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Ultraverse Revisited: Mantra #1

ultraverse_revisited

mantra_0001Reversal of Fortune

Writer: Mike W. Barr
Penciller: Terry Dodson
Inker: Al Vey
Letterer: Tim Eldred
Color Design: Paul Mounts
Editor: Chris Ulm
Published by: Malibu Comics
Cover Date: July 1993
Cover Price: $1.95

This is an interesting issue, starting at the cover. The coloring overall gives it a sort of pink look, and makes it instantly (to me) identifiable as what it is at a slight glance. The main character–Mantra–is in some odd mid-air motion like a jump-kick or sideways fastball-special…can’t really tell. But it’s from the ’90s, so doesn’t have to totally make sense, apparently…but at least you can see she has feet! Almost as much so or more prominently, you have Warstrike (a Cable-like huge overly-muscled character with a huge gun) firing away at something "off-panel" of the cover. While in the background, partially obscured by the cover dress–the title logo and the corner box stuff–you have a ghostly image of the villain Boneyard. So this is hardly a great cover in design…its being recognizable and iconic comes from being a #1–a #1 that does NOT have umpteen variants, as this was only the ’90s and not modern 2010s. The cover matches the ads that preceded it, advertising its pending arrival, and contributes to its recognizability.

As I’m essentially "over-familiar" with Prime #1 due to the audio comic, of the early #1s, this was the issue I was most looking forward to getting back to. I don’t actually recall the last time that I read this issue cover to cover rather than skimming it to verify certain details (Lukasz’s final death and the specific killer, for example), but it’s absolutely safe to say I don’t recall reading this within the last 10-15 years, if not longer. So there was some surprise on my part at stuff I’d forgotten, along with certain familiarity that’s stuck with me since the very first time I read the issue back in 1993!

We open on a frontispiece…no actual action or identification of characters, just an image of Mantra as a body/mask/cloak/armor, a black man to the upper left, a ark-haired woman to the upper right, and green energy/lightning and smoke billowing at the bottom. The creator credits and issue title are here as well. Turning the page, we meet Bill Cooper interacting with a Mr. Dalmas, apparently finalizing paperwork for a divorce. The wife has tailed the lawyer and manages to get in, appealing to Cooper to at least not turn his back on his son. While they’re dismissed, we have the growing sense of something supernatural or at least abnormal going on. A ghostly image of an old mane addresses Cooper as Lukasz, and in turn is addressed as Archimage. Cooper makes his way to a club, and getting reacquainted with Yaron, Hamath, and Thanasi. Meanwhile, someone is tied up and being questioned by a garishly-dressed man apparently called Notch. He has a ghostly image of another old figure–Boneyard! Cooper–Lukasz–and his fellows burst in, and battle commences! While the men struggle, we get a momentary glimpse of Boneyard and Archimage hand-to hand struggling themselves…as blood is shed on both sides. Cooper lays dead as the others escaped, and Notch cuts the heart from the body…making it quite official the notch he’s cut in his staff. We meet Warstrike as he answers a call, and then the scene shifts to show us a couple–Marla and Carl, apparently recently-reconciled arriving at a house…and we meet Eden Blake (the dark-haired woman from the frontispiece) interacting with her kids, mother, and her own date. Marla’s gone in while Carl properly parks the car. The view shifts to a trippy/cosmic "hall of bodies" called The Soulwalk, as we find Lukasz’s soul preparing to go into its next body…which he does as it rings a doorbell, and we see he’s displaced Carl. Breaking another heart, he walks out on Marla and an angry Eden. In Carl’s body, we follow Lukasz as he meets up with the rest of Archimage’s group–12 in all–and they get a final speech from the old man as he reveals that they’ve been betrayed by one of their own.

