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Ultraverse Revisited: Prototype #3

ultraverse_revisited

prototype_0003Hero and the Terror

Writers: Tom Mason & Len Strazewski
Artists: David Ammerman & James Pascoe
Letterer: Dave Lanphear
Colorist: Rob Alvord
Editor: Chris Ulm
Published by: Malibu Comics
Cover Date: October 1993
Cover Price: $2.50

Something in seeing this cover surprised me that it’s "only" #3. This also seems ripe to be the right-half of a 2-part image, with whoever is blasting Prototype on the other side…but alas, this is a Rune Month issue with a flip cover (no wraparound). On the plus side, I’m not aware of any VARIANT covers, so this is simply THE cover for #3!

We open on Jimmy (Prototype) and his handler stuck on a plane–their flight’s been delayed. As they wait, terrorists calling themselves Terrordyne, Inc. attack another plane with a baseball team on board. Jimmy’s excited at the prospect of some action; meanwhile, we get a scene with someone in shadows on the phone turning down an offer, before leaping into some sort of action, gun blazing. As another subplot, we get a page with a lab and a revelation that Glare’s body (the Ultra that apparently died at Prototype’s hands in #1) shows he’s got wetware implants, and the body will be shipped off to Aladdin for analysis. As Jimmy suits up, and reveals that he’s disabled a shutdown failsafe in his armor, we cut to Bob Campbell explaining what happened to lead him showing up at his ex’s place in such horrid condition; as she patches him up, he reminisces about their past, providing us plenty of exposition. From there we get to the "meat" of the story as Prototype stops the terrorists, only to then face their leader: someone with flame powers calling himself Heater. The Prototype armor shorts out–Jimmy suspects it might be from his tinkering–but he gets the auxiliary power going in time to survive. His handler is tossed out of the plane (when did it take off?), so Jimmy opts to save him, figuring he can catch the villain after…but by the time the get back to the ground, Heater’s vanished. In frustration, he blasts the corporate jet out of the sky (the pilot had already been killed). This, as well as the earlier scuffle and the Prime incident (see Prime #4) has Leland–Ultratech’s president–more than fed up with the young "hero." As he asks for interviews to begin on a replacement, we cut to someone called Wrath being brought in on a plan of industrial espionage and heading out after Prototype.

Starting with the end of the issue…we have a page marked as "25" but it has no captioning, dialogue, etc…and with plenty of open space at the top and bottom, looks like a cover image thrown into an issue. If it wasn’t numbered to appear to be a story page, it’d look like basically an ad for the next issue or such!

I continue to feel (mostly pleasantly) like there’s almost too much going on in a given Ultraverse comic…they’re much denser than modern 2018 comics, with a lot more story and development packed into a single issue! I’m definitely enjoying that we’re getting a story of not only the new/current Prototype, Jimmy Ruiz, but also the original–Bob Campbell. And rather than only piecing something together issues later in denouement at the end of a multi-issue arc, we get cut scenes to other characters and stuff going on simultaneous with the main story…stuff going on that we as readers get to actually see developing instead of being told (after the fact) did happen, later. Jimmy’s a hothead, and that comes off with his impetuousness at the start of the issue–eager for battle, even though it means there are people getting hurt. Still, he wants to be the hero he’s playing–for real, not just looking good for cameras.

I know Wrath as an Ultraverse title, though that title’s logo is not this initial WRATH logo on the final page with the character Wrath. I don’t think I realized that he came out of Prototype, but definitely like that the title apparently was a spinoff (though I’ll get to that in awhile when I get to the 1994 books!).

The art is solid and gets things across as any art should do. The only point I found myself not entirely clear what had happened was when Prototype blasts Heater…there’s an impact, but also an exclamation balloon of "YARGH!" nowhere hear Heater’s mouth, actually looking like he might’ve taken the worst of the blast below the belt…or that something was positioned in the wrong part of the panel…presumably definitely something with the infamous computer design stuff Malibu had going on. Otherwise, the issue looks good–especially Prototype. I still really dig the look, even if it is very ’90s!

rune_0fRune [F]: The Nectar of Life
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

Picking up shortly after the previous chapter (in Freex #4), where we were left to assume Rune killed Edwin, here we get visual confirmation that he definitely did–with exposed rib bones and reddish coloring to suggest the gore. Edwin–briefly–was the most powerful being on the planet, according to "previously" text, but Rune killed him…and now imbued with his power, has filled out, transforming back to a younger, vital self. Moments later, though, his body reverts back to the frail, sickly creature he’s become, and he realizes that even this was not enough.

