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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: Hardcase #6

ultraverse_revisited

hardcase_0006Friends and Enemies, Part Two: Returning Favors

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

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

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

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

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

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Ultraverse Revisited: Prime #6

ultraverse_revisited

prime_0006Primal Changes

Written by: Gerard Jones and Len Strazewski
Art by: Norm Breyfogle
Letterer: Tim Eldred
Color Design by: Keith Conroy
Interior Color: Violent Hues
Editors: Chris Ulm & Hank Kanalz
Cover Date: November 1993
Cover Price: $1.95

For it being at least 20 years (most likely) since the last time I actually read this issue…it’s amazing to me what a sense of familiarity it has. While I have certain (what I would call) "key" memories of the series in general, some part of my mind wants to stretch or condense stuff, apparently…in an inversely-proportionate way for the way things actually unfolded!

As with many other "early" Ultraverse issues…the cover is rather "iconic" to me. Not so much in a singularly-standout way, or "this would/did make an amazing poster!" way. But for the sheer oddity of it, the way its weirdness sticks in my memory. We basically a grotesquely-bubbly Prime,either armless or with arms stretched behind his back, a look of distress on his face.

The previous issue left off with a badly-weakened Kevin being taken into government custody, their leader excited about what he’s found. We open this issue with Prime fighting a dinosaur–before suddenly finding himself in space, where he loses consciousness as he can’t breathe. We see that Prime is experiencing a simulation, as Col. Samuels insist he be kept alive. Coming out of the VR setup, Prime attacks, before being calmed down as he realizes it’s The Government and he–Kevin/Prime–can be of service. As proof of the claim, Prime is introduced to then-president Bill Clinton and his daughter Chelsea. Meanwhile, Kelly’s mother informs her of a call from Eden Blake’s mother–Kelly’s needed for babysitting (see Mantra #5). Back with Prime, Kevin/our hero has agreed to the Government’s testing/etc, in preparation for what turns out to be an astounding mission: He is bound for the moon! (literally!). Another simulation sees Prime facing off with super-agent Wrath (from Aladdin). Prime then sets off quickly for the moon…simply up, up, and away flying to the moon. Unfortunately, he’s not physically capable, and crashes back to Earth after a bad re-entry. Ready to give up, Kevin’s father encourages him to keep trying…though we find out Mr. Green is a lifelike simulation. The REAL Mr. Green and his wife argue over what’s been going on with their son Kevin…Mr. Green blaming himself for everything. Later, equipped with precautionary equipment designed to protect Kevin if the Prime body fails again, Kevin once again "Primes up," this time with a much different body. Now, Prime is READY. Now, Prime can survive in a vacuum without his body having issues. Now, he is (as he proclaims on the final story page) "…primed for outer space!"

The cover is another that both "sort of" shows something from within the issue, while being its own thing. Prime indeed goes into space, where he "bubbles up" which necessitates some modifications if Prime is to be able to survive in space. Kevin, of course, seems quite authentic! Sure, he "Primes up" into this big, buff super-hero…but he’s still "just" a 13-year-old kid. So the idea that he will–under his own (super-) power be expected to fly to the MOON is this ***really*** big deal to him! It also makes sense that he’s not yet disillusioned by "the Government" and such, and sees the Government as "the good guys" and wants to make them proud…almost as much as he wants to make his parents proud.

The art is the usual solid Breyfogle work. I like the familiarity and style, though there’s at least one panel where I’m reminded that there’s some sort of thing with Prime’s face where the actuality of it on the page somehow doesn’t match something in my memory.

Story-wise, this is very much a ’90s comic…visually and structurally, and I like it! There are multiple plot-threads being moved along, with a couple of distinct-seeming subplots: Kevin’s parents, and Kelly. Kelly’s subplot ties this title in to Mantra, where we see Kelly’s side of things prior to Lukasz/Eden returning home in Mantra #5. There’s also the use of Wrath and reference to Aladdin that continues to build on that organization’s place in the Ultraverse as it becomes more of a "thing." We also see more of the Prime-body’s development, that it isn’t just one set default, but takes on properties that the host (Kevin) need at the time or based on stuff handy. I know "Space Prime" becomes a bigger deal in the next issue, but it’s cool seeing the "setup" and development here in this issue–that Kevin doesn’t "just" spontaneously generate that body.