Boneyard arrives, Archimage is captured, his men are killed…Carl/Lukasz killed by Warstrike. Lukasz thinks this is it…before discovering Archimage–even captured–is bringing him back. Lukasz wakes up in bed next to a man, and discovers that this time, he’s been reincarnated as a woman. The woman he saw earlier–Eden Blake!  As Eden, he makes a hasty exit, and immediately experiences the some changes on the streets of LA as a woman instead of man…including being pulled into an alley for an attempted rape, before the would-be-rapist’s cigarette sets him ablaze. Eden makes it to a hospital to meet the last of Archimage’s helpers, who reveals that this is the final reincarnation, Lukasz’s soul was put into this body as a last-ditch backup failsafe, and after centuries of technology, must now embrace magic. A mask charm suddenly flips Eden into the scantily-armor-clad figure of Mantra with a cloak, thigh-high boots and arm-length gloves. As Katinya dies, police enter and assume this figure is a murderer, forcing Eden to escape. Getting home to the address on her driver’s license, she dismisses mother and kids for the night, finds this body doesn’t like whiskey, and answers a late night doorbell to find Warstrike…who knows who (s)he actually is!

Maybe it’s largely nostalgia, maybe it’s the analytical reading for this post and going back through the issue for this overly-lengthy summary of the issue. But this strikes me as a darned good first issue! We have foreshadowing in the frontispiece, a cold build from some arbitrary scene as things quickly come together, showing us good guys and bad guys, and that both sides have a master figure behind them…a 15-century struggle comes down to this final night, as Boneyard gains the upper hand…and the last surviving chance for Archimage is Lukasz, now in the body of a woman and apparently host to mystical/magical powers. We’re introduced to a number of characters on both sides, to the situation, how this battle has lasted over a millennia, and so on. We see how easily Lukasz is killed–twice!–which shows how extremely imperative it is that he be more careful than ever when he learns he can no longer simply be brought back in a new body. And like Lukasz himself…we’re left wondering at the end of the issue what’s coming next. Immediately in terms of Warstrike’s showing up to finish what he started, and whatever is to come in the ongoing battle.

Visually, this is maybe the strongest Ultraverse issue thus far to me, of the five titles. Of course, it’s Terry Dodson art, so that’s a lot of it! Barr crams so much into the story and the art so beautifully conveys it all that I feel little wonder that this is one of my favorite issues of the line.

I did not originally read this in August of 1993 when it came out–at least, I somehow have a memory of reading it in December that year. 25 years and family stuff could definitely have scrambled the timing in my memory, though. But I distinctly remember the surprise of that page when Lukasz wakes up in Eden’s body…quite an image for a barely-13-year-old, and probably a bit of an immediate imprint for the title character.

Like Freex #1, this issue came with a "bonus coupon," which could be substituted for one of the first-month coupons to redeem for Ultraverse Premiere #0. I remember having to make use of that due to being unable to get the Wizard #23 coupon for whatever reason.

All in all, this is a strong first issue well worth getting if you find it in a bargain bin, and I’m definitely looking forward to getting into #2 and onward as things develop, and filling in some of the details and such I missed when the issues were new, as it’s been in the years after the end of the Ultraverse line that I was able to fill in the early gaps in my collection!

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The ’80s Revisited: Detective Comics #572

detective_comics_0572The Doomsday Book

By: Mike W. Barr
Colored by: Adrienne Roy
Edited by: Denny O’Neil
Cover: Michael William Kaluta
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Date: March 1987
Cover Price: $1.25

Chapter One:
Artist: Alan Davis
Letterer: John Workman

Chapter Two
Artists: Terry Beatty & Dick Giordano
Letters: Todd Klein
Colors: Carl Gafford

Chapter Three
Arists: Carmine Infantino, Al Vey
Letterer: Todd Klein
Colorist: Carl Gafford

Chapter Four
Artist: E.R. Cruz
Letterer: Romeo Francisco

Centerpiece
Dick Sprang

Chapter Five
Artists: Alan Davis, Paul Neary
Letterer: John Workman

dick_sprang_remembers_detective_572

I’m finding that I’m a bit of a sucker for ’80s anniversary issues. Especially ones like this, where it’s not some round number of an issue, not a bunch of variant covers, not a relaunch or renumbering, not even the culmination of some huge story that’s overly self-aware of numbering. This seems–essentially–to be a nice, hefty, done-in-one full-length self-contained adventure…and it’s not at all hard to see where this could (by present-day standards) be dragged out as some six-issue mini-series (at least) if not multiple 2-3 issues mini-series or such.

