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The ’90s Revisited – Magic: The Gathering – The Shadow Mage #2

[I’d ‘revisited’ this series as a whole back in August/September 2012 for a group blog that doesn’t exist anymore. And due to a personal issue with Boom Studios’ comics I refuse to buy their new Magic series. So, instead of buying THOSE new comics, and to have my content covering this series fully on my own blog (so as to not disappear when an external blog shuts down), I’m revisiting–as single issues–the ORIGINAL Magic: The Gathering comics published by Acclaim through their Armada imprint back in 1995!]

magicthegathering_theshadowmage_002Desolate Angel

Writer: Jeff Gomez
Pencils: Val Mayerik
Ink: James Pascoe
Painted Color: Mark Csaszar
Letters: Adam Niedzwiecki
Editor-In-Chief: Bob Layton
Cover Painting: Val Mayerik
Cover Date: August 1995
Cover Price: $2.50

Well, one thing to notice straight away is that you really need to pay clooooose attention to years to know what sort of time has passed! The first issue opened on "Autumn of 1265, by the reckoning of the Sages of Minorad." That issue referenced time in relation to that–a week later, a month later, seven years later. This issue opens in "late Summer, 1280 by the reckoning of the Sages of Minorad." So it’s been nearly 15 years since the events that opened the first issue…and doing the math, we’re opening some 7-8 years after the previous issue ended! So quiiiiite a gap, there.

The young Jared Carthalion is now 14ish, having spent the last 3/4ths of a decade training to take on Ravidel. However, while Ravidel knows where and how to find Jared, knows that Jared’s got access to magic, and even declared that their final duel had begun…he apparently decided to kick back and leave Jared alone for awhile, rather than finishing his would-be opponent while he could.

So we get some verbal exposition–as Jared is pained using his magic, Ezer has had him attempt to train physically so he can put up SOME sort of fight, if not magically. A giant spider is summoned to them and attacks–Ezer immediately recognizes it as "a minion of Ravidel" because of course. This is the last straw, and NOW Jared determines to fight back, and summons a Hurloon Minotaur. In the midst of the giant spider attack, the Minotaur and Jared discuss what’s happening, share introductions (the minotaur’s name is Sings Two Ways, and he and his people were granted a boon by the elder Carthalion that they cannot repay, and thus Sings Two Ways gladly fights in defense of Jared and Ezer). Jared sees the spider apparently winning and steps in and the two slay the creature.

The spider defeated, Sings Two Ways laments he must leave…he’s been poisoned and will die unless Jared returns him to his people. Their home destroyed, Jared and Ezer are now homeless in the rain in the streets of Arathoxia. Jared spots a beautiful young woman and laments his raggedness by comparison. Before long, he and Ezer are in a hospice, the older man dying, and Jared determined to seek out some way to save him. Leaving the hospice, he’s set upon by Yorgo and his gang, and Jared summons some goblins, but is then horrified when they nearly kill the boys and laments, wondering if butchering others is what his power can do. We get a page of Arathoxian politics re: Ravidel, and then find Jared speaking with the Vizier’s wife in House Carthalion, where he has ventured for help. She references "the battle of Aster Fall" (which contextualizes the previous issue a bit) and shows him a Black Lotus, but they’re interrupted by the vizier’s return so she gives him an Alabaster Potion and sends him off. Jared steals the Black Lotus, recognizing its power, but while he tries to figure out how to use it, is greeted by that beautiful young woman–who invites Jared to Beggartown that evening.

