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Ultraverse Revisited: Mantra #3

ultraverse_revisited

mantra_0003Kismet Once…Kismet Twice…Kismet Deadly!

Writer: Mike W. Barr
Penciler: Terry Dodson
Inker: Al Vey
Letterer: Tim Eldred
Color Designer: Moose Baumann
Editor: Chris Ulm
Published by: Malibu Comics
Cover Date: September 1993
Cover Price: $1.95

We open on Lukasz–Eden–being held down by the Repo Men! They’re trying to get her mask, the source of her magical armor off, for their boss. Meanwhile, Eden’s kids are looking for her and don’t recognize her as the masked woman all the commotion’s about. Eden fries the Repo Men and makes her escape. She flies off and confronts their boss, eventually forcing a deal of sorts, pointing out that she’s the only person on Earth the mask will even work for, so it’s not in the guy’s interest to possess it anyway. She then–belatedly–remembers the kids, and collects them awkwardly from Child Services, deals awkwardly with them in the car and back at their house, and doesn’t quite convince Evie that everything’s alright. (In fact, Evie realizes quite a difference and goes to Gus–her brother–claiming this isn’t their mom!) The next day, the kids are handed off to their grandmother, after a brief run-in with Brent. Lukasz begins trying to track "the Judas" that betrayed Archimage, which leads to private investigator Dalmas. While in his office, a magical creation of Archimage’s–"Kismet Deadly"–challenges/tests Lukasz. Lukasz finds a ring in Dalmas’ safe that leads to Hamath…who in turn is killed when Kismet Deadly re-manifests, before Lukasz points out what "living" actually entails–including death! Mourning Hamath’s death but facing the practicality of it, Lukasz is decked from behind by someone whereing what looks like an Infinity Gauntlet knock-off. We then shift to someone else bound to a chair, and see that Warstrike is tracking Eden/Lukasz. Finally, Lukasz wakes to find himself before Boneyard, apparently to be a bride.

Since there’s no "previously" page, it was quite helpful that this issue basically opened right where #2 had left off…or close enough that opening on Lukasz being held down reminded me that we left off with these Repo Men pinning the body to take the mask. It’s interesting to see the development of the "superhero name" Mantra develop here: Lukasz thinking back to what he was told–to let "Change, growth, power" be his mantra; and someone overhearing the word "mantra" being spoken and taking it as the woman calling herself "Mantra." And thus, we have an on-panel, on-page explanation/reason for this body being called Mantra. Hokey as it may be, this is something I really enjoyed seeing here (and usually enjoy generally)–having some "moment" specifically reference something with its own title–book, movie, comic book–and yet not make a big deal of it. Someone hears this woman say the word "mantra," thinks she’s called herself "Mantra," tells others, and voila! Super heroine named Mantra! That Lukasz doesn’t quite "get" it and/or seems a bit annoyed by it is an added touch I like.

Story-wise, there’s a lot going on here…this is definitely a rather "compressed" issue (compared to the "decompression" in comics of the last 15+ years into 2018)…yet we still manage to have a sort of "subplot" and "immediate plot" dichotomy going on. There’s a lotta stuff happening, and we’re getting actual forward progression; Lukasz is actually going through tracking leads down and such rather than simply talking about it. As a single issue we get to see all sorts of stuff–Lukasz as Eden, Lukasz in action, Lukasz dealing with the kids, Lukasz interacting with the grandmother, and Brent; Lukasz putting this new body to use; we see Warstrike, we see Boneyard, we have references and context to Archimage and why Lukasz is in a woman’s body, etc.

