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Ultraverse Revisited: Hardcase #6

ultraverse_revisited

hardcase_0006Friends and Enemies, Part Two: Returning Favors

Writer: Jim Hudnall
Penciller: Scott Benefiel
Inkers: Mike Christian & Jordi Ensign
Letterer: Tim Eldred
Color Design: Moose Baumann
Interior Colorists: Family Fugue
Editor: Hank Kanalz
Cover Date: November 1993
Cover Price: $1.95

After being stabbed and looking like he was bleeding out, we open this issue with Hardcase having an out of body experience, watching Choice find his body, fend off Hardwire, and try to get Tom to a hospital. While having this experience, Hardcase–Tom–is told by Linda (Starburst) to go back while he can. After waking in a hospital bed, Tom and Choice are visited by an old friend…who turns out to be an "old friend" in The Alternate. She claims she’s trying to help them survive, while "The Man Who Isn’t a Man" prepares to send agents to the moon to get something for him that he can destroy all Ultras with. Thanks to his remarkable healing, Hardcase is up and ready before long to re-confront Hardwire, and being prepared this time, succeeds. When police show up, Hardcase dislocates both of the villains arms, so that he can’t use his fingers against them. After this all wraps up, Tom lays in bed with his mind in overdrive, reflecting on the evening–Choice, as well as what he actually saw while dying.

The art for this title has been rather uneven…but it worked well in this issue, taken alone. The cover is nicely detailed, with Hardcase looking like Hardcase…even though it has him seemingly deliberately looking AWAY FROM the attacking villain. Within the issue, the art seems good as a whole. It seems slightly "off" to me–but then, my primary memory of the title and its art comes from the first issue, so that’s what I tend to judge a lot of the art against. It’s better than a couple of the other early issues, though, and better than I remember some of the later issues. The story’s not hard to follow–the action of what’s going on–and that’s the main thing. It’s nothing to write home about, but nothing I’m gonna really complain about.

Story-wise, we get some solid follow-up on Hardcase’s injury–and that while he’s nearly invulnerable, he can be hurt; but he also heals much faster, so even dire damage isn’t necessarily fatal. That said, we get some hints at forthcoming answers for Choice, and knowing what I do of the Ultraverse, it’s easy to pick up on the references to the moon and such (all the more after seeing them in Prime–which is another "core" Ultraverse title as one of the three originals). We get some resolution to this initial encounter with Hardwire; foreshadowing of stuff to come, and generally have a decently well-rounded ’90s comic that moves everything forward as an "episode" rather than being just a 1/6th slice of some singular graphic novel the way most modern/2018/2019 comics seem to be.

As with many ’90s comics and other Ultraverse issues, one could pick up on context simply reading this issue…but it’s not one I’d recommend in isolation or as some singular target issue. It bridges the previous issue and what’s to come in Break-Thru, contributing a bit of setup for that event and preparing us for Hardcase joining the greater stage of the Ultraverse as a whole. This is well worth a 25-50 cent purchase to have along with the earlier issues…but you’re better off grabbing the first issue than this if you just want a single issue of Hardcase.

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Ultraverse Revisited: Mantra #5

ultraverse_revisited

mantra_0005Mantra: The Animated Series

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ultraverse Revisited: Firearm #3

ultraverse_revisited

firearm_0003American Pastimes Part Three

Writer: James Robinson
Penciller: Cully Hamner
Inker: John Lowe
Letterer: Tim Eldred
Color Designer: Moose Baumann
Interior Color: Foodhammer!
Editor: Hank Kanalz
Special Thanks to: Larry Welch
Cover Date: November 1993
Cover Price: $1.95

The previous issue ended with Swan a bit out of his depths, and being rescued by a flying Ultra. Here, he wakes up in a room full of Ultras…and finds some answers he’s been looking for…and a new threat! Retaining a hostage–that Swan is determined to save–these Ultras reveal that they’ve got a certain interest in hunting. Human prey. While they’ve denied him his own particular firearm, they give Swan a slight head start, and then the hunt is on! We see Swan take them on–fighting for his life–and ultimately see what kind of man he is, when he catches a break, and can completely escape…or head back in to save the hostage.