After giving some of the potion to Ezer, Jared meets her there, where we find a whole community of thieves/beggars, including Yorgo’s group…and they’re none to happy that Liana has brought Jared into their space. But Jared offers some of the remaining potion to one of the boys hurt by the goblins earlier, though it earns him no thanks. The city’s guards descend on the group from nowhere, and Liana stops Jared from using his magic as that would bring the wrong sort of attention. As the crowd flees…Jared and Liana are suddenly confronted by none other than Ravidel himself! Jared lashes out immediately, but the more experienced planeswalker casts a spell and defeats Jared. Liana steps in–apparently she and Ravidel have some history–and drives the planeswalker off after revealing she has multiple moxes and referencing "The Treaty of the Shard." Ravidel claims a proper duel now would run counter to his plans, so leaves. Hours later, Jared and Liana pose for the page, as we see she’s second-guessed what she was going to tell Jared, as the boy realizes he’ll have to go it alone.

Well…that’s a loooong summary, and I’m sure I really glossed over some key details! There’s enough going on here to fill 3-4 issues in terms of modern comics’ pacing and such. This is a really dense story…and one that relies on the reader to have picked up on and remembered a number of subtle details! The reader also gets to fill in a lot of blanks, between the 7-year-gap between issues to imagining the details of Sings Two Ways’ relationship to Jared’s father, to the nature of House Carthalion. There’s also the curiosity of Ravidel allowing so much time to pass without expending much effort to personally confront Jared until he’s begun finding apparently-powerful allies, such as Liana! While I have some meta-textual knowledge of "The Shard," I’ll leave that to discuss more as it comes up in other Armada Magic issues, since I’m going issue-by-issue through one series at a time here.

The story continues to hold more potential than what it executes…it’s not bad, but feels too dense, too "compressed" for me after 20 years of "decompressed" storytelling in comics, and more years removed from the depths of Magic: the Gathering knowledge. Back in 1996, I was fresh into the game and fairly steeped in knowledge of the various cards and bits of lore. Taking stuff month by month, where the game had only even existed for a little under two years, it was a whole different thing back then than now, some 25 years later reading this from a muuuuch different vantage point!

The art is good, and I feel like I liked it better in this issue than the previous, though it’s the same art team! Perhaps because–while dense story-wise–this issue didn’t have to cover 7+ years, so there was more of a sense of consistency…and I’m beginning to get a better sense of characters, now that things have settled a bit, and been able to build a bit on what’s come before, which I suppose allows me to appreciate the art more, not being as overwhelmed with "everything."

This definitely looks like a fantasy comic, and continues to remind me a bit of Barry Windsor-Smith‘s art for some reason.

I was also interested to note ads in the issue…particularly for the Chronicles set. This was the set, after all, that released in August or so 1995, offering white-border "unlimited" editions of previously-limited black-border cards from the Arabian Nights, Antiquities, Legends, and The Dark expansion sets…and which led to Wizards of the Coast establishing their "Restricted List" that persists to this day.

We have the addition of Liana–apparently a planeswalker herself–to the story, and it seems obvious something bigger is afoot. There’s the general knowledge displayed by House Carthalion of the battle of Aster Fall; their possession of a Black Lotus; and Liana having history with Ravidel. At the second issue here, that suggests "the world" of Magic is about to get a whole lot bigger than Jared’s little corner of things.

As mentioned in covering the previous issue…this story is one built around the cards…rather than the cards being built around the story. The issue–as with the first (though I didn’t get into it)–has a bit of "backmatter" with words from the editor to the reader, as well as a mini-column "Seer Analysis" by Shawn F. Carnes where Carnes looks at the issue from the point of view of Magic: The Gathering the game, pointing out details such as a Hurloon Minotaur being a 2/3 creature, while a Giant Spider is 2/4, and so while the two creatures would indeed damage each other, neither would one-shot-kill the other.