Visually, this is definitely a pretty issue to look at, and I really like the coloring–especially for the stuff with Kismet Deadly. It’s just a sort of bright-and-colorful that I don’t feel I often see in comics, period (new OR old). As a late-30s male, and whatever other factors one may want to bring to the table, I do feel that I have a different sort of "appreciation" for the art than I did even as a kid…despite the art definitely grabbing and holding my attention even then! There’s that "cheesecake" element to this stuff without being graphically gratuitous…and I rather like the line it walks where a straight up live-action adaptation would almost certainly be PG-13…but it doesn’t cross the line into R-rated territory. One panel when Eden snaps at Evie threw me outta the story for a moment…Evie does not look AT ALL like a child to me, and taken out of context I’d absolutely swear her face is that of a full-grown woman, on the page. So, pretty as the art is generally and all that, it’s not perfect. But this is a comic book, and from the ’90s at that, and when it’s really one single panel and not even a page that does this, that’s not bad.

pinups_mantra0003

In addition to the story-art of the issue (and there are 24 pages of the issue itself!) we have a letter column page, and a random "pinup" with art by Paul Pelletier and Al Vey. Just a static pose of Mantra standing amidst some rocks or such, some mist floating, sword drawn…nothing particular going on, just an image of the character. We do not tend to see this sorta thing anymore, unfortunately–today, publishers seem absolutely incapable of doing something like this, as if they absolutely cannot possibly have a non-story image that ISN’T a variant cover. I love seeing this–another artist’s take on a character, shown within an issue featuring that character…yet it is NOT a variant!

I felt like this series’ story’s engaged me more than a lot of others…maybe it’s nostalgia, maybe it’s the art and having 25 more years on me, maybe all that and other factors. Something about the way I read this and enjoyed the issue as a whole makes me think it was no fluke that this was one of my favorite titles back then, as it’s quickly reasserting itself as a favorite of the bunch NOW as well.

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Ultraverse Revisited: Freex #3

ultraverse_revisited

freex_0003Targets

Writer: Gerard Jones
Penciller: Ben Herrera
Inker: Mike Christian
Ink Assists: Jasen Rodriguez
Letterer: Tim Eldred
Color Design: Keith Conroy
Editor: Hank Kanalz
Published by: Malibu Comics
Cover Date: September 1993
Cover Price: $1.95

This issue is yet another that feels chock-full of ’90s…’90s-ness.

Michael and Sweetface are dealing with the police–Michael gets shot, but Sweetface gets him to a neon sign and he’s able to slip back into the electrical pathways and such. By killing the lights in the area, the other Freex are able to escape. Meanwhile, Valerie and Rush end up destroying a lab, as Val gradually comes to realize just how not-good Rush truly is. When the other Freex find them, a fight breaks out–initially Rush and Val vs. the others. In the course of the fight and mouthing off, Rush reveals that he thinks any "natural" Ultras are genetic defects; and that he didn’t know Val didn’t choose to be artificially granted Ultra powers. She turns on him, and he’s run off, and Val "finally" "accepts" who she is–a freak, and one of the Freex.

Once again, this story fits very much into what I recall of the ’90s…both in cheesiness, as well as being quick-paced and "compressed," as the whole Valerie thing would easily be dragged across 6-12 issues in present-day stories–a full arc if not two; and here we have a huge change in her status within the pages of this single issue.

I’m recognizing characters a bit more, but I’m still not good with off-the-top-of-my-head recollection of codenames and character names. This IS "only" the third issue, though, and it’s been several weeks and a number of other titles’ issues since I read the second, so my foundation is growing but hasn’t solidified with this title yet. It continues to be interesting to read the Ultraverse titles this way, seeing the quick pace at which the individual titles are solidifying and then touching to other titles. It’s also interesting to see the various "named" characters and teams. By "named" I mean called out with some other font or a logo, as if there could have been "plans" for them already, beyond merely a "first appearance" in any given issue being an offhanded thing. In this case, The Bloodhounds, which we’ll presumably be seeing more of in the next issue.

Visually, I’m both ok with yet not blown away by this issue. The art’s solid enough, keeping the characters generally recognizable and consistent within the issue itself. I can appreciate some of the creativity in being able to show damage to characters’ outfits and such, and the "strategic placement" of objects or energy to avoid overt nudity while allowing it to be obvious that the characters are experiencing such exposure.