I feel like this story is a bit repetitive. The "eccentric rich folks buying property and importing humans to hunt" feels like something I’ve seen at least a couple other places, albeit originally published a number of years apart, probably. I’m thinking there’s at least a Batman story like that, and can’t really imagine there’s not a Green Arrow story like that. Of course, this is the first time I’ve seen it as super-powered people–Ultras–hunting a normal human! And there are only so many stories to be told…what keeps many fresh is a shift in particulars. So while I observe this, it’s not something I’d truly count against the issue/story itself.

The art is quite good, and feels entirely consistent with the earlier issues. Nothing really jumps out as "strange" or "new," nor as any great distraction. Nothing particularly stood out as singularly amazing or awesome…but I’d put that to simple quality of the art! It’s serving the story, conveying the action, and allowing the story to be experienced, rather than calling attention to itself needlessly. In other words…I like the art and the way it’s presented!

As a story, this is a "part three," but has a different "feel" from the first couple of issues to me. For one thing, it feels a bit more frenetic and action-packed…with less "building blocks" and more "doing" in general. In that way, this pays off the first couple issues that introduced us to Swan and his part of the world and set things up for him to wind up in this situation. I really like that this also mostly feels like its own thing, its own "episode," as we just start with Swan waking up and then having to think on his feet…we don’t have pages of exposition/recap…we basically just get launched into the action. I don’t recall (if I ever knew anyway) and haven’t "looked ahead" to see if American Pastimes is carried as a 4 or more chapter arc…but this feels like it could well be a 4-parter or even 5, and structurally I’d probably be happy with either.

While there’s definite nuance to be caught reading this issue out of the first two issues and the ending leads me into wanting to read the next issue…I think this stands pretty well by itself. I’d miss some stuff and have less of an overall context for the feel of the character of Alec Swan (and less of the sense of wanting to see him portrayed "live" by Jason Statham)…this works decently as a one-off issue. "Ultras with powers hunt a human who is really good at fighting back."

All in all, this would be a decent issue to snag randomly from a bargain bin. It’s best matched with issues 1 & 2, but especially if one can get it for 25 cents, it’s worth getting and reading even in "isolation." As part of the ongoing series, I definitely enjoyed it, and I look forward to the next issue!

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Ultraverse Revisited: Mantra #4

ultraverse_revisited

mantra_0004Bride of Boneyard

Creator/Writer: Mike W. Barr
Penciller: Rob Phipps
Inkers: Al Vey & Barb Kaalberg
Letterer: Tim Eldred
Color Design: Moose Baumann
Editor: Chris Ulm
Published by: Malibu Comics
Cover Date: October 1993
Cover Price: $2.50

Lukasz has only just begun to figure out what this new body can do, but has already been captured and after being knocked out, wakes to find that Boneyard’s got designs on wedded bliss!

We open on Boneyard standing over Mantra, ranting about how insignificant this woman is, as if it’s so ludicrous that this final warrior might be the last hope of Archimage. As Mantra, Lukasz fights back, and manages to escape the imminent wedding between Boneyard and Eden Blake’s body, which he presently inhabits. He finds and interacts briefly with Archimage, and is unable to get the old wizard free. Barely escaping, he seeks help in a nearby village, only to be betrayed by newfound allies. Warstrike manages to show up, and is convinced to assist an assault on Boneyard’s keep. Ultimately, he and Lukasz are forced to retreat so that they might fight another day. Despite the betrayal, Lukasz–as Mantra–does manage to make some new allies in Boneyard’s realm…a factor sure to come into play later.

