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Ultraverse Revisited: Exiles #2

ultraverse_revisited

exiles_0002Fugitives

Writer: Steve Gerber
Penciller: Robb Phipps
Inker: Ken Branch
Color Design: Moose Baumann
Letterer: Patrick Owsley
Editor: Chris Ulm
Published by: Malibu Comics
Cover Date: September 1993
Cover Price: $1.95

This is an odd sort of issue to me. Partly, it’s weighed down a bit by my knowing what’s coming. Then there’s it being very ’90s in look and feel. The cover is a generic shot of the Exiles team, including Deadeye with the gigantic gun…but we don’t get to see who they’re facing. And the only "blurb" on the cover is "Featuring BLOODBATHTM." (Yet, while Bloodbath is IN the issue, he’s not the core antagonist!) To say that this is NOT a favorite cover of mine is probably the best way to put it without getting too negative.

We pick up from the previous issue, where Exiles Catapult and Mustang have failed to accomplish their mission–of saving Timothy Halloran. He’s been kidnapped, and his mother killed, while they were unable to prevent either. They have to make an escape, as the police have shown up, and they look to be the cause of what’s happened. Bruut winds up not being nearly as out of it as they thought, and they have to fight him along with the police. At Stronghold (the Exiles’ HQ) Amber Hunt freaks out again, and is informed of the fact that she has to make a choice soon or risk the Theta Virus choosing for her. The rest of the team catches the news…they’re getting "bad press" for the situation. Elsewhere, Kort and his crew try to get Timothy to join up, and his body is mutating, apparently with an "unprecedented" amount of Theta activity. As the Exiles prepare to head out to try to rescue Timothy, Amber decides to go through with the treatment…but now has to wait til they come back. At Kort’s, Bruut has it out with Bloodbath for being left behind. Elsewhere in the building, Kort’s tinkering with Timothy goes very wrong, with an explosion unleashing him, apparently changed into a large hulking creature–Mastodon (based on the "NEXT" blurb).

The art for the issue isn’t all that bad, though nothing particularly blows me away. I was actually most caught up by a page where I actually chuckled as I took it in–we have a full-page panel of Bruut taking massive fire from the police. And all I could think about was that the letterer apparently got to have a lot of fun with the "visual sound-effects" on the page with the various colors, visual effects, and the "words" themselves. This entire issue LOOKS LIKE a ’90s comic.

Story-wise, it’s good that we pick up where the previous issue left off, and get to check in on the various plots/subplots going on. There’s general forward movement to the story, and we even end on the introduction of a new ultra-character in Mastodon (though we only get the name in the next issue blurb). However well-intentioned the Exiles are, they sure are shown to be inept or ineffective, continuing to fail at their mission(s) and getting stuck reacting rather than proactively handling stuff.

All told, this issue was a bit of a chore for me to get through. It’s not some horrible issue, but it just felt a bit out there, felt a bit "too" "’90s" for me, especially with Catapult’s speech pattern.

This issue is not indicative of the Ultraverse as a whole, and not one I’d really recommend pursuing–certainly not as a single-issue in isolation; the main reason to read these early Exiles issues is for what they set up and show us heading into the first major crossover/event in a couple more months.

Still, as part of reading all these early issues, I’m glad TO have read it, but very eager to get through and back to the "original 3" for the September 1993 books.

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Ultraverse Revisited: Exiles #1

ultraverse_revisited

exiles_0001Exiles

Writers: Steve Gerber, Tom Mason, Dave Olbrich, Chris Ulm
Penciller: Paul Pelletier
Inker: Ken Banch
Letterer: Clem Robins
Color Design: Paul Mounts, Moose Baumann
Editor: Chris Ulm
Published by: Malibu Comics
Cover Date: August 1993
Cover Price: $1.95

