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Ultraverse Revisited: Hardcase #6

ultraverse_revisited

hardcase_0006Friends and Enemies, Part Two: Returning Favors

Writer: Jim Hudnall
Penciller: Scott Benefiel
Inkers: Mike Christian & Jordi Ensign
Letterer: Tim Eldred
Color Design: Moose Baumann
Interior Colorists: Family Fugue
Editor: Hank Kanalz
Cover Date: November 1993
Cover Price: $1.95

After being stabbed and looking like he was bleeding out, we open this issue with Hardcase having an out of body experience, watching Choice find his body, fend off Hardwire, and try to get Tom to a hospital. While having this experience, Hardcase–Tom–is told by Linda (Starburst) to go back while he can. After waking in a hospital bed, Tom and Choice are visited by an old friend…who turns out to be an "old friend" in The Alternate. She claims she’s trying to help them survive, while "The Man Who Isn’t a Man" prepares to send agents to the moon to get something for him that he can destroy all Ultras with. Thanks to his remarkable healing, Hardcase is up and ready before long to re-confront Hardwire, and being prepared this time, succeeds. When police show up, Hardcase dislocates both of the villains arms, so that he can’t use his fingers against them. After this all wraps up, Tom lays in bed with his mind in overdrive, reflecting on the evening–Choice, as well as what he actually saw while dying.

The art for this title has been rather uneven…but it worked well in this issue, taken alone. The cover is nicely detailed, with Hardcase looking like Hardcase…even though it has him seemingly deliberately looking AWAY FROM the attacking villain. Within the issue, the art seems good as a whole. It seems slightly "off" to me–but then, my primary memory of the title and its art comes from the first issue, so that’s what I tend to judge a lot of the art against. It’s better than a couple of the other early issues, though, and better than I remember some of the later issues. The story’s not hard to follow–the action of what’s going on–and that’s the main thing. It’s nothing to write home about, but nothing I’m gonna really complain about.

Story-wise, we get some solid follow-up on Hardcase’s injury–and that while he’s nearly invulnerable, he can be hurt; but he also heals much faster, so even dire damage isn’t necessarily fatal. That said, we get some hints at forthcoming answers for Choice, and knowing what I do of the Ultraverse, it’s easy to pick up on the references to the moon and such (all the more after seeing them in Prime–which is another "core" Ultraverse title as one of the three originals). We get some resolution to this initial encounter with Hardwire; foreshadowing of stuff to come, and generally have a decently well-rounded ’90s comic that moves everything forward as an "episode" rather than being just a 1/6th slice of some singular graphic novel the way most modern/2018/2019 comics seem to be.

As with many ’90s comics and other Ultraverse issues, one could pick up on context simply reading this issue…but it’s not one I’d recommend in isolation or as some singular target issue. It bridges the previous issue and what’s to come in Break-Thru, contributing a bit of setup for that event and preparing us for Hardcase joining the greater stage of the Ultraverse as a whole. This is well worth a 25-50 cent purchase to have along with the earlier issues…but you’re better off grabbing the first issue than this if you just want a single issue of Hardcase.

hardcase_0006_blogtrailer

James Hudnall’s passing

I just learned tonight that James Hudnall–a co-founder of the Ultraverse and writer of Hardcase has died.

I’m sure there’ll be plenty of others posting about this at length.

I’d just sat down to work on a different post myself, tonight, and expected a notification I’d seen pop up on my phone to be about a new Kickstarter or such; instead that notification was this news.

Visiting Hudnall‘s Facebook page, the news was shared by his family. Corroboration by multiple sources.


I’d seen posts in the Ultraverse Facebook group by him, and it was cool to see he was still/again doing some comics work.

I know his name from Hardcase in particular…and was reminded tonight that he was the writer on the Lex Luthor: The Unauthorized Biography from 1989…a "key" piece of Superman history post-Crisis.

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Tom Mason posted a nice recollection of his experience with Hudnall in the Facebook group for Ultraverse (not sure if its setting is public or not, if you can see it, it is, if not, it’s not).

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While I’ve yet to read the entirety of the Hardcase series (I’m up to #s 5/6 on my current read-through project), the cover from #1 is one of those "iconic" (for me, at least) comic covers from the ’90s. Hudnall being the writer means I’m sharing covers with art that wasn’t his…but especially in comics, art and writing go hand-in-hand.

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Ultraverse Revisited: Ultrafiles and Letters Pages October 1993

ultraverse_revisited

Now that we’re done with the actual issues/story contents for the October 1993 Ultraverse titles, on to the Ultrafiles and letters pages!

All of these are at half-size to fit on the blog page…just click on the images to open a larger version!

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Ultrafiles page 1…

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Ultrafiles page 2 with the Ask Diane section.

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The Exiles letters page from Exiles #3.

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The Freex letters page from Freex #4.

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The Hardcase letters page from Hardcase #5.

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The Prime letters page from Prime #5.

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Prototype letters page from Prototype #3.

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And finally, the Strangers letters page from The Strangers #5.


It’s definitely cool to see letters pages–in 2018, they seem pretty much a relic of the past, so definitely a bit of nostalgia there. Several of these don’t even have a "name" yet, but letters were run anyway. And of course, the Ultrafiles pages deal with the entire line, and include a bit of information about the upcoming Break-Thru, as well as the Ask Diane blurb.

As said at the top of this post…click on any of the images to open them in a larger size, as they’ve been shrunk to fit this blog layout.