I’m sure it’s that I’m so used to contemporary comics in 2018 and the last few years in general, but it actually (sadly) feels a bit "odd" to see so many "costumed" figures show up in a book such as this. It was perfectly acceptable and natural to me as a kid in the ’90s…and it’s a sign of how much things have changed in 25 years that I’d even think it odd to see costumed villains in a title such as this.

I’m glad that we seem to have a unified group/team of the Freex now, given the contentious start. We’ve briefly explored the characters’ resistance to the very notion of banding together, with Val’s outright rebellion against it, to now having a firmed-up set of characters as the group, where things are ready to move forward toward them facing specific villains instead of each other.

I definitely never read this issue before, so it’s cool reading it for the first time. And having read it now, I would definitely recommend it along with the first two issues–get all 3 together at the same time if you can, or at least it seems now like these three issues make for a good opening arc.

I’m curious for what comes next, even as I’m eager to get into the next issue of Mantra, as well as Prime and Hardcase.

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Ultraverse Revisited: Exiles #2

ultraverse_revisited

exiles_0002Fugitives

Writer: Steve Gerber
Penciller: Robb Phipps
Inker: Ken Branch
Color Design: Moose Baumann
Letterer: Patrick Owsley
Editor: Chris Ulm
Published by: Malibu Comics
Cover Date: September 1993
Cover Price: $1.95

This is an odd sort of issue to me. Partly, it’s weighed down a bit by my knowing what’s coming. Then there’s it being very ’90s in look and feel. The cover is a generic shot of the Exiles team, including Deadeye with the gigantic gun…but we don’t get to see who they’re facing. And the only "blurb" on the cover is "Featuring BLOODBATHTM." (Yet, while Bloodbath is IN the issue, he’s not the core antagonist!) To say that this is NOT a favorite cover of mine is probably the best way to put it without getting too negative.

We pick up from the previous issue, where Exiles Catapult and Mustang have failed to accomplish their mission–of saving Timothy Halloran. He’s been kidnapped, and his mother killed, while they were unable to prevent either. They have to make an escape, as the police have shown up, and they look to be the cause of what’s happened. Bruut winds up not being nearly as out of it as they thought, and they have to fight him along with the police. At Stronghold (the Exiles’ HQ) Amber Hunt freaks out again, and is informed of the fact that she has to make a choice soon or risk the Theta Virus choosing for her. The rest of the team catches the news…they’re getting "bad press" for the situation. Elsewhere, Kort and his crew try to get Timothy to join up, and his body is mutating, apparently with an "unprecedented" amount of Theta activity. As the Exiles prepare to head out to try to rescue Timothy, Amber decides to go through with the treatment…but now has to wait til they come back. At Kort’s, Bruut has it out with Bloodbath for being left behind. Elsewhere in the building, Kort’s tinkering with Timothy goes very wrong, with an explosion unleashing him, apparently changed into a large hulking creature–Mastodon (based on the "NEXT" blurb).

The art for the issue isn’t all that bad, though nothing particularly blows me away. I was actually most caught up by a page where I actually chuckled as I took it in–we have a full-page panel of Bruut taking massive fire from the police. And all I could think about was that the letterer apparently got to have a lot of fun with the "visual sound-effects" on the page with the various colors, visual effects, and the "words" themselves. This entire issue LOOKS LIKE a ’90s comic.

Story-wise, it’s good that we pick up where the previous issue left off, and get to check in on the various plots/subplots going on. There’s general forward movement to the story, and we even end on the introduction of a new ultra-character in Mastodon (though we only get the name in the next issue blurb). However well-intentioned the Exiles are, they sure are shown to be inept or ineffective, continuing to fail at their mission(s) and getting stuck reacting rather than proactively handling stuff.

All told, this issue was a bit of a chore for me to get through. It’s not some horrible issue, but it just felt a bit out there, felt a bit "too" "’90s" for me, especially with Catapult’s speech pattern.

This issue is not indicative of the Ultraverse as a whole, and not one I’d really recommend pursuing–certainly not as a single-issue in isolation; the main reason to read these early Exiles issues is for what they set up and show us heading into the first major crossover/event in a couple more months.