It seems almost fitting to get to this issue, with Marvel having recently started yet another iteration of the title (by name). Thing is…this issue, this title, this iteration–this is the original. Before Blink was popular, before the rise of Generation X, and before the "X" was highlighted…we had simply Exiles. As in "cut off" from others, kept apart. A group that is different and kept out of the main body. Not yet another X-team

The issue opens in a high school, with teen Amber Hunt making out with her boyfriend–a football player. Before long, the school is attacked by an ultra (Supreme Soviet and some robots), and then another group of ultras arrives to oppose them. There’s some back and forth and the "Exiles" (Tinsel, Trax, and Deadeye) come out on top–though one of their own is badly injured–and they get Amber off-site. Once back at their headquarters–an island called Stronghold–Amber freaks out over being "kidnapped" (they saved her life, apparently), even as she meets further members of the group (Leader Dr. Rachel Deming, and Ghoul). While the apparent leader checks on the wounded, we find that Trax is quite a womanizer, and depicted (with Deming’s assistant Heather) in a way that sure as heck wouldn’t fly on the comic pages in 2018! Elsewhere, and in true ’90s fashion–Malcolm Kort–for whom Supreme Soviet works–shows off how "bad-ass" and "evil" he is by subjecting Supreme Soviet (for his failure to capture Amber) to a procedure that seems a lot like Marvel‘s Inhumans’ Terrigen stuff. If a body is brought into contact with this "Theta Virus" and the body is a "potential" they can emerge with mutations and powers. Otherwise, they have unpredictable but always fatal outcomes! The scene shifts to a couple other Exiles (Catapult and Mustang) sent to collect Timothy Halloran…though further villainous henchmen Bloodbath and Bruut get to him first. The battle is joined, and ultimately not only do the Exiles fail to keep the bad guys from making off with Timothy…but Timothy’s mother is killed. This leaves the Exiles angry and ready for payback.

I’m pretty sure I’ve read this issue before. At least, I’ve skimmed it before. Probably to see Ghoul’s first appearance…though I barely recognize him, given changes the character faces later in the Ultraverse stuff. And of course, just by name, Amber Hunt jumps out at me, given what I know of her importance to come–in Break-Thru as well as post-Black September stuff with the original Phoenix Resurrection.

Taken just as a first issue, this isn’t bad, though I didn’t get the same sense of "fun" or such that I’ve gotten with other Ultraverse issues. It also seems kinda strange to me that this is yet another group being introduced so soon in the Ultraverse, despite stuff like Hardcase suggesting so very few Ultras around. Then again, I suppose one could look to stuff like in Prime #1 news referring to the latest new Ultra and whatnot as there being an ‘explosion’ of ultras, beyond just the Jumpstart that hit The Strangers. I don’t get much of a sense of any of the individual characters here…they seem more two dimensional and almost caricature-like. While I was able to get most of the names from context, I had to go online to figure out Mustang’s name…yet he’s front and center on the cover!

The art is pretty good overall–definitely has that ’90s look–but I have to wonder at some of the layouts and such–particularly the inconsistent placement of "caption boxes" identifying several characters, but then not used anywhere else.

We’ve got a lotta characters and situations here…with a lot of potential. With multiple sub-groups of the Exiles, a leader, an island headquarters…this is set up to show us a significant group, major players in the larger world of the Ultraverse.

As with the other titles so far…this is well worth getting from a bargain bin; and as a first issue, it introduces the main characters, shows what they can do, introduces conflict, and baits the reader on what will be missed if the next issue is missed. So snag this if you’re interested and find it for 25-50 cents. If you find it with other issues, I do remember this is best read along with issues 2-4, an arc that makes for a better group purchase than single-issues by themselves.

I do look forward to seeing some more development with Amber Hunt and getting more of a sense of the character prior to her "big stuff." And to seeing some things play out with this title that I know are coming, but have never "experienced" reading along with the Ultraverse issues in general…I’ve always just been aware "looking backward" on them.

