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Ultraverse Revisited: Prototype #1

ultraverse_revisited

prototype_0001Budget Cuts

Writers: Tom Mason, Len Strazewski
Artists: David Ammerman, James Pascoe
Letterer: Tim Eldred
Color Design: Paul Mounts
Editor: Chris Ulm
Published by: Malibu Comics
Cover Date: August 1993
Cover Price: $1.95

I’ve long been familiar with this title, and especially this debut issue’s cover. Of course, that’s on the surfacey level. Actually READING the thing? I don’t know if I had ever read this. It’s possible that I’d only read a later issue or two, or perhaps only known the character from appearances in other titles (such as Prime and Ultraforce) as well as the Ultraforce cartoon…and of course, I love the design. ’90s though it may be, it’s got something to it that I always liked!

We were actually first exposed to the notion of Prototype back in the pages of Prime #1. One of the news briefs in that issue referenced Prototype being injured and possibly killed, and a statement from Ultratech’s Stanley Leland.

As this issue opens, we seem to be getting more info about that particular incident, where Bob Campbell (Prototype) was helping test weapons systems in the armor, and the situation went wrong, costing him his arm, job, and way of life. This opening scene turns out to be a dream/nightmare (rather than "just" flashback) as we find ourselves back in the present with Bob, now with a prosthetic arm, living alone with his cat. We cut to a couple PDAing in the street, when they run afoul of some large, green bulked-up guy screaming about and trying to find Ultratech. As he bellows to Ultratech and Leland that "Glare" is coming, we cut to Leland giving a presentation regarding Prototype…and this includes the NEW Prototype literally bursting onto the scene. While newer, sleeker, and perhaps more powerful, we get hints that this newer armor isn’t truly complete, as it’s still got issues…we also later get hints that it’s also causing its new wearer–Jimmy Ruiz–issues. Leland and his crew make the best of the presentation, despite Campbell trying to make a scene, and then Ruiz having to fly into action against Glare. We get several pages of the new Prototype vs. Glare, and then a mysterious intervention by Leland’s assistant before a crowd around the scene of the battle accuse Prototype of killing the guy.

Somewhere along the way, I learned that after the Black September stuff (essentially the Ultraverse‘s "reboot," which happened a couple years into the universe’s existence) the original Prototype, Bob Campbell, was Prototype again. Of course, I’d only really known Jimmy Ruiz, and as I type this, off the top of my head I can only really think that was due to Prime #4 and Ultraforce stuff. Seeing Campbell get more involvement in this issue makes me suspect he was a more important (and perhaps rounded) character than I’d thought. It’s also likely that somehow he was blended in my mind–in part–with Justin Hammer and the scene of Hammer’s failed attempts of duplicating Tony Stark’s armor in Iron Man 2.

This issue drops us into some action right away while contextualizing and expanding on the blurb we’d gotten in Prime #1. We see Campbell and where he is now/what his life is like; then we get the introduction of a villain-figure, move to the introduction of the new Prototype, while getting the seeds of some likely problems to come; we see how Campbell is treated by his former employer, we get to see the new Prototype in action beyond the "staged" stuff, and we’re left with a cliffhanger and to wonder where the kid stands on the matter of killing an opponent, wanting to be a superhero, his lack of training, etc.

In short, we’re introduced to key players, given context and development, and left with something to bring us back for a second issue.

Visually, this is a solid issue; I enjoyed it overall, and would really have to dig to find stuff I’d be able to cite as a problem. This is–and looks like–a ’90s comics (considering it IS one, that’s to be expected!). Probably one of the more standout elements to me is the design of the two Prototype armors–Bob Campbell’s, and the one worn by Jimmy Ruiz. The Campbell armor is large and bulky–an easy comparison for me is to the Iron Man "Hulkbuster" armor; while the Ruiz armor is a very sleek and slim "Iron Man Lite" armor that looks like pieces of armor on a skintight bodysuit.
This felt like reading a new issue for the first time…at most, I suspect this would be the second time I’ve actually read the issue. And for it feeling like the first time, it was a good issue. Since this is the first issue…it’s of course a great one to start with, to jump in on…and if you like Iron Man for the cool armor and tech stuff, this is definitely an issue to grab from a bargain bin! Heck, this is one that would be worth getting from a bargain bin for the cover alone, if you’re of a mind to display comics.