Also like the first issue, this issue’s cover announces the inclusion of a genuine Magic: The Gathering card. UNlike the previous issue, though…this one has the card in a clear plastic insert/wrapper stapled into the issue itself, rather than being loose in a polybag. This certainly allows a better situation wherein one can READ the issue itself and choose whether or not to remove the card! It may be a crapshoot if you find this issue "in the wild" on whether it includes the card or not, but it’s more likely, perhaps, than if you find #1 in the wild. [Edit to add: the card this issue comes with is a 4th Edition Blue Elemental Blast]

I also have a certain amount of personal sentimentality to this issue, as I recall a visit to my grandmother and having this comic with me, as I associate this cover with that visit; it also puts me in mind of an aunt, who had tried to show interest in my comics for my sake. I know I had consciously recalled bits of the first issue, as well as this issue from its cover (and it’s great that the cover shows something from the issue itself–a Hurloon Minotaur vs. Giant Spider!). I don’t have the same conscious recollection of the covers, even, of the 3rd and 4th issue of this series, nor even the story or how things turn out…even consciously recalling having re-read this series a few years ago!

Two issues down, and we’re halfway through this entire mini-series…

magicthegathering_theshadowmage_002_blogtrailer

The ’90s Revisited – Magic: The Gathering – The Shadow Mage #1

[I’d ‘revisited’ this series as a whole back in August/September 2012 for a group blog that doesn’t exist anymore. And due to a personal issue with Boom Studios‘ comics I refuse to buy the new MAGIC #1. So, instead of buying new comics, and to have the content fully on my own blog to not disappear, I’m going to re-revisit–as single issues–the ORIGINAL Magic: The Gathering comics published by Acclaim through their Armada imprint back in 1995!]

magicthegathering_theshadowmage_001The Aster Fall

Writer: Jeff Gomez
Pencils: Val Mayerik
Ink: James Pascoe
Painted Color: Mark Csaszar
Letters: Bethanne Niedz
Editor-In-Chief: Bob Layton
Cover Painting: Val Mayerik
Cover Date: July 1995
Cover Price: $2.50

To the best of my understanding, this is THE first Magic: The Gathering comic. Though its story may not chronologically be the first, it was the first-published, kicking off the Armada imprint from Acclaim, and introducing the (comics) world to MTG in the spring of 1995. The game itself had premiered in October 1993, some 18 months earlier…and with its setting as a “multiverse,” it was certainly a ripe thing to bring to comics!

The issue opens on an active battlefield. We meet Lord Carthalion, Ezer, and a Lieutenant as they witness a falling star–a bad omen. A magic-powered ship bursts onto the scene, carrying Battlemage Ravidel…the enemy of this Lord Carthalion. The two engage into a “duel” and exchange spells to weaken and harm the other…culminating in Carthalion sacrificing himself to buy time for Ezer to flee with baby Jared…last heir to the Carthalion name. In the aftermath of the battle, Ezer has been artificially aged to a wasted old man, though the baby is relatively unaffected. As Ezer laments their situation–drinking himself into a stupor–we see the baby apparently work some protective magic to save his own life against the intrusion of a (dire?) wolf. Later, city guards at Arathoxia do not believe that this frail old man is in any way who he claims to be, nor the child with him…functionally banishing them from what should have been a life of relative luxury (despite their losses) to that of lowly street-rats, scrounging for food and living off the scraps of the city.

7 years pass, and the young Jared Carthalion is an able thief, stealing food for himself and father-figure Ezer to survive (barely) on. He is bullied by others his age and in no way “included,” existing all but alone. Even after the years that have passed, Ezer tries to keep alive the flame of who Jared really is, where he’s come from, though the boy can’t even envision anything ever getting better…which enrages the old man, who strikes the boy. Meanwhile, using a scrying device, Ravidel spies on the boy and his guardian, and opts to arbitrarily send a summoned minion to kill the boy. When the berzerker bursts in on the pair, Ezer works some magic…as does Jared! The boy has “tapped!” This excites Ezer–the boy WILL be able to avenge his house! However, Ravidel revels in this as well, declaring that their FINAL duel begins.

The last time I read this series, I blew through all four issues pretty quickly, glossing over details and simply taking it in as a totally generic fantasy story with too-fast pacing, lack of characterization, and largely being Magic in little more than name-only. This time through, sticking to this single issue and looking back over stuff and taking it in as a singular thing, I enjoyed it a bit more.

