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SBTU: Gold – What If…The Ultraverse had Continued?

sbtu_wi_goldWelcome once again to Super-Blog Team-Up! This is a blog ‘event’ where numerous blogs team up to present posts together on a particular theme or prompt, but done so in the individual blog or podcast’s own style, topic, and so on. For general such content, check out the Twitter hashtag #SBTU!

Whether you stick around for my topic or want to see what else there is–there should be a section of links at the bottom with links to the other SBTU posts this week, and you can follow any of those to a number of other high-quality blogs and podcasts!

This time around, the group topic/theme is split…with several looking at particular Creators, while others are asking the question "What If…?"

After juggling several ideas, I decided to look at the notion of an alternate reality in which the Ultraverse had continued.


The Ultraverse was an imprint of Malibu Comics, launched in 1993. It was a new superhero universe, and for 12-year-old me was quite the exciting thing. I’d juuuuuust missed the launch of Image Comics. And at age 12, I was certainly far too young to have been around for any of the launches/relaunches of what came to be the DC Universe and the Marvel Universe. While there were a number of other new comics universes popping up in the early/mid-’90s (or gaining notoriety), the one that really grabbed ME was Malibu‘s Ultraverse.

The line launched with 3 titles: Prime, Hardcase, and The Strangers. One of the "side elements" that had grabbed me was a promotional "Ultraverse #0" comic you could "only" get via a mail-away offer once you’d collected specific "coupons." There was one coupon each in those 3 launch-titles, another in Malibu Sun (a house previews publication) and I believe the fifth/final coupon was in an issue of Wizard. By tracking down and purchasing all five publications, mailing your coupon and a check in, you’d get the exclusive #0-issue. A good sort of promotion at the time; though I don’t believe the first such promotion. It played into collectability, exclusivity, as well as "encouraging" one to buy more than they might otherwise. (And in 2020 I find it quite tame compared to many modern marketing things).

ultraverse_future_shock_01_feb_97Over subsequent months, the initial 3 series continued, while new 1-2 new titles premiered in most of the subsequent 7 months or so. In mid-1994, Ultraforce teamed up several of the characters like Prime, Hardcase, and Prototype as a new official team (in addition to the Strangers, Freex, and The Solution). In 1995, the Godwheel event series brought Thor and Loki into the Ultraverse; Loki remained for awhile. Shortly after, Rune crossed into the Marvel universe, where he stole the Infinity Gems from the Infinity Watch. The Gems were then lost into the Ultraverse for a few months. Eventually they were re-assembled, Ultraforce faced the Avengers, and reality was changed. "Black September" saw several titles get #Infinity issues and then begin with new #1s. These dropped off after a few issues leaving Prime and Ultraforce; and when those ended, February 1997 saw one last publication in Ultraverse Future Shock.

mantra_0001While I’d jumped on immediately with the Ultraverse, my following the titles was a bit spotty; and overall, the primary titles I wound up more or less catching up with/keeping up with were Prime, Mantra, and Rune. I sampled other titles over time and was aware of the various books, but at the time I couldn’t begin to collect everything. In the years since, I’ve gone back and to the best of my knowledge, managed to collect every single story-issue for the Ultraverse, minus ashcans, promotional/preview things, and a Sega CD Prime comic.

All this is a rather too-brief bit covering my experiences with the Ultraverse…but I felt a bit of background was appropriate, as to my approaching the topic. I was a fan at the very beginning of the Ultraverse, followed to varying degrees through its run including Black September and beyond; and have since gone back and acquired all the issues I missed originally.

And preparing for this round of SBTU was not the first time I’ve "crunched the numbers" and considered the fact that–had the Ultraverse continued uninterrupted–it COULD have titles in the 300 range in present-day.


Disclaimer: All details/info about anything ULTRAVERSE after February 1997 IS MY WORK OF FICTION and wishful thinking. What I present below is one instance of what I could imagine COULD have been, and is part of MY answering the question of "What if the Ultraverse had continued?" It is in no way based in any sort of fact, rumor, inside information, anecdote, creator interviews, etc. whatsoever and should not be taken as such.


What if the Ultraverse had continued?