I look forward to reading the subsequent issues of this title and getting more context for the characters involved…all the more as I know the character crosses over with Prime "next month" in the fourth issue of that series. This is well worth 25-50 cents, and since it’s a first issue, if you’re curious about the character, I’d say even $1 is not bad to start at the beginning with this character!

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Ultraverse Revisited: Strangers #2

ultraverse_revisited

strangers_0002Hey! Hugh! Get Off’a McCloud!

Writer: Steve Englehart
Penciller: Rick Hoberg
Inkers: Tim Burgard, Larry Welch
Letterer: Tim Eldred
Color Designer: Keith Conroy
Editor: Chris Ulm
Published by: Malibu Comics
Cover Date: July 1993
Cover Price: $1.95

This issue opens with an anecdote that also proves to be the issue’s title…then shifting to our group of strangers in an aircraft, heading for a cloud that the strange woman from the first issue disappeared to. They reflect on the events of the previous issue (in a page-ish on-panel/page recap). They then come up with a plan for compensating for screwed up sensors in Dave using his yellow flame to fly, and manually guide them. The group finds an entire island in the sky, surrounded by the cloud! After a rough landing, the group is captured, and eventually are able to communicate with the inhabitants of the island (after a battle that threatens the airworthiness of the island), and seem to have more questions then they started with. The leader of the island’s inhabitants suggests that "searching for the reason IS the reason" regarding their seeking how they all got these powers, and so on. As he "assigns" the woman–Yrial–to the team and sends them on their way, they determine they’ll call themselves what they started out as: The Strangers! Meanwhile, we get some token development regarding a likely soon-to-be villain.

This issue (as I’m likely to be saying about many, many Ultraverse issues in the coming weeks/months) is "VERY ’90s" in tone. It’s got what–especially by contemporary comics–is a choppy story with rather quick and convenient plot points (and plot jumps), with some familiar tropes. We have a bunch of people who don’t know each other but suddenly got powers working together–some token disagreement, but conveniently working well together. We have a random flying island manned by a group that knows way more than our heroes, but won’t clue them in, saying they’ve gotta find the information themselves. And we have a group assembled and an additional person arbitrarily added to the group that must be accepted…for the heckuvit. And we still don’t really have any answers, just a slightly wider world that now not only includes a bunch of people hit by lightning developing super powers, but an ancient people with a flying island over the United States and the US Government apparently doesn’t know/hasn’t done anything about it.

Story-wise, this works…I’m not completely enamored with the title as of this second issue, but it’s still early; and I’m much more familiar with the likes of Prime and Mantra, with the Strangers as a blind spot…so while I’m eager to get back to familiar stuff, this is new for me. It’s "only" the second issue, and we have a superhero team starting to work with each other, coming together…so it’s going to be continued development. I don’t believe I’d known prior that Yrial was "assigned" against her own choice to participate in the team…I must have thought she was "just another" of the people on the cable car.

Visually this is a solid issue. It "looks" like a ’90s comic, and I could do without some of the layouts…but at least the main double-page splash of the group suddenly coming to the island is something that arguably serves the story–showing the sheer enormity of the island, adding to its spectacle as something floating over Los Angeles. This is a colorful comic, not least of which is thanks to Dave and his multiple colored flames and extended "yellow flame" learning-to-fly sequence. No huge complaints or anything for this issue.