Still, as part of reading all these early issues, I’m glad TO have read it, but very eager to get through and back to the "original 3" for the September 1993 books.

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Ultraverse Revisited: Prototype #2

ultraverse_revisited

prototype_0002Games of Death

Writers: Len Strazewski, Tom Mason
Penciller: David Ammerman
Inker: James Pascoe
Letterer: Dave Lanphear
Colorist: Moose Baumann
Editor: Chris Ulm
Published by: Malibu Comics
Cover Date: September 1993
Cover Price: $1.95

We open on Prototype in a training session. He’s prevailing, but then gets to a new "level" and finds the challenge more than expected. After a bit of confusion over the state of affairs, he kicks things into high gear and overcomes his opponents…only to find himself–his suit–on fire! As things settle, we get some exposition showing us that Jimmy still having trouble with the drugs that help him to be a more streamlined Prototype…and that he’s still recovering from his battle with Prime! [Oops…apparently the Prime issue I’ll be covering in a couple weeks takes place before this one…but I don’t recall any indicator from Prototype #1 that suggested going to Prime next, instead of this issue and THEN into Prime…] The story then shifts to Stanley Leland with some backroom deal and references to some THIRD Prototype (Prototype 2000) being his true legacy, once it’s built. Next we find Bob Campbell, also making some deal, as we come to learn that he’s building a new suit for himself. In the midst of his latest parts deal, he’s approached by a strange woman, and apparently decides he can also afford an expensive ‘date’. Back at his place, rather than an intimate night, things turn violent, as the woman turns out to not be human at all, and to have retractable daggers for fingers. Campbell’s nearly done in, but his cat joins the fray (she survives…so I’m ok with this issue!). The cat buys him enough time to quickly don his home-brewed armor-suit, and prevail. Finally, we find Bob’s ex on the phone with Leland, and after she’s rejected his advances, she goes to the door…and finds an injured Bob on her doorstep.

This is a mixed sort of issue for me. On the one hand, a lot really does happen throughout the issue, at least in giving us worldbuilding elements to the characters. On the other hand, I felt like Jimmy was given the short end of the stick in this issue.

The art’s not bad for this issue, but nothing to it blew me away. I don’t know what it was, but Bob looked a lot different than I was thinking he would in this issue…perhaps faulty memory, perhaps other elements in the time since I read Prototype #1. There was a panel where Jimmy looked a lot like Kevin Green (Prime) which seems a bit off as well–for one of them. WHICH one, I’m not actually sure. I guess that speaks to continuity and such, though. Somehow I’m just not thrilled with Jimmy’s appearance–and I feel like it somehow has something to do with seeing the Ultraforce cartoon series a few years ago, but I can’t place the exact reason…Jimmy must’ve looked different in his depiction there, or my brain managed to cross him with some other character(s). Yet another factor may simply be that this is another series I haven’t actually read in the past, so I have preconceived notions and expectations that far exceed what can be delivered.

Story-wise, I feel like for "only" a second issue, for a series that I’d thought was about Jimmy Ruiz, we’ve got an awful lot of Bob Campbell. See above about preconceived notions and such. I know from some external source(s) over the years that in post-Back September stuff, it’s Bob Campbell that serves as Prototype in that universe/in that iteration of Ultraforce, so I’m sure that impacts me a bit…future-details that I can’t shake or make my subconscious ignore as I read. That said…I find Bob’s story a bit more interesting, and can’t help but feel like he could actually BE the main protagonist. Jimmy is the shiny/new Prototype and Bob’s antagonist as a replacement that he’s gotta now measure up to somehow, as he fights his way back into the good graces of Leland and Ultratech. Outside of a comment and brief ‘footnote’ referring us to Prime #4, there’s nothing to tell us ahead of time that this issue takes place after that. Perhaps that’s something that allows for the lengthier focus on Campbell here, though–Jimmy’s "second month" sees him more active in Prime than his own book? Thankfully, despite reading this out of order, I don’t think there’s anything spoilery to reading this issue first, except that obviously we know Ruiz is: 1. injured and 2. survives.

