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Ultraverse Revisited: Prime #2

ultraverse_revisited

prime_0002Hunted

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

I remember this issue as being (for a time) "hotter" than the first. I believe it was originally bagged with a trading card, so that there added to the "speculator" fuel–folks buying multiple copies to leave one in the bag sealed, another to take out. And that it’s in this issue that we see on-panel/learn on-panel about Kevin Green, and whatnot; the "reveal" of Prime’s "secret identity" and family and such.

We ended #1 with Prime becoming a hollow husk and a kid punching out of it and then barfing. We open this issue with a sick, naked kid stumbling to a house, which we come to realize is Kevin Green. His parents are obviously freaked out–what happened to their kid, why is he sick, why is he naked, etc. They get him to a doctor who thinks that despite the apparent amnesia, he’ll be ok…Kevin, of course, knows he’s ok–he’s PRIME! Later, at school we see Kevin’s definitely not a popular kid…and even Kelly–the girl he’s got a crush on–isn’t interested in him (though she IS interested in talking about Prime…something Kevin uses to his advantage). Before long, bored in class, Kevin feels something happening and rushes to get out…as Prime is re-formed around him! After school (as Prime) he finds Kelly and takes her flying. Before he can drop her off, he’s hit by a huge creature, and forced to both prevent Kelly from being injured AND fight the creature. After defeating the creature–Prime thinks he’s accidentally killed it–we see Kelly talking with a friend, who thinks the entire situation (particularly the ‘adult superhero’ having an an interest in Kelly) is weird. As Prime flies away, a new version of the creature catches up to him, and ultimately "absorbs" him–capturing him. We end the issue with Prime now trapped inside a larger body, trying to get out.

This issue is far less "iconic" to me, and I’ve got a fraction of the familiarity with it that I do the first issue.

The art is good, but something about it felt "off" and a bit different this issue–probably that I’m not as familiar with this issue’s specific imagery as I am the first. Something about the way Kevin is depicted here is not quite what I THOUGHT I remembered, so he looked weird to me; I can only assume that in my mind’s eye I picture Peter Parker or some such, or something more recent that I’ve seen with Billy Batson. Seeing an awkward-looking young teenager that looked like what he is threw me. As with the previous issue…I realize just HOW "’90s!" the art is, and that much as Image had a "reputation" that’s often referred to, it’s actually the likes of Breyfogle‘s Prime art that imprinted on me as "’90s Art." Coupled with the somewhat obvious-for-its-time digital graphics/bright colors/etc., the art makes for a good issue, showing what’s going on and all, and definitely feels like a comic book, though it seems significantly less "refined" than more contemporary comics. Of course, there’s a whopping 25-year gap between this issue and present-day!

Story-wise, we get a bit of world-building here. Prime–the hulking over-muscled superhero is actually 13-year-old Kevin Green, until now a "normal" boy with "normal" parents who worry about him. He goes to a normal school, experiencing normal things–boredom with classes, unrequited crush, peer ridicule, etc. The only thing that makes him "special" is generating this Prime body around himself–which is something he’s now familiar with, but apparently cannot control. Additionally, we get the start of a long-running theme that seemed rather new at the time: what is the perception of an adult superhero interacting with a young girl? After all–as readers, WE get to see that Kevin and Prime are one and the same, and that Prime is just a hulking body formed around his own, but it’s still Kevin that’s "in charge." Since other characters do NOT know this, they only see an adult…who is obviously "interested" in a girl who appears maybe half his age.

As a whole, this definitely comes off as a ’90s comic–something I’ll likely continue to say about this series, if not much of the Ultraverse in general. Structurally, the first issue could have been a "Zero Issue" with this being the first, but I’m rather glad it’s set up as it is–we were introduced to Prime the superhero in the first issue, left with the mystery of the boy in his body, then this issue introduces the boy and his own situation before getting us back into Prime-time action (ooooh…look at what I did there!) for the rest of the issue. We have the developing subplots of Kevin and Kelly, Kevin and his parents, Doc Gross and what he intends for Prime; and another cliffhanger. We’re promised in a dynamic caption that next is the ORIGIN of Prime…so along with the mirroring of the first issue’s cliffhanger, there’s also the hook that we’re about to learn the origin of the character, which would leave me plenty ready to keep on with this title!

As a decades-outta-print back issue, this would be a prime find in a bargain bin. I’m sure I’ve seen this a couple of times at least, both open and bagged. I recall this being a "hot" issue back in the day, both as a new title AND for the "bagged" factor (you’d need to buy TWO copies! One to open/read, one to SAVE! Because an external bag completely physically separate from the comic itself being removed DESTROYS the actual, physical comic book itself!)…there was also the "revelation" of Prime’s "secret identity" and all that. Especially with present-day sensibilities and the conscious knowledge of the finite nature of the entire Ultraverse and the relative commonality of the issues (especially for the first year or so of the Ultraverse line’s publication), I’d definitely recommend this as a purchase if you find it in a bargain bin…but ideally, along with the first issue and maybe several of the subsequent issues. I suppose this reads "ok" as a standalone…but especially as "only" a #2, there’s no real "reason" to specifically go after this without the first issue.