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Zero Hour Revisited – Darkstars #24

90srevisited_zerohour

darkstars_0024A Time for Every Purpose

Writer: Michael Jan Friedman
Penciller: Mike Collins
Inker: Ken Branch
Letterer: Bob Pinaha
Colorist: Steve Mattsson
Asst. Editor: Jason Hernandez-Rosenblatt
Editor: Paul Kupperberg
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Date: September 1994
Cover Price: $1.95

Darkstars is another series I’ve never before read an issue, and have now for the first time due to the tie-in to Zero Hour. As such, it is also another one where I read the issue "in a vacuum" with zero context of preceding issues and have only this one issue to follow along with…though kinda utilizing a broad, generalized "working knowledge" of the DC Universe in general to keep from being completely, absolutely "lost."

This issue is a relatively quick read despite feeling long-is for my lack of detailed familiarity with things. I had recalled THAT Donna Troy was once part of the Darkstars, but having read so little (overall) with her, this stuff is still primarily a blind spot for me.

The issue runs with Donna–apparently now new to the group–talking of a singular someone named Darkstar, and she and the others in her ship end up fighting an entity named Entropy–apparently the living embodiment of the abstract concept (much like Kismet in the Superman books or several of Marvel‘s "cosmic beings"). They also have dealings with a former Green Lantern of Earth–John Stewart (I suppose this must be after GL: Mosaic). We also get to see an Abin Sur from the past, apparently also pulled through time pursuing an energy signature from stuff going on.

There’s a lot of interesting potential to me here that makes me think I’d probably enjoy reading this series if I had all the issues and could "binge read" at some point. (Truthfully, I suspect that of many ’90s books and regardless of the final verdict I have the intent of doing just that for a number of them…eventually!)

As with a number of other tie-ins, this really has very little to do with Zero Hour itself as far as the main story…it just has events that are loosely "enabled" without further explanation by being a tie-in. Shifting things up a bit, though, this ends on blank pages as other "final week" issues did, with the arrival of "Zero Hour" itself…and yet ALSO ties directly to the first week as we see the Darkstars here get Superman’s messages as led by Metron and guided by Green Lantern.

I’m not blown away by the art…but it’s solid stuff and definitely fits. I’m not at all put off by it. Story-wise, I recognize Friedman’s name as a writer…which actually impresses me a bit with this title.

While things seem to move forward a bit in this issue in terms of what would seem the general plot…it’s not that exciting to me in the moment, and proves to be YET ANOTHER "skippable" issue in terms of Zero Hour itself.

Zero Hour Revisited – Showcase ’94 #9

90srevisited_zerohour

showcase_94_0009The Secret Origin of Scarface part Two – Call Me Scarface

Script: Alan Grant & John Wagner
Art & Colors: Teddy Kristiansen
Lettering: Ken Bruzenak
Consulting Editor: Dennis O’Neil
Editor: Neal Pozner
Cover: Shawn McManus
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Date: August 1994
Cover Price: $1.95

Much as with the first chapter of this Scarface story, the art’s rather simplistic…but expecting it this time and looking past it not being ‘great’ and just taking it as it is, it works very well here getting everything across that needs to be, at least in not taking me out of the story AS I read, and leaving me satisfied with the story at the end.

Wesker and Woody make good on their escape–though it involves a brick-to-the-face and then hanging of Donnegan, and the murder of a couple of guards. We see Wesker falling prey to whatever madness Donnegan had–as the dummy seems to be the lead and the Ventriloquist following. We also get a sort of explanation for Scarface’s speech thing–his “B” having a “G” sound–as Wesker isn’t that great a ventriloquist.

The story is fitting, and I’m definitely quite satisfied with this “origin” of Wesker as The Ventriloquist, and Scarface, how they came together and all that. I can certainly visualize this being summarized in a one or two page origin–perhaps that’s been done elsewhere already (in Countdown, perhaps?) but that’s mostly irrelevant for now. As a lead feature in an anthology title, it works, was an enjoyable read, and after the first chapter in the previous issue I was actually looking forward to this and trusting that it was to be a 2-part story and nothing longer.