I thought Rune was a vampire…if not 100% typical, then at least using his fangs to leech life/bio-energy from his victims. Not physically consuming the bodies! A cannibalistic vampire, I guess? Whatever the case, the visuals add to the bloody violence of the thing, which seems fitting given Barry Windsor-Smith‘s other works (first in my mind being Conan and Weapon X).

This chapter works pretty well in directly following the previous, yet a bit of time has passed. That makes for something choppy going page to page, but for being a new piece of the story in a separate publication than the previous piece, it’s little worse than any other "returning from a cliffhanger but some time has passed" instance.


Though the cover seemed somewhat incomplete or generic-ish, I liked this issue. There’s a lot of story between the covers, and while there are only 25 story pages (as with the other titles, the cover proclaims the issue a 40 page special), this is still a very full issue with development and forward movement on multiple plot threads.

The Rune chapter is again not something to singularly "sell" the issue, but doesn’t detract. The segment moves that narrative forward, and I find myself looking toward getting more info about what Rune is, how he gets power from beings he consumes (does he absolutely have to consume their flesh or is that a ‘pleasure,’ for example?) and so on. I haven’t read the title in nearly two decades, so it’s like getting Rune fresh, and I don’t recall many particular details.

Yet again, this issue isn’t something I’d recommend seeking out as a single issue in isolation…you’re better off with the #1 for that. But this is definitely worth picking up as part of a run, and in that context certainly worth 25 to 50 cents. Though its original cover price is $2.50, and this IS an "early Ultraverse" issue, I frequently see these in bargain bins, so it should be able to be found for $1 or less, and I wouldn’t go much above the $1 unless you’re ‘desperate’ for the issue in some form.

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Ultraverse Revisited: Prime #5

ultraverse_revisited

prime_0005Villains

Writers: Len Strazewski & Gerard Jones
Artist: Norm Breyfogle
Letterer: Tim Eldred
Color Design: Keith Conroy
Editor: Chris Ulm
Published by: Malibu Comics
Cover Date: October 1993
Cover Price: $2.50

It’s hard to believe I’m "only" up to Prime #5 here. Nostalgia plays a large part in that, I think–part of me is itching to just fly through this series to revisit all the stuff I remember, and see what changes now that I’m a quarter-century older. But I’m hanging back, going through the entire Ultraverse one issue at a time, endeavoring to get the "full context" of stuff (though some of that detail is lost in translation as I’m providing my thoughts and RE-actions to the issues, and not panel by panel summaries/adaptations of the issues).

Picking up where the previous issue left off, we find Kevin and Kelly facing a "real life" version of Maxi-Man: a character THEY know as a cartoon, and that we as readers know is one of Boneyard’s demons trying to "prove" itself important and gain Boneyard’s favor. (Boneyard being the main villain in the Mantra title). Kevin strains to re-generate Prime, while Kelly is nearly killed. Once "Primed up," we have several pages of battle between Prime and Maxi-Man, before cutting to Kevin’s father and Colonel Samuels, discussing their past, and Green telling Samuels that Prime is his kid–Kevin! Back to the fight, Prime thinks Maxi-Man is some Ultra-human, until the demon reveals itself (apparently with disdain–it is above humans and Ultrahumans). As the two spar verbally amidst the physicality, Prime lets slip that "No one threatens my girlfriend!" referring to Kelly…which shocks the poor teenager. (Prime’s this huge adult…why would he be interested in a 13-year-old, after all?) Prime realizes that he’s running low on power, and has to put an immediate stop to Maxi-Man’s rampage…so he gathers what remains of his energy and releases it in some sort of energy-burst from his chest, and expends the rest in a quick, brutal beat-down that destroys Maxi-Man (who melts down into a puddle, as the demon disperses, vowing revenge [with a footnote referring us to Mantra #5, coming next month!]) Though Prime is victorious, it’s at a cost–Prime collapses into Kelly’s arms, and she quickly realizes he’s melting! Before anything can be done, Samuels’ men rush in and take the melting hero against the girl’s protestations. As Samuels and his crew rush off, Mr. Green’s left behind lamenting that this wasn’t supposed to happen–and he’s answerless when approached by Kelly as to what’s going to happen. Moving back to Samuels–now in a lab with techs rushing about–the melting Prime-body is stabilized…with no regard for the boy within. When questioned, Samuels declares "I don’t care about the boy! I want the ULTRA!"