So, in SOME alternate/parallel universe out there, the Ultraverse continued. In that world, behind the scenes a deal was struck that saw the Ultraverse properties sold off from Marvel, with a new company/publisher created. Going with the branding, it became simply "Ultraverse Comics." Said deal worked out such that June 1997–the fourth anniversary of the original Ultraverse launch from Malibu–saw the re-launch of the Ultraverse as a publisher and a comics universe.

Prime, Mantra, Nightman, and Ultraforce headline this relaunch. All-new #1s, incorporating prior continuity while taking some things in new directions. Double-sized first issues with detailed Marvel XXXXXX Saga styled recaps of prior relevant details, so the titles were grounded in continuity but any new reader would have all the relevant info drawn from before.

In addition and a bit ahead of the times, this alternate-reality Ultraverse was determined not to mess with numbering. Its universe was on its THIRD iteration, its SECOND relaunch/renumbering, and would not sacrifice its numbering again. As the years wore on it would result in the Ultraverse having–next to Image‘s Spawn and Savage Dragon–a body of titles with the highest numbering in North American-published comics.

In this alternate reality, the Ultraverse would have loads of crossovers with other publishers, with numerous mini-series featuring said crossovers. Seeding events from early 2004 to Fall 2005, a Crisis on Infinite Earths type event took shape, led by the Ultraverse titles. Only instead of Infinite Earths it was Numerous Publishers. Various threads begun by Thanos accessing the Ultraverse in 2004 would lead to titles across Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, Image, Ultraverse, and others showing signs of something much larger going on that would bring things to ahead affecting all participating universes. (Think a mix of COIE, Zero Hour, the 2003+ run up to Infinite Crisis, etc.)

Culminating for the Ultraverse in September 2005 with Ultraforce #100, a new reality was created, and all regular Ultraverse titles went on hiatus for six months. In place of those titles, a weekly Ultrasupes book premiered that ran for 25 weekly issues, detailing the Ultraverse‘s participation in the huge, new reality made up of a mixture of all participating publishers’ characters. Such an effort involving so many publishers and properties from mainstream publishers was a feat not to be repeated, though it would be referenced in continuity for many years to follow.

Flashing forward 14-some years to December 2020, the Ultraverse would celebrate four titles hitting their 275th issues; numbers second only to Todd McFarlane‘s SPAWN which had put out its 300th issue the year before.

It would be absolutely foolhardy for me to try to envision every last issue (and in detail) published across 23 years in a single post, so I won’t even try. Instead, I will present a year-by-year sampling of issues published by this reality’s Ultraverse, beginning with its June 1997 premiere and concluding with December 2020.


Once again: All details/info about ULTRAVERSE comics after February 1997 IS MY WORK OF FICTION. Sit back and enjoy a textual/conceptual glimpse into 20+ years of Potential History That Never Was.


June, 1997

  • Prime #1
  • Mantra #1
  • Night Man #1
  • Ultraforce #1

June, 1998

  • Prime #13
  • Hardcase #11
  • Strangers #12
  • Mantra #13
  • Freex #12
  • Prototype #10
  • Firearm #9
  • Solution #11
  • Night Man #13
  • Solitaire #4
  • Wrath #8
  • Warstrike #6
  • Ultraforce #13
  • Strangers vs. Stormwatch #6

June, 1999

  • Prime #24
  • Hardcase #23
  • Strangers #24
  • Mantra #24
  • Freex #24
  • Firearm #21
  • Solution #23
  • Night Man #25
  • Solitaire #16
  • Wrath #20
  • Warstrike #18
  • Ultraforce #25
  • Exiles vs. Exiles #4

June, 2000

  • Prime #36
  • Hardcase #34
  • Strangers #36
  • Mantra #36
  • Freex #36
  • Prototype #17
  • Firearm #33
  • Solution #35
  • Night Man #37
  • Ultraforce #37
  • Strangers vs. Wildcats #1

June, 2001

  • Prime #47
  • Strangers #48
  • Mantra #48
  • Freex #48
  • Solution #47
  • Night Man #49
  • Wrath #28
  • Warstrike #23
  • Ultraforce #49
  • Prototype vs. Darkhawk #4

June, 2002

  • Prime #59
  • Hardcase #44
  • Strangers #60
  • Mantra #59
  • Prototype #35
  • Night Man #61
  • Sludge #17
  • Solitaire #28
  • Ultraforce #61
  • Siren #13
  • Freex vs. Azrael #3
  • Firearm vs. Spawn #3