This may have been the first issue of Mantra that I ever read, due to getting it during Rune Month, and while not gratuitous, the cover certainly would have had my attention–between Mantra herself, the weird cyborg Boneyard, and the bright colors. At minimum, this would be the second issue I ever read of the title, and whatever order I read the issues in, I had missed issues 2 and 3, so had only the first issue and then this to go on.

The story takes us into an interesting realm–somewhat fantasy-ish (think Game of Thrones)–not quite Earth, but not entirely alien. We continue to see Lukasz finding the power of Eden Blake’s body, as well as a growing perspective on how men–and he himself–have treated women over time, particularly with bodies such as this. We get some face time with Archimage to propel things onward–contact, yet it’s not quite time for THE rescue: the story is still unfolding! Warstrike continues to be an interesting ally…perhaps moreso because I know that he gets his own series in the not-too-distant-future relative to this issue.

Visually, this is a solid issue; I like the characters’ depictions, and the flow of the art in conveying the story. It definitely has its differences from the title’s premiere…but hangs onto a good bit of the visual style and familiarity, such that I don’t know that I’d REALLY notice any particular difference if I was simply reading without paying attention to the credits!

rune_0jRune [J]: The Fury – Part One
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

As (Agent?) Jaffrey follows up on Stone’s death, he, too, is attacked by Rune. Rune is fiercely seeking a particular boy…who we meet as the segment closes–interrupted on a phone call with his girlfriend by his father needing to talk to him about something.

This is the "penultimate" chapter of Rune #0–We’ve followed Rune through time, seeing him in his powerful younger days, how he came to be the wretched creature he is, and along his quest for restorative power. That he’s seeking Erik suggests more for Erik to come…though this chapter does not let us know exactly what role he’ll play overall.

Yet (as always) again, the art is good, and it’s consistent with the earlier chapters, this being simply the next three pages of (still) the same issue, essentially.


Once more, the Rune chapter sorta works by itself but there’s no real room for "context" on the pages themselves. In a way we get more information from the "previously" text presented ahead of the chapter than from the pages…something I’ll be interesting to evaluate in a later re-read of this story in a single go. While it adds value to the issue, it is not in itself a sufficient selling point to seek out this issue.

On the other hand…the Mantra issue itself is another strong chapter, continuing to build on characters and continuity, as we see more of several characters and their interactions, as well as Boneyard having realized who and what Mantra is, and checking in on Archimage, and generally leaving a bit of wonder in the "will he or won’t he" (Archimage) be rescued this issue. But it’s not to be, as there’s more story to be had by his not yet being rescued than a quick 4th-issue-rescue.

Whether it’s the general story, or the art, or the concept, or something else, or some combination…I continue to find this to be a series I’m highly eager to get back through, that almost leaves me regretting trying to cycle through all the titles by month rather than doing a single-title read-through of Mantra. This adds to the reaffirmation of the title as one of my favorites of the Ultraverse, whatever other titles I discover that I enjoy and "should have" read as a kid.

By itself, this issue is definitely worth a quarter to a dollar or so…definitely a "bargain bin issue," not likely worth more than $1 or so unless you’re plugging a run in your collection. Still, it’s a good issue, I myself enjoyed it, and I look forward to the next issue, as well as a number of other issues yet to come!

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Ultraverse Revisited: Firearm #2

ultraverse_revisited

firearm_0002American Pastimes Part Two

Writer: James Robinson
Penciller: Cully Hamner
Inker: John Lowe
Letterer: Tim Eldred
Color Design: Moose Baumann
Interior Colorists: Foodhammer
Editor: Hank Kanalz
Published by: Malibu Comics
Cover Date: October 1993
Cover Price: $2.50

It seems like such a long time since I covered the first issue of this series, and here I’m only at the second!