One of the first things that stands out for me with this issue is Breyfogle‘s art. I love the much thicker lines and less "detail" used for Maxi-Man…giving the character that much more of a "cartoon" look, compared to the usual thinner lines and more realistic style for everyone/everything else. This entire thing is a comic book, it’s all drawings–even the thing that to the drawings (characters) is a drawing. So the different line art makes a big difference, and is pulled off quite well, to me. It’s also interesting to see from the visuals just how similar the two characters are–both are hugely over-muscled brutes–but we get dialogue to realize that Maxi-Man is a character Kevin has "grown up" on, and is clearly one of his "inspirations" for the hyper-muscled Prime body his subconscious generates.

Story-wise, we get most of our forward-movement in non-Prime characters. We see some in Kelly realizing this adult hero has a crush on her–considers her his girlfriend–which is a much different thing put to words than her schoolgirl crush on a new super-hero that she’s encountered several times. We see more in Mr. Green interacting with Samuels as we get more perspective on Prime’s "origin," as the result of these genetic experiments by the military…and that while this is Kevin’s story, Prime’s story…in a very real way, there’s a lot to be said of it being Mr. Green’s story, watching his son suffer for his sins a decade and a half earlier.

The disembodied/extra-dimensional demon provides a "convenient" means to have some giant brute slug it out with Prime. Most of the issue is a slugfest…but we get the other developments amidst it. It also adds to the interconnectedness of this universe, as the demon ties to Boneyard, who other than this has been strictly a Mantra villain. But because Boneyard exists, this demon is here…but the demon isn’t tunnel-visioned on Mantra, but on his master, and so stirs up trouble with Prime.

I feel a bit of a twofold shift in perspective on this series at present: firstly, I’ve more than flipped sides, from being the same age as Kevin–the kid–to being older than even Prime is supposed to be (assuming he’s assumed to be in his 20s). Second, the real-life stuff going on with Gerard Jones. I choose to dissociate Prime and my enjoyment of the title with what he’s pled guilty to, but just seeing things play out on the page–the idea of the adult hero with a crush on a young teenager–is that much more uncomfortable. Yet, as readers, we know darned well that this "adult" in Prime is himself truly a teenager, and so DESPITE the obvious and intended appearances and uncomfortableness built in for added drama…we have a 13-year-old interested in a 13-year-old.

rune_0bRune [B]: The Sorcerer
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 issue’s 3-page segment of Rune shows us the character in the distant past, being presented with an individual as a sacrifice. He feeds on her–showing/confirming to us that he’s a vampire–and see what a difference so many years makes between this and the wasted figure we saw in the first chapter. This also shows us that the younger, more vital Rune was worshipped as a god, which–again–is a far cry from the wasting creature we’d already ‘met’ and leaves us to wonder at all the events between.

Visually, this continues to clearly be Barry Windsor-Smith. The creative team is exactly the same on the entire story, so I’ll be repeating that, I’m sure–the consistency is a very welcome "given," as this is essentially "just" 3 more pages of the same issue, serialized across the 11 October Ultraverse titles.

Story-wise, this continues to be a slow-burn, or moreso, "drip" as three pages at a time is hardly room for any real story or development as a standalone piece. Presented with different core issues–this one with Prime #5, a distinctly different unit than Sludge #1–there’s "excuse" to be choppy, for 3 page segments to give us different perspectives or glimpses into Rune–what he is/was, what he means, etc. I recall the "complete issue" being rather choppy with such brief scenes…but I’ll likely re-evaluate it as an entire unit when I get to the standalone version of the issue when the ongoing series starts.

I was already getting Prime as a series, so this didn’t sell me on Prime; and all the more now 25 years later, Rune is NOT really a standalone selling point for this issue, or the month’s issues. Rune primarily serves as a time capsule or marker of sorts–an easy way to identify the October 1993 titles at a glance, despite dates not being printed on the covers.


