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Ultraverse Revisited: Prime #2

ultraverse_revisited

prime_0002Hunted

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

I remember this issue as being (for a time) "hotter" than the first. I believe it was originally bagged with a trading card, so that there added to the "speculator" fuel–folks buying multiple copies to leave one in the bag sealed, another to take out. And that it’s in this issue that we see on-panel/learn on-panel about Kevin Green, and whatnot; the "reveal" of Prime’s "secret identity" and family and such.

We ended #1 with Prime becoming a hollow husk and a kid punching out of it and then barfing. We open this issue with a sick, naked kid stumbling to a house, which we come to realize is Kevin Green. His parents are obviously freaked out–what happened to their kid, why is he sick, why is he naked, etc. They get him to a doctor who thinks that despite the apparent amnesia, he’ll be ok…Kevin, of course, knows he’s ok–he’s PRIME! Later, at school we see Kevin’s definitely not a popular kid…and even Kelly–the girl he’s got a crush on–isn’t interested in him (though she IS interested in talking about Prime…something Kevin uses to his advantage). Before long, bored in class, Kevin feels something happening and rushes to get out…as Prime is re-formed around him! After school (as Prime) he finds Kelly and takes her flying. Before he can drop her off, he’s hit by a huge creature, and forced to both prevent Kelly from being injured AND fight the creature. After defeating the creature–Prime thinks he’s accidentally killed it–we see Kelly talking with a friend, who thinks the entire situation (particularly the ‘adult superhero’ having an an interest in Kelly) is weird. As Prime flies away, a new version of the creature catches up to him, and ultimately "absorbs" him–capturing him. We end the issue with Prime now trapped inside a larger body, trying to get out.

This issue is far less "iconic" to me, and I’ve got a fraction of the familiarity with it that I do the first issue.

The art is good, but something about it felt "off" and a bit different this issue–probably that I’m not as familiar with this issue’s specific imagery as I am the first. Something about the way Kevin is depicted here is not quite what I THOUGHT I remembered, so he looked weird to me; I can only assume that in my mind’s eye I picture Peter Parker or some such, or something more recent that I’ve seen with Billy Batson. Seeing an awkward-looking young teenager that looked like what he is threw me. As with the previous issue…I realize just HOW "’90s!" the art is, and that much as Image had a "reputation" that’s often referred to, it’s actually the likes of Breyfogle‘s Prime art that imprinted on me as "’90s Art." Coupled with the somewhat obvious-for-its-time digital graphics/bright colors/etc., the art makes for a good issue, showing what’s going on and all, and definitely feels like a comic book, though it seems significantly less "refined" than more contemporary comics. Of course, there’s a whopping 25-year gap between this issue and present-day!

Story-wise, we get a bit of world-building here. Prime–the hulking over-muscled superhero is actually 13-year-old Kevin Green, until now a "normal" boy with "normal" parents who worry about him. He goes to a normal school, experiencing normal things–boredom with classes, unrequited crush, peer ridicule, etc. The only thing that makes him "special" is generating this Prime body around himself–which is something he’s now familiar with, but apparently cannot control. Additionally, we get the start of a long-running theme that seemed rather new at the time: what is the perception of an adult superhero interacting with a young girl? After all–as readers, WE get to see that Kevin and Prime are one and the same, and that Prime is just a hulking body formed around his own, but it’s still Kevin that’s "in charge." Since other characters do NOT know this, they only see an adult…who is obviously "interested" in a girl who appears maybe half his age.

As a whole, this definitely comes off as a ’90s comic–something I’ll likely continue to say about this series, if not much of the Ultraverse in general. Structurally, the first issue could have been a "Zero Issue" with this being the first, but I’m rather glad it’s set up as it is–we were introduced to Prime the superhero in the first issue, left with the mystery of the boy in his body, then this issue introduces the boy and his own situation before getting us back into Prime-time action (ooooh…look at what I did there!) for the rest of the issue. We have the developing subplots of Kevin and Kelly, Kevin and his parents, Doc Gross and what he intends for Prime; and another cliffhanger. We’re promised in a dynamic caption that next is the ORIGIN of Prime…so along with the mirroring of the first issue’s cliffhanger, there’s also the hook that we’re about to learn the origin of the character, which would leave me plenty ready to keep on with this title!

As a decades-outta-print back issue, this would be a prime find in a bargain bin. I’m sure I’ve seen this a couple of times at least, both open and bagged. I recall this being a "hot" issue back in the day, both as a new title AND for the "bagged" factor (you’d need to buy TWO copies! One to open/read, one to SAVE! Because an external bag completely physically separate from the comic itself being removed DESTROYS the actual, physical comic book itself!)…there was also the "revelation" of Prime’s "secret identity" and all that. Especially with present-day sensibilities and the conscious knowledge of the finite nature of the entire Ultraverse and the relative commonality of the issues (especially for the first year or so of the Ultraverse line’s publication), I’d definitely recommend this as a purchase if you find it in a bargain bin…but ideally, along with the first issue and maybe several of the subsequent issues. I suppose this reads "ok" as a standalone…but especially as "only" a #2, there’s no real "reason" to specifically go after this without the first issue.

