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Ultraverse Revisited: The Solution #2

ultraverse_revisited

solution_0002Showdown

Writer: James Hudnall
Penciller: Darick Robertson
Inker: Mike Miller
Letterer: Tim Eldred
Color Designer: Tim Divar
Interior Color: Violent Hues
Editor: Hank Kanalz
Published by: Malibu Comics
Cover Date: October 1993
Cover Price: $2.50

Rex Mundi realizes he and his people are being magically spied on…by The Solution! The scene then moves to the Shinjuku district in Tokyo…where we see The Solution in action! They’ve got a plan, and everyone seems to be in place as things unfold. Dropkick and Tech communicate, while Shadowmage  sits by to use her powers in a room next to the group’s target, who is dealt with by Lela Cho–Tech–herself. As Tech begins to realize something’s wrong, Shadowmage confirms that someone’s there, and both Outrage and Dropkick are forced into immediate action away from the building. Shadowmage fights an opponent named Book, while Dropkick deals with a red-clad woman with swords…who seems to recognize his fighting style. Outrage’s opponent seems to be of his own alien race (I guess Outrage is another alien…I did not remember that!), and he’s got some sort of bounty on his head. While Tech gets her client out of the building and we see them trying to escape this ambush, the unfolding battles of the other three unfold as well. In the end, their client is killed, so while The Solution survives, their case is a bust.

This issue is largely a huge fight scene. The previous issue really being the first time I’d ever read an issue of this series (despite owning issues and being aware of the team–mainly from getting Rune #0 and it coming with The Solution #0 as well) I’m still figuring out the characters. And of course, that’s not helped by the way I’m undertaking this reading project–trying to read ALL titles in release-month order, rather than zeroing in on just one series at a time.

So this issue served to really "show off" a lot more with the team. We already know Shadowmage can use magic, but we see more of that here. Lela Cho has a certain skill set, which is also shown off. We see Dropkick in action, and some hints at him being more than he appears. And we see Outrage similarly, as he faces someone that knows more about him than we do, which leaves another question in the air, further details to be sussed out presumably in subsequent issues.

Visually, I thoroughly enjoyed this issue. The detail’s great, the layouts are dynamic, the characters seem consistent and it’s easy enough to follow the general action of it all. Seeing that it’s Darick Robertson art, though, I suppose I should not be surprise, enjoying his work on the likes of Transmetropolitan. I can’t quite figure out a better phrasing, but I felt like the main characters especially were "full" while "sleek" in the way they’re depicted in this issue. Ultimately, the issue in general is nice to look at, as it also totally carries a ’90s vibe.

Story-wise, there’s not a lot: the characters fight, their client is killed, everyone goes home. That’s the broad strokes view. The details are where the depth is, and I’m definitely interested in learning more about these characters. Maybe I’m the odd guy out, but I’m pretty sure I’d totally enjoy several issues of the characters simply interacting with each other and learning of them that way, without even needing a lot of action.

rune_0kRune [K]: The Fury – Part Two
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

Wayyyy back (it seems) with the start of the Rune stuff (Sludge #1), the cover showed the open mouth with fangs, and the words "The Stones are Cast…" Here in the final issue, we again have that cover image (the 9 issues between being the "poster image" pieces) but with the text "…And Death Walks the Earth." A fitting sort of symmetry. "The stones are cast and death walks the Earth." That’s Rune.

This final chapter of the Rune #0 issue, we see a kid named Erik talking with his Dad…as they discuss nightmares, monsters, and keeping things at bay; an incident with Erik forgetting to take his pills, and this hint at there being something more to the kid. Their conversation is largely narration boxes overlaid on scenes of destruction, as Rune gets through the last barriers between himself and Erik, leaving us with Rune perched in a tree outside Erik’s house, apparently preparing to attack.

The art continues to be consistent with prior chapters, as the creative team did not change…this is "merely" three more pages of the same issue, so no surprise there. After all these previous "chapters," we finally see Rune where he wants to be, after bitter disappointment and destructive confrontations…poised to  take in some incredible power that might restore or maintain his wasting body.

As prologue, as setup, as a #0 issue, it provides an introduction to the character, and leads into what I recall of the Rune #1 issue, such that one certainly can better appreciate things with the main series having read this first, and yet, this isn’t absolutely required reading for that.