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Ultraverse Revisited: Hardcase #1

ultraverse_revisited

hardcase_0001Winners Never Quit

Writer: James Hudnall
Penciller: Jim Callahan
Inker: Norm Breyfogle
Letterer: Tim Eldred
Color Designer: Paul Mounts
Editor: Chris Ulm
Published by: Malibu Comics
Cover Date: June 1993
Cover Price: $1.95

Based solely on memory/nostalgia, even though some part of me recalls Strangers #1 as the first Ultraverse book released, it’s the one I least look forward to (re)reading, putting both Prime and Hardcase ahead of it. When I caught myself reading Hardcase #1 this time through, I was slowing myself down "hearing" the voices from the audio version that I finally gave up and pulled that up on Youtube to have the audio, as I read along WITH it with the comic itself.

For this time through the issue, I felt like–as with Prime #1–this really exemplified the ’90s for me. Often, folks point to Image for the ’90s visuals, but as I largely embraced the Ultraverse line over Image, the Ultraverse visuals are imprinted on my own memory and personal "picture" of what a "’90s comic" was.

The issue opens a year or so ago on a bloody battle between a group of ultra-humans called The Squad…and the battle is nearly over. We get things from Hardcase’s point of view. He’s injured, and he’d thought he couldn’t BE injured, certainly not this way. His team is down, and he is just able to get Starburst out of the vicinity of the creature that took the team apart before DJ Blast expends all of his remaining explosive energy at once–the final flash in the pan of the team. Hardcase and Starburst survive, DJ Blast and Forsa are dead…but Hardcase is the only "real" survivor, with Starburst in a coma she may never emerge from. Catching up to the present, Hardcase–Tom Hawke–has retired from the superhero gig and become an actor…though he plays "himself" as a super-hero for the camera. We get a sort of slice of life of that life for him before he finds himself pulled back into action, though it proves too late for a police officer he’d been talking with. Hardcase finds himself in mortal combat with another ultra-human, and lashes out desperately, overwhelmed with guilt and memory of his last encounter with an ultra. Ultimately, he wins his fight, and realizes that he can’t hide behind an acting gig, but has to do "the real thing," so he announces to the world that he’s back. Meanwhile, we get a cryptic scene of some player behind the scenes that has apparently had an extremely long involvement with the direction of events on Earth, and that now with Hardcase back, other ultras emerging around the planet…something must be done!

Somehow, I have it in my head that Hardcase was to be the "Superman" of the Ultraverse…though that could just be the cover, of him throwing a car, given the cover of Action Comics #1 introducing Superman with a car lifted above his head, smashing it against a boulder. And in a way, he was. Hardcase is largely invulnerable to normal stuff…but can still be badly injured. He has heightened senses, though he’s not omniscient. He can’t fly–but he can leap long distances. Etc. Different costume, different attitude/portrayal, but very much a similar power set to the original iteration of Superman.

That he’s introduced at the end of his time with The Squad–we see the team at its nadir, taken down by NM-E (a large, bulky techno-organic creature very much resembling the Xenomorph from the Alien franchise). As such, we’re plunged into a character’s world with an immediate backstory, more strongly hinted at than shown, but it immediately grounds the character, and puts him in a sort of "senior class" over other characters that we’re about to be introduced to. He’s part of an "earlier wave" of ultras, having been on the scene a at least a year BEFORE the emergence of Prime on the scene, or the Strangers, the Freex, Mantra, Prototype, etc. He’s had his initial journey, his crisis of faith, and now a new inciting incident thrusting him back into the world of the superheroes…though this new phase of his life is a fresh start, fitting of a #1 issue.

There’s something to the art of the issue that sits slightly askew to me. It’s not bad by any means, but there’s something slightly "off" to it, and it definitely doesn’t look quite so "refined" as many comics I’m used to reading in 2018, created and published in 2018. Of course, there’s a quarter-century difference in time, and this issue’s art and story are rooted very much in 1993. As said, the overall visuals really embody "the ’90s" to me, as do the character designs.

Story-wise, it’s interesting to get the character with all this sort of built-in backstory, conveyed in so few pages. By "modern" standards, the ground covered by this issue would surely be at least a six-issue opening arc of a series. We’re left with plenty of questions and potentials out of this issue; lacking in-depth concrete details of The Squad and such, and it’s rather choppy going from the NM-E battle to news to Hardcase acting a year later, a sort of clichéd interaction with a cop, to a convenient attack of another ultra…but it is a lot of detail crammed into a single issue, setting up the character’s past, present, and future, world-building, and generally serving as the sort of #1 issue I much prefer. It may not quite be a "contained" story, but it sort of gives three stories at the same time; it introduces a lot, and leaves plenty to be expanded on in upcoming issues.