But of course that would fly in the face of an anniversary ISSUE. In this case, celebrating 50 years of the title, not Batman himself, though the caped crusader has a definite role in the issue!

What we get here is an extra-sized issue with story elements on multiple fronts, allowing multiple art teams to work on the title, as well as the writer to flex and work with different characters that aren’t strictly Batman or his immediate Bat-group. This issue is from a time much closer to the title’s historical format with multiple characters sharing the title…even though Batman’s been the most prominent character, a number of other characters "came up" through the title, not necessarily related specifically to Batman or stories involving Batman himself.

I’ve been aware of Barr‘s work for a long time…and while I’ve come to know him as the writer of Batman: Year Two, and Camelot 3000, and Batman and the Outsiders and whatnot…I most associate him with Mantra, one of my favorite Ultraverse titles growing up in the ’90s. That a creator of a character I thoroughly enjoyed there also has such a history with Batman has been icing on the cake, so to speak.

I’ve primarily read Detective Comics from #604-onward…very much after the "anthology" format was basically jettisoned and it’s been just another Batman title. So while aware of its history, I haven’t actually read much of that history…at least not while of any age to truly appreciate it (I know I’ve read a number of issues from Grandpa’s collection, back in my earliest comic days, but that was a quarter-century ago!).

Slam Bradley finds himself with a client who’s under the gun–literally. Though Batman and Robin intervene for the moment, there’s more to the situation–and story–and he’s determined to figure it out. What he doesn’t count on is learning of a couple names with prominent ties to the past: Watson…and Moriarty. The Elongated Man–Ralph Dibny–gets involved, with a personal encounter with the villain at hand, confirming what Slam Bradley had learned. We then jump to "the past," and a tale of Sherlock Holmes…fitting to the continuity of this issue’s story, while being simply a new Sherlock Holmes story, and certainly celebrating the title Detective Comics.  The various branches of the overall story converge and we get back to Batman and Robin being on the page as all the characters come together…including a rather surprising (to the characters) figure, one that I had actually come to think would not be present in quite the way they turned out to be.

This issue is just over 30 years old, but I still step around stuff a bit. Consider this your spoiler warning.

After this line, I get into "spoilers," as I would if this had not been a three-decade old back-issue.

Batman meets a significantly-aged Sherlock Holmes here. As this was published in 1987, along with being the 50th anniversary of Detective Comics, it was the 100th anniversary of Sherlock Holmes. And with a mention of living conditions and such, and just HOW old the character looks at the end of this issue…it may have been a bit of a stretch to consider a man would live to be over 120 years old (if he was already an adult in adventures in 1887). Of course, 30 years later, this is no longer plausible in the slightest…at least to me. So it "dates" the issue, but in a good way…and it was a pleasant surprise to find that the cover was not JUST a case of being some thematic team-up where both characters appear in the course of the issue but don’t directly interact…we actually get to see Batman meet THE Sherlock Holmes. (Though I’m not gonna get into the meta-stuff of characters recognizing the STORIES but then having the story-accurate character showing up in their midst as a "real guy").

