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Ultraverse Revisited: Strangers #2

ultraverse_revisited

strangers_0002Hey! Hugh! Get Off’a McCloud!

Writer: Steve Englehart
Penciller: Rick Hoberg
Inkers: Tim Burgard, Larry Welch
Letterer: Tim Eldred
Color Designer: Keith Conroy
Editor: Chris Ulm
Published by: Malibu Comics
Cover Date: July 1993
Cover Price: $1.95

This issue opens with an anecdote that also proves to be the issue’s title…then shifting to our group of strangers in an aircraft, heading for a cloud that the strange woman from the first issue disappeared to. They reflect on the events of the previous issue (in a page-ish on-panel/page recap). They then come up with a plan for compensating for screwed up sensors in Dave using his yellow flame to fly, and manually guide them. The group finds an entire island in the sky, surrounded by the cloud! After a rough landing, the group is captured, and eventually are able to communicate with the inhabitants of the island (after a battle that threatens the airworthiness of the island), and seem to have more questions then they started with. The leader of the island’s inhabitants suggests that "searching for the reason IS the reason" regarding their seeking how they all got these powers, and so on. As he "assigns" the woman–Yrial–to the team and sends them on their way, they determine they’ll call themselves what they started out as: The Strangers! Meanwhile, we get some token development regarding a likely soon-to-be villain.

This issue (as I’m likely to be saying about many, many Ultraverse issues in the coming weeks/months) is "VERY ’90s" in tone. It’s got what–especially by contemporary comics–is a choppy story with rather quick and convenient plot points (and plot jumps), with some familiar tropes. We have a bunch of people who don’t know each other but suddenly got powers working together–some token disagreement, but conveniently working well together. We have a random flying island manned by a group that knows way more than our heroes, but won’t clue them in, saying they’ve gotta find the information themselves. And we have a group assembled and an additional person arbitrarily added to the group that must be accepted…for the heckuvit. And we still don’t really have any answers, just a slightly wider world that now not only includes a bunch of people hit by lightning developing super powers, but an ancient people with a flying island over the United States and the US Government apparently doesn’t know/hasn’t done anything about it.

Story-wise, this works…I’m not completely enamored with the title as of this second issue, but it’s still early; and I’m much more familiar with the likes of Prime and Mantra, with the Strangers as a blind spot…so while I’m eager to get back to familiar stuff, this is new for me. It’s "only" the second issue, and we have a superhero team starting to work with each other, coming together…so it’s going to be continued development. I don’t believe I’d known prior that Yrial was "assigned" against her own choice to participate in the team…I must have thought she was "just another" of the people on the cable car.

Visually this is a solid issue. It "looks" like a ’90s comic, and I could do without some of the layouts…but at least the main double-page splash of the group suddenly coming to the island is something that arguably serves the story–showing the sheer enormity of the island, adding to its spectacle as something floating over Los Angeles. This is a colorful comic, not least of which is thanks to Dave and his multiple colored flames and extended "yellow flame" learning-to-fly sequence. No huge complaints or anything for this issue.

Given what I do know of the Strangers, I would not recommend this issue completely stand-alone. It works well as a 2nd issue…but especially as ONLY the 2nd issue, I can’t think of any reasonable reason to seek this out in isolation on its own without the first issue; and ideally along with the first and next issue to be a bigger chunk of overall story. That said, I’d definitely consider this a bargain bin comic, and wouldn’t recommend paying more than $1 if it can be helped; and ideally 25-50 cents.

I’m curious to see the further development of this group of characters, though not as much as I am in Prime or Mantra. Given those were two of my favorite Ultraverse books as they came out, that I mostly kept up with, I recognize my bias even as I can’t honestly or with proper authenticity rid myself of it. Those were my favorite titles, so delving back in, I want to get back to what I enjoyed…forcing myself to read other titles is–while starting out–forcing myself to read other titles I haven’t read and don’t have a singular interest in. This isn’t a bad issue, but it hasn’t immediately become a favorite for me or anything like that.

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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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