June, 2003

  • Prime #70
  • Hardcase #56
  • Strangers #72
  • Mantra #71
  • Prototype #44
  • Firearm #49
  • Night Man #73
  • Solitaire #40
  • Ultraforce #73
  • Prime vs. Deadpool #1
  • Solution vs. GI Joe #5

June, 2004

  • Prime #82
  • Strangers #84
  • Mantra #83
  • Freex #59
  • Night Man #85
  • Solitaire #52
  • Warstrike #41
  • Ultraforce #85
  • Solution vs. Thunderbolts #2
  • Strangers vs. Ghost #2

June, 2005

  • Prime #94
  • Strangers #96
  • Mantra #94
  • Freex #71
  • Solitaire #64
  • Ultraforce #97
  • Prime vs. Justice League #3
  • Prototype vs. Iron Man #1
  • Ultraforce vs. Avengers II #2

June, 2006

  • Prime #100
  • Strangers #102
  • Mantra #101
  • Freex #77
  • Solitaire #70
  • Ultraforce #103
  • Solitaire vs. X #1
  • Prime vs. Justice League #9

June, 2007

  • Prime #113
  • Hardcase #71
  • Strangers #114
  • Mantra #113
  • Freex #89
  • Solution #64
  • Night Man #99
  • Ultraforce #116
  • Ultraforce vs. X-Men #1
  • Prime/Spider-Man #7

June, 2008

  • Prime #123
  • Hardcase #83
  • Strangers #126
  • Mantra #125
  • Freex #101
  • Firearm #66
  • Night Man #111
  • Wrath #48
  • Ultraforce #128
  • Solitaire vs. Predator #6

June, 2009

  • Prime #136
  • Hardcase #94
  • Strangers #138
  • Mantra #135
  • Freex #113
  • Firearm #78
  • Night Man #123
  • Ultraforce #140
  • Siren #27

June, 2010

  • Prime #148
  • Strangers #150
  • Mantra #147
  • Night Man #135
  • Rune #25
  • Ultraforce #152
  • Mantra vs. Dr. Strange #6
  • Firearm/GI Joe #1
  • Night Man vs. Batman #1

June, 2011

  • Prime #159
  • Hardcase #110
  • Strangers #162
  • Mantra #159
  • Firearm #82
  • Night Man #147
  • Ultraforce #164
  • Freex vs. New Mutants #6

June, 2012

  • Prime #171
  • Hardcase #122
  • Strangers #174
  • Mantra #172
  • Freex #129
  • Prototype #73
  • Firearm #94
  • Solution #79
  • Warstrike #55
  • Ultraforce #176
  • Ultraforce vs. The Authority #5
  • Prime vs. Shazam #2
  • Night Man vs. Aliens #2

June, 2013

  • Prime #183
  • Strangers #186
  • Mantra #185 & # 186
  • Freex #141
  • Solution #91
  • Ultraforce #188
  • Mantra vs. Captain Marvel #5
  • Firearm vs. Batman #3

June, 2014

  • Prime #196
  • Hardcase #132
  • Strangers #198
  • Mantra #197
  • Freex #153
  • Prototype #76
  • Firearm #105
  • Night Man #163
  • Solitaire #91
  • Ultraforce #200
  • Firearm/GI Joe II #6
  • Strangers vs. Justice League #1

June, 2015

  • Prime #208
  • Hardcase #144
  • Strangers #211
  • Mantra #209
  • Prototype #88
  • Firearm #110
  • Night Man #175
  • Solitaire #103
  • Wrath #60
  • Freex vs. Teen Titans #2
  • Freex vs. Spawn #2

June, 2016

  • Prime #221
  • Strangers #223
  • Mantra #221
  • Freex #168
  • Night Man #187
  • Solitaire #113
  • Warstrike #67
  • Ultraforce #221
  • Siren #40
  • Firearm/GI Joe III #6
  • Strangers vs. Prometheus #3
  • Ultraforce vs. JLA #4

June, 2017

  • Prime #233
  • Strangers #235
  • Mantra #233
  • Freex #180
  • Firearm #121
  • Night Man #199
  • Sludge #38
  • Solitaire #125
  • Ultraforce #233
  • Strangers/Thunderbolts #3