I can’t complain about that for a shared universe that shares continuity and characters across titles. And I do like that this hits the ground running, so to speak. My primary problem is that we ended #1 with Prototype apparently killing someone, and then find him well after that event at the start of this issue, with little to go on outside of exposition. Maybe stuff’s elaborated on more as we go along…maybe it happens in Prime #4. We’ll see. Finding Bob’s story more interesting is rather gratifying, and leaves me even more curious about coming issues. Reading all the Ultraverse books in roughly publication-order, though, there are a lotta issues between this and the next issue of Prototype, so we’ll see how my interest holds or where I’m at by the time I get to #3.

As is, this is a solid enough issue, developing/continuing characters, referring to the first issue, and yet stands a bit on its own. Still, I recommend reading this along with #1, and apparently Prime #4. This is another issue that there’s no real point to seek out solely as a single issue in isolation; but nothing to say "skip" it if you have access to it.

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Ultraverse Revisited: The Solution #1

ultraverse_revisited

solution_0001The Problem

Writer: James Hudnall
Penciller: Darick Robertson
Inker: John Lowe
Letterer: Tim Eldred
Editor: Hank Kanalz
Color Design: Keith Conroy, Tim Divar
Interior Color: The ‘Bu Tones
Special Thanks to: Brandon McKinney, Mike S. Miller
Published by: Malibu Comics
Cover Date: September 1993
Cover Price: $1.95

This is definitely an issue I know I have not read before…in fact, I’m honestly not sure that I’ve read any issues of this series–I’ve only been "aware of" it, and perhaps read the several-page Rune segment that would have been a flipbook on one of the issues. I do not remember having this issue initially, or even seeing it when it first came out.

We open on someone just before he’s killed…this is our introduction to a huge, hulking Ultra named Meathook. Then we’re introduced to a much more graceful Ultra with finesse (and a sword) in Deathdance. We’re quickly introduced to a teleporting member of this group called Gate…and then a fourth–Book. Having killed all the guards at this base, they steal a bunch of nukes, which leaves the former owners–Russians–none too happy. Later, the Russians speak to contacts at a group called Aladdin, and are referred to yet another group called The Solution. The scene shifts and we’re introduced to more souped up ’90s-style henchmen for hire, protecting a drug shipment. As they’re ambushed by none other than The Solution, we meet Incoming, Dropkick, Shadowmage, and leader Tech (Lela Cho). After defeating Black Tiger, the Solution heads back to one of their secret bases to decompress, and Tech reflects on all that’s happened in barely six months. Another member of the group–Outrage–shows off by smashing, to the amusement of the others. As they begin looking into the Russian nukes situation, Shadowmage uses her magic to let them spy on the perpetrators…but she’s "sensed" by them, and her surprise leads to our cliffhanger, and the Solution might be in trouble.

From the cover itself, I really enjoyed this issue! There’s something to the cover–perhaps the colors involved, with the shades of purple, blue, pink, and white on an orangey background–that just really works for me. And of course, it’s a typical ’90s shot of a group rushing at the viewer, the leader shooting ahead. I imagine another factor for this standing out to me is–as generally tends to be the case on all these early Ultraverse books–this is the only cover I’ve known for The Solution #1.

The interior art is quite striking, albeit strongly conveying the general ’90s vibe that I’m realizing–or re-realizing–I picked up on as a kid more than I realized. It’s sort of interesting to me seeing Darick Robertson as the penciller, as (offhand) I really only know his name from his Transmetropolitan work. Seeing it here is cool, and I really like the visual style. Though a bit gratuitous, there’s a panel of Tech in the shower while the Solution is at their base that stood out more than the scene in Mantra #1 where Lukasz wakes up in Eden Blake’s body. Given the way the Mantra scene stuck with me as a kid, the fact I don’t remember this instance from back then is how I know I never read this as a kid.