The cover’s a bit generic–I truly don’t think I’ve really paid it much attention over the years. I’d had the issue originally solely for the RUNE coupon, and just recognize the overall image with the trade dress as the second issue of Firearm. Looking at it more closely this time and actually "taking it in," it’s Firearm fighting a couple of armored suits, aiming one’s weapon to blast another upward where the title falls. It’s also interesting to me the "design" stuff I’m seeing, that have always been there, but with a class I’ve been taking, there’s a lot that I’m really "seeing" for the first time or at least in a new light! And I’ve always liked and easily recognized the way the Ultraverse titles’ trade dress started with the inner border, the ULTRAVERSE logo across the top with the actual title logo under, and the upper left corner logo and issue info/price.

Getting into the issue itself, we find Alec Swan waking up, feeling the results of the previous issue/recent events. He follows up on some information, and is led to Hardcase…who he finds in the midst of a fight with some thugs in high-end power/exo-armor suits. He gets involved ostensibly only because Hardcase may have information he needs. Among other things, part of Swan’s contribution is grabbing one and aiming its blaster at another…different angle, but showing that the cover actually depicts something from within the issue itself! (A true rarity as of 2018). After the fight, he and Hardcase talk–and neither likes the other, but at least they don’t–themselves–fight. While Hardcase doesn’t consciously have any recollection of the guy Swan’s trying to find information on, he does say something that gives him a lead. As he parts ways from Hardcase to follow up, he’s attacked by another ultra…and saved by still another…which is something he’s getting really tired of.

The story itself is good, and follows well on the first issue. This also reads relatively decently on its own–it’s been weeks since I read #1 and I didn’t remember much concrete detail from it, but didn’t have much problem getting into this issue. We see Swan continuing to work the case he took on in the first issue, and the continuing repercussions from stuff begun in the first issue. We see a bit more of him at work, and in action, solidifying the "codename" Firearm, as well as the fact that he hates that name. Though it’s in no way advertised as such and there’s no cover indication, we see him interact with Hardcase. It’s not an "event" or "crossover," it’s just a natural thing of Swan living in a world of ultras, which includes Hardcase. Though we still don’t have resolution, we can surmise that Swan’s getting closer to his goal, with continued attacks, and now being saved by an ultra…hints that something bigger is going on that he hadn’t bargained for, but now finds himself immersed in. I think my main problem with the story/writing is that though Hardcase mostly looked like Hardcase and is supposed to BE Hardcase…his appearance here made him feel like just some impersonal plot device, with a different sort of "voice" and lacking the sort of "heart" from his own title or the crossover with his title and the Strangers in the September issues.

Visually, this wasn’t a bad issue on the Firearm end…but I really strongly noticed some weirdness in the visual interpretation of Hardcase. The face especially just looked weird, with odd lines around the mouth and generally carrying the basic core visuals, but looking more like "a version of" Hardcase rather than a singular THE Hardcase. Otherwise, the art’s good and no real complaints from me…it fits this title and the main character and carries the story.

rune_0iRune [I]: The Hunted
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

As Rune gets closer to a goal–a power source his stones have foretold, we find someone investigating another death from the vampiric creature. This investigator apparently is an ultra, able to sense things…though he’s not quite finely-tuned enough in use of his power to realize that his sensing Rune was because the creature was right there. As Rune attacks, the folks on the other end of the agents connection are helpless to do anything.

We’ve continued to see a bit more of a development in the Rune story, from just brief glimpses at the creature in different time periods, to seeing him attacking various ultras for power, as well as discovering Aladdin and moving in on this secretive agency. Including this chapter, we’re at 27 pages now–the full Rune #0 is a 33-page thing, making it about the equivalent of a 2018 Marvel Annual with 32-ish pages. Except here it’s serialized on the backs of each of the 11 October 1993 Ultraverse titles.

Something to this chapter has a bit of a different look than earlier chapters seemed to–probably the darker, rain-soaked setting of the chapter. We do have a panel with one of the more horrific glimpses of Rune…clearly an image out of a nightmare. Same creative team as all the other chapters, so despite the darker tone visually, this is still quite consistent with previous chapters!


This is not a standalone issue of Firearm…though it works well despite not having a recap page and I didn’t remember much in the way of specifics from the previous issue by the time I read this, with going through around 16 other issues between.