The Prime portion of the issue feels a little padded-out with the extended fight scene. The three story-pages of Rune, plus the recap page and credits/premise page don’t truly stand on their own. But given this is an issue of Prime, the Rune stuff makes for an interesting "bonus." Of course, the proclamation on the Prime cover of this being a 40-page special dampens that–as with Sludge #1–given the 40 pages implies the story, the issue itself, but you really have to add non-story pages to the count to get to 40 pages. That would be more of a problem 25 years ago. Now, in 2018, where these are 25-cent-bin books (maybe 50 cents, but really not $1+, in my eyes!), it’s a moot point.

This is absolutely worth 25 cents or 50 cents just for the Prime portion; and if you’re particularly OCD about filing comics, worth twice that with an extra copy to file with the Rune-side forward. Given there’s a standalone Rune #0 available, and a partial-edition that was packaged with an issue of Spin magazine, I would not recommend seeking this issue out just for the Rune chapter. And as a Prime issue, there’s not MUCH to it to make it stand alone as something unique to seek out…unless you specifically want "the issue with Maxi-Man vs. Prime." Definitely seek this out if you’re putting together a run of the title, obviously. This is best read as part of several issues–ideally the first four and forward.

All that said…for 25 cents, if you’re looking for a colorful slugfest between two hyper-muscled figures and a couple pages of a colorful BWS vampire…there’s no real reason to AVOID this issue, as a whimsical one-off!

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Ultraverse Revisited: Prime #4

ultraverse_revisited

prime_0004Heroes

Writers: Gerard Jones & Len Strazewski
Artist: Norm Breyfogle
Letterer: Tim Eldred
Color Design: Keith Conroy
Editor: Chris Ulm
Published by: Malibu Comics
Cover Date: September 1993
Cover Price: $1.95

We left off from the previous issue with Prime–Kevin–looking for Hardcase, but winding up facing an angry Prototype when he accidentally ruined a photoshoot. We pick up here with the two fighting. They do some real damage to each other before a fire breaks out, which forces them to attend to onlookers’ safety. Unfortunately, this iteration of the Prime body is rapidly destabilizing, so Kevin has to fly off, leaving rescue stuff to Prototype. Though he makes it near to his house, he crashes onto the family car instead. As he struggles to break free of the now-defunct Prime body, hands break into it from the outside, getting him out…Kevin’s father! He helps Kevin avoid his wife’s suspicions, and warns Kevin NOT to let his mother have him tested for drugs. He laments that this wasn’t supposed to happen. A brief interlude shows some demon making its way into the world, utilizing an open portal from Boneyard transporting an unconscious Mantra (with a footnote to Mantra #3!). Despite his mother trying to convince him otherwise, Kevin goes to school the next day. On the way he has a verbal fight with his friend Scott over his recent "weirdness." Brushing him off, Kevin next finds Kelly…and (rather creepily?) gets her to talk to him by telling her he knows Prime. The two soon notice a commotion nearby and rush in–Kelly thinking it could be Prime, Kevin trying to stop her…and they’re confronted by Maxi-Man…a cartoon come to life (the form the demon from earlier has taken) and threatening to teach them fear.

This is a rather complex issue in its way, and I feel like it’s certainly that modern comics seem so completely geared for collected volumes. We have numerous settings and plot points through this issue, and it’s not hard for me to imagine how this issue could easily be stretched into 2-3 issues at least, given the "decompression" of modern comics.

Story-wise, this isn’t bad. We have new developments–particularly in Kevin’s dad finding out/knowing he’s Prime. Four issues in, only the third where we’ve actually known Kevin, and already his dad knows, so it’s not gonna be JUST some kid having to hide from both his parents while doing all this…and that brings with it a different-ish (at least for the time) level of stuff. We have the fight with Prototype that seems rather fitting. It’s a natural meeting, and seems a legit misunderstanding. Of course, with both being rather hotheaded, it makes sense they’d fight first…though they don’t "get a chance" to make up or "realize" they’re both "good guys" and such, which leaves things open for development down the line…a slightly bent trope, I guess. Kevin definitely comes off as "a teen" here, and I think the authenticity of it comes partly from how ridiculous Scott is and their fighting. I’m sensitive to others thinking someone is "creepy," just for not being some image of what society sees as "normal," so I feel for Kevin. However, I can definitely see very much–especially as a late-30s adult myself–how Prime having any particular interest in Kelly is problematic.

