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Ultraverse Revisited: Strangers #6

ultraverse_revisited

strangers_0006The Tao of Physiques!

Author: Steve Englehart
Pencil Art: Rick Hoberg
Ink Art: Dave Simons
Letterer: Dave Lanphear
Color Designer: Robert Alvord
Color Team: Prisms
Editor: Chris Ulm
Cover Date: November 1993
Cover Price: $1.95

This issue opens with a full-page image of Deathwish throwing Electrocute through a wall. The issue’s title–The Tao of Physiques!–is big and bold on this page, as well an explosive callout proclaiming "All Out Action with The Strangers And" [issue credits]. There’s also a small box saying "Thought he was GONE, didn’t you? So did THEY…"

Essentially, this first page is like an AD for the issue, something you might find in another comic. Or like some sort of ’90s action movie poster, showing a hero vs. a big bad with a title, some hype-y language, names of creators, and some tagline.

This seems like something that absolutely would NOT be found in modern comics, and helps ‘date’ this issue as something out of its true to life time period OF the ’90s. It’s also something that–having recently read a discussion thread on some of the ills of modern comics particularly post-2000–feels all the more welcome as something of a time some quarter-century-plus in the past.

The Strangers have just defeated Deathwish, and help clean up the destruction that resulted from that battle; the various members discussing this need and the "explosion" of Ultras onto the scene and whatnot. They then find a survivor–an old man–in the wreckage and he gets transported to a hospital, with several of the Strangers following. Once there, weird stuff starts happening…and Deathwish rises again! Yrial seems detached and basically AGAINST helping, leaving the rest of the Strangers to deal with Deathwish. As they fight him–and marvel at his still being around when they thought he was destroyed–we see Yrial perform some Voodoo stuff she doesn’t want the Strangers to know about, and it turns out she’s gotten to the bottom of things…as she releases another entity from a dying woman, that seems to balance out the power of Deathwish; the new entity confronts Deathwish and both disappear, while the two human bodies they came from disappear into dust. As the issue ends, we see that the Strangers will next face Prototype during Break-Thru!

It’s kinda interesting to me that the issue ends with reference to Break-Thru but not much "selling" of the event or its premise; and no standout ads for it coming up, nor even one of the Ultraverse Checklist ads. The previous issue seemed almost a done-in-one with the rise of a new villain that had been foreshadowed, but then immediately defeated. Yet here already we have the "return" of the villain, and again a "defeat," perhaps permanently, with the introductions out of the way previously, allowing a full unleashing in this issue. We also get "moments" of development for other characters, the lost art of thought balloons, and generally touching on several plot threads at once (Hugh and Candy, Yrial and Zip-Zap, the whole team vs. Deathwish).

Surfacy as some of the stuff might be, it’s pretty loaded with potential when one looks a bit between the lines, so to speak. We see a growing relationship between Yrial and Zip-Zap…a friendship more than mentor/mentee; for lack of better phrasing, almost like a Storm/Jubilee thing from the X-Men ’92 cartoon, if Jubilee was Storm’s anchor-point rather than vice-versa. Candy is self-aware, but still not truly alive, and wants to know what it is to truly be alive and feel real feelings and such, and takes a lot of her frustration out on Deathwish. I don’t know if these elements get explored in further depth as this series progresses, but I look forward to future issues and finding out!

The art is pleasantly detailed–it’s not over-rendered into false realism but it’s not simplified cartoony. It continues to be strong and consistent with past issues, which is a great thing that seems another element lost in many modern comics. I recognize all the characters that seem like SHOULD be recognized, save for the woman the light-entity comes from; but I suppose that could be argument for a job well done as she was seemingly "just some woman" and not someone we SHOULD have paid attention to (and none of the characters did, either…it was Yrial’s magic that allowed her to even pick up on anything).

In 2019, this sixth issue would be the conclusion of a singular opening story; and we’ve essentially had several smaller stories within this title, including a crossover with Hardcase. But this does kind of cap things off with Deathwish seeming even more out of the picture than the previous issue, and the team more "gelled" than before; and this is the last issue before the first big "event" of the Ultraverse in Break-Thru.