The Rune chapter is somewhat on its own, yet builds on earlier chapters.

As with the other issues from October 1993, there’s nothing really to make this an issue to single out in isolation. Especially as only a second issue, if you’re going to get this, I highly recommend ALSO getting the first issue, and probably also the third.

Firearm #2 is a solid Ultraverse issue, moving Alec Swan’s story forward, showing us that he really is in the same universe as the other Ultras thanks to the Hardcase appearance, yet still manages to stick to itself, not really drawing on nor impacting other titles.

This is certainly worth 25-50 cents as a purchase in isolation or otherwise, and like other "early" Ultraverse comics, I wouldn’t suggest spending more than $1-$2 on it unless it’s an elusive issue to fill a specific gap. It’s good quality, just not something that should command any significant pricing.

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Ultraverse Revisited: Hardcase #5

ultraverse_revisited

hardcase_0005Friends and Enemies Part One: The First Cut

Writer: James Hudnall
Penciller: Scott Benefiel
Inker: Mike Christian
Letterer: Tim Eldred
Color Design: Moose Baumann
Editor: Hank Kanalz
Published by: Malibu Comics
Cover Date: October 1993
Cover Price: $2.50

This issue’s cover has long stood out to me. Our hero kneeling in a pull of his own blood, obviously distressed? Gotta wonder what happened! And that we see what’s done to Hardcase in the issue itself, that stuck with me, and surely got transposed to the cover. I didn’t remember the specifics of the story, and back in ’93 did not have the context–I’m sure at least on reading, I had read #1, and then this, so I’d missed everything from 2-4 and the Strangers crossover.

We open on a drug dealing being warned someone’s coming to kill him. Confident that one lone assassin can’t possibly do anything, he’s ready to disregard this–but finds out his guys have already been taken out. We then cut to a photo of the slain dealer in Detective Brown’s hands, as he’s pondering the case, and Hardcase walks in with Choice. They want a meeting with the Choice Corporation, but ideally without the trouble that there’d be with them just walking into the HQ. Getting an appointment made by the police shows that they have ‘friends’ and such, as well. Once there, some sort of control is exerted, showing that Choice is definitely NOT free; she and Hardcase get outta there. Meanwhile, a couple of kids find the head of NM-E in a dried-out flood channel in LA…and it attaches itself to one, and as the other runs away, blasts him. NM-E is composed of molecule-sized machines, and has been rebuilding itself, and is still on-mission. As Hardcase and Choice head back to Hardcase’s place, we see a meeting between a major power broker and Rex Mundi. At Hardcase’s, he and Choice meet someone calling herself The Alternate, who has a warning for them. They head out on the town anyway, needing time away from everything. They’ve been followed by an assassin hired by Mundi’s broker–the same assassin that killed the drug dealer. While Choice is in a restroom, he attacks Hardcase, and quickly surprises the hero by being able to badly cut him. He then stabs him in the gut, and leaves him for dead, as Choice emerges to see what’s going on, and finds Tom dying.

This issue is another art change…I can definitely say that I’m not caring a lot for the lack of singular, steady art team on this title. The art’s not bad…but I’d much prefer consistency! The characters are recognizable without much issue, though, so the art does its job. I know I did not particularly notice the art change when I originally read this, having missed 3 issues. And something about the cover for this issue reminds me that if nothing else, I can look at this like the ’90s Superman titles, where every week was a different art team (4 and then 5 different titles)…so this issue has art by an art team that’s not my favorite/preferred, but is not inherently bad or anything like that! I think I prefer Callahan‘s art because of getting it in the first issue in particularly, and having had a second issue of it in Hardcase #3.