Given what I do know of the Strangers, I would not recommend this issue completely stand-alone. It works well as a 2nd issue…but especially as ONLY the 2nd issue, I can’t think of any reasonable reason to seek this out in isolation on its own without the first issue; and ideally along with the first and next issue to be a bigger chunk of overall story. That said, I’d definitely consider this a bargain bin comic, and wouldn’t recommend paying more than $1 if it can be helped; and ideally 25-50 cents.

I’m curious to see the further development of this group of characters, though not as much as I am in Prime or Mantra. Given those were two of my favorite Ultraverse books as they came out, that I mostly kept up with, I recognize my bias even as I can’t honestly or with proper authenticity rid myself of it. Those were my favorite titles, so delving back in, I want to get back to what I enjoyed…forcing myself to read other titles is–while starting out–forcing myself to read other titles I haven’t read and don’t have a singular interest in. This isn’t a bad issue, but it hasn’t immediately become a favorite for me or anything like that.

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Ultraverse Revisited: Hardcase #2

ultraverse_revisited

hardcase_0002Hard Choices

Writer: James Hudnall
Artists: Cranial Implant Studio
Letterer: Tim Eldred
Color Designer: Moose Baumann
Editors: Chris Ulm, Hank Kanalz
Published by: Malibu Comics
Cover Date: July 1993
Cover Price: $1.95

The first issue of this series is one that I’m extremely familiar with…there are only a handful of such comics in my lifetime that I have that familiarity with. This issue, though…if I’ve read it before, it’s almost certainly been nearly two decades–or more!

This issue opens with several pages of a woman with powers being chased, as she tries to get to our hero. We cut to the funeral of the police officer Hardcase failed to save last issue, and his meeting with the officer’s brother. And even at a FUNERAL, Hardcase is pestered for autographs [[[as I type this, having just read about some recent Stan Lee stuff, I’m extra disgusted at the notion of autograph-hounds]]]. We find that the woman is Choice–a spokesmodel for the corporate entity. Hardcase talks to his agent, and whil eon the phone, the woman finds him, levitating to his balcony. They’re almost immediately attacked by parademon/Lexcorp-looking armored flying soldiers, who severely damage (if not destroy–it’s not completely clear) Hardcase’s not-so-humble abode. The rest of the issue is an extended fight sequence with Hardcase and Choice fighting the soldiers, who eventually claim they’re “just” trying to bring her in because she’s crazy and should be in a mental institution. Hardcase is highly ticked-off, and we end the issue on him determined to take the fight to the corporation for some answers.

The art for this issue is fairly inconsistent. I don’t think I’d consider any of it particularly bad or anything, but there’s a definite inconsistency throughout the issue. The “artists” (plural) credit of a STUDIO seems to me to suggest a bunch of people all working together on it, rather than any singular artist on pencils with a single inker and maybe a couple of colorists or letterers or such. It’s definitely a different look as well from the first issue, and had this been a present-day 2018 issue, I’d probably consider dropping the series for that alone. That said, I’m not an art-guy, and the art does tend to convey the big action and stuff that’s going on, getting the visuals across, however inconsistently. The cover is pretty basic–just a close-up (yet deeply shadowed) image of Hardcase with a blazing fire in the background, and some flames on the ginormous shoulder pads/chest armor he wears. Nothing horrid, but not a scene from the issue, really, nor all that dynamic…while the first issue’s cover is rather “iconic,” this just feels like some random/generic image slapped on.

The story is better, though still feels a bit basic…at “only” a #2 of an all-new, brand-new character and still-new “world,” we have world-building, particularly the addition of Choice and that corporation, and little hints here and there to other corporate crap going on. We get tossed-in tidbits of Hardcase being this huge movie star/hero, though I still don’t “buy” his rise to SUCH stardom in only a year, even if he WAS a part of THE only team of ultra-heroes for a time, first. I recall stuff with Choice in a later issue and/or “meta” knowledge I found out perhaps from Wizard Magazine or Hero Illustrated, so I know she’s an important addition to the cast.