Story-wise, this IS a fairly generic thing. There’s hardly room in ~21 pages to worldbuild when the entire issue encompasses a massive battle, travel, and spans more than seven years.

We’re introduced to Lord Carthalion–the patriarch/leader of the Carthalions. He seems to have some magical ability…but is a mere mortal, compared to the power of a PLANESWALKER in Ravidel. We never get a rason for this battle, for Ravidel’s assault. He’s a two-dimensional villain for the sake of being a villain, apparently. An opponent because their MUST BE “an opponent.” We also get no real sense of what a “planeswalker” is, or WHY a “planeswalker” is and so on. Meta-textually, the reader probbbbbbably knows what one is–the allure of a Magic: The Gathering comic is almost certainly to expand on the cards and game one already knows.

Now in 2021, I’m looking back on this comic from 25 years later, as a person 25 years older, and with 25 years and a number of additional comics as well as dozens of novels and quite a few short stories, and “newer resources” such as Wikipedia and a Magic: The Gathering -specific fan-wiki, and podcast resources/interviews with creators, and generally a heckuva larger understanding than 14/15-year-old Walt had. And I can “appreciate” this issue as the first bit of a much larger thing, rather than something to be taken in total isolation.

The art doesn’t overly impress me–though it’s not bad, really. It’s absolutely better than anything I could produce, but none of these characters are REALLY all that singularly-recognizable and are far from “iconic” visages. The overall visuals certainly evoke a certain mid-90s feel…perhaps due to thinking of the artist recently as I read this issue, I see hints of Barry Windsor-Smith, and overall early Valiant here…though it’s obviously other creators.

While the visuals try to evoke very specific cards and their in-game use; and a column in the back of the issue elaborates on very specific Magic: The Gathering cards represented in the action–I’m far enough removed from early MTG and these cards and any such knowledge I was steeped in as a kid reading this, so it reduces the cards’ representations to generic fantasy-ish magic effects and some random-ish action that meant little to me in the reading.

The cover gives us Lord Carthalion in full strength wielding a sword in one hand, casting a fireball (presumably) from the other; while we also get a representation of the baby facing a looming wolf in a wooded space. This is relevant to the issue–Carthalion’s duel, and Jared’s fate…so it’s not just some arbitrary, random, unfocused magic-user. This is a singular cover; to this day, I am only aware of–get this: ONE SINGLE COVER for this issue. My copy has “Direct Sales” in the barcode…hence this came from the “direct market” or “comic shops.” There may be “newsstand sales” for the issue–copies that sold through newsstands or non-comic shop locations (Bookstores like Waldenbooks or B. Dalton, or found at a grocery store or such). But the difference would be the barcode itself…NOT a different cover image!

The issue originally came polybagged with a 4th edition Fireball card–an actual, playable card from Magic: The Gathering . This was from right as Revised Edition was fading away and 4th Edition was ramping up…I don’t recall for certain but I believe this FIreball may have been the first 4th edition (or 4th edition-STYLE) card I owned for the game. Unlike many such comics at the time, despite the polybag, there’s a banner across the top of the cover itself proclaiming the inclusion of the “free” card. So minus the bag and card itself…the banner remains.

The card was not a unique card “exclusive” to the comic or anything; it wasn’t some limited edition or variant or whatnot. It was just…a card. For the game. Playable. A little piece of the game included with a comic based on the game. What a far cry from more recent Magic comics with alternate-art cards shrink-wrapped with an issue and prompting an extra-sized cover price for the inclusion of a sheet of cardboard, the card itself, and shrink-wrapping in addition to the other regular costs of producing a comic (referencing the IDW-published Magic comics from 2012 or so).

This first issue of The Shadow Mage kicks off a story set in the “world” of Magic…but it’s a case of the story referencing the cards, rather than the cards referencing a story. I’d put it as well that this is from when the entirety of Magic: The Gathering was a more vague “idea” than concrete story, and what would eventually develop was still BEING developed.