I enjoyed this issue. It’s been nearly 25 years since my initial $2.50 was spent on it (that’s less than one penny per month from then til now, I think!) so while I’d be less than thrilled with an issue that’s basically a massive fight scene for a full/premium price in 2018, I’m ok with this 1993 issue being this way…all the more for so enjoying the art.

Yet again, the Rune chapter is an identifying mark on the issue, dating it at a glance to one of the October 1993 issues; and as with others, it is not singularly a selling point in my eyes, as far as this issue in isolation. It’s certainly a selling point for getting all 11 serialized chapters of Rune #0, or the coupons for the mail-away, and such.

But along with most of the "early Ultraverse" issues, I routinely see the issues in bargain bins, so don’t consider them to be worth one paying more than $1 for as of 2018; but that’s also easy enough for me to say, owning all the single issues myself already, and not being on the hunt for them.

I would definitely recommend pairing this issue with the first issue to have SOME context of stuff…and though I didn’t do it myself, I think this issue probably reads a lot better in context of being read immediately after the first issue, rather than with 17+ other issues read in-between.

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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 Solution #1

ultraverse_revisited

solution_0001The Problem

Writer: James Hudnall
Penciller: Darick Robertson
Inker: John Lowe
Letterer: Tim Eldred
Editor: Hank Kanalz
Color Design: Keith Conroy, Tim Divar
Interior Color: The ‘Bu Tones
Special Thanks to: Brandon McKinney, Mike S. Miller
Published by: Malibu Comics
Cover Date: September 1993
Cover Price: $1.95

This is definitely an issue I know I have not read before…in fact, I’m honestly not sure that I’ve read any issues of this series–I’ve only been "aware of" it, and perhaps read the several-page Rune segment that would have been a flipbook on one of the issues. I do not remember having this issue initially, or even seeing it when it first came out.

We open on someone just before he’s killed…this is our introduction to a huge, hulking Ultra named Meathook. Then we’re introduced to a much more graceful Ultra with finesse (and a sword) in Deathdance. We’re quickly introduced to a teleporting member of this group called Gate…and then a fourth–Book. Having killed all the guards at this base, they steal a bunch of nukes, which leaves the former owners–Russians–none too happy. Later, the Russians speak to contacts at a group called Aladdin, and are referred to yet another group called The Solution. The scene shifts and we’re introduced to more souped up ’90s-style henchmen for hire, protecting a drug shipment. As they’re ambushed by none other than The Solution, we meet Incoming, Dropkick, Shadowmage, and leader Tech (Lela Cho). After defeating Black Tiger, the Solution heads back to one of their secret bases to decompress, and Tech reflects on all that’s happened in barely six months. Another member of the group–Outrage–shows off by smashing, to the amusement of the others. As they begin looking into the Russian nukes situation, Shadowmage uses her magic to let them spy on the perpetrators…but she’s "sensed" by them, and her surprise leads to our cliffhanger, and the Solution might be in trouble.

From the cover itself, I really enjoyed this issue! There’s something to the cover–perhaps the colors involved, with the shades of purple, blue, pink, and white on an orangey background–that just really works for me. And of course, it’s a typical ’90s shot of a group rushing at the viewer, the leader shooting ahead. I imagine another factor for this standing out to me is–as generally tends to be the case on all these early Ultraverse books–this is the only cover I’ve known for The Solution #1.

The interior art is quite striking, albeit strongly conveying the general ’90s vibe that I’m realizing–or re-realizing–I picked up on as a kid more than I realized. It’s sort of interesting to me seeing Darick Robertson as the penciller, as (offhand) I really only know his name from his Transmetropolitan work. Seeing it here is cool, and I really like the visual style. Though a bit gratuitous, there’s a panel of Tech in the shower while the Solution is at their base that stood out more than the scene in Mantra #1 where Lukasz wakes up in Eden Blake’s body. Given the way the Mantra scene stuck with me as a kid, the fact I don’t remember this instance from back then is how I know I never read this as a kid.

On the story side, this issue moves at a pretty fast pace. By modern (2018) sensibilities, it’s way too fast and leaves far too much unsaid and is rather choppy, leaping from one thing to the next. But this is from 1993, and frankly…I really dig the pace. This is "only" a first issue, and it introduces us to all sorts of characters–essentially two teams of villains along with the protagonists making up the titular team, and still other characters. There’s even plenty of room for violence and blood, which is a bit on the messy side but in ’90s shorthand shows off just how "bad-ass" the villains are and how good the Solution is in being able to take them on at all, let alone have victory.