I also am very conscious that for the most part, the bulk of the Ultraverse only REALLY lasted a couple years–that by the time any of the titles got to their “teens” or around #20 or so (I think the highest issue number an Ultraverse issue got was #26–with Prime and Hardcase)…so “only” 2 issues is still a pretty significant chunk of the entirety of any of the series.

As with Strangers #2 and Prime #2…I would not specifically seek out this issue as a stand-alone read, unless you’re missing it from completing a run or part of the run. This definitely builds from the first issue, and continues the building heading into the third issue. “Iffy” as the issue is as a standalone…I think I’d still recommend it on the Ultraverse brand, and as part of the series…though I would not counsel paying much for it (or any of the “regular” issues)…these are very much stuff for the bargain bins, up to $1 or so each, ideally.

I’m pretty sure the issue after #1 that I’m most remembering is #5 (the Rune Month issue) and then somewhere in the teens with the return of NM-E and then stuff in the lead up to Black September after Godwheel…so (like with The Strangers) this series as individual issues and specific details reading issue by issue is actually new to me, all these years after original publication.

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: Mantra #1

ultraverse_revisited

mantra_0001Reversal of Fortune

Writer: Mike W. Barr
Penciller: Terry Dodson
Inker: Al Vey
Letterer: Tim Eldred
Color Design: Paul Mounts
Editor: Chris Ulm
Published by: Malibu Comics
Cover Date: July 1993
Cover Price: $1.95

This is an interesting issue, starting at the cover. The coloring overall gives it a sort of pink look, and makes it instantly (to me) identifiable as what it is at a slight glance. The main character–Mantra–is in some odd mid-air motion like a jump-kick or sideways fastball-special…can’t really tell. But it’s from the ’90s, so doesn’t have to totally make sense, apparently…but at least you can see she has feet! Almost as much so or more prominently, you have Warstrike (a Cable-like huge overly-muscled character with a huge gun) firing away at something "off-panel" of the cover. While in the background, partially obscured by the cover dress–the title logo and the corner box stuff–you have a ghostly image of the villain Boneyard. So this is hardly a great cover in design…its being recognizable and iconic comes from being a #1–a #1 that does NOT have umpteen variants, as this was only the ’90s and not modern 2010s. The cover matches the ads that preceded it, advertising its pending arrival, and contributes to its recognizability.

As I’m essentially "over-familiar" with Prime #1 due to the audio comic, of the early #1s, this was the issue I was most looking forward to getting back to. I don’t actually recall the last time that I read this issue cover to cover rather than skimming it to verify certain details (Lukasz’s final death and the specific killer, for example), but it’s absolutely safe to say I don’t recall reading this within the last 10-15 years, if not longer. So there was some surprise on my part at stuff I’d forgotten, along with certain familiarity that’s stuck with me since the very first time I read the issue back in 1993!

We open on a frontispiece…no actual action or identification of characters, just an image of Mantra as a body/mask/cloak/armor, a black man to the upper left, a ark-haired woman to the upper right, and green energy/lightning and smoke billowing at the bottom. The creator credits and issue title are here as well. Turning the page, we meet Bill Cooper interacting with a Mr. Dalmas, apparently finalizing paperwork for a divorce. The wife has tailed the lawyer and manages to get in, appealing to Cooper to at least not turn his back on his son. While they’re dismissed, we have the growing sense of something supernatural or at least abnormal going on. A ghostly image of an old mane addresses Cooper as Lukasz, and in turn is addressed as Archimage. Cooper makes his way to a club, and getting reacquainted with Yaron, Hamath, and Thanasi. Meanwhile, someone is tied up and being questioned by a garishly-dressed man apparently called Notch. He has a ghostly image of another old figure–Boneyard! Cooper–Lukasz–and his fellows burst in, and battle commences! While the men struggle, we get a momentary glimpse of Boneyard and Archimage hand-to hand struggling themselves…as blood is shed on both sides. Cooper lays dead as the others escaped, and Notch cuts the heart from the body…making it quite official the notch he’s cut in his staff. We meet Warstrike as he answers a call, and then the scene shifts to show us a couple–Marla and Carl, apparently recently-reconciled arriving at a house…and we meet Eden Blake (the dark-haired woman from the frontispiece) interacting with her kids, mother, and her own date. Marla’s gone in while Carl properly parks the car. The view shifts to a trippy/cosmic "hall of bodies" called The Soulwalk, as we find Lukasz’s soul preparing to go into its next body…which he does as it rings a doorbell, and we see he’s displaced Carl. Breaking another heart, he walks out on Marla and an angry Eden. In Carl’s body, we follow Lukasz as he meets up with the rest of Archimage’s group–12 in all–and they get a final speech from the old man as he reveals that they’ve been betrayed by one of their own.