On the story side, this issue moves at a pretty fast pace. By modern (2018) sensibilities, it’s way too fast and leaves far too much unsaid and is rather choppy, leaping from one thing to the next. But this is from 1993, and frankly…I really dig the pace. This is "only" a first issue, and it introduces us to all sorts of characters–essentially two teams of villains along with the protagonists making up the titular team, and still other characters. There’s even plenty of room for violence and blood, which is a bit on the messy side but in ’90s shorthand shows off just how "bad-ass" the villains are and how good the Solution is in being able to take them on at all, let alone have victory.

In the modern lens, this would easily cover 3-5 issues…that we get it all crammed into one makes for a jam-packed first issue that is well worth its cover price even now, despite being something I’d typically associate solely as yet another quarter-book.

This is my first real look outside of the initial "core" of Ultraverse titles, and though it might not fly with me if it were new in 2018, I definitely like it as something from 25 years ago. Running with my usual, this issue is absolutely worthwhile if found in a cheapo-bin; easily up to $1. If you dig the art alone, this could even be worthwhile for a bit more. While I know I’ve seen many of the other Ultraverse #1s in bargain bins…I think this is the first I’ve gotten to that I have NOT. Perhaps it is just "that good" that fewer people have gotten rid of it; perhaps it had a smaller print run; I don’t know.

I’m looking forward to getting into the next issue and seeing where things go, and hopefully better associating character names with actual characters.

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Ultraverse Revisited: Firearm #1

ultraverse_revisited

firearm_0001American Pastimes Part One

Writer: James Robinson
Penciller: Cully Hamner
Inker: John Lowe
Letterer: Tim Eldred
Color Design: Paul Mounts
Editor: Chris Ulm
Published by: Malibu Comics
Cover Date: September 1993
Cover Price: $1.95

I feel like this is the first time I’ve read this issue, and yet, knowing I’ve had the issue quite a long time, and remember a fair bit with the character…it’s hard for me to believe I "jumped in" with the start of the Rafferty Saga around #13 or so "cold." Then again, having acquired the VHS with #0 at some point, and realizing how much I actually HAD missed, and considering there was a LOT I could have picked up from the likes of Wizard Magazine, the Ultrafiles pages, and whatnot, I suppose I could have gotten in "cold."

We open this issue on a boring office with a boss pestering someone for the time. We find out he’s waiting on someone he’s hired to bring someone in…if the guy isn’t brought in, the boss is out $25k. Two figures crash into the office, and after a brawl in the office, "the bad guy" is subdued. The guy that was hired is Alec Swan, and he hates being called "Firearm." We get a lot of exposition from Swan conversationally, speaking to the reader; and then he moves to his office where he checks on messages, and has a lead for another case. He winds up taking the case, and after a night trying to track the person down, he’s ambushed. Being trained as he is, he winds up on top…though it’s messed up the rest of his plans.

I really enjoyed this issue…much more than I expected to. NOW knowing James Robinson‘s name as a writer, I had decent expectations of this issue. That it exceeded my expectations is definitely a good thing! I certainly didn’t know him by name in 1993/1994, but now knowing his name especially from his Starman run at DC, I’ve looked forward to getting to this series.

Visually I really liked this. I recognize Hamner‘s name as an artist who has done stuff I’ve presumably liked in the past, though I can’t put an exact finger on or cite a specific example at the moment. The art here conveys the action quite well, along with the quieter moments, and there’s some nice use of shadows to give effect. One panel showing Swan in shadow with just his eyes and scar visible put me in mind of Bloodshot. A panel in Swan’s home includes Ultra Monthly #1 as well as a paperback copy of Jurassic Park (this was originally published around the time the original Jurassic Park film would have been either still in theaters or very recently in theaters!). Easy details to miss, but the fact I happened to notice them really ratcheted up my enjoyment!