As a total broken-record, I say yet again that this is an issue that doesn’t necessarily work entirely on its own as a single issue in a vacuum; there’s no great reason to go into a 4-longbox-bargain-bin section and pull just this issue as a prize unto itself. You’ll get bits of character stuff for a number of characters; a rise/return of a powerful villain and the team fighting him, and so on–so a bargain bin buy wouldn’t be horrible. But this would be enjoyed a lot more with at least the previous issue, if not as part of a small run of all 6 issues thus far (7 if you also get the Hardcase #4 crossover issue).

I enjoyed this, and I’m looking forward to the next issue as much for continued development of the Strangers as for getting into the event itself.

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Ultraverse Revisited: Ultrafiles and Letters Pages October 1993

ultraverse_revisited

Now that we’re done with the actual issues/story contents for the October 1993 Ultraverse titles, on to the Ultrafiles and letters pages!

All of these are at half-size to fit on the blog page…just click on the images to open a larger version!

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Ultrafiles page 1…

ultrafiles_october1993b

Ultrafiles page 2 with the Ask Diane section.

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The Exiles letters page from Exiles #3.

letters_freex0004

The Freex letters page from Freex #4.

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The Hardcase letters page from Hardcase #5.

letters_prime0005

The Prime letters page from Prime #5.

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Prototype letters page from Prototype #3.

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And finally, the Strangers letters page from The Strangers #5.


It’s definitely cool to see letters pages–in 2018, they seem pretty much a relic of the past, so definitely a bit of nostalgia there. Several of these don’t even have a "name" yet, but letters were run anyway. And of course, the Ultrafiles pages deal with the entire line, and include a bit of information about the upcoming Break-Thru, as well as the Ask Diane blurb.

As said at the top of this post…click on any of the images to open them in a larger size, as they’ve been shrunk to fit this blog layout.

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Ultraverse Revisited: Strangers #5

ultraverse_revisited

strangers_0005Dynamic Tension!

Author: Steve Englehart
Pencil Art: Rick Hoberg
Letterer: Dave Lanphear
Ink Art: Tim Burgard
Color Design: Rick Schmitz
Color Team: Foodhammer!
Editor: Chris Ulm
Published by: Malibu Comics
Cover Date: October 1993
Cover Price: $2.50

A fifth issue doesn’t seem like it’s that far into a series…but in the "meta" sense of this being 25 years old and well over two decades between the END of this series and the present…the series didn’t quite make it 25 issues. But even at 25 issues…this would put us 1/5 through the series now! That’s both discouraging in that the series had such a brief run, but encouraging to notice we’re getting into the meat of the thing, past the most initial of setup and foundation-laying. We saw the origin–the lightning bolt/Jumpstart that hit the cable car. We saw the characters come together, and saw them investigate Yrial and wind up with her the "final member" of the team; saw the team take on TNTNT, their first actual "supervillains" ("ultra-villains"), as well as meet up with Hardcase and have that adventure.

Now in this issue, we see the team–after "most of the series" so far–spit up to go back to their own individual lives. Bob Hardin (Atom Bob) visits with his parents and sees the crowd camped out at their house for a glimpse of him. Leon Balford (Zip-Zap) returns to his street and puts a bully in his place. Hugh Fox (Grenade) and Candy (Electrocute) view his house–overrun with media folks and such,  and head off, discussing their status quo, having a "moment." Elena La Brava (Lady Killer) works the phones on coverage of the team. Yrial takes to a rooftop, frustrated firstly with being "forced" to join the team, and secondly with having no place of her own to go when the team split to go their own ways…but soon spots trouble and prepares to page the rest of the team to regroup. Finally, David Castiglione (Spectral) visits someone in the hospital, and after catching up a bit, he tries to use his healing power. If he could heal a broken arm, surely he could heal this! The scene shifts and we find the rest of the team back together and wondering where Spectral is. They decide to proceed without him, and find Deathwish…who is not at all like the frail old man he "grew from." The Strangers launch into battle, but none of them can take the villain. Eventually Spectral shows up in his green-flame form and lays into the villain…emerging victorious. As things wind down, the team reflects on his action–they’d focused on trying to deny Deathwish any further power, while Spectral gave him more than he could handle. Realizing David’s effectiveness was part anger and venting, they probe a bit and discover that he was unable to heal his partner. They hadn’t realized he was gay, but the fact of it is simply matter of fact and casual…no more a focus than Hugh being attracted to Candy.