Unlike so many modern comics, there’s a lot to be had within this single issue. It does serve as a bit of a transition from solo title to moving Prime into a larger picture, as the next issue is part of the nearly-line-wide event Break-Thru; which I believe was really the first time many of the characters truly interact with each other.

The setup from the first five issues do mean that this issue doesn’t totally stand alone as well. In a way, it’s standalone, but one will get a lot more out of it having read the previous issues…especially (at least) THE previous issue, #5. For 25 cents this would not be a horrible purchase, but it’d likely be enjoyed with more context–#5, and likely #7 as well. I wouldn’t seek it out as an isolated single issue.

For better or worse…there’s a certain lure to this title that I have to resist, as I want to charge ahead through this series (much as with Mantra) without worrying about the larger context of the Ultraverse…but for this Ultraverse Revisited project, I’m determined to go month by month through all the titles!

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Ultraverse Revisited: Mantra #5

ultraverse_revisited

mantra_0005Mantra: The Animated Series

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ultraverse Revisited: Freex #5

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freex_0005Up Against the Wall

Writer: Gerard Jones
Penciller: Ben Herrera
Inker: Larry Welch
Letterer: Tim Eldred
Color Design: Robert Alvord
Interior Color: Violent Hues
Editor: Hank Kanalz
Cover Date: November 1993
Cover Price: $1.95

Beginning with the cover of this issue, it wasn’t quite what I expected. I didn’t recognize the presumed-villain on the cover…a bit grotesque, and apparently new. But on opening the issue, I remembered that–Oh, yeah–the Freex are dealing with the "Master of the Hunt" and his hounds. And the bulk of the issue is really just a lengthy fight scene, as the individual Freex have to draw on their powers–working through the pain, even–in order to come together and stop this "Master." Despite their challenges, the group eventually defeats him–as he’s first burned (turns out, that was him on the cover!) and then taken down by his own hench-hounds. The Freex escape, and all’s well that ends well…right?

The art for this issue seems a bit "off." While I mostly recognize the various characters, they have a sort of generic, non-regular-artist look…and unfortunately, that was a bit off-putting for this issue. The characters look–for one thing–a bit "older" than they did before, and I’m just not a fan of this specific iteration of them.

At least the writing is consistent, where we’ve gone from seeing these characters absolutely not working together to where they finally do draw together and push their powers to help each other and overcome (a bit) certain fears. It’s like as of this fifth issue the team finally becomes…a team.

This remains an iffy title for me–I don’t love it (especially after this issue) but I don’t hate it. I haven’t gotten used to it, but continue to see the potential it holds both as a title and with its individual characters. Best way for me to put it for my repetitive vagueness is that when I think of the title, see one of its covers…it doesn’t bring back fond memories nor does it really grab my interest such that I actively want to jump in and read. When I put it off or "dread" getting into an issue…I tend to either truly enjoy it or at least realize it’s not horrible. I’ve been interested from cliffhangers to see where it goes next, but by the time I get to the next issue I’m usually back to a passive-ish not really caring.

All that said…if you can get several issues as a run…particularly for now, these first five issues–and cheaply (say, 25-50 cents each ideally, under $5 for sure) they’re definitely well worth the read for an early-’90s team of abnormal misfits shunned by society…and serving as a sort of X-Men parallel but instead of being the ’60s, it’s "in the ’90s!"

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Ultraverse Revisited: Prototype #4

ultraverse_revisited

prototype_0004Wrathful Moon

Writers: Len Strazewski and Tom Mason
Penciller: David Ammerman
Inker: James Pascoe
Letterer: Tim Eldred
Color Designer: Robert Alvord
Interior Color: Family Fugue
Editor: Chris Ulm
Cover Date: November 1993
Cover Price: $1.95

The cover starts us off with a glimpse of what the issue contains, in telling us someone called Wrath enters this issue. Enter: Wrath. That is, this is the official debut of the character…and (25 years’ spoiler-free time gone by) I know the character winds up with his own series, so that–plus the "logoed" name on the cover–hints at the importance/significance of this character, over some run of the mill generic character that could otherwise fill a similar role. It’s also remarkably refreshing having just a single cover image to worry about, that it shows Prototype fighting the guy we can (from the cover alone) assume IS this Wrath character.