I knew to expect the fight with Prototype in this issue, between the way the previous issue left off and the covers for this issue. Yup–two covers! I despise modern "variants" for their absolute ubiquitousness, over-hype and over-use. But in this case, for Prime #4, the "variant" is simply showing us a victorious Prototype standing over the beaten Prime…in contrast to the cover showing Prime standing victorious over a beaten Prototype. Both covers exist…so just looking at them…WHICH ONE is "real"? They’re both there…but can’t BOTH be "accurate," so you actually have to read the issue to find out! And they look so similar otherwise, it’s not like some completely different artist with a completely different style has done some completely unrelated, irrelevant generic image that has trade dress slapped on to be sold for a premium to someone already buying the issue.

prime_0004a   prime_0004b

And of course, a couple decades after initial release and easily being able to tell the covers apart and such, I don’t mind hunting the OCCASIONAL variant and seeing them as fun, where the modern counterpart is extremely annoying and off-putting. Retroactively, though, I am a bit annoyed, as I’d wound up with the Prototype-victorious cover initially, and it was years after the fact that I ever learned there were two covers.

We’re shown (and told) how others are seeing Kevin. The art, though, has something to it that just makes Kevin look odd to me. I’m sure it’s that over the years I’m so used to seeing imagery of Prime and virtually nothing with Kevin (and I can’t even think of any covers offhand that have Kevin rather than Prime) so I’ve spent 20 years with easy visuals showing Prime but not really seeing Kevin. Loathe as I am to phrase it this way, it’s the simplest way to do so: Kevin LOOKS a bit creepy at points, with the coloring and shadowing, even as that conveys mood and tone. There’s also a sort of ‘house style’ in seeing the non-Prime characters: Prototype, Boneyard, Mantra–that makes it very easy and natural to see them in this issue. The "visual sound effect" "SHAK" of Prototype blasting Prime in the face on the opening page is a bit distracting as it’s basically the same size as the title of the issue, and both seem stylistically very similar, of showing off computerized fonts that could be dropped onto the page. Very ’90s, but looking back, a bit tacky/flashy.

I’d read Prototype #2 well ahead of this issue–Prime #4…though in the reading, I learned that it takes place after this issue. Meanwhile, this issue takes place after Mantra #3, and benefits even more from it. We already had just a brief bit with Boneyard in that issue…but here we see that there’s even more to that picture. These interactions also feel organic and like what would happen when these titles and characters are all occupying the same world/city and all that.

It’s possible to read this issue without the previous issues. You won’t know/"get" everything without ’em, but then, the bare-bones context is there to follow along in this issue and pick up on Kevin/Prime, his relationship with his parents, how he is with Kelly and she with him/regarding Prime, even the fight with Prototype. Basically, if this was your first issue, there’d still be plenty for you and you could either choose to seek out the previous three or move forward learning from context. This does not feel "simply" like it’s "merely" the 4th serialized chapter of some rigidly-structured 6-part graphic novel.

If you’re at all familiar with Prime, this wouldn’t be a horrible issue to seek out as a one-shot; but as these early issues seem to be total bargain-bin material, I’d recommend spending the $2-4ish to get all four issues to read together.

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Ultraverse Revisited: Prototype #2

ultraverse_revisited

prototype_0002Games of Death

Writers: Len Strazewski, Tom Mason
Penciller: David Ammerman
Inker: James Pascoe
Letterer: Dave Lanphear
Colorist: Moose Baumann
Editor: Chris Ulm
Published by: Malibu Comics
Cover Date: September 1993
Cover Price: $1.95

We open on Prototype in a training session. He’s prevailing, but then gets to a new "level" and finds the challenge more than expected. After a bit of confusion over the state of affairs, he kicks things into high gear and overcomes his opponents…only to find himself–his suit–on fire! As things settle, we get some exposition showing us that Jimmy still having trouble with the drugs that help him to be a more streamlined Prototype…and that he’s still recovering from his battle with Prime! [Oops…apparently the Prime issue I’ll be covering in a couple weeks takes place before this one…but I don’t recall any indicator from Prototype #1 that suggested going to Prime next, instead of this issue and THEN into Prime…] The story then shifts to Stanley Leland with some backroom deal and references to some THIRD Prototype (Prototype 2000) being his true legacy, once it’s built. Next we find Bob Campbell, also making some deal, as we come to learn that he’s building a new suit for himself. In the midst of his latest parts deal, he’s approached by a strange woman, and apparently decides he can also afford an expensive ‘date’. Back at his place, rather than an intimate night, things turn violent, as the woman turns out to not be human at all, and to have retractable daggers for fingers. Campbell’s nearly done in, but his cat joins the fray (she survives…so I’m ok with this issue!). The cat buys him enough time to quickly don his home-brewed armor-suit, and prevail. Finally, we find Bob’s ex on the phone with Leland, and after she’s rejected his advances, she goes to the door…and finds an injured Bob on her doorstep.