I really enjoy issues like this. Maybe it’s that I’ve been reading comics for nearly three decades, but seeing superheroes in action is such a "given" and seeing much of what they do out of costume or out of action is a relative rarity…so seeing a bit of focus on each of the characters reminds us that they’re individuals, gives us a fresh glimpse into their private lives and background, and generally fleshes them out and builds the individuals in a way that doesn’t work easily when they’re all together and being juggled in an action sequence. I often lament the drawn-out/padded-out nature of modern comics written for the 6-issue trade…and even though we’d had very brief foreshadowing bits in earlier issues for Deathwish, essentially he just shows up in this issue, is fought, and defeated–all in one issue. And that’s in addition to getting scenes of each of the individuals on their own…once again packing into one issue what could easily be drawn out to at least 5 or 6 issues in the present (if not 7 or 8 to give each Stranger a solo issue…and even as a single issue, a modern take would have at least 8-9 covers for this issue to give each character a cover, plus the cover we have, plus maybe a glow-in-the-dark Spectral cover on top of that).

Visually this is another strong issue, with all the characters seeming perfectly familiar, and quite consistent with the earlier issues…same artist, same quality and all that. The only thing that really stood out to me was the page split with the Strangers seeing Deathwish the first time…there seems to be a lot of different coloring effects going on with lighting and such that actually prompted me to go back to the credits to see if someone else had contributed a page. It has an almost painted sort of look to it, different from the usual colors of the rest of the issue.

rune_0gRune [G]: The Hunger
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

I’m sort of surprised–we have our third in-sequence chapter without a great leap in time. This picks up the day after the bitterly disappointing discovery that even Edwin’s power wasn’t enough to permanently restore Rune to his former glory. This chapter picks up the next day and we see that Rune has killed a drunken homeless person…but the alcohol in the guy’s blood is poisoning Rune himself. As a storm rolls in, Rune flies into the sky to be struck by lightning–or perhaps calling the lightning to him–to purge his body of the poison, though it can’t purge the cancer that eats away at him.

This being another 3-page segment of a single issue-length story, the art is consistent as expected with previous chapters, as it’s the same creative team as those earlier chapters.

There’s not a lot of room for development or continuing story, but this shows us that while Rune might have trouble taking down anyone more powerful than a powerless human, he can still survive (and even thrive from) a lightning strike! His magical/sorcerous power is still there, even if he lacks the physical might he once had. And this does show his growing desperation, which likely makes him all the more dangerous!


As with the other Rune Month issues, this is one that is easily identified as a Rune Month (October 1993) issue, but the Rune chapter alone does not give cause to seek it out as a single issue. However, for the Strangers portion…this SOMEWHAT stands alone. It doesn’t in itself give much exposition or backstory, but if one is loosely familiar with the characters, this would not be a horrible issue to get on its own.

The cover is at once a bit bland to me, yet over-promises on Deathwish and his power. Sure, the character was a bit imposing and wielding a very dangerous power…but he was hardly holding sway over an entire city, nor much mystery to the team as to his identity. This cover would seem more fitting to me as the cover to a collected volume of a several-issue story against Deathwish or of multiple encounters with the character. The blurb "Vs. Deathwish" seems tacked on and somehow just LOOKS "’90s-ish" and seems far too symmetric…so basically showing off then-new-ish stuff done with digital elements for the cover.

This is well worth getting from a bargain bin, though as many times as I’ve seen this and other early Ultraverse issues in 25-cent and 50-cent bins, I suggest as with those not to go much over $1 for this issue if you seek it out.

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Ultraverse Revisited: Ultrafiles and Letters Pages September 1993

ultraverse_revisited

Now into the fourth month of the Ultraverse books, several of the titles now have letters pages! I assume they’re self-explanatory: One could write in with comments about an issue, and several would be chosen to be printed in the back of an issue, possibly with a response from Editorial.