In the modern lens, this would easily cover 3-5 issues…that we get it all crammed into one makes for a jam-packed first issue that is well worth its cover price even now, despite being something I’d typically associate solely as yet another quarter-book.

This is my first real look outside of the initial "core" of Ultraverse titles, and though it might not fly with me if it were new in 2018, I definitely like it as something from 25 years ago. Running with my usual, this issue is absolutely worthwhile if found in a cheapo-bin; easily up to $1. If you dig the art alone, this could even be worthwhile for a bit more. While I know I’ve seen many of the other Ultraverse #1s in bargain bins…I think this is the first I’ve gotten to that I have NOT. Perhaps it is just "that good" that fewer people have gotten rid of it; perhaps it had a smaller print run; I don’t know.

I’m looking forward to getting into the next issue and seeing where things go, and hopefully better associating character names with actual characters.

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Ultraverse Revisited: Hardcase #3

ultraverse_revisited

hardcase_0003Hard Decisions

Writer: James Hudnall
Penciller: Jim Callahan
Inker: Rodney Ramos
Letterer: Tim Eldred
Color Designer: Moose Baumann
Editors: Chris Ulm, Hank Kanalz
Published by: Malibu Comics
Cover Date: August 1993
Cover Price: $1.95

This is another "new" issue to me, that to the best of my recollection I have never before read. As such, I’m continuing to rather enjoy the building of the earliest part of the Ultraverse, and at three issues in, beginning to get a bit more of an appreciation of the world of this one title at least.

First off, I noticed that we’re back to Jim Callahan art, which is a welcome refresher after the "studio art" we had for the second issue. Having Callahan‘s work again brings us back around to the first issue in visual familiarity/continuity, making this feel like a more "authentic" issue of the title, based on first impressions from that first issue.

The issue’s story opens with the Choice Corporation (Choice the character being their public spokesmodel) as we get a glimpse into the recent past, and then the top men of the corporation are trying to figure out how to get her back/neutralize her…and we have a bit of a reminder of "The Man Who Isn’t A Man" existing (and truthfully, I’d forgotten about him entirely in context of this title); TMWIAM sends his group of assassins/enforcers "The Omega Team" in to try to deal with Hardcase and collect Choice. Meanwhile, Hardcase and Choice speak with a Detective Chuck Brown–I believe he’s the brother of the police officer that was killed in the first issue…showing that that character wasn’t just a throw-away to "guilt" Hardcase, but something for lasting connection and repercussions. We also get the development than apparently Choice is able to be frank with Hardcase, but talking to anyone else, her "conditioning" kicks in and she denies any and all notion of impropriety regarding the Choice Corporation and any of their actions. Hardcase takes her to a beach to get away so he can get more information out of her, when Gun Nut, Trouble, and The Needler (The Omega Team) attack. Most of the rest of the issue is their fight; three against two. When the Omegas are down, a camera crew catches up, asking Hardcase about the fight, and Choice chimes in blaming them on a rival corporation (despite knowing the Choice Corporation had sent them, after HER). Back in the offices of the Choice Corporation, The Man Who Isn’t A Man assumes control of "cleanup" of the situation, and Hardcase and Choice get back to his house…and find The Strangers waiting for them!

In pulling issues for Months 3 and 4, I was reminded of the Hardcase/Strangers crossover in the #4s, but was somewhat surprised to have this issue actually end on the Strangers showing up–I’d "assumed" they’d show up partway into the next issue, and the story would then cross into their title; or vice-versa of Hardcase showing up partway into their issue and then everyone follow over into Hardcase. But I think I do like this better than my assumption…as even without recalling/knowing of the "crossover," just having them show up here at the end of #3 kinda mirrors the ending of Prime #3, with the third issues leading into the shared world of the Ultraverse at large, where the first couple issues of each title pretty much stuck to themselves.

This issue continued the situation of folks being after Choice, and Hardcase being involved. The fight sequence seems a bit long-ish, but when we have 26 story pages, that makes it less problematic to me, as it keeps the fight-to-other-stuff ratio lower for the issue itself.

Another good issue that leaves me curious about where things go and thus looking forward to the next issue!