On the story, we continue to move forward with Hardcase and Choice, as he plays hero to her, trying to help her escape the Choice Corporation. We also have Detective Brown and a bit of a throwaway mystery (for the moment) of someone impersonating him, which likely means something’s coming up later relating to that. We also have the reappearance of the NM-E creature, as another brief subplot that surely will be coming back into play eventually (I remember covers later in this series with the rematch!). Having been more aware of Hardcase in a loose sense, not truly following his title "back in the day," I’ve not had much idea of the fine details of the character within his own title or any recurring characters and such–so I’m enjoying seeing stuff with Choice, as well as Det. Brown. I’m also really liking the existence of "subplots" as I’m getting back into these very-much-of-their-time ’90s comics…reminding me that comics used to be ongoing stories that might be punctuated with specific finite (named) arcs, but they were not specifically geared for a 4-6 issue collected volume…they were serialized stories, not serialized graphic novels.

rune_0dRune [D]: The Power of Gods
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 fourth chapter of Rune continues to build a bit on stuff–now being up to 12 pages of the story, a little more is taking shape. The previous segment showed Rune meeting with Tesla and learning about an energy source; here in this chapter we find Rune nearly 60 years later at the heart of an atomic blast–getting a heckuva lot more than he bargained for. An incredible energy, sure–but rather than energize him, it devastates his body, leaving him a mere shell of his former self!

Yet again, the art is perfectly consistent with the earlier chapters as this is all the same creative team. We met the sickly shell that Rune has become in the first chapter, then witnessed him as a god-figure, found him in a more recent setting seeking information about power, and now see him caught in a nuclear blast that leaves him needing energy just to survive, to say nothing of getting more powerful or such.

While this flip-book feature has started a bit slow and a bit choppy, and I’d felt there wasn’t much to be gleaned story-wise, it’s shaping up to be a series of scenes, showing us apparently-key moments throughout Rune’s existence, such that we’ll have a general idea of the character by the end of these 11 pieces, even if it’s not some tightly-woven single-issue chunked into 3-page pieces.


I remember having read this Hardcase issue back in 1993 when it came out. I enjoyed and appreciated it far more this time around, now having had the in-between issues read so that I know more about Choice and why they visit this Choice Corporation; and I have context for Detective Brown; and I’m generally just more invested in the story and able to appreciate the stuff that was way over my head as a kid with the missing issues.

And I’m beginning to really enjoy the Rune stuff in a way that I didn’t even as a kid–and Rune was one of the main titles I followed even then! I’m thinking that as neat as it is to have 9 of the 11 flipbook covers making up a large image, different full images might have been a bit more appropriate to accentuate the various time periods/points in the character’s long existence in the Ultraverse as a universe.

Whatever the case…this is the fifth issue of an ongoing series…there’s really not much to this to make it worth seeking out in isolation, but this is definitely worth getting as part of a "run" of issues. As I’ll keep pointing out, this is an issue I’ve seen in bargain bins plenty of times, so I wouldn’t recommend paying much for it–I consider it a 25-cent book, but depending on where one gets their comics, that could mean 50 cents to $1. I would definitely suggest getting this as part of a run–perhaps the first few issues, or as the start of the next few issues. As a cheap 25-year-old comic, some of that’s almost a moot point, though, as the bulk of the entire series could be had for less than what a couple of modern comics might cost.

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Ultraverse Revisited: Hardcase #4

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hardcase_0004_frontStrangers in the Night

Writer: James D. Hudnall
Co-Plotters: James D. Hudnall and Steve Englehart
Penciller: Roger Robinson
Inker: Larry Welch
Letterer: Tim Eldred
Color Design: Moose Baumann
Edited by: Hank Kanalz and Chris Ulm
Special Thanks to: Dave Lanphear and Aaron Sowd
Published by: Malibu Comics
Cover Date: September 1993
Cover Price: $1.95

Prime #4 was the first "full" crossover of sorts I’ve gotten to in this Ultraverse Revisited project, with Prime vs. Prototype. But this issue of Hardcase is the start of the first multi-issue such thing, with the Strangers having appeared on the last page of Hardcase #3, they’re in this issue, and then the story itself continues into The Strangers #4.