A Story

Writer: Terrance Griep, Jr.
Penciller: Kyle Hotz
Inker: Pav Kovacic
Colorist: Mike Danza
Letterer: Albert DeGuzman
Editor: Neal Pozner

This “middle story” is a brief one, but interesting. Like the Wildcat piece in the previous issue, it’s singular and self-contained; a slice of life sorta thing. We meet Pax, a man bent on revenge against the alien parasites that slaughtered his people–the entire population of his world except he himself. As he narrates his story, it comes to light that the parasites can look like anyone, and we see him take on a group of them, killing them…and moving on. When he’s picked up by a group of “police,” he begins his narration again as we see that his hunt-and-kill mission continues.

I had absolutely no idea what to think of this story at first. At the first page, I thought MAYBE this was Vandal Savage or someone of that nature, given the name “Pax,” but obviously I was quickly proven wrong in my assumption. The parasites appear to be the sort that we saw in Bloodlines–the Annuals event from 1993, which would make sense given this story would have been out just a few months after the end of that event in Bloodbath. And for a one-off story, seeing someone hunting the parasites would kinda show them to be a bigger deal than just the few that made it to Earth and caused the trouble they did.

The lack of expectation going in, of even knowing what the segment was to be about, worked in its favor. The art fits, gets stuff across quite effectively; and has little to be compared to on this read-through. The story itself is ultimately forgettable, but still worth having read it. Reading this in 2016, though, it puts me in mind of 2014’s Armor Hunters from Valiant…as the lone survivor of a planet hunting down parasites like those that destroyed his planet, with singular vision and little regard for the consequences beyond killing the parasites.

Thinking of it as the likes of Armor Hunters actually makes me like it all the more. While I wouldn’t care for any sort of dedicated mini-series or ongoing series like this…as a “random” thing in an issue I’m reading anyway, it’s well worth the several minutes of reading and realization!

Sum: Zero part two

Story: Dan Jurgens
Pencils: Frank Fosco
Inks: Ken Branch
Lettering: Starkings/Comicraft
Colors: Stuart Chaifetz
Editor: Neal Pozner

Once more, the final part of the issue is the selling point, the story I read the issue for.

We pick up on Monarch holding Waverider and Hunter in a stasis field. Though he’s able to get them into the timestream, he lacks the control to direct himself, and hopes to have Waverider use his power to do that–and in the doing he’ll learn it for himself. Things don’t go as planned, and Monarch–Hank Hall–learns a new “truth” of his past and what happened at the end of Armageddon 2001, and since he’s more powerful than he’d realized, and his future self had realized, as Time’s been altered, he decides instead of being Monarch, he’ll be Extant! And stealing Waverider’s Linear Men arm-control, disappears into the timestream. Hunter is suitably cheesed-off that the villain now has the ability to time-travel at will, and Waverider suggests that if this villain can uphold his potential, they stand at the edge of a true CRISIS.

Yep, 9-ish years after “THE” Crisis (on Infinite Earths), a new one is about to unfold.

As with the previous issue’s segment of this story, the art works well, if not being completely to my liking. The story also works, feeding us directly into Zero Hour, and revealing that this story was primarily about transforming Monarch (Hank Hall) into Extant, a sleeker and cooler-looking guy than the clunky Monarch was, but without having to “corrupt” any other characters. This also allows the character to come with built-in, already-established “street cred” AS a villain, extremely powerful and a true threat beyond any single hero’s ability to take him down.

Despite this, I originally read Zero Hour withOUT having read this prelude, and had no problem following along (that I recall), and it wasn’t until I read the collected edition that I got to read this…so Sum: Zero is not absolutely essential…but it’s satisfying as a piece of my completist mentality for this reading project.