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Ultraverse Revisited: Hardcase #2

ultraverse_revisited

hardcase_0002Hard Choices

Writer: James Hudnall
Artists: Cranial Implant Studio
Letterer: Tim Eldred
Color Designer: Moose Baumann
Editors: Chris Ulm, Hank Kanalz
Published by: Malibu Comics
Cover Date: July 1993
Cover Price: $1.95

The first issue of this series is one that I’m extremely familiar with…there are only a handful of such comics in my lifetime that I have that familiarity with. This issue, though…if I’ve read it before, it’s almost certainly been nearly two decades–or more!

This issue opens with several pages of a woman with powers being chased, as she tries to get to our hero. We cut to the funeral of the police officer Hardcase failed to save last issue, and his meeting with the officer’s brother. And even at a FUNERAL, Hardcase is pestered for autographs [[[as I type this, having just read about some recent Stan Lee stuff, I’m extra disgusted at the notion of autograph-hounds]]]. We find that the woman is Choice–a spokesmodel for the corporate entity. Hardcase talks to his agent, and whil eon the phone, the woman finds him, levitating to his balcony. They’re almost immediately attacked by parademon/Lexcorp-looking armored flying soldiers, who severely damage (if not destroy–it’s not completely clear) Hardcase’s not-so-humble abode. The rest of the issue is an extended fight sequence with Hardcase and Choice fighting the soldiers, who eventually claim they’re “just” trying to bring her in because she’s crazy and should be in a mental institution. Hardcase is highly ticked-off, and we end the issue on him determined to take the fight to the corporation for some answers.

The art for this issue is fairly inconsistent. I don’t think I’d consider any of it particularly bad or anything, but there’s a definite inconsistency throughout the issue. The “artists” (plural) credit of a STUDIO seems to me to suggest a bunch of people all working together on it, rather than any singular artist on pencils with a single inker and maybe a couple of colorists or letterers or such. It’s definitely a different look as well from the first issue, and had this been a present-day 2018 issue, I’d probably consider dropping the series for that alone. That said, I’m not an art-guy, and the art does tend to convey the big action and stuff that’s going on, getting the visuals across, however inconsistently. The cover is pretty basic–just a close-up (yet deeply shadowed) image of Hardcase with a blazing fire in the background, and some flames on the ginormous shoulder pads/chest armor he wears. Nothing horrid, but not a scene from the issue, really, nor all that dynamic…while the first issue’s cover is rather “iconic,” this just feels like some random/generic image slapped on.

The story is better, though still feels a bit basic…at “only” a #2 of an all-new, brand-new character and still-new “world,” we have world-building, particularly the addition of Choice and that corporation, and little hints here and there to other corporate crap going on. We get tossed-in tidbits of Hardcase being this huge movie star/hero, though I still don’t “buy” his rise to SUCH stardom in only a year, even if he WAS a part of THE only team of ultra-heroes for a time, first. I recall stuff with Choice in a later issue and/or “meta” knowledge I found out perhaps from Wizard Magazine or Hero Illustrated, so I know she’s an important addition to the cast.

I also am very conscious that for the most part, the bulk of the Ultraverse only REALLY lasted a couple years–that by the time any of the titles got to their “teens” or around #20 or so (I think the highest issue number an Ultraverse issue got was #26–with Prime and Hardcase)…so “only” 2 issues is still a pretty significant chunk of the entirety of any of the series.

As with Strangers #2 and Prime #2…I would not specifically seek out this issue as a stand-alone read, unless you’re missing it from completing a run or part of the run. This definitely builds from the first issue, and continues the building heading into the third issue. “Iffy” as the issue is as a standalone…I think I’d still recommend it on the Ultraverse brand, and as part of the series…though I would not counsel paying much for it (or any of the “regular” issues)…these are very much stuff for the bargain bins, up to $1 or so each, ideally.

I’m pretty sure the issue after #1 that I’m most remembering is #5 (the Rune Month issue) and then somewhere in the teens with the return of NM-E and then stuff in the lead up to Black September after Godwheel…so (like with The Strangers) this series as individual issues and specific details reading issue by issue is actually new to me, all these years after original publication.

