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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: Mantra #2

ultraverse_revisited

mantra_0002The Woman Behind the Mask

Creator-Writer: Mike W. Barr
Penciller: Terry Dodson
Inker: Al Vey
Letterer: Patrick Owsley
Colorist: Moose Baumann
Editor: Chris Ulm
Published by: Malibu Comics
Cover Date: August 1993
Cover Price: $1.95

I had a bit of deja vu opening this issue…the first page feels like it mirrors the exact cliffhanger of the first issue! Warstrike–the man who killed Lukasz–is at the door,and Lukasz is in the seemingly-weak body of a woman. Turns out that Warstrike is here to offer his aid–Notch tricked him as well, and he doesn’t take kindly to that. They part, and Lukasz–now Eden Blake–deals with kids (s)he doesn’t know what to do with, a job (s)he only knows the address (not what tasks to perform), and so on…while elsewhere, Boneyard and Notch torture Archimage, who refuses to give up his last warrior. Later, Lukasz/Eden crashes a party/auction and bumps into Warstrike in his civilian guise–Brandon Tark. The mask that Archimage and Boneyard have been after is there, and when Notch goes for it, Lukasz leaps into action, and manages to get the mask…while also discovering some new powers this Eden Blake body has. Emerging apparently victorious, Lukasz later takes the kids to a movie, figuring why not? It’s not like they’d be a problem much longer…he aims to pawn them off on the father as soon as possible. Unfortunately, the "Repo Men" encountered at the auction are also here…and the battle doesn’t go nearly so well. Combined with having to protect the kids…Lukasz–Mantra–is not in a good situation.

The Dodson art is a bit "cheesecake" and such with several panels (AND the cover) NOT being shy about how well endowed Eden’s body is. Despite that, the art overall is quite good, and pretty distinctive on the characters…particularly where costumes are involved.

I am pretty sure I’ve never read this issue before, but enjoyed it. There’s something almost cinematic about it, something that could definitely work for tv, and I’m surprised it hasn’t been picked up FOR tv given current vibes on stuff.

It makes sense to have some time seeing Lukasz adjust to the new body as well as the hints of fear that weren’t present while in other bodies: knowing there will be no next body makes everything far more dangerous than they seemed when he had endless reincarnation to keep going with. While it’s not much "development," we get to check in on Boneyard and Archimage to keep that fresh in mind, that they and their war are why we’re here.

In some ways, this could BE a first issue, had the previous issue been doled out as a #0 or a serialized bit. Still, as with other titles…this being "only" the second issue, I’d highly recommend getting the first issue along with this, as the story would be far more meaningful than specifically going for this issue in isolation. As a second issue, I definitely liked this, as it continues to develop the main character and flesh out the world/supporting cast and build on the previous issue, while also leaving some stuff to be wondering about for the next issue, along with the cliffhanger leaving us to wonder how Mantra will get out of the situation and if the kids will also make it out, etc.

This was one of my favorite Ultraverse series back in the ’90s, and so far on re-read, nothing is changing my thoughts on that. As said above, this title seems all the more "relevant" or poignant in 2018, like it would surely be championed now more than ever before. Regardless…it’s simply a fun read, with art that’s hardly bad on the (male) eyes.

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