Boneyard arrives, Archimage is captured, his men are killed…Carl/Lukasz killed by Warstrike. Lukasz thinks this is it…before discovering Archimage–even captured–is bringing him back. Lukasz wakes up in bed next to a man, and discovers that this time, he’s been reincarnated as a woman. The woman he saw earlier–Eden Blake!  As Eden, he makes a hasty exit, and immediately experiences the some changes on the streets of LA as a woman instead of man…including being pulled into an alley for an attempted rape, before the would-be-rapist’s cigarette sets him ablaze. Eden makes it to a hospital to meet the last of Archimage’s helpers, who reveals that this is the final reincarnation, Lukasz’s soul was put into this body as a last-ditch backup failsafe, and after centuries of technology, must now embrace magic. A mask charm suddenly flips Eden into the scantily-armor-clad figure of Mantra with a cloak, thigh-high boots and arm-length gloves. As Katinya dies, police enter and assume this figure is a murderer, forcing Eden to escape. Getting home to the address on her driver’s license, she dismisses mother and kids for the night, finds this body doesn’t like whiskey, and answers a late night doorbell to find Warstrike…who knows who (s)he actually is!

Maybe it’s largely nostalgia, maybe it’s the analytical reading for this post and going back through the issue for this overly-lengthy summary of the issue. But this strikes me as a darned good first issue! We have foreshadowing in the frontispiece, a cold build from some arbitrary scene as things quickly come together, showing us good guys and bad guys, and that both sides have a master figure behind them…a 15-century struggle comes down to this final night, as Boneyard gains the upper hand…and the last surviving chance for Archimage is Lukasz, now in the body of a woman and apparently host to mystical/magical powers. We’re introduced to a number of characters on both sides, to the situation, how this battle has lasted over a millennia, and so on. We see how easily Lukasz is killed–twice!–which shows how extremely imperative it is that he be more careful than ever when he learns he can no longer simply be brought back in a new body. And like Lukasz himself…we’re left wondering at the end of the issue what’s coming next. Immediately in terms of Warstrike’s showing up to finish what he started, and whatever is to come in the ongoing battle.

Visually, this is maybe the strongest Ultraverse issue thus far to me, of the five titles. Of course, it’s Terry Dodson art, so that’s a lot of it! Barr crams so much into the story and the art so beautifully conveys it all that I feel little wonder that this is one of my favorite issues of the line.

I did not originally read this in August of 1993 when it came out–at least, I somehow have a memory of reading it in December that year. 25 years and family stuff could definitely have scrambled the timing in my memory, though. But I distinctly remember the surprise of that page when Lukasz wakes up in Eden’s body…quite an image for a barely-13-year-old, and probably a bit of an immediate imprint for the title character.

Like Freex #1, this issue came with a "bonus coupon," which could be substituted for one of the first-month coupons to redeem for Ultraverse Premiere #0. I remember having to make use of that due to being unable to get the Wizard #23 coupon for whatever reason.

All in all, this is a strong first issue well worth getting if you find it in a bargain bin, and I’m definitely looking forward to getting into #2 and onward as things develop, and filling in some of the details and such I missed when the issues were new, as it’s been in the years after the end of the Ultraverse line that I was able to fill in the early gaps in my collection!