Hardcase and Choice are just getting back to Hardcase’s place after being assaulted by a team of armored goons trying to kidnap Choice to take her back to the Choice Corporation. So they’re not very happy to find another group of Ultras here waiting for them. After the initial confrontation of surprise, things settle down as the Strangers and Hardcase/Choice feel each other out, so to speak. The Strangers want Hardcase’s advice on the whole "being in the public eye as an Ultra" thing, and he’s willing to share what his own experience has been (which also gives us as readers further insight into the events that led up to where we got dropped into the middle of things in issue #1). A group called Aladdin has stuff going on–they’re a shady government group, apparently–and Hardcase "connects" them to The Squad’s final battle. The Strangers had their own run-in with the secretive government types, and consider that maybe they’re dealing with the same group. So, with Hardcase and Choice joining them, the Strangers set out (based on info Electrocute has from her time with JD Hunt) to confront the Aladdin folks. They’re not allowed into the facility in question, and the group is actually taken down after a brief skirmish with some Ultras sent out to check on them…ending with some surprise at an off-panel figure that shows up.

Because of this crossover, this was an issue I have been really looking forward to getting to. I was pleasantly surprised when the Strangers actually showed up at the end of #3, so they’re "here" for the entire issue. And I really liked that we get some (rightful) conflict starting the issue–Hardcase returns home from a fight and there are these strangers (THE Strangers) in his place unexpectedly. But we don’t get some stupid fight with the place being destroyed or such–Hardcase is authentically concerned, but they’re able to talk things out. He realizes they’re not there to do him or Choice harm, so he’s even comfortable enough to leave them in the main space while he grabs a shower–telling these unknown Ultras that he’s going to be completely without any armor/etc!

It’s a bit cheesey the way everyone interacts, but it works well enough for me. Hardcase sharing his background with the Strangers is a great excuse to get more detail of that out there, given the way we were given the very end in the first issue and just Hardcase dealing with stuff present-day since. The "cheese" continues as Electrocute just happens to have information about a base Aladdin might be operating from, and when the group just simply goes there, where they just happen to wind up in a fight because of Ultras that ARE there.

Still, things keep moving forward at a decent pace, and we’re shown macro and micro interactions that make the characters ring true with a definite feel of authenticity individually and as a group.

Visually, I feel like this title’s all over the place…with this issue having the third different art team in four issues! That said, Robinson does a good job of keeping everyone recognizable and clear…there’s really no mistaking any of the characters, even when I’m still not able to rattle off all the Strangers’ names just off the top of my head. They’re visually distinct and familiarly so. That I notice we’re on the third artist of the title is more paying attention to the credits, as it’s not something I’d have noticed as certainly "just" reading through. The cover is by Strangers artist Rick Hoberg, which adds its own positive to this.

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And the cover itself is another point of discussion. While Prime #4 did have a variant cover, this issue and Strangers #4 go out of their way on a physical production level to AVOID doing "variant" covers. This issue has a fold-out front cover…when you open it out, you have this extra panel to the image with Atom Bob and Electrocute prominent. This is the same image from the front cover of Strangers #4. The two issues can fit together side by side and give a singular double-panel image. This issue has the fold-out, though, to give the full image on its own. And the Strangers issue has a wraparound cover to do the same.

As we’re getting a bit deeper into the series, there’s just enough space between this and the first issue that it’s going to get very repetitive and potentially impractical to "just" say "get ’em all" rather than grabbing this issue by itself. However, I definitely strongly recommend getting the Strangers #4 along with this to have both parts, rather than this issue alone. Still, this issue can work somewhat on its own…but you’ll be left with an unresolved cliffhanger if you grab this in isolation.

I enjoyed this, and look forward to the second part of the story in Strangers #4, even as I truly can’t think who the mystery figure on the last page is (though I imagine I might wind up kicking myself for not realizing). This issue is definitely worth at least 25-50 cents to buy and read, and is best paired with The Strangers #4.

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