Though there were multiple art teams for the issue, with them being split up across different chapters (instead of several pages here, several there) it really served the story, and kept things from seeming choppy or such. Batman didn’t seem to be in much of the issue, but where he was, he seemed "’80s-accurate" to me; and the other characters (that I’m less familiar with, particularly from this time frame) all work and don’t stand out as contradictory to whatever I do know about them. The cover led me to believe (in conjunction with something I’d read in the past) that the focus of the issue might’ve been a Batman/Sherlock Holmes team-up/adventure. I was initially disappointed, as I thought when I bought the issue that it’d be a team-up. As the issue went on, it took on more a sense of reality, history, and "legacy" that I found intriguing…such that it was simply a treat to have the aged Holmes show up at the end as he did.

There’s a nice "center spread" by Dick Sprang that makes for a good touch, and far out-beats contemporary practices where it would have been a variant cover or a couple of variant covers. It’s just a nice double-page art piece showcasing Sprang‘s take on the characters.

I believe I paid $6 for this issue, against its $1.25 cover price. By contemporary comics’ standards, this was well worth that price and then some. For time it took to read, it more than out-matched contemporary comics, at the "inflated" or "priced back issue" dollar I paid for it. This would absolutely be worth getting out of a bargain bin…and I have no problem with having paid a slightly more "premium" price for it as an actual, priced back issue and not something from a bargain bin. This stands alone as a singular, strong issue, and other than knowing that the characters exist, you don’t really need to know any present-day (at the time) continuity to enjoy this issue; FROM this issue, I would not be able to tell you myself offhand what was going on in issues immediately before or immediately after this issue.

Highly recommended!

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Zero Hour Revisited – Outsiders #11

90srevisited_zerohour

outsiders_0011Final Blood II

Writer: Mike W. Barr
Penciller: Paul Pelletier
Inker: Robert Campanella
Colorist: Stuart Chalfetz
Letterer: Kevin Cunningham
Asst. Editor: Eddie Berganza
Editor: Kevin Dooley
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Date: September 1994
Cover Price: $1.95

This incarnation of the Outsiders is one I’ve long been aware of, but really never read. It came to my attention back in the day thanks to the use of the Eradicator character–moving from the Superman books, I was at least "interested" in the title, though it was not one I ever got around to acquiring during its actual publication. If this isn’t my first issue reading, it’s at least the first I can consciously recall reading…and though I know OF several of the characters, recognize them at least in name if not by appearances elsewhere over the years…I just felt lost.

This issue basically sees the outsiders fighting vampires (or werewolves? But I think they’re supposed to be vampires), and arguing amongst themselves as the fighting and such happens. Even when the team would seem to have emerged victorious, there are breaks between characters, and outcomes from recent events I have not read that play into their relationships and the team dynamic, leaving the team quite splintered. Most disappointingly, the only actual tie that I noticed to Zero Hour (on the single "casual"/"reading for the experience as with every other issue of this project" read-through) is that two characters who appear in this issue also appear in Zero Hour.

That this issue carries that Zero Hour banner is very disappointing as such, and I’m not at all thrilled at the virtual "deception," as I did not enjoy the characters, the story, nor get anything "new" for Zero Hour. There was a throw-away line by Katana in Zero Hour #4 that I suppose references what happened here, but it was just that–trivial and throw-away.

I suppose the art works for the title, but I was so thoroughly out of the loop reading the issue that I hardly noticed it. When I hardly have a clue who’s who or what’s going on, I don’t much care how anyone looks. They could all be alternate timeline doppelgangers of one another for all I know.

All that said…while I appreciate that this issue probably made some sense in context of reading the earlier issues leading to this…I’m highly disappointed to have taken the time to read it as a Zero Hour tie-in when it doesn’t do a thing for the Event story.

Definitely an issue to pass on if reading stuff to get the "full" Zero Hour experience, I’d say!

Akron Comicon 2012

 

akroncomiconbooklet

This past Saturday, I attended the first-ever Akron Comicon with a good friend.

When we first walked in, my initial impression was that this was even better than the Wizard World: Columbus con we went to last year. The space seemed similar, but admission was less than 1/3 the cost, this was local, and the lines were smaller.