Not much to comment on, so I’m presenting the Ultrafiles pages common across issues and then the letters pages, below!


Ultrafiles pages:

ultrafiles_september1993a

ultrafiles_september1993b

Hardcase September 1993 letters page:

letters_hardcase0003

The Strangers September 1993 letters page:

letters_strangers0003

Mantra September 1993 letters page:

letters_mantra0003

Freex September 1993 letters page:

letters_freex0003


With the addition of the letters pages, I decided to split the Early House Ads into its own post, with the Ultrafiles pages here with the letters. I’ll get into the September ads on Wednesday, and then Friday should be jumping into the October 1993 "Rune Month" issues!

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Ultraverse Revisited: Strangers #4

ultraverse_revisited

strangers_0004_frontBetween a Rock and a Hardcase

Author: Steve Englehart
Pencil Artist: Rick Hoberg
Ink Artist: Tim Burgard
Plot: Steve Englehart and James D. Hudnall
Letterer: Dave Lanphear
Color Design: Rick Schmitz
Interior Colorists: Foodhammer!
Editor: Chris Ulm
Published by: Malibu Comics
Cover Date: September 1993
Cover Price: $1.95

The way Hardcase #4 ended with our heroes suddenly facing some off-panel figure they seemed to recognize, I figured I’d just managed to "forget" someone that had been rather minor up until now…so I was looking forward to the "reveal" in this issue.

But as we open up, we find Hardcase and the Strangers underground (I thought they were still aboveground where we’d left off) and facing an Aladdin agent through some pink force shield. The shield prevents anyone from attacking/using their abilities against the Aladdin folks, and unless they agree to join/work with Aladdin, our heroes aren’t going to be allowed to leave. After some back and forth between the two groups, Grenade realizes there’s a loophole, and seems to start a fight with Hardcase. They can’t use their abilities on their captors…but they CAN against each other. And if their captors get caught in the ricochets, well, that’s just too bad for them. Our heroes escape, though the captors aren’t far behind. Hardcase pauses–he’s going to destroy Aladdin’s DNA labs, as they’ve already violated his old friends by digging up bodies and harvesting their DNA. The Strangers wind up helping, though this means further fighting with Aladdin’s own Ultras. Of course, they’ve got a better idea of what to expect and have continued to learn about their own abilities…so achieve a momentary victory. Realizing at best they’d deal with this single base, a deal is struck–The Strangers (and Hardcase and Choice) walk away. No retaliation from either side. Aladdin keeps their data, our heroes get their freedom to fight another day. No one’s happy about it, but the confrontation ends without any deaths.

Perhaps it’s the larger cast being juggled here, but it seems like there are a lot of little "moments." We have the sorta heavy-handedness of Atom Bob’s obvious interest in Choice; we get Spectral tending to Lady Killer; Zip-Zap marveling at this group that accepts him without belittling him for being "just a kid," and even Hardcase gets a bit of a mentorship role with the group, as he’s been at the Ultra-hero game longer than all the rest. As is definitely a recurring thing as I’m going through these early Ultraverse issues–there’s a lot crammed into any given issue, overall. What we’ve gotten in just four issues of one title from 1993 would probably be stretched to at least 12 if not 18-24 with the way comics are "done" in 2018. There are some leaps of logic and plot holes–and this isn’t a 100% smooth continuation from Hardcase #4. Some of that seems likely that the co-plotting happened, but final fine details weren’t necessarily worked out in time to be reflected properly. That said…if one is just reading this one title, all they really have to know is that the Strangers went to Hardcase’s place and he joined them to fight these Aladdin folks. That can be picked up from context, so the fine details aren’t as important as such. And of course, twenty-five years ago you didn’t have "everything" available digitally or in guaranteed-everything-will-be-put-into-collected-editions, so it was essentially "expected" that one COULD "miss" an issue (not that it would be encouraged).

Visually I definitely enjoyed this issue. I recognized al the characters, and everyone looks good–on form–and the action and such is easy enough to follow. I didn’t get taken out of the story by anything wonky or having to really scratch my head wondering what I’d missed form one panel to the next.