June, 2018

  • Prime #245
  • Hardcase #161
  • Strangers #247
  • Mantra #245
  • Freex #192
  • Rune #38
  • Ultraforce #245
  • Siren #43
  • Night Man vs. Midnighter #4
  • Strangers vs. X-Men #4

June, 2019

  • Prime #257
  • Strangers #259
  • Mantra #257
  • Solution #98
  • Solitaire #138
  • Ultraforce #257

June, 2020

  • Prime #269
  • Hardcase #177
  • Strangers #270
  • Mantra #269
  • Prototype #109
  • Sludge #59
  • Solitaire #150
  • Wrath #64
  • Ultraforce #269

December, 2020

  • Prime #275
  • Hardcase #183
  • Strangers #275
  • Mantra #275
  • Freex #200
  • Prototype #115
  • Solitaire #156
  • Rune #51
  • Ultraforce #275
  • Siren #53


I absolutely ran out of time to even BEGIN to do all the pretty covers and such I’d envisioned when settling on this topic. Logos and trade dress and the like across various titles. However, in mapping out this fictional, parallel-universe Ultraverse line, I have plenty of fodder for future posts, and to come back to this topic with those covers and such. Especially for the big/round number issues…the 50s, 100s, and so on.

But…

Returning to real-world present-day Earth in 2020:

It’s been 27 1/2 years since the premiere of the actual Ultraverse.

Had Prime, Hardcase, or Strangers proceeded 1 issue per month for all this time, uninterrupted, we’d actually see them at #300+ each.

At 27 1/2 years old, the Ultraverse would be as old now as the Marvel Universe was around 1989 (counting from 1961/62).

Consider how deep and aged Marvel continuity and titles were in the early-1990s, and the Ultraverse would be approaching a similar point!

Remember the 30th anniversary of the Fantastic Four?

What about the 30th anniversary of Spider-Man?

I myself consciously recall the 30th anniversary of X-Men in their Fatal Attractions crossover.

In a modern age of comics where continuity matters little and comics’ numbering is a joke, where variant covers seem to drive the industry and even DC Comics seems to be backing away from emphasis on monthly comics…it’s interesting enough to me to consider what a different world it would be with an Ultraverse still producing new content.

What might the industry look like had it continued? What creators would have continued or built careers there rather than other publishers? What characters and stories might we have gotten as a result…or NOT gotten, as the case might be?

And what of all the gimmicks that we saw with the original Ultraverse?

ultraverse_premiere_0000The primary "gimmicks" I think of with the original Ultraverse is the initial coupons thing for Ultraverse Premiere #0, the full-cover hologram covers for several titles, and the frequency of a #0 issue being what a #1 should have been. Occasional variant covers–the one that most stands out to me in memory is Prime #4 which had a fight between Prime and Prototype…one cover shows Prime victorious while the other shows Prototype victorious.

During the Black September stuff, the #"Infinity" issues sported bright neon-colored logos on all-black covers. There was an image on the back cover, though. Alternate covers provided the logo and trade dress on the image. Whichever "variant" you got, you still got to see the image to associate with the issue. With the #1 issues the next month, variants’ variance was more subtle, with covers carrying a painted look or a standard look.

sbtu_chromium_eraofexcess_hologram_04

But even with a wealth of stuff like this…it was a FARRRRR cry from every single title from every single publisher carrying at minimum "A" and "B" covers, let alone "retailer incentive" covers or "theme month" covers and all that.

I suppose that gets into other topics, though.

As 2020 has itself been a far cry from what I’d planned…perhaps this very post will get me back into gear actually covering the original Ultraverse. I had a good burst a couple years ago with my Ultraverse Revisited run, and DO aim to pick that back up in the near future, real-life-permitting (though I’ve said that since leaving off in 2018!)

ultraverse_revisited

As an abrupt conclusion jumping off from the Ultraverse but holding to the "What If" theme: back in 2016, I did a post looking at the question What If Superman #75 had come out in 2016? Basically, showing off dozens of mocked-up cover images I did to represent the ridiculousness of modern variant covers that totally dilute the market and make any given cover rather generic and unrecognizable.


Super-Blog Team-Up Continues Below!

  

Between The Pages Blog – Scrooge McDuckTales Woo-oo!

Dave’s Comics Blog – Blue Devil Creation

Magazines and Monsters – Comic Book’s Unsung Heroes! Steve Gerber!

