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Ultraverse Revisited: Mantra #5

ultraverse_revisited

mantra_0005Mantra: The Animated Series

Creator/Writer: Mike W. Barr
Penciller: Terry Dodson
Inker: Jasen Rodriguez
Letterer: Tim Eldred
Color Design: Moose Baumann
Interior Color: Family Fugue
Editor: Chris Ulm
Cover Date: November 1993
Cover Price: $1.95

This issue is an interesting piece, right from the cover. We have a generic gradient background, with a folded film strip receding to the lower left. In the foreground we see a ‘regular’ Mantra looking curiously at a reflection that on the film is exaggerated and cartoony. On the surface it almost seems like a self-acknowledgement of Mantra being "well-endowed" physically and the costume emphasizing that. But…it also actually fits the interior of the issue, serving as a very reasonable cover for this particular issue of this title!

As the issue opens, we see Mantra and Warstrike–fresh back from Boneyard’s place–confronting Strauss about the charm that failed to return them the way he’d promised. After this confrontation, that pair splits up after an awkward moment. As Mantra flies away, the demon from Prime #5 spots his target! Still without a body, the demon possesses another cartoon character–a Wiley Wolf. Meanwhile, back at home, Mantra experiments with the magic sword, discovering/confirming its additional cloaking ability to hide as a ring on the costume’s belt, but manifest at will when needed. Mantra–or rather Eden Blake–well, actually, Lukasz–walks into the house looking perfectly normal, the Mantra getup magically cloaked. We see that the kids are being watched both by Blake’s mother, and the actual babysitter Kelly Cantrell (who we should recognize as Prime–Kevin Green’s–crush over in Prime). Even without big super-heroics and such, we see the natural mixing/"small-world-after-all" of all these characters existing in the same world. We see further tension between "Eden" and her mother, who still does not know this is actually Lukasz inhabiting her daughter’s body.

The next day at work, we find that there’s even more to Eden’s story than anyone realized, which lends itself well to what Lukasz may need to accomplish: Eden’s recruited for Aladdin! Before there’s any dwelling on that, Eden gets an emergency call from her friend Marla…seems that now Brent is dead as well as her husband Carl! (We know Brent as the guy Lukasz woke up next to when he first found himself in Eden’s body!) Eden then has to rush off to deal with an emergency as Mantra…Wiley Wolf is threatening her kids’ school! The "living cartoon" is dealt with, though Mantra may have let slip more than intended by addressing Evie by name–something odd for Mantra, who has never actually MET Eden Blake’s daughter. Later at home, Eden takes a copy of Ultra Monthly Magazine from the kids, and realizes a model posing as Mantra for risque photos in the magazine will be a prime target for the cartoon/demon!

We then launch into several pages of 6-panel grids made out to be filmstrip frames as Mantra is engaged by the demon, pulled into the tv world…and finds herself a cartoon! And as a cartoon, subject to typical cartoon gags and visuals, as well as rules. She manages to defeat her foe and return to the real world…with just enough page space left to demand the model be paid properly for her trouble, don’t do it again, and a single panel showing the demon (trapped as Wiley Wolf) kneeling in disgrace before an angry Boneyard.

Judging by the length and detail of my "summary" above, compared to other recent Ultraverse issues I’ve covered…I think it’s very safe to say that Mantra is STILL one of (if not my top) favorite Ultraverse titles.

As a guy, sure, there’s likely something subconscious to the depiction of this female character’s visuals and light-on-covering-clothing as we see on panel. But I truly find it fascinating this notion of a man trapped in a woman’s body, having to learn to adjust to the world from that state; but even on the notion of ANYONE being trapped in SOMEONE ELSE’s body–PERIOD. Considering what it means to all those around the body–Eden’s friends, coworkers, anything Eden had set in motion for herself–as well as a suddenly strained relationship with her mother, and an awkward, unexplained distance from her kids (that the kids surely pick up on but may not understand)…there’s a lot of depth to be had!

For better or worse, though…some of this understanding and knowledge and way I take in the character and stories is me more than 2 decades later re-reading stuff that I read and loved as a kid! If not this particular issue, then at least this series.

I continue to enjoy the visuals on this title…it certainly seems pretty consistent with the previous issues; with Dodson on pencils, that certainly makes sense. There’s a certain grounded feel to things, while still looking like drawings in a comic book. Alternatively, the "animated" portion takes on the goofy cartoon-like look in a rather obvious way…both poking fun at old cartoons as well as perhaps borrowing the style of the "_____ Adventures" comics of the time–Batman and X-Men at least–based on their respective cartoon series.