This is a mixed sort of issue for me. On the one hand, a lot really does happen throughout the issue, at least in giving us worldbuilding elements to the characters. On the other hand, I felt like Jimmy was given the short end of the stick in this issue.

The art’s not bad for this issue, but nothing to it blew me away. I don’t know what it was, but Bob looked a lot different than I was thinking he would in this issue…perhaps faulty memory, perhaps other elements in the time since I read Prototype #1. There was a panel where Jimmy looked a lot like Kevin Green (Prime) which seems a bit off as well–for one of them. WHICH one, I’m not actually sure. I guess that speaks to continuity and such, though. Somehow I’m just not thrilled with Jimmy’s appearance–and I feel like it somehow has something to do with seeing the Ultraforce cartoon series a few years ago, but I can’t place the exact reason…Jimmy must’ve looked different in his depiction there, or my brain managed to cross him with some other character(s). Yet another factor may simply be that this is another series I haven’t actually read in the past, so I have preconceived notions and expectations that far exceed what can be delivered.

Story-wise, I feel like for "only" a second issue, for a series that I’d thought was about Jimmy Ruiz, we’ve got an awful lot of Bob Campbell. See above about preconceived notions and such. I know from some external source(s) over the years that in post-Back September stuff, it’s Bob Campbell that serves as Prototype in that universe/in that iteration of Ultraforce, so I’m sure that impacts me a bit…future-details that I can’t shake or make my subconscious ignore as I read. That said…I find Bob’s story a bit more interesting, and can’t help but feel like he could actually BE the main protagonist. Jimmy is the shiny/new Prototype and Bob’s antagonist as a replacement that he’s gotta now measure up to somehow, as he fights his way back into the good graces of Leland and Ultratech. Outside of a comment and brief ‘footnote’ referring us to Prime #4, there’s nothing to tell us ahead of time that this issue takes place after that. Perhaps that’s something that allows for the lengthier focus on Campbell here, though–Jimmy’s "second month" sees him more active in Prime than his own book? Thankfully, despite reading this out of order, I don’t think there’s anything spoilery to reading this issue first, except that obviously we know Ruiz is: 1. injured and 2. survives.

I can’t complain about that for a shared universe that shares continuity and characters across titles. And I do like that this hits the ground running, so to speak. My primary problem is that we ended #1 with Prototype apparently killing someone, and then find him well after that event at the start of this issue, with little to go on outside of exposition. Maybe stuff’s elaborated on more as we go along…maybe it happens in Prime #4. We’ll see. Finding Bob’s story more interesting is rather gratifying, and leaves me even more curious about coming issues. Reading all the Ultraverse books in roughly publication-order, though, there are a lotta issues between this and the next issue of Prototype, so we’ll see how my interest holds or where I’m at by the time I get to #3.

As is, this is a solid enough issue, developing/continuing characters, referring to the first issue, and yet stands a bit on its own. Still, I recommend reading this along with #1, and apparently Prime #4. This is another issue that there’s no real point to seek out solely as a single issue in isolation; but nothing to say "skip" it if you have access to it.

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Ultraverse Revisited: Prime #3

ultraverse_revisited

prime_0003Dead Again…And Again!

Writers: Len Strazewski & Gerard Jones
Artist: Norm Breyfogle
Letterer: Tim Eldred
Color Design: Keith Conroy
Editor: Chris Ulm
Published by: Malibu Comics
Cover Date: August 1993
Cover Price: $1.95

This issue gave me a fair bit of deja vu…I remember getting #1 and missing #2…so it makes sense that this was my "second" issue of the series back in ’93. Back then with comics, I just went with whatever the "next issue" was in my own possession, and read along and filled in gaps and such.

