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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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