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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: Early House Ads September 1993

ultraverse_revisited

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:

ultraverse_ads_firearm_0a

ultraverse_ads_firearm_0bc

ultraverse_ads_firearm_0d

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!


ultraverse_ads_flood_relief

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.

ultraverse_ads_solution0001

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.

ultraverse_ads_sludge0001

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!

ultraverse_ads_solitaire0001

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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Ultraverse Revisited: Ultrafiles and Letters Pages September 1993

ultraverse_revisited

Now into the fourth month of the Ultraverse books, several of the titles now have letters pages! I assume they’re self-explanatory: One could write in with comments about an issue, and several would be chosen to be printed in the back of an issue, possibly with a response from Editorial.

Not much to comment on, so I’m presenting the Ultrafiles pages common across issues and then the letters pages, below!


Ultrafiles pages:

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ultrafiles_september1993b

Hardcase September 1993 letters page:

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The Strangers September 1993 letters page:

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Mantra September 1993 letters page:

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Freex September 1993 letters page:

letters_freex0003


With the addition of the letters pages, I decided to split the Early House Ads into its own post, with the Ultrafiles pages here with the letters. I’ll get into the September ads on Wednesday, and then Friday should be jumping into the October 1993 "Rune Month" issues!

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Ultraverse Revisited: Strangers #4

ultraverse_revisited

strangers_0004_frontBetween a Rock and a Hardcase

Author: Steve Englehart
Pencil Artist: Rick Hoberg
Ink Artist: Tim Burgard
Plot: Steve Englehart and James D. Hudnall
Letterer: Dave Lanphear
Color Design: Rick Schmitz
Interior Colorists: Foodhammer!
Editor: Chris Ulm
Published by: Malibu Comics
Cover Date: September 1993
Cover Price: $1.95

The way Hardcase #4 ended with our heroes suddenly facing some off-panel figure they seemed to recognize, I figured I’d just managed to "forget" someone that had been rather minor up until now…so I was looking forward to the "reveal" in this issue.

But as we open up, we find Hardcase and the Strangers underground (I thought they were still aboveground where we’d left off) and facing an Aladdin agent through some pink force shield. The shield prevents anyone from attacking/using their abilities against the Aladdin folks, and unless they agree to join/work with Aladdin, our heroes aren’t going to be allowed to leave. After some back and forth between the two groups, Grenade realizes there’s a loophole, and seems to start a fight with Hardcase. They can’t use their abilities on their captors…but they CAN against each other. And if their captors get caught in the ricochets, well, that’s just too bad for them. Our heroes escape, though the captors aren’t far behind. Hardcase pauses–he’s going to destroy Aladdin’s DNA labs, as they’ve already violated his old friends by digging up bodies and harvesting their DNA. The Strangers wind up helping, though this means further fighting with Aladdin’s own Ultras. Of course, they’ve got a better idea of what to expect and have continued to learn about their own abilities…so achieve a momentary victory. Realizing at best they’d deal with this single base, a deal is struck–The Strangers (and Hardcase and Choice) walk away. No retaliation from either side. Aladdin keeps their data, our heroes get their freedom to fight another day. No one’s happy about it, but the confrontation ends without any deaths.

Perhaps it’s the larger cast being juggled here, but it seems like there are a lot of little "moments." We have the sorta heavy-handedness of Atom Bob’s obvious interest in Choice; we get Spectral tending to Lady Killer; Zip-Zap marveling at this group that accepts him without belittling him for being "just a kid," and even Hardcase gets a bit of a mentorship role with the group, as he’s been at the Ultra-hero game longer than all the rest. As is definitely a recurring thing as I’m going through these early Ultraverse issues–there’s a lot crammed into any given issue, overall. What we’ve gotten in just four issues of one title from 1993 would probably be stretched to at least 12 if not 18-24 with the way comics are "done" in 2018. There are some leaps of logic and plot holes–and this isn’t a 100% smooth continuation from Hardcase #4. Some of that seems likely that the co-plotting happened, but final fine details weren’t necessarily worked out in time to be reflected properly. That said…if one is just reading this one title, all they really have to know is that the Strangers went to Hardcase’s place and he joined them to fight these Aladdin folks. That can be picked up from context, so the fine details aren’t as important as such. And of course, twenty-five years ago you didn’t have "everything" available digitally or in guaranteed-everything-will-be-put-into-collected-editions, so it was essentially "expected" that one COULD "miss" an issue (not that it would be encouraged).

Visually I definitely enjoyed this issue. I recognized al the characters, and everyone looks good–on form–and the action and such is easy enough to follow. I didn’t get taken out of the story by anything wonky or having to really scratch my head wondering what I’d missed form one panel to the next.

Whatever the specifics and logistics of a story going across multiple titles…this felt like an organic sort of thing. It’s not part of some big event, it’s not even actually "chapter one" or "chapter two" of however many parts; it’s not some "structured crossover" or the like. We just have characters that share the same world interact as they would, SINCE they share the same world and are aware of each other.

We had several issues to establish the Strangers on their own, and now they’ve touched base with the wider world…though things are about to "come back home" for them with Deathwish in the next issue, apparently.

strangers_0004_full

The cover is quite familiar, as it is the "second half" of the front cover from Hardcase #4. Given the placement, though…where Hardcase #4 had a gatefold front cover where the Strangers part folded out…this issue has a wraparoud cover where the Hardcase part is the back cover. The two issues can fit together to make up the single image, and the two issues can each stand alone, giving the full image. No variants in sight, no being forced to buy multiple copies of the same issue chasing some ubiquitous, over-hyped gimmick.

If you can find the first few issues as well as Hardcase #4, this issue’s quite worthwhile. It’s surely got its long-term importance in the grand scheme by itself, but this would be best enjoyed along with Hardcase #4 at least.

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