There’s not really much of anything to this issue to make it a destination-read or something to seek out…unless one specifically wants to go back to the beginning of Magic’s appearance in comics. Or snag the first appearance of Jared Carthalion, Battlemage Ravidel, the first Elder Dragon represented in a comic (Chromium Rhuell’s corpse being part of the planar barge), and so on.

That said…it’s actually not a bad read–and I certainly enjoyed it much more than I did Gerrard’s Quest #1 that I read last year!

After an apparently-failed launch of “modern” Magic comics a couple years ago by IDW, Boom Studios got the license and has just launched a new series, titled simply Magic (dropping the “: The Gathering” part) and I haven’t a clue where they’re gonna take the story. After a brief 2-book return to the world of printed novels, Wizards of the Coast went right back to digital-only to tell the story of card sets, so this new Boom series is a different return to print…and some “hype” I’ve seen suggests they’re hoping for a Mighty Morphin Power Rangers level resurgence of the property in comics. However…it’s that comparison that seems to have sparked hype on THIS original series with some crazy activity on The Shadow Mage #1 in graded condition and such with speculators apparently flocking to it in hopes that something from that issue pops up and becomes The Next Big Thing in modern Magic comics.

Me?

I’m gonna sit back and enjoy re-reading original 1990s’ Magic: The Gathering comics, and appreciate the lack of overhype, lack of variants, and (relative) lack of pure, greedy speculation.

magicthegathering_theshadowmage_001_blogtrailer

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.

prototype_0004_blogtrailer

Ultraverse Revisited: Prototype #3

ultraverse_revisited

prototype_0003Hero and the Terror

Writers: Tom Mason & Len Strazewski
Artists: David Ammerman & James Pascoe
Letterer: Dave Lanphear
Colorist: Rob Alvord
Editor: Chris Ulm
Published by: Malibu Comics
Cover Date: October 1993
Cover Price: $2.50

Something in seeing this cover surprised me that it’s "only" #3. This also seems ripe to be the right-half of a 2-part image, with whoever is blasting Prototype on the other side…but alas, this is a Rune Month issue with a flip cover (no wraparound). On the plus side, I’m not aware of any VARIANT covers, so this is simply THE cover for #3!

We open on Jimmy (Prototype) and his handler stuck on a plane–their flight’s been delayed. As they wait, terrorists calling themselves Terrordyne, Inc. attack another plane with a baseball team on board. Jimmy’s excited at the prospect of some action; meanwhile, we get a scene with someone in shadows on the phone turning down an offer, before leaping into some sort of action, gun blazing. As another subplot, we get a page with a lab and a revelation that Glare’s body (the Ultra that apparently died at Prototype’s hands in #1) shows he’s got wetware implants, and the body will be shipped off to Aladdin for analysis. As Jimmy suits up, and reveals that he’s disabled a shutdown failsafe in his armor, we cut to Bob Campbell explaining what happened to lead him showing up at his ex’s place in such horrid condition; as she patches him up, he reminisces about their past, providing us plenty of exposition. From there we get to the "meat" of the story as Prototype stops the terrorists, only to then face their leader: someone with flame powers calling himself Heater. The Prototype armor shorts out–Jimmy suspects it might be from his tinkering–but he gets the auxiliary power going in time to survive. His handler is tossed out of the plane (when did it take off?), so Jimmy opts to save him, figuring he can catch the villain after…but by the time the get back to the ground, Heater’s vanished. In frustration, he blasts the corporate jet out of the sky (the pilot had already been killed). This, as well as the earlier scuffle and the Prime incident (see Prime #4) has Leland–Ultratech’s president–more than fed up with the young "hero." As he asks for interviews to begin on a replacement, we cut to someone called Wrath being brought in on a plan of industrial espionage and heading out after Prototype.

Starting with the end of the issue…we have a page marked as "25" but it has no captioning, dialogue, etc…and with plenty of open space at the top and bottom, looks like a cover image thrown into an issue. If it wasn’t numbered to appear to be a story page, it’d look like basically an ad for the next issue or such!

