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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

ultraverse_revisited

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.

hardcase_0004_full

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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Ultraverse Revisited: Mantra #3

ultraverse_revisited

mantra_0003Kismet Once…Kismet Twice…Kismet Deadly!

Writer: Mike W. Barr
Penciler: Terry Dodson
Inker: Al Vey
Letterer: Tim Eldred
Color Designer: Moose Baumann
Editor: Chris Ulm
Published by: Malibu Comics
Cover Date: September 1993
Cover Price: $1.95

We open on Lukasz–Eden–being held down by the Repo Men! They’re trying to get her mask, the source of her magical armor off, for their boss. Meanwhile, Eden’s kids are looking for her and don’t recognize her as the masked woman all the commotion’s about. Eden fries the Repo Men and makes her escape. She flies off and confronts their boss, eventually forcing a deal of sorts, pointing out that she’s the only person on Earth the mask will even work for, so it’s not in the guy’s interest to possess it anyway. She then–belatedly–remembers the kids, and collects them awkwardly from Child Services, deals awkwardly with them in the car and back at their house, and doesn’t quite convince Evie that everything’s alright. (In fact, Evie realizes quite a difference and goes to Gus–her brother–claiming this isn’t their mom!) The next day, the kids are handed off to their grandmother, after a brief run-in with Brent. Lukasz begins trying to track "the Judas" that betrayed Archimage, which leads to private investigator Dalmas. While in his office, a magical creation of Archimage’s–"Kismet Deadly"–challenges/tests Lukasz. Lukasz finds a ring in Dalmas’ safe that leads to Hamath…who in turn is killed when Kismet Deadly re-manifests, before Lukasz points out what "living" actually entails–including death! Mourning Hamath’s death but facing the practicality of it, Lukasz is decked from behind by someone whereing what looks like an Infinity Gauntlet knock-off. We then shift to someone else bound to a chair, and see that Warstrike is tracking Eden/Lukasz. Finally, Lukasz wakes to find himself before Boneyard, apparently to be a bride.

Since there’s no "previously" page, it was quite helpful that this issue basically opened right where #2 had left off…or close enough that opening on Lukasz being held down reminded me that we left off with these Repo Men pinning the body to take the mask. It’s interesting to see the development of the "superhero name" Mantra develop here: Lukasz thinking back to what he was told–to let "Change, growth, power" be his mantra; and someone overhearing the word "mantra" being spoken and taking it as the woman calling herself "Mantra." And thus, we have an on-panel, on-page explanation/reason for this body being called Mantra. Hokey as it may be, this is something I really enjoyed seeing here (and usually enjoy generally)–having some "moment" specifically reference something with its own title–book, movie, comic book–and yet not make a big deal of it. Someone hears this woman say the word "mantra," thinks she’s called herself "Mantra," tells others, and voila! Super heroine named Mantra! That Lukasz doesn’t quite "get" it and/or seems a bit annoyed by it is an added touch I like.

Story-wise, there’s a lot going on here…this is definitely a rather "compressed" issue (compared to the "decompression" in comics of the last 15+ years into 2018)…yet we still manage to have a sort of "subplot" and "immediate plot" dichotomy going on. There’s a lotta stuff happening, and we’re getting actual forward progression; Lukasz is actually going through tracking leads down and such rather than simply talking about it. As a single issue we get to see all sorts of stuff–Lukasz as Eden, Lukasz in action, Lukasz dealing with the kids, Lukasz interacting with the grandmother, and Brent; Lukasz putting this new body to use; we see Warstrike, we see Boneyard, we have references and context to Archimage and why Lukasz is in a woman’s body, etc.

Visually, this is definitely a pretty issue to look at, and I really like the coloring–especially for the stuff with Kismet Deadly. It’s just a sort of bright-and-colorful that I don’t feel I often see in comics, period (new OR old). As a late-30s male, and whatever other factors one may want to bring to the table, I do feel that I have a different sort of "appreciation" for the art than I did even as a kid…despite the art definitely grabbing and holding my attention even then! There’s that "cheesecake" element to this stuff without being graphically gratuitous…and I rather like the line it walks where a straight up live-action adaptation would almost certainly be PG-13…but it doesn’t cross the line into R-rated territory. One panel when Eden snaps at Evie threw me outta the story for a moment…Evie does not look AT ALL like a child to me, and taken out of context I’d absolutely swear her face is that of a full-grown woman, on the page. So, pretty as the art is generally and all that, it’s not perfect. But this is a comic book, and from the ’90s at that, and when it’s really one single panel and not even a page that does this, that’s not bad.

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In addition to the story-art of the issue (and there are 24 pages of the issue itself!) we have a letter column page, and a random "pinup" with art by Paul Pelletier and Al Vey. Just a static pose of Mantra standing amidst some rocks or such, some mist floating, sword drawn…nothing particular going on, just an image of the character. We do not tend to see this sorta thing anymore, unfortunately–today, publishers seem absolutely incapable of doing something like this, as if they absolutely cannot possibly have a non-story image that ISN’T a variant cover. I love seeing this–another artist’s take on a character, shown within an issue featuring that character…yet it is NOT a variant!

I felt like this series’ story’s engaged me more than a lot of others…maybe it’s nostalgia, maybe it’s the art and having 25 more years on me, maybe all that and other factors. Something about the way I read this and enjoyed the issue as a whole makes me think it was no fluke that this was one of my favorite titles back then, as it’s quickly reasserting itself as a favorite of the bunch NOW as well.

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Ultraverse Revisited: Exiles #2

ultraverse_revisited

exiles_0002Fugitives

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ultraverse Revisited: 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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