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Ultraverse Revisited: Prime #1

ultraverse_revisited

prime_0001Prime Time!

Writers: Len Strazewski, Gerard Jones
Artist: Norm Breyfogle
Letterer: Tim Eldred
Color Design: Paul Mounts
Editor: Chris Ulm
Published by: Malibu Comics
Cover Date: June 1993
Cover Price: $1.95

While I don’t recall offhand if all three books shipped the same week, or what order they came out in…to me, Prime #1 is where it all began…I remember it from that first month–June 1993–and I followed the series itself to its conclusion in late 1996 or so around #15 in its second volume. Whatever the original order, to me, it just feels "fitting" to dive in with Prime #1 to start my journey back into the Ultraverse.

Another thing going for this issue is that it has an audio-drama of sorts, from a one-issue "CD-Romix-Comix" thing where the first issue was chopped up into panels to display on-screen with some quasi-animation–think early "Motion Comics" or such–along with a cast audio track with sound effects and such. Having the AUDIO from that which often makes its way onto my iPod, this issue is one that I simply cannot read at a normal pace–I read it with the voices in my head, the vocal pace of the audio piece unfolding in my head. I can also virtually recite the entirety of the issue from memory, so there are no surprises revisiting THIS issue.

The comic is a lot "bigger," brighter, and "’90s" than I sometimes remember…but that’s something that makes sense, as this came out in 1993–as "the ’90s" were getting into gear–and that was a time with "big" art, non-traditional page layouts, and of course, the (infamous?) rise of computer coloring techniques. Though I know Breyfogle had a significant run with Batman in Detective Comics (including my own first-ever issue!), this series doesn’t look like what I remember of Batman…helping show a range as an artist, being able to tackle different types of material. Prime as a character is big, bold, and really very over-the-top with the huge muscles, and outlandish physique…take your mental image of the biggest, buffest super-hero (other than Prime!), amp that up, and you may well HAVE Prime. This comes into play with the character’s origin, but also helps the character stand out in its own way.

The cover is one of the more "iconic" covers out there, to me…certainly for my own experience with it, as well as being a generic/"iconic" sort of cover before that was totally "standard." I also have long REALLY dug the trade dress for these early Ultraverse issues–with the 3-D-stylized "U" and the issue number/price, publisher (Malibu Comics) in "corner boxes," with the Ultraverse logo as a banner across the top, and a border line framing the entire image, though said image breaks free of any constraint offered by this.

Story-wise, in some ways, this issue goes against my own sensibilities in feeling strongly that first issues need to introduce not only the main character, but also a supporting cast and antagonist, who/what they are and at least hints of motivation, and all that. I suppose this issue gets a "pass" on that for being 25 years old (twice as old as I was when it saw publication), and long since knowing where stuff goes, and all that…so it’s impossible to TRULY judge this by the same standard as I would a new #1 issue released in 2018. But this also comes from 1993, when collected editions were still pretty rare overall, and ongoing comic series issued in monthly form did not have (essentially) companion "graphic novel editions" trailing relatively close behind. So while this first issue doesn’t reveal everything, it’s by no means playing up to some "graphic novel" version.

We open on the first of several main scenes, as we learn a bit about this Prime character by way of others telling of their experiences encountering him. First, a disgraced gym teacher, attacked by Prime and accused of inappropriate interaction with young female students (this was 1993, but still right at home in a way with headlines 25 years later). Then we learn of Prime demolishing a drug house. Finally, he takes on terrorists in Somalia…thousands of miles away! Amidst a shadowy figure interviewing the first two and learning of the latter via tv news reports, we get further world-building and exposition via the tv news/entertainment reports–stuff about Hardcase (who had his own #1 the same month as Prime), a character called Prototype (who would come back into play later), as well as a slight sense of the way the public views these ultra-humans.

As said above, there’s no surprise for me in reading this issue, outside of reminder of how colorful it is, how ’90s it is. I see this issue frequently in bargain bins…I see many of the early Ultraverse #1s in such bins…but especially for 25 cents to 50 cents, I recommend checking it out, whether as an artifact from its time, or to get started on an Ultraverse journey of your own.

prime_0001_blogtrailer

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.

Life With Archie: The Married Life #2 [Review]

Full review posted to cxPulp.com.

Story: 4/5
Art: 4/5
Overall: 4/5

Life With Archie: The Married Life #1 [Review]

Full review posted to cxPulp.com.

Story: 4/5
Art: 4/5
Overall: 4.5/5

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