I continue to feel (mostly pleasantly) like there’s almost too much going on in a given Ultraverse comic…they’re much denser than modern 2018 comics, with a lot more story and development packed into a single issue! I’m definitely enjoying that we’re getting a story of not only the new/current Prototype, Jimmy Ruiz, but also the original–Bob Campbell. And rather than only piecing something together issues later in denouement at the end of a multi-issue arc, we get cut scenes to other characters and stuff going on simultaneous with the main story…stuff going on that we as readers get to actually see developing instead of being told (after the fact) did happen, later. Jimmy’s a hothead, and that comes off with his impetuousness at the start of the issue–eager for battle, even though it means there are people getting hurt. Still, he wants to be the hero he’s playing–for real, not just looking good for cameras.

I know Wrath as an Ultraverse title, though that title’s logo is not this initial WRATH logo on the final page with the character Wrath. I don’t think I realized that he came out of Prototype, but definitely like that the title apparently was a spinoff (though I’ll get to that in awhile when I get to the 1994 books!).

The art is solid and gets things across as any art should do. The only point I found myself not entirely clear what had happened was when Prototype blasts Heater…there’s an impact, but also an exclamation balloon of "YARGH!" nowhere hear Heater’s mouth, actually looking like he might’ve taken the worst of the blast below the belt…or that something was positioned in the wrong part of the panel…presumably definitely something with the infamous computer design stuff Malibu had going on. Otherwise, the issue looks good–especially Prototype. I still really dig the look, even if it is very ’90s!

rune_0fRune [F]: The Nectar of Life
Plotted by: Barry Windsor-Smith & Chris Ulm
Drawn & Colored by: Barry Windsor-Smith
Scripted by: Chris Ulm
Inked by: John Floyd
Computer Color by: Albert Calleros
Lettered by: Patrick Owsley
Text Pages Designed by: Jim Chadwick
Edited by: Steve Gerber

Picking up shortly after the previous chapter (in Freex #4), where we were left to assume Rune killed Edwin, here we get visual confirmation that he definitely did–with exposed rib bones and reddish coloring to suggest the gore. Edwin–briefly–was the most powerful being on the planet, according to "previously" text, but Rune killed him…and now imbued with his power, has filled out, transforming back to a younger, vital self. Moments later, though, his body reverts back to the frail, sickly creature he’s become, and he realizes that even this was not enough.

I thought Rune was a vampire…if not 100% typical, then at least using his fangs to leech life/bio-energy from his victims. Not physically consuming the bodies! A cannibalistic vampire, I guess? Whatever the case, the visuals add to the bloody violence of the thing, which seems fitting given Barry Windsor-Smith‘s other works (first in my mind being Conan and Weapon X).

This chapter works pretty well in directly following the previous, yet a bit of time has passed. That makes for something choppy going page to page, but for being a new piece of the story in a separate publication than the previous piece, it’s little worse than any other "returning from a cliffhanger but some time has passed" instance.


Though the cover seemed somewhat incomplete or generic-ish, I liked this issue. There’s a lot of story between the covers, and while there are only 25 story pages (as with the other titles, the cover proclaims the issue a 40 page special), this is still a very full issue with development and forward movement on multiple plot threads.

The Rune chapter is again not something to singularly "sell" the issue, but doesn’t detract. The segment moves that narrative forward, and I find myself looking toward getting more info about what Rune is, how he gets power from beings he consumes (does he absolutely have to consume their flesh or is that a ‘pleasure,’ for example?) and so on. I haven’t read the title in nearly two decades, so it’s like getting Rune fresh, and I don’t recall many particular details.