OVERALL THOUGHTS

I’m glad I didn’t pay full price for this back in the day, as I would certainly NOT have appreciated the lead story nor the Pax segment…and probably, honestly, wouldn’t even have appreciated the Zero Hour piece. Reading it in 2016 having paid a dollar or less for both chapters, it’s a very satisfying read and well worth the expense and the time. And for reading the entire issue for both of these Showcase comics, I now have a better idea of the “origin” of the Bat-villain The Ventriloquist/Scarface.

It’s an anthology book, with a mix of creators both known and not, and characters that didn’t headline their own series, and all that, and it feels like one. This two-issue “taste” is much more satisfying than I recall the Batman segments of the two issues that tied into Knightfall, though that could be the more than two decades’ additional life lived and my ability to appreciate stuff as a mid-thirties adult than when I was just barely a teenager. I don’t know exactly when, but I look forward at least to the idea of binge-reading the several years’ worth of Showcase ’90s.

Zero Hour Revisited – Showcase ’94 #8

90srevisited_zerohour

showcase_94_0008The Secret Origin of Scarface part One – The Gallows Doll

Script: Alan Grant & John Wagner
Art & Colors: Teddy Kristiansen
Lettering: Ken Bruzenak
Consulting Editor: Dennis O’Neil
Editor: Neal Pozner
Cover: Ted McKeever
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Date: July 1994
Cover Price: $1.95

I know I’ve read the Zero Hour portion of this issue in the collected edition of the event…but until now, I’ve never actually read Showcase ’94 #8 itself as a standalone comic! I was surprised by it, and rather enjoyed the experience overall.

This first story focuses on a prisoner in Blackgate–Donnegan–and how he gets a book on ventriloquism as a “joke” but ends up taking it fairly seriously. He even makes himself a dummy–carved from the wooden remains of the prison’s gallows. He and the dummy form an interesting relationship over the years…which leads to some conflict when a new prisoner, Arnold Wesker is assigned to Donnegan as a cellmate. Wesker is interested in the dummy and appreciates the “show” of ventriloquism. However, Donnegan is quite non-plussed at the perceived intrusion on his space, and commands Wesker to leave his dummy–“Woody”–alone. Wesker’s fascination leads him to investigate, which earns him a beating. Not long after, he seems to be hearing the dummy…even though Donnegan’s sound asleep.

The visuals for this story are rather simplistic, and don’t really do much for me. I recognize the dummy, and Wesker, by prior knowledge of them, and the “iconic” look of the dummy, and Wesker’s glasses. Beyond that, the art’s rather generic and unappealing. Still, it works for the story overall, and doesn’t exactly disappoint me, as I had zero expectation going in. It’s certainly not a “selling point” for me, but since the point of my reading the issue isn’t even this “main feature,” it can have a pass.

Story-wise, I liked this. All these years later and I’ve never consciously known–or at least retained–the origin of “The Ventriloquist” and “Scarface” (Woody). And this being (in part) an Alan Grant story (I don’t recall if he created the character to begin with, but I recognize him as one of the major writers on Batman stuff in the late-’80s/early-’90s) so that predisposed me to enjoy the story, and not write it off as just some throw-away story of a lesser-known Bat-villain. This is part one, and the fact that Wesker isn’t the original “Ventriloquist” (or there’s something a bit more messed up going on) is interesting, and I actually look forward to reading the next chapter.

Wildcat – Brujas y Gatos

Writer: Eddie Berganza
Penciller: Nick Gnazzo
Inker: Ray Kryssing
Colorist: Suzanne Bourdages
Letterer: Bill Oakley
Editor: Neal Pozner

I’m not overly familiar with Wildcat. I know the name Ted Grant, and recognize the character from Geoff JohnsJSA stuff (assuming I’m not mixing THIS Wildcat with someone else). Since I’ve never read anything in particular focusing on the character, I have no real preconceived notions to bring into the reading experience.