Picking up from the previous issue’s cliffhanger–Prime’s been captured by a creature sent by Doc Gross. Its body went unstable and goopy, so it was able to "absorb" Prime into itself. This makes for a multi-layer thing for Kevin–he’s in full Prime mode, but Prime being trapped inside the creature is like when the Prime body itself breaks down and Kevin has to tear his way out. As Kevin panics, we get a flashback to his earliest experience with a Prime body. We then cut to his parents arguing–his mother freaked out at Kevin’s disappearance, his dad insisting he’ll be ok. Then back to Kevin as Prime–having blacked out for lack of air (he still needs to breathe, even as Prime)–now chained into a huge chair and the Doc throws a switch, zapping him with a lot of electricity. He then monologues, which as exposition fills us (and Kevin/Prime!) in on some of the origin of Prime–he’s the result of genetic experimentation performed for "military application." When Prime breaks free of the chair–angry at having been capture, believing Doc’s tale to be lies, etc.–Doc’s assistant, Duey, "Primes up" into a bulked-up body…he’s the result of a much earlier stage of the Doc’s experiments. Duey and "little brother" Prime slug it out for a bit, and Duey manages to do some real damage to Kevin’s Prime body.

This damage includes tearing his cape–which gushes goop, as we see that even the clothing is part of the body, and is not spontaneously-generated fabric or such. Lashing out in desperate anger, Prime apparently snaps Duey’s neck, and when he throws him against an electronics panel, it seems to electrocute the Doc, and fire breaks out, leading to an explosion after Prime himself gets out. Thinking he’s killed those people and desperate to find someone to help him figure out what he’s supposed to do, he aims to seek out Hardcase when he spots an old The Squad billboard. Seeing a random tank falling, he redirects to catch it…only to find out he’s ruined a staged scene with the new Prototype–who is none too happy. The final page cuts back to Duey and the Doc, showing us that they’ve survived, and something with a "vat" is gonna save Doc.

This is a pretty full issue, and fun to revisit. We definitely get a lot of world-building for Prime, showing us Kevin’s first experience with the Prime body’s generation, as well as the monologue as we’re shown that Doc Gross had a huge hand in experiments, of which Prime is apparently one of many. We’ve got resolution of the previous issue’s cliffhanger, and then new action with Duey’s powers revealed; and while it’s rather "convenient" that he just happens to see a video shoot that Prototype’s involved in, we’re set up for them to fight next issue. This also takes the world building from being simply Prime in isolation to showing that he truly is part of this shared universe, beyond seeing a poster on a wall in the background or some billboard or news reference–this is ACTUALLY Prime directly coming into contact with another character with another title.

Prime seems rather brash and immature…but then I remind myself that he’s actually Kevin Green, a 13-year-old kid, and he’s WAY out of his league here, facing actualities that he’s only dreamed of or seen on tv or in comic books. That goes along with the character’s over the top visuals–the muscles with muscles–influenced by his imagination but not mattering that much confronted with "real life."

I really enjoy the art–it’s not just Prime that’s over the top, but as it’s part of the "point," it works so well. And that Prime and Duey have this "goop" as "blood," they can be shown taking ridiculous damage, with gross explosions of green stuff, and it doesn’t have to be "censored" the way blood would be (not that these titles carry the Comics Code stamp, even though they had some newsstand distribution at first). It’s not hard to follow what’s going on visually, and to "hear" some of the sound effects and such as I read, thanks to the CD-Romix of the first issue.

I read this in 1993, as a kid, having read the first issue and not the second…so it’s certainly doable that way. But I’d recommend getting the first couple issues to go with this, as opposed to seeking this out as a single issue to read. Given 40+ issues of Prime exist, unless you’re going for the random single issue "in isolation" experience, or filling in a missing issue in a collection…start at the beginning and definitely read this as part of a cluster of issues.

I’m looking forward to the #4s for the original titles: the next issue of Prime has Prototype, and I believe Hardcase and The Strangers have a crossover as well! "Three months in" and along with the establishment of the individual titles/characters, we’re getting the establishment of the universe in general and seeing things start to mix…which is where the Ultraverse becomes so much more interesting than just these individual characters.