Despite the above, the ’90s were a time with loads of new characters being introduced by all publishers, so there being a "logo" for a character’s name wouldn’t necessarily mean they’d get an ongoing series or even mini-series. And some part of me remembers that the Ultraverse trading cards that were produced included a bunch of characters that only ever saw print there–though my memory and understanding of that may be faulty after all this time, clouded by "rumors" or stuff I’ve come across (but not verified) over the years. Point being–the logo AND knowing the character got his own series tipped me off here, where the logo alone wouldn’t not necessarily tell one such information.

As we open the issue itself, we find Jimmy Ruiz contemplating his latest "upgrade," an implant that should make his interfacing with the Prototype suit much better. He’s called back to bed by a woman…while outside Ultratech HQ, a woman from his past tries to find out about his whereabouts, knowing only that Jimmy works for Ultratech and lives in the building. Meanwhile, a costumed figure gains access to the Prototype suit, and sets off a stabbing pain in Jimmy–he knows from that that his suit is being messed with. The two collide–one leaving, the other going–and Jimmy winds up on the lesser end of things. Getting to the armor, Jimmy suits up…and we get a good chunk of pages with Prototype and Wrath brawling. The fight spills out of the building, where Angella is threatened…Prototype saves her from an errant blast from Wrath, who didn’t actually wish to harm an innocent–he seems to have a new, grudging respect for Prototype beyond his initial assessment. Wrath escapes, as Prototype’s armor isn’t doing well…and we find out why Angella is seeking to re-connect with Jimmy! Elsewhere, the original man of the Prototype armor, Bob Campbell, tests out his home-brew armor, but finds himself trapped by an ambush of officers–highly armed–accusing him of theft from Ultratech.

I recall–and believe I’ve touched on this previously–there being two Prototypes: "the original" (Bob Campbell) and the "new" that I "knew" (Jimmy Ruiz). For all the more I was consciously aware, though, Jimmy was the hero, and Bob was a villain. Though I also think I recall that after Black September, Bob was Prototype in Ultraforce and no one remembered Jimmy…or some such. That’ll be something to get into in quite awhile, after covering all of the pre-Black-September Ultraverse comics.

That said, I’d figured Bob Campbell to be some 2-d jaded "bad guy," and yet he’s getting a story similarly compelling (to me) as that of Jimmy’s…and maybe it’s that I’m 25 years older now, but to a certain degree, I find it easier to "get" Campbell than Ruiz. I actually find myself more interested in Campbell’s story and feeling like that’s simmering a bit too long on the "back burner." Still…this is from 1993, a time when comics had these things called "subplots" that WOULD simmer on the back burner for ages before flipping to the "A" plot. Instead of random-seeming "retcons" we’d actually SEE and "touch base" on these events happening simultaneous with the main plots, and KNOW something is coming…rather than an arc or two further in being told "oh, by the way, while all this has been going on, this guy’s been doing ____."

Visually, this is a solid issue. There were parts of it that reminded me of Prime, so I guess some of the art seems a bit Brefogle-ish…though that could also be other parts of the art process such as the inking and coloring. It reminded me of Prime‘s art, and I’d say I enjoy the similarity as it further solidifies that the titles take place in the same universe at the same time and all!

When I started this Ultraverse Revisited project, I’d hoped to blow through the line a lot faster. That real life has slowed me down to a nearly-embarrassing extent has brought a lot more "real time" back to the reading in terms of time passing between my getting to each issue.

While this title is pretty good "internally," with time and keeping it as just one title out of the 12 or so Ultraverse titles, each individual issue of this one title feels a much smaller piece of things than being "the next issue" of itself.

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Ultraverse Revisited: Solution #3

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solution_0003The Hunted

Writer: James Hudnall
Penciller: Darick Robertson
Inker: Barbara Kaalberg
Letterer: Tim Eldred
Color Designer: Tim Divar
Interior olor: Foodhammer!
Editor: Hank Kanalz
Cover Date: November 1993
Cover Price: $1.95

Once again, looking at an issue of The Solution I find myself wondering how, exactly, I managed to #1 miss this series entirely as a kid and #2 not pick up on this sooner even as an adult.