This is a short piece that finds Wildcat infiltrating a resurrection ceremony that seems to be–purportedly–to raise someone from the dead. Contextually we learn that the body to be raised is that of Ted’s friend Yolanda–who had attempted to become a new Wildcat…but she was apparently killed by Eclipso recently. (I have yet to read but was aware OF the short-lived Eclipso series that spun out of the Eclipso: The Darkness Within and recall hearing about there being several character deaths in short order toward the latter part of the series–I always remembered The Creeper being killed, but apparently Yolanda/Wildcat was also one). Wildcat observes, and only intervenes when a “fake” Yolanda shows up. He busts the ceremony and the fake Wildcat, revealing the truth and bringing some closure (albeit uber-convenient and quick) to the family of the dead woman.

This is a throw-away story, but recognizing it as a bit of follow-up to what I presume to be a virtually un-noticed otherwise death in a minor, now-forgotten book from the early-’90s, I can definitely appreciate its existence and purpose. At the least, it reminded me that that Eclipso series is out there and I’ve not yet acquired it, though I’ve had an interest in it for a couple decades now.

The art’s slightly over the top in a way, but not bad. I don’t recognize the art team’s names, but it’s not a bad piece. That this short “slice of life” episode IS so short but actually ends without a cliffhanger suggests to me that it’s a one-off piece in this anthology series…so it’s not even long enough for me to develop much opinion one way or the other.

The primary drawback to the piece at all is that it stood between me and the Zero Hour story.

Sum: Zero

Story: Dan Jurgens
Pencils: Frank Fosco
Inks: Ken Branch
Lettering: Starkings/Comicraft
Colors: Stuart Chaifetz
Consulting Editors: Mike Carlin & K.C. Carlson
Editor: Neal Pozner

Vanishing Point–a place beyond Time itself, headquarters of the Linear Men. Hunter finds Waverider reminiscing, and confronts him over the fact that he–Waverider–may have stopped Monarch, but himself wiped out an entire timeline in the doing, making him worse than Monarch ever was. Waverider, though, doesn’t share the sentiment–though he does realize perhaps he should check into things with Hank Hall a bit more…though what he sees disturbs him. When he (and tag-along Hunter) journey to the late 20th century to investigate an anomaly that could be Monarch’s doing, they find him waiting, and themselves quite unprepared for this.

This piece is the “selling point” of the issue for me; the entire reason I picked the issue up to read. I’m pretty familiar with it already from having read the Zero Hour collected volume at least a couple times over the years, but this might be the first time actually reading it as part of this Showcase issue, in this exact format.

Trying to evaluate the art as a standalone thing, I realize it feels just a bit “off” somehow…probably because of not being Jurgens‘ art, or some such. It’s not bad by any means–and both Waverider and Hunter are familiar and distinct, and the imagery we get of Monarch and other elements that ought to be familiar from Armageddon 2001 fit, and convey the story.

The writing is Jurgens, and as a prologue to the Zero Hour event, this fits perfectly into stuff, giving us a bit of story involving these characters just prior to their stepping into that event.

OVERALL THOUGHTS

I thought about “just” touching on the Zero Hour story and “ignoring” the rest of the issue, but figured why not just read the whole thing? And I was pleasantly surprised. I got a chapter of a story fleshing out the background of a Bat-villain that isn’t the bore I might’ve thought it’d be. The Wildcat story wasn’t bad and its primary drawback was that I finished the Scarface story and was a bit surprised to not turn right into the Zero Hour story.

While the issue’s page numbering INCLUDES ad pages, it goes to page 46…which is much longer than “just” 20-22 pages, so even with ads, it’s roughly a double-sized issue for not much more than a standard-length issue would have been at the time. Considering I paid fifty cents or less for the issue, the time it took to read vs. the amount spent makes it an excellent value; I enjoyed the reading experience, and when adding the time spent writing up this post, means that it’s by far one of the highest-value comics I’ve read in quite awhile, holding/being the focus of my attention for so long.

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