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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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Ultraverse Revisited: Prime #1

ultraverse_revisited

prime_0001Prime Time!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A Quarter-Bin Haul: Week of February 21, 2018

Perhaps a bit reckless on the spending after just being laid off, I spent awhile digging through quarter bins that I hadn’t in a long time, and got quite a haul. Of course, for all these comics from that quarter bin dive…it was still (in itself) LESS money than the new comics. And less than buying a mere SEVEN new Marvel issues, or only 9 new DC issues. Far more available to read, to fill in holes in the collection, to have conveniently handy for a bit til they disappear into boxes, etc.

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I’m not actually sure what The New Wave is, but I’m certain that my brain keeps trying to think Nextwave. Since the first few issues were present, I was able to snag 9 issues…enough to definitely check things out and see what I think of ’em, assuming I ever get around to the actual reading of these.

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And a complete run of The Man of Steel? Yeah, why not? I may want to revisit this series this spring anyway, given the current stuff.

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I feel like I recall Batman: Sword of Azrael #1 going for $40ish at one point. So scoring all four issues for a mere $1? Excellent! I still really like that first cover. Anecdotally…I originally bought #1 "off the stand" as a brand-new issue (though it was awhile before I ever got #s 2-4). I’m less sure, but thinking I’d had the choice of it or Vengeance of Bane and chose Azrael.

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And a complete 4-issue mini-series of Black Knight? Why not?

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Some classic Sword of the Atom specials, and the three issue Tales of the Green Lantern Corps mini. Can’t remember if I already have any of the Sword of the Atom specials, but I do have the Tales of the GL Corps mini already.

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Same goes for Guy Gardner Reborn and the Justice League America #70. The Justice League International Special issues are new to me, I believe, and interesting pieces, at that!

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Finally making a bit of headway on Green Lantern: Mosaic. I really need to figure out now which specific issues I’m actually still missing, as this gives me a solid 1-9, and I think I have #18 or so (whatever the final issue was), meaning I should have 8 or less issues to track down now!

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A nice mini-run of the early Kyle Green Lantern issues; I’d previously found a decent run that I believe was missing these, so between that, these,and what I already had, I should have most of the first 60 or so Kyle issues.

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While there were several missing issues, I don’t consciously remember this 2-part Parallax View story, but I’m eager to read it, even "out of order" and "out of context" for now! And while contemporary Valiant is on my $#!^ list, they didn’t do "original Valiant stuff, so I’m still somewhat interested in that run. And hey…Unity #0… not a bad issue, I don’t think, to pick up for only 25 cents!

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If other "early issues" of JLI and JLE were in the bins, I did not see them with the #1 issues, so I don’t feel as bad about "just" grabbing the #1. They go well with Justice League Quarterly, which I did find several subsequent issues! I’m not sure if there were only these 7 offhand but I don’t think I remember this title being around when I was getting into the main JL:A book around the Death of Superman.

I do like those first issue covers…a fun sorta "running gag" for this era of the title(s), somewhat revisited with the recent Omnibus volume.

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Then there’s Breakdowns, which was mostly present.

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A couple missing issues of JLE, but if I can find those in the near-ish future, this may be a good binge-read! Then there’s Jurgens‘ first issue on the title, with the "new" post-Breakdowns status quo that included Superman and Maxima.

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With getting Starman #1, I might actually have the full series now. If not, I’m only missing a few issues! Forgotten Realms appealed to my D&D nostalgia/curiosity of this era of the TSR comics. Superman #1 for the nostalgia, and to go with The Man of Steel issues. The confrontation with Supergirl shortly before all the Death of Superman stuff appealed to me for the "convenience copy" factor; same for the first issue of her post-Return mini (which did not seem to have its 2-4).

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I’d have to research if the gold-ink cover of Crisis #1 is a first print or not; offhand I’m thinking it’s a later printing, being in the quarter bin. The "key" issues 7 & 8 (Deaths of Supergirl and Flash) were missing.

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But outside of 7 & 8, I was able to snag the entire series. I’m pretty sure I have #7 somewhere…but I’m not sure about #8. I’d definitely be interested in a "cheapo" copy of #8 as a "reader copy" or such, just to have the issue. No need for "near-mint" for me.

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All that DC, and only a scant handful of Marvel issues. And one is a crossover with DC! The X-Men/New Teen Titans crossover…and this may be the best-condition I’ve found of the issue, for only getting it from bargain bins! I was rather surprised at the Contest of Champions being 25 cents..perhaps it’s a later printing, or maybe it’s that the thing’s not in great condition (but hardly "poor" condition). Shogun Warriors was interesting just for beign a #1 from this period. The Incredible Hulk issue looked like an interesting one-off to read. Avengers #1 (the first of about a dozen now in my "comics reading lifetime"!!!) for the heckuvit since it was there and 25 cents; same for the Heroes Return iteration of Captain America #1 (the second of about a dozen such #1s for that title in my "comics reading lifetime").

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