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Ultraverse Revisited: Freex #1

ultraverse_revisited

freex_0001Freaked

Writer: Gerard Jones
Penciller: Ben Herrera
Inker: Mike Christian
Letterer: Tim Eldred
Color Design: Paul Mounts
Editor: Chris Ulm
Published by: Malibu Comics
Cover Date: July 1993
Cover Price: $1.95

I remember reading this issue and not really "getting" it. Now, the cover is one of the more "iconic" covers to me, of the Ultraverse line. Perhaps because I have a poster, and I’ve seen the issue so many times in quarter bins and such. It also stands out to me–in memory–because of being one of the earliest Ultraverse titles (it premiered in the SECOND month of releases, part of the "second wave" of titles, along with MANTRA). It was almost always THERE, whether or not I was reading it (and mostly, I was not).

But let’s look at this issue by itself, specifically, for now!

We open on a kid being chased into an alley by police. He seems just as concerned about "something" happening as about the police themselves. They bump into a huge golem entity–very strong and impervious to their bullets. He calls the kid Huck, and is admonished for blurring reality and fiction…then calls him Lewis, and we learn that he is Ray. As they begin to escape, another kid unleashes her freakish powers, and Lewis no longer has a choice and unleashes his powers to protect the officers. Val seems to have a green energy burst, while Lewis can liquefy and reform himself. He escapes to a sewer while they others retreat back to their hideout, and the police are left to wonder just what the heck actually happened. Lewis reflects on how he discovered his freakishness, while at the hideout, Ray and Val bicker until a new arrival provides a new target for Val’s rage. The new girl seems to have a torso made up of or covered by sentient/controllable ropes or tentacles. We get a flashback of Val discovering her power in a detention center where a guard tried to force himself onto her. Outside the hideout, the new girl meets Lewis as he returns to the group. Inside, there’s further bickering, while Ray spray-paints something on a wall. As we see that he’s tagged it for the group "Freex," another new arrival appears in a cobbled-together robotic body of pieces and parts in the hideout, and says he’s Michael, and wants to tell the group why he’s brought them together.

The obvious comparison here for me is X-Men. Teenagers suddenly and inconveniently developing freakish (mutant) powers, being hunted and feared by normal people and authorities, banding together to survive, and apparently brought together by a player behind the scenes, who also seems to have powers which he presently can control. Of course, these are new characters, a new group, they’re "freaks" rather than mutants; they’re Ultrahumans, but lack the publicity and stature of The Squad, Hardcase, Prime, and where most of the Strangers are adults, these are kids.

As first issues go, we’re introduced to an ensemble cast with a couple of pages each for several characters in flashback, showing where they were compared to where they are now; we’re introduced to a newer character with a bit less history than the first three kids seem to have; we see the situation they’re in, struggling just to have food and shelter to survive while dealing with powers that make them vastly different from anyone else. We get a reason for their "team name," and learn that they didn’t "just" bump into each other and band together, but they’ve been consciously, specifically BROUGHT together. It lets us see the starring characters, who are featured on the cover, we see them together, and get a number of little details…none of the more modern early-2000s-to-present "hide the hero" or five issues of solo characters finally meet in a sixth issue and show a hint of being a team, when it’s a team book. There’s a bit of mystery–who is Michael? Why has he brought them together? What’s his motivation? Will they accept it or turn on him? But that’s the "hook" to get one to come back for the next issue.

Visually, this is a colorful yet dark book. The characters are individually recognizable, if not entirely consistently rendered, and one can pretty easily follow along what’s going on. One bit that stood out to me, though, is when a police officer is thrown at a wall: we get a scratchy panel of him hitting a wall, seeming to indicate how hard he hit–like Ray’s killed or crippled him. Yet in dialogue later on, an officer refers to "silly putty walls," and there doesn’t to seem to be any concern regarding any dead/crippled officers. So whether that’s on me for the way I "read" the visuals or not, I lay partial blame at the lack of any "visual sound effects" to the panel (really, the entire issue!).