Story-wise, I liked this. We got a look at "normal people" that might interact with Swan; we see him in action at a disadvantage; we see him at home, we see him at the start of a new case, and how he gets cases…and we get a bit of an info-dump (better this way than having to wait a number of issues) on his past and how he feels…the internal monologue of sorts. That he’s essentially addressing the reader is a nice touch that builds connection and familiarity. We then see the character in action with some preparation. My big complaint would probably be that the issue just sort of ends, with no real declaration of it ending, or that it’ "To Be Continued" or whatnot…and we’re dumped into a 4-page ad for the Firearm video/#0 package. It’s an appropriate ad given it’s tied to this title, but I’m not sure all 4 pages were needed.

Knowing the character’s from England, it’s easier to read this with a bit of an accent…or try to "hear" it in the reading. And something about the whole thing makes me think that Jason Statham would be an excellent actor to play Alec Swan/Firearm in live-action at present.

I look forward to getting to the next issue, as well as getting to know this character better. Still, at "only" month #4 of the Ultraverse in general, we’re still getting to know a handful of Ultras and get used to the idea of there being so many of them all of a sudden…so it’s a LITTLE "early" to be introducing this character on a premise of being the normal guy facing off with Ultras. Then again, it’s likely moreso that we see the "descent" into dealing with more Ultras.

As with the other Ultraverse #1s, this is bargain bin fodder for sure…so I’d recommend paying $1 or less for it. But I’d definitely recommend checking it out. This is part action-hero flick, part film noir…and a very solid issue. We’ll see how the later issues seem, but on strength of the first issue, if I didn’t already own the whole series and if this was a modern comic, I’d be coming back for the next issue!

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Ultraverse Revisited: Strangers #3

ultraverse_revisited

strangers_0003TNTNT!

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

Three issues in, and we get introduced to a villainous team for our Strangers team to face–TNTNT!

As the issue opens, we get an introduction to the villains of TNTNT, by way of simultaneous fighting and chattering, as they introduce themselves to the Strangers as each fights a Stranger. Tyrannosaur, Naiad, Torso, Neu-Ronne, and Tugun. Get it? TNTNT. We have some choppiness, between seeing parts of the fight and the aftermath of the Strangers (victorious) getting costumes made and such. Then we get another bit with the old man we’ve seen at the ends of issues, as his cancer reveals it’s actually a villain and he’ll never be healed. There’s also a quick check-in with J.D. Hunt, before we get back to the Strangers, who’ve gone to Hardcase’s place and are there waiting for him when he and Choice get there (see also: Hardcase #3!)

The art on this issue’s not bad, but doesn’t blow me away. It has the "look" and "feel" of the Strangers for me, and definitely has a ’90s vibe. The story is a bit choppy, and whether it’s lack of story elements (such as a caption denoting time) or the way the art is, I actually thought my reading copy of this issue had been misprinted and that pages were out of order. I eventually caught on to what was being done, but considering I’ve been reading comics for nearly 30 years, I don’t feel I should be so thrown by an issue or unable to catch on FASTER.

The story itself isn’t all that bad…this gives us a villain team for the Strangers to fight; obviously if you have a whole team of super-powered heroes, just a lone villain shouldn’t be a match, so having a whole team of super-powered villains works. The way everyone talked in-battle, and the way the TNTNT members introduced themselves felt cheesy as heck to me, and not exactly in a good way. Zip-Zap gets a bit of a subplot, with a bigger range to get away from the battle proper and discovering some suits watching the group; and even gets himself shot/drugged for his trouble. Confusing (and frustratingly so) as the issue could be structurally, I definitely do relish the inclusion of subplots; and whatever complaints I have, there’s a bit of nostalgia in the "old style" of focusing on team members individually in a battle that–were it to happen in real life–would absolutely not be one in which characters could interact as they’re shown here to do.

I wasn’t overly thrilled with this issue, but I’m still curious where things go, and looking forward to the Strangers/Hardcase crossover. I’m hoping that where I’m not terribly engaged with the Strangers as they’ve been thus far, I’ll enjoy them more once I see them interacting with the Ultraverse world as a whole.

This is only a 3rd issue, and Ultraverse issues not being terribly expensive–period–I would recommend getting issues 1 and 2 along with this, as this would seem more of a mess as an isolated issue. And there’s no real reason to read this in isolation without the first couple issues!

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