Ultraverse Revisited: Hardcase #1

ultraverse_revisited

hardcase_0001Winners Never Quit

Writer: James Hudnall
Penciller: Jim Callahan
Inker: Norm Breyfogle
Letterer: Tim Eldred
Color Designer: Paul Mounts
Editor: Chris Ulm
Published by: Malibu Comics
Cover Date: June 1993
Cover Price: $1.95

Based solely on memory/nostalgia, even though some part of me recalls Strangers #1 as the first Ultraverse book released, it’s the one I least look forward to (re)reading, putting both Prime and Hardcase ahead of it. When I caught myself reading Hardcase #1 this time through, I was slowing myself down "hearing" the voices from the audio version that I finally gave up and pulled that up on Youtube to have the audio, as I read along WITH it with the comic itself.

For this time through the issue, I felt like–as with Prime #1–this really exemplified the ’90s for me. Often, folks point to Image for the ’90s visuals, but as I largely embraced the Ultraverse line over Image, the Ultraverse visuals are imprinted on my own memory and personal "picture" of what a "’90s comic" was.

The issue opens a year or so ago on a bloody battle between a group of ultra-humans called The Squad…and the battle is nearly over. We get things from Hardcase’s point of view. He’s injured, and he’d thought he couldn’t BE injured, certainly not this way. His team is down, and he is just able to get Starburst out of the vicinity of the creature that took the team apart before DJ Blast expends all of his remaining explosive energy at once–the final flash in the pan of the team. Hardcase and Starburst survive, DJ Blast and Forsa are dead…but Hardcase is the only "real" survivor, with Starburst in a coma she may never emerge from. Catching up to the present, Hardcase–Tom Hawke–has retired from the superhero gig and become an actor…though he plays "himself" as a super-hero for the camera. We get a sort of slice of life of that life for him before he finds himself pulled back into action, though it proves too late for a police officer he’d been talking with. Hardcase finds himself in mortal combat with another ultra-human, and lashes out desperately, overwhelmed with guilt and memory of his last encounter with an ultra. Ultimately, he wins his fight, and realizes that he can’t hide behind an acting gig, but has to do "the real thing," so he announces to the world that he’s back. Meanwhile, we get a cryptic scene of some player behind the scenes that has apparently had an extremely long involvement with the direction of events on Earth, and that now with Hardcase back, other ultras emerging around the planet…something must be done!

Somehow, I have it in my head that Hardcase was to be the "Superman" of the Ultraverse…though that could just be the cover, of him throwing a car, given the cover of Action Comics #1 introducing Superman with a car lifted above his head, smashing it against a boulder. And in a way, he was. Hardcase is largely invulnerable to normal stuff…but can still be badly injured. He has heightened senses, though he’s not omniscient. He can’t fly–but he can leap long distances. Etc. Different costume, different attitude/portrayal, but very much a similar power set to the original iteration of Superman.

That he’s introduced at the end of his time with The Squad–we see the team at its nadir, taken down by NM-E (a large, bulky techno-organic creature very much resembling the Xenomorph from the Alien franchise). As such, we’re plunged into a character’s world with an immediate backstory, more strongly hinted at than shown, but it immediately grounds the character, and puts him in a sort of "senior class" over other characters that we’re about to be introduced to. He’s part of an "earlier wave" of ultras, having been on the scene a at least a year BEFORE the emergence of Prime on the scene, or the Strangers, the Freex, Mantra, Prototype, etc. He’s had his initial journey, his crisis of faith, and now a new inciting incident thrusting him back into the world of the superheroes…though this new phase of his life is a fresh start, fitting of a #1 issue.

There’s something to the art of the issue that sits slightly askew to me. It’s not bad by any means, but there’s something slightly "off" to it, and it definitely doesn’t look quite so "refined" as many comics I’m used to reading in 2018, created and published in 2018. Of course, there’s a quarter-century difference in time, and this issue’s art and story are rooted very much in 1993. As said, the overall visuals really embody "the ’90s" to me, as do the character designs.

Story-wise, it’s interesting to get the character with all this sort of built-in backstory, conveyed in so few pages. By "modern" standards, the ground covered by this issue would surely be at least a six-issue opening arc of a series. We’re left with plenty of questions and potentials out of this issue; lacking in-depth concrete details of The Squad and such, and it’s rather choppy going from the NM-E battle to news to Hardcase acting a year later, a sort of clich├ęd interaction with a cop, to a convenient attack of another ultra…but it is a lot of detail crammed into a single issue, setting up the character’s past, present, and future, world-building, and generally serving as the sort of #1 issue I much prefer. It may not quite be a "contained" story, but it sort of gives three stories at the same time; it introduces a lot, and leaves plenty to be expanded on in upcoming issues.

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