she dismisses mother and kids for the night, finds this body doesn’t like whiskey, and answers a late night doorbell to find Warstrike…who knows who (s)he actually is!

Maybe it’s largely nostalgia, maybe it’s the analytical reading for this post and going back through the issue for this overly-lengthy summary of the issue. But this strikes me as a darned good first issue! We have foreshadowing in the frontispiece, a cold build from some arbitrary scene as things quickly come together, showing us good guys and bad guys, and that both sides have a master figure behind them…a 15-century struggle comes down to this final night, as Boneyard gains the upper hand…and the last surviving chance for Archimage is Lukasz, now in the body of a woman and apparently host to mystical/magical powers. We’re introduced to a number of characters on both sides, to the situation, how this battle has lasted over a millennia, and so on. We see how easily Lukasz is killed–twice!–which shows how extremely imperative it is that he be more careful than ever when he learns he can no longer simply be brought back in a new body. And like Lukasz himself…we’re left wondering at the end of the issue what’s coming next. Immediately in terms of Warstrike’s showing up to finish what he started, and whatever is to come in the ongoing battle.

Visually, this is maybe the strongest Ultraverse issue thus far to me, of the five titles. Of course, it’s Terry Dodson art, so that’s a lot of it! Barr crams so much into the story and the art so beautifully conveys it all that I feel little wonder that this is one of my favorite issues of the line.

I did not originally read this in August of 1993 when it came out–at least, I somehow have a memory of reading it in December that year. 25 years and family stuff could definitely have scrambled the timing in my memory, though. But I distinctly remember the surprise of that page when Lukasz wakes up in Eden’s body…quite an image for a barely-13-year-old, and probably a bit of an immediate imprint for the title character.

Like Freex #1, this issue came with a "bonus coupon," which could be substituted for one of the first-month coupons to redeem for Ultraverse Premiere #0. I remember having to make use of that due to being unable to get the Wizard #23 coupon for whatever reason.

All in all, this is a strong first issue well worth getting if you find it in a bargain bin, and I’m definitely looking forward to getting into #2 and onward as things develop, and filling in some of the details and such I missed when the issues were new, as it’s been in the years after the end of the Ultraverse line that I was able to fill in the early gaps in my collection!

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