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Ultraverse Revisited: Prime #5

ultraverse_revisited

prime_0005Villains

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

rune_0bRune [B]: The Sorcerer
Plotted by: Barry Windsor-Smith & Chris Ulm
Drawn & Colored by: Barry Windsor-Smith
Scripted by: Chris Ulm
Inked by: John Floyd
Computer Color by: Albert Calleros
Lettered by: Patrick Owsley
Text Pages Designed by: Jim Chadwick
Edited by: Steve Gerber

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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Ultraverse Revisited: Prime #4

ultraverse_revisited

prime_0004Heroes

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

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

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

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

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

prime_0004a   prime_0004b

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

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

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

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

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

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Ultraverse Revisited: Prime #3

ultraverse_revisited

prime_0003Dead Again…And Again!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ultraverse Revisited: 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

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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.

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Akron Comicon 2012

 

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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:

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

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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).

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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.

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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.

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

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