Another thing we noticed pretty quickly were all the young kids around–parents were bringing their kids to this! Which is fantastic…cliches aside, the kids are the future, and if parents don’t introduce their kids to comics, then comics really will be on their way out. Plus, it was refreshing simply that this was a family-friendly show, not something parents would be afraid to take their kids to.

I knew going in I wanted to get some very specific comics signed. While others know him for his Detective Comics/Batman stuff…I’m most familiar with Mike W. Barr from his run on Mantra. And since I’m not gonna try to get a huge stack of stuff signed (if I get a comic signed, it’s for me or for a friend–not to sell!).

So I chose Mantra #1:

barrmantra

Also got my TPB of Batman: Year Two signed, but that’s on the inside cover, so would make for a crummy photo.

Went on to Norm Breyfogle, getting my first-ever issue of Detective Comics–#604–signed. I wish I’d had my original copy, but perhaps some other time at some other convention.

breyfogletec604

Also got some Prime signed. A copy of #1, as well as #11–two key issues for me. And for the heckuvit/uniqueness, got my Prime Time tpb signed. I come across Prime in bargain bins fairly regularly, but I don’t think I’ve ever come across the TPB, period, except whenever it was I got this copy back in the 1990s.

I felt kinda bad taking in 4 things to be signed. Didn’t feel nearly so bad when several people ahead of me in line had huge stacks of stuff.

breyfogleprime

After getting comics signed and looking around a bit, my friend and I went to the panel room for a presentation by the Siegel & Shuster Society including Mike Sangiacomo.

I stuck around after for the Meet Mike Barr/Norm Breyfogle/Joe Staton panel, but was treated to a bit of serendipity–the Creating Comics panel by Marc Sumerak was flipped, so that came first.

Sumerak had a really interesting (to me) presentation on creating comics from a writer’s point of view–I feel like most other similar presentations I’ve been to have been from the art side, so this was a real treat.

After his panel, had the Barr/Breyfogle/Staton panel:

mikebarrnormbreyfoglejoestatonintro

Three panels and about 3 hours in, I decided to stick around for the final panel–a Q&A with Gerry Conway:

gerryconwayakron12

This was probably the most interesting of the panels–with some interesting questions asked, and Conway‘s account of his experience with stuff like the creation of the Punisher (he was supposed to be a one-shot character) and Firestorm, even (I hadn’t realized) Jason Todd–the second Robin.

After the panels, I wandered back into the main area again. I’d paid $10 to get in, and while getting those comics signed and attending the panels certainly made the admission well worthwhile (these days you’ll pay about $10 for a 2-hour movie), I had originally been hoping to get some Valiant comics from the 1990s.

Unfortunately, it seemed all anyone brought to the con were DC and Marvel stuff. But that saved me money, and forced me to appreciate other stuff–especially the art–though I didn’t feel comfortable buying any art at this show due to personal budget.

One dealer (Carol & John’s Comic Shop) had their TPBs marked down to 75% off, so I picked up the Superman/Batman Greatest Stories volume (I blame Michael Bailey for rekindling my interest in these after listening to Bailey’s Batman Podcast episode 14 on the 1980s Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told).

supermanbatmangreateststories

The $1 X-Men bins were marked down to $.50 by then, so I snagged these Pizza Hut issues for a friend. These were originally available for purchase through Pizza Hut in 1992 or early 1993 with special “Creator’s Choice” VHS tapes of the first couple episodes of the cartoon series.

pizzahutxmen

While I was looking through these X-Men bins, the booth attendant started handing out some free comics. I will almost never object to free comics; that I immediately recognized these as issues I do not already have, this was all the more welcome!

I refused to purchase the 7.x issues of Fear Itself (though less than a year later I bought into AVX Consequences, which is basically the same thing, different event). So now I’m actually interested in the other two issues (I believe there were 4) and will be watching for those in bargain bins.

fearitself71and72

Overall, definitely enjoyed the con itself, and look forward to it hopefully happening again next year.

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