All in all, though, this is a good first issue, and far better than I remember from any previous read-throughs. Though this got a CD-Romix Comix release over Strangers, and I’m very familiar with the Hardcase and Prime ones, I never really cared for this one. I’d put off reading this issue, not really looking forward to the (re)read, but wound up enjoying it a lot more than I’d expected. I’m actually interested in the next issue, and learning more of the ACTUAL details of this group of characters than just seeing covers from later in the run and such.

This is another first issue that’s definitely worth getting (and reading!) if you find it in a bargain bin. And let’s face it…the early Ultraverse #1s are quite plentiful. It’s the later issues of the series that you’ll be hard-pressed to find.

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Ultraverse Revisited: Strangers #1

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strangers_0001Jumpstart!

Author: Steve Englehart
Penciller: Rick Hoberg
Inker: Tim Burgard
Letterer: Tim Eldred
Color Design: Paul Mounts
Editor: Chris Ulm
Published by: Malibu Comics
Cover Date: June 1993
Cover Price: $1.95

I know I’ve read this issue several times over the years. I’d guess this to be at least my 3rd time. And yet, it’s not one that has stuck well in my memory; especially for–as one of THE initial #1s–it NOT having one of those CD Romix-Comix deals.

We open with some narration about San Francisco and get a quick glimpse of several people, before their cable car is struck by a bolt of energy. Just before the bolt hits, several work together to throw a guy OFF the car for refusing to cease with the PDA-ing with his (apparent) girlfriend. The bolt of energy hits the car, costing its operator control, and it slams into a passenger vehicle, gravely wounding that driver. Later after the incident, as everyone’s gone their separate ways, we check in on several of the passengers, and see them discovering strange new abilities and experiencing a profound change in the wake of things. When another disturbance occurs, several make their way to the scene, where they band together to drive off a strange woman, and then decide to stick together while they learn about their new powers and life-situation.

This is another issue to just SCREAMS "’90s!" to me; from the fonts to coloring to dialogue and character names (well, knowing some of the names, as the characters don’t really adopt them here in this issue). To best of my recollection, this was the FIRST of the Ultraverse books to be available for purchase…though it’s the one I was least looking forward to (re) reading. That being said…I actually enjoyed this a fair bit, and am now interested in checking out some subsequent issues. This is one series that from #2-forward will be all-new reads to me, or close enough to it for lack of memories of actually reading them.

This issue does a solid job of BEING a first issue. It introduces us to a slice of life in the city, with the characters, shows us their "inciting incident," see them discover their powers, see them band together to face a threat and actually interact with said threat, AND have a reason to stay together past this one encounter, while leaving enough hanging to keep one curious about what comes next. There seems to be some "shorthand" in some interactions and dialogue that I’ll be looking for some quick payoff, as I’m not 100% if memory serves on where they go, and they’re definitely things that never even occurred to me in prior readings of this issue. The repeated use of narration to remind us of San Francisco and the light was effective twice…but hitting it three times in the issue seemed a bit much. It’s still a solid attempt, and gets points from me for "effort" and picking up on what’s being conveyed!

I like the art and character designs–the people all seem like real people, there’s no wonky anatomy or strange and obvious "shortcuts" or such, nothing that puts me off or makes me wonder what’s going on and all that. Even though I recognized all the characters, I’m not great on the names and would not be able to pull most out of thin air with any confidence…but their appearance does wonders here, and I imagine once I get a few issues in I’ll be doing a lot better with the names.

All in all, this is an issue that I would actually recommend…it’s very much worth the 25 cents or so if you find it in a quarter-bin, and probably even worth 50 cents if one of those bins. This was such a mass-produced issue, and the Ultraverse such an entity that while this doesn’t really have much financial value, the READING value is strong, and the series didn’t last long enough to really justify jumping in anywhere BUT this first issue…especially now, 25 years after its release!

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