This issue opens with a young woman being stalked by a couple of menacing figures that we come to realize (along with her) are aliens–Darkurians–as they “morph” into their true form of hulking, monstrous beasts ready to devour her. Then another figure enters, first playing music from a harmonica, and then wielding fantastic weapons that are quite effective against these Darkurians. The next day, we join in with several members of The Solution as they debate publicity, with everyone but Lela having reasons for NOT wanting to be in front of any cameras. Vurk, impatient and edgy, prepares to leave. Lila asks Aera to put a “trace” on him–using her magic so that they’ll be able to locate him, should the need arise. Vurk hits the town, looking for some excitement–though what he finds interesting and what a cab driver finds interesting don’t exactly intersect. He’s in luck, though, when he stumbles across a figure he recognizes–a certain harmonica-player (incidentally, apparently named “Harmonica”). Shifting to his large, brutish (alien) form, Vurk leaps into battle with Harmonica…the two are old opponents. Harmonica’s weapon/harmonica seems to be able to transform into whatever he declares–laser, flight-belt, sword, whatever–and he more than holds his own against Vurk. The fight is inconclusive, halted first by police and then by the Solution (having located Vurk via that “trace”). We shift to the Solution meeting with a client…and learning that they’ll be working with someone. We see on the final page: Hardcase and Choice!

This issue’s story seems so simplistic in a way. Show some aliens mugging a random woman on the street, they get killed to show how bad-ass this Harmonica guy is. Touch base with the Solution–they are the team this title’s about, after all–then Vurk goes off on his own. He fights Harmonica, giving us an extended fight scene that shows us how bad-ass HE is, before stuff is brought to an abrupt halt with neither being victorious…this leaves things open for later. And we end with the setup for a “crossover” with Hardcase to leave us ready for what comes next. Nothing’s all that deep, but we get our title characters present in the issue, while the focus is on one particular member…and we get a bit of a sense of history for him with encountering Harmonica, as well as development in his admitting his own people want to kill him. As He’s a “tank” on the team, Harmonica being able to take him on, having taken out the Darkurians earlier, and getting away here without issue sets Harmonica up to be a bigger player in future issues.

And I absolutely love the art in this issue! It’s clean, and detailed, the character designs definitely have that nostalgic, ’90s “vibe” but without seeming hokey or rushed. I’m sure this is thanks not only to Robertson‘s pencils, but also Kaalberg‘s inks with Divar and Foodhammer!‘s coloring. I don’t know if it’s my personal color preference or other details, but I especially like Lela’s appearance and costume. I feel like I’m all over the place with enjoying or being “iffy” on Ultraverse issues’ art…perhaps it’s other comics’ art I’ve looked at since my last Ultraverse coverage.

My enjoyment of this issue is largely that it’s nothing “deep,” and even picturing the issue’s opening a la Law & Order or CSI, with a brief intro to set something up, then a jump to the actual main characters and them dealing with stuff after the events of the initial sequence. Having read a couple issues of the series before this also laid some groundwork, so while I’m not great with characters’ names yet (especially being a couple months–at least–since reading the previous issue) but recognize them visually and having seen them, it’s easy to “go with the flow” of things.

As “just some ’90s issue,” this would probably work pretty well overall as a standalone issue…it has the feel of a random issue trying to set something up without being itself bogged down with stuf from prior issues. The cover itself isn’t all that interesting; and I never really paid it much attention, focusing mainly on the title logo and issue number. Essentially we get naked-backside-of-Vurk fighting against Harmonica-with-a-sword…boring as a cover for only reading previous issues, but at least “fitting” given the actual interior contents of this issue.

If you find this for 25 cents or so–bottom-price bargain bin, basically–it’s worthwhile if only for “exposure” to the title and such. Generally-speaking, it’ll work better with the context of the first couple issues (admittedly, also ideally bargain-priced).

While I’ve been iffy with this title on lack of knowledge…it’s quickly becoming a high-quality, enjoyable favorite…which I feel like I didn’t expect when I started this deep-dive into the Ultraverse.

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