Yet again, this issue isn’t something I’d recommend seeking out as a single issue in isolation…you’re better off with the #1 for that. But this is definitely worth picking up as part of a run, and in that context certainly worth 25 to 50 cents. Though its original cover price is $2.50, and this IS an "early Ultraverse" issue, I frequently see these in bargain bins, so it should be able to be found for $1 or less, and I wouldn’t go much above the $1 unless you’re ‘desperate’ for the issue in some form.

prototype_0003_blogtrailer

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: Prototype #1

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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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Zero Hour Revisited – L.E.G.I.O.N. ’94 #70

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legion_94_0070Down to Zero

Writer: Tennessee Peyer
Pencillers: Arnie Jorgensen, Derec Aucoin
Inker: James Pascoe
Colorist: Gene D’Angelo
Letterer: Gaspar
Asst. Editor: Peter Tomasi
Editor: Dan Raspler
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Date: September 1994
Cover Price: $2.50

This is yet another issue that I “missed” in 1994 and never have gotten around to reading until now in 2016…at least that I can recall. I had a slight sense of deja vu reading this and though I don’t remember reading it…it’s possible I paged through and read part of it somewhere along the way. (Or at the least, I must’ve read ABOUT it, being curious about how this series ended). I jumped on to R.E.B.E.L.S. ’94 with #0 and followed for a handful of issues, though right now I can’t even recall any of THAT.

LEGION (Licensed Extra-Governmental Interstellar Operatives Network) is not in good shape, apparently, as we begin this issue. The leader of the group–Vril Dox–laments the loss (or apparent loss) of several members of the team, as well as stuff perpetrated by his (apparently) infant son. His reminiscing is interrupted by coming across the freshly-murdered body of a man he’d murdered years ago, giving him pause. Meanwhile, the mother of his son chases after an apparent imposter impersonating Lady Qark (There’s a name I remember but don’t think I really knew appeared in this title post-COIE!); we also see another member with a time-travel buddy preparing to take her “back” to the future….and on learning recent events he freaks out, knowing only something HUGE happens, the details of which are lost to history but not its impact. Also meanwhile, Lobo and Borb arrive at Garv and Strata’s wedding…we eventually learn that Lobo expects a great party–the reception–so he’s none too pleased to have to stand quietly by for something mushy. Plotlines unfold, somewhat converge, and ultimately Dox loses LEGION–usurped by his son. And things will never be the same.

Unlike, say, Valor #23 that appears to be “just” another issue but ends that series, this is an extra-sized issue, basically double-sized…but not quite twice the price. In an age of standard DC comics being $1.50 with some titles at $1.95…this issue was “only” $2.50 with 40-some pages. And the extra pages do service to the story–allowing it to be longer, to involve more events, wrap some stuff up and set other things up for going forward, without requiring an extra issue. It’s like the two-hour series finale of a show that’s usually only got an hour.

While I’m aware OF many of these characters, I’m not all that familiar with them. I remember being loosely aware of this title, though it was well into its run before I learned of it…but it was that awareness that led to me particularly jumping into REBELS–that was a fresh start, a jumping-on point, a continuation of something with a bit of history, but that I could get in on from #1 (or #0, as the case was).

While undoubtedly cheesy by contemporary standards, the story does quite well, letting events unfold, characters move around, the status quo shifts…but there’s ALSO enough context for me to FIGURE OUT what’s going on even not having read any of the issues immediately prior. I was not–am not–all that impressed with the art, though characters that ought to be familiar are, and I was able to follow what was going on without having much problem.

The visuals just aren’t all that appealing to me…though perhaps a part of that is that this is [1.] not a typical superhero book and [2.] these characters are largely unfamiliar to me. I realize as well that visually, this puts me in mind of pre-Annihilation stuff with the Guardians of the Galaxy.

The issue is a solid enough read, but only tangentially tied to Zero Hour. Dox seeing the body from years before is presumably a result OF the Time-stuff going on; beyond that, this doesn’t seem to have anything to do with Zero Hour nor any expansion/development of the core story. If you’re reading LEGION stuff or REBELS, or trying to read every tie in (as I am) this would be worthwhile; otherwise, nothing much here for a random/casual reader.

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