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Ultraverse Revisited: Prototype #1

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prototype_0001Budget Cuts

Writers: Tom Mason, Len Strazewski
Artists: David Ammerman, James Pascoe
Letterer: Tim Eldred
Color Design: Paul Mounts
Editor: Chris Ulm
Published by: Malibu Comics
Cover Date: August 1993
Cover Price: $1.95

I’ve long been familiar with this title, and especially this debut issue’s cover. Of course, that’s on the surfacey level. Actually READING the thing? I don’t know if I had ever read this. It’s possible that I’d only read a later issue or two, or perhaps only known the character from appearances in other titles (such as Prime and Ultraforce) as well as the Ultraforce cartoon…and of course, I love the design. ’90s though it may be, it’s got something to it that I always liked!

We were actually first exposed to the notion of Prototype back in the pages of Prime #1. One of the news briefs in that issue referenced Prototype being injured and possibly killed, and a statement from Ultratech’s Stanley Leland.

As this issue opens, we seem to be getting more info about that particular incident, where Bob Campbell (Prototype) was helping test weapons systems in the armor, and the situation went wrong, costing him his arm, job, and way of life. This opening scene turns out to be a dream/nightmare (rather than "just" flashback) as we find ourselves back in the present with Bob, now with a prosthetic arm, living alone with his cat. We cut to a couple PDAing in the street, when they run afoul of some large, green bulked-up guy screaming about and trying to find Ultratech. As he bellows to Ultratech and Leland that "Glare" is coming, we cut to Leland giving a presentation regarding Prototype…and this includes the NEW Prototype literally bursting onto the scene. While newer, sleeker, and perhaps more powerful, we get hints that this newer armor isn’t truly complete, as it’s still got issues…we also later get hints that it’s also causing its new wearer–Jimmy Ruiz–issues. Leland and his crew make the best of the presentation, despite Campbell trying to make a scene, and then Ruiz having to fly into action against Glare. We get several pages of the new Prototype vs. Glare, and then a mysterious intervention by Leland’s assistant before a crowd around the scene of the battle accuse Prototype of killing the guy.

Somewhere along the way, I learned that after the Black September stuff (essentially the Ultraverse‘s "reboot," which happened a couple years into the universe’s existence) the original Prototype, Bob Campbell, was Prototype again. Of course, I’d only really known Jimmy Ruiz, and as I type this, off the top of my head I can only really think that was due to Prime #4 and Ultraforce stuff. Seeing Campbell get more involvement in this issue makes me suspect he was a more important (and perhaps rounded) character than I’d thought. It’s also likely that somehow he was blended in my mind–in part–with Justin Hammer and the scene of Hammer’s failed attempts of duplicating Tony Stark’s armor in Iron Man 2.

This issue drops us into some action right away while contextualizing and expanding on the blurb we’d gotten in Prime #1. We see Campbell and where he is now/what his life is like; then we get the introduction of a villain-figure, move to the introduction of the new Prototype, while getting the seeds of some likely problems to come; we see how Campbell is treated by his former employer, we get to see the new Prototype in action beyond the "staged" stuff, and we’re left with a cliffhanger and to wonder where the kid stands on the matter of killing an opponent, wanting to be a superhero, his lack of training, etc.

In short, we’re introduced to key players, given context and development, and left with something to bring us back for a second issue.

Visually, this is a solid issue; I enjoyed it overall, and would really have to dig to find stuff I’d be able to cite as a problem. This is–and looks like–a ’90s comics (considering it IS one, that’s to be expected!). Probably one of the more standout elements to me is the design of the two Prototype armors–Bob Campbell’s, and the one worn by Jimmy Ruiz. The Campbell armor is large and bulky–an easy comparison for me is to the Iron Man "Hulkbuster" armor; while the Ruiz armor is a very sleek and slim "Iron Man Lite" armor that looks like pieces of armor on a skintight bodysuit.
This felt like reading a new issue for the first time…at most, I suspect this would be the second time I’ve actually read the issue. And for it feeling like the first time, it was a good issue. Since this is the first issue…it’s of course a great one to start with, to jump in on…and if you like Iron Man for the cool armor and tech stuff, this is definitely an issue to grab from a bargain bin! Heck, this is one that would be worth getting from a bargain bin for the cover alone, if you’re of a mind to display comics.

I look forward to reading the subsequent issues of this title and getting more context for the characters involved…all the more as I know the character crosses over with Prime "next month" in the fourth issue of that series. This is well worth 25-50 cents, and since it’s a first issue, if you’re curious about the character, I’d say even $1 is not bad to start at the beginning with this character!

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Ultraverse Revisited: Prime #2

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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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