Whatever the specifics and logistics of a story going across multiple titles…this felt like an organic sort of thing. It’s not part of some big event, it’s not even actually "chapter one" or "chapter two" of however many parts; it’s not some "structured crossover" or the like. We just have characters that share the same world interact as they would, SINCE they share the same world and are aware of each other.

We had several issues to establish the Strangers on their own, and now they’ve touched base with the wider world…though things are about to "come back home" for them with Deathwish in the next issue, apparently.

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The cover is quite familiar, as it is the "second half" of the front cover from Hardcase #4. Given the placement, though…where Hardcase #4 had a gatefold front cover where the Strangers part folded out…this issue has a wraparoud cover where the Hardcase part is the back cover. The two issues can fit together to make up the single image, and the two issues can each stand alone, giving the full image. No variants in sight, no being forced to buy multiple copies of the same issue chasing some ubiquitous, over-hyped gimmick.

If you can find the first few issues as well as Hardcase #4, this issue’s quite worthwhile. It’s surely got its long-term importance in the grand scheme by itself, but this would be best enjoyed along with Hardcase #4 at least.

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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: Early House Ads August 1993

ultraverse_revisited

Here are house ads from the third month of the Ultraverse line: August 1993! We have one full-page and one split-page ad for actual Ultraverse titles, one for the "other" group of Malibu titles (that preceded the Ultraverse line), and then the "Ultrafiles" pages which were all the same across the various titles.

ultraverse_ads_firearm

I’m almost certain this ad was the first I saw of the Firearm character. It’s certainly (to me) an "iconic" image–something far too lacking in modern comics! This title would be one featuring a "non-Ultra" dealing with a world of Ultras. Though I recognize James Robinson now by name, the name didn’t stand out whatsoever to me in 1993, where I barely knew creator names.

I like the continued "tag line" nature of text on the ad…this would be right at home on an ’80s/’90s action flick.

ultraverse_ads_hardcase_strangers_prime_04s

This is the first of the house ads to 1. feature multiple titles and 2. be for something other than a #1 issue. I like the use of the single page to show off three titles. Not every issue needs a full page, but seeing the stuff at all puts it or keeps it "on the radar" as well as showing at least part of an image to be on the watch for, in terms of covers.

As with text on other ads, getting a "blurb" about the issues goes a long way in letting one know what to expect, to be "sold" on an issue along with having art from the cover(s).

ultraverse_ads_genesis

Genesis is not Ultraverse, but IS Malibu. I’m nearly certain this ad is what put most of these titles on my mental radar as a kid. To this day, I don’t think I’ve gotten all chapters of this Genesis story arc, but I’ve certainly meant to, and probably have several duplicates by way of getting issues when I’ve seen them in bargain bins.

Though this "line" went away not long after the Ultraverse hit, it’s one that I’ve contemplated digging into as a "finite universe" of issues. Whether I’ve known it in the past or not, I don’t consciously recall details about bringing these titles together as a group vs. the fresh launch of the Ultraverse, but that’s a topic I’ll surely research later for my own curiosity.

ultrafiles_august1993a

Some things never change, and it’s interesting to me to see this "time capsule" bit of having to "pre-order" comics at a local shop to be able to get a copy.

ultrafiles_august1993b

With only six covers displayed across the bottom of these pages, we’re missing the Hardcase cover. Not a huuuuge deal, but I would think with so few titles it could be worked in somewhere.

The "preview" of the Wrath character on this second page is interesting: at first glance I thought it was Marvel‘s Omega Red. I’m sure it’s the hair/color and the red/white color scheme. Also, this is from the ’90s, where many visual designs seemed to feed off each other as ‘trends’ and such.


And here we are–another "month" of Ultraverse books completed! Not many house ads this time around, and I noticed that none of the titles had an ad for The Solution, which also premieres in the September 1993 group with Firearm. I strongly suspect that is part of how I initially missed the title. The ads certainly helped cement the first issue covers as "iconic" for me, and so it’s odd that one title out of 8 or so got "left out."

NEXT WEEK: I’ll begin Month #4 of the Ultraverse with titles released for September 1993!

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