Story-wise, I love all the subplots and worldbuilding going on here…it feels like Mantra is an extremely rich title in that regard! In some ways the story is all over the place, though–Mantra and Warstrike barging in on Strauss, then scene-hopping all over the place for just a page or few pages at a time. This would not "work" for most titles, but does for me here as said with stuff above.

Perhaps more for the "Mantra the Animated Series" segment, this issue can SORT OF work on its own. Nothing overly fancy or special in and of itself, but if one gets through the main part of the issue, they’re then treating to the "Mantra Adventures" segment.

Five issues in and we should be "wrapping up" a story arc as far as looking from the modern perspective in 2019. I vaguely remember that the next couple issues cross over with the rest of the Ultraverse–first as a whole for the Break-Thru event and then with a prominent Prime issue; so I don’t remember any clear-cut hard-stop breaks in terms of an actual story conclusion or new story start.

As always…I definitely recommend this in context of the other issues of the title! If you can get these first 5 or so issues, you’re in for a treat; or if you’ve read the previous issues, you’re still in for a treat with this issue. If you find this issue alone for 25-50 cents, it’s probably gonna be a fun, VERY-’90s sort of read where you can pick up on context within the issue itself.

I remember in broad strokes where this series goes, at least for a bit, and I’m eager to get to a prominent story in particular, but I’m holding myself back to continue reading issues as single issues in the greater context of the whole of the Ultraverse publication!

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Ultraverse Revisited: Freex #3

ultraverse_revisited

freex_0003Targets

Writer: Gerard Jones
Penciller: Ben Herrera
Inker: Mike Christian
Ink Assists: Jasen Rodriguez
Letterer: Tim Eldred
Color Design: Keith Conroy
Editor: Hank Kanalz
Published by: Malibu Comics
Cover Date: September 1993
Cover Price: $1.95

This issue is yet another that feels chock-full of ’90s…’90s-ness.

Michael and Sweetface are dealing with the police–Michael gets shot, but Sweetface gets him to a neon sign and he’s able to slip back into the electrical pathways and such. By killing the lights in the area, the other Freex are able to escape. Meanwhile, Valerie and Rush end up destroying a lab, as Val gradually comes to realize just how not-good Rush truly is. When the other Freex find them, a fight breaks out–initially Rush and Val vs. the others. In the course of the fight and mouthing off, Rush reveals that he thinks any "natural" Ultras are genetic defects; and that he didn’t know Val didn’t choose to be artificially granted Ultra powers. She turns on him, and he’s run off, and Val "finally" "accepts" who she is–a freak, and one of the Freex.

Once again, this story fits very much into what I recall of the ’90s…both in cheesiness, as well as being quick-paced and "compressed," as the whole Valerie thing would easily be dragged across 6-12 issues in present-day stories–a full arc if not two; and here we have a huge change in her status within the pages of this single issue.

I’m recognizing characters a bit more, but I’m still not good with off-the-top-of-my-head recollection of codenames and character names. This IS "only" the third issue, though, and it’s been several weeks and a number of other titles’ issues since I read the second, so my foundation is growing but hasn’t solidified with this title yet. It continues to be interesting to read the Ultraverse titles this way, seeing the quick pace at which the individual titles are solidifying and then touching to other titles. It’s also interesting to see the various "named" characters and teams. By "named" I mean called out with some other font or a logo, as if there could have been "plans" for them already, beyond merely a "first appearance" in any given issue being an offhanded thing. In this case, The Bloodhounds, which we’ll presumably be seeing more of in the next issue.

Visually, I’m both ok with yet not blown away by this issue. The art’s solid enough, keeping the characters generally recognizable and consistent within the issue itself. I can appreciate some of the creativity in being able to show damage to characters’ outfits and such, and the "strategic placement" of objects or energy to avoid overt nudity while allowing it to be obvious that the characters are experiencing such exposure.

I’m sure it’s that I’m so used to contemporary comics in 2018 and the last few years in general, but it actually (sadly) feels a bit "odd" to see so many "costumed" figures show up in a book such as this. It was perfectly acceptable and natural to me as a kid in the ’90s…and it’s a sign of how much things have changed in 25 years that I’d even think it odd to see costumed villains in a title such as this.

I’m glad that we seem to have a unified group/team of the Freex now, given the contentious start. We’ve briefly explored the characters’ resistance to the very notion of banding together, with Val’s outright rebellion against it, to now having a firmed-up set of characters as the group, where things are ready to move forward toward them facing specific villains instead of each other.

I definitely never read this issue before, so it’s cool reading it for the first time. And having read it now, I would definitely recommend it along with the first two issues–get all 3 together at the same time if you can, or at least it seems now like these three issues make for a good opening arc.

I’m curious for what comes next, even as I’m eager to get into the next issue of Mantra, as well as Prime and Hardcase.

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