In My Not So Humble Opinion – Kurt Schaffenberger, The Definitive Lois Lane Artist of the Silver Age

Comics Comics Comics… – Sergio Argones

SuperHero Satellite – What If Peter Parker became Speedball instead of Spider-Man?

Pop Culture Retrorama – What If The Sinister Dr. Phibes Had Been Produced!

Source Material – What If Captain Confederacy

The Telltale Mind – Arak: Son of Thunder – A Lost Adventure

Comic Reviews by Walt – What if the Ultraverse Had Continued?


 sbtu_what_if_ultraverse_blogtrailer

Ultraverse Revisited: Ultrafiles and Letters Pages October 1993

ultraverse_revisited

Now that we’re done with the actual issues/story contents for the October 1993 Ultraverse titles, on to the Ultrafiles and letters pages!

All of these are at half-size to fit on the blog page…just click on the images to open a larger version!

ultrafiles_october1993a

Ultrafiles page 1…

ultrafiles_october1993b

Ultrafiles page 2 with the Ask Diane section.

letters_exiles0002

The Exiles letters page from Exiles #3.

letters_freex0004

The Freex letters page from Freex #4.

letters_hardcase0005

The Hardcase letters page from Hardcase #5.

letters_prime0005

The Prime letters page from Prime #5.

letters_prototype0003

Prototype letters page from Prototype #3.

letters_strangers0005

And finally, the Strangers letters page from The Strangers #5.


It’s definitely cool to see letters pages–in 2018, they seem pretty much a relic of the past, so definitely a bit of nostalgia there. Several of these don’t even have a "name" yet, but letters were run anyway. And of course, the Ultrafiles pages deal with the entire line, and include a bit of information about the upcoming Break-Thru, as well as the Ask Diane blurb.

As said at the top of this post…click on any of the images to open them in a larger size, as they’ve been shrunk to fit this blog layout.

ultrafiles_and_letters_pages_october_1993_blogtrailer

Ultraverse Revisited: Early House Ads August 1993

ultraverse_revisited

Here are house ads from the third month of the Ultraverse line: August 1993! We have one full-page and one split-page ad for actual Ultraverse titles, one for the "other" group of Malibu titles (that preceded the Ultraverse line), and then the "Ultrafiles" pages which were all the same across the various titles.

ultraverse_ads_firearm

I’m almost certain this ad was the first I saw of the Firearm character. It’s certainly (to me) an "iconic" image–something far too lacking in modern comics! This title would be one featuring a "non-Ultra" dealing with a world of Ultras. Though I recognize James Robinson now by name, the name didn’t stand out whatsoever to me in 1993, where I barely knew creator names.

I like the continued "tag line" nature of text on the ad…this would be right at home on an ’80s/’90s action flick.

ultraverse_ads_hardcase_strangers_prime_04s

This is the first of the house ads to 1. feature multiple titles and 2. be for something other than a #1 issue. I like the use of the single page to show off three titles. Not every issue needs a full page, but seeing the stuff at all puts it or keeps it "on the radar" as well as showing at least part of an image to be on the watch for, in terms of covers.

As with text on other ads, getting a "blurb" about the issues goes a long way in letting one know what to expect, to be "sold" on an issue along with having art from the cover(s).

ultraverse_ads_genesis

Genesis is not Ultraverse, but IS Malibu. I’m nearly certain this ad is what put most of these titles on my mental radar as a kid. To this day, I don’t think I’ve gotten all chapters of this Genesis story arc, but I’ve certainly meant to, and probably have several duplicates by way of getting issues when I’ve seen them in bargain bins.

Though this "line" went away not long after the Ultraverse hit, it’s one that I’ve contemplated digging into as a "finite universe" of issues. Whether I’ve known it in the past or not, I don’t consciously recall details about bringing these titles together as a group vs. the fresh launch of the Ultraverse, but that’s a topic I’ll surely research later for my own curiosity.

ultrafiles_august1993a

Some things never change, and it’s interesting to me to see this "time capsule" bit of having to "pre-order" comics at a local shop to be able to get a copy.

ultrafiles_august1993b

With only six covers displayed across the bottom of these pages, we’re missing the Hardcase cover. Not a huuuuge deal, but I would think with so few titles it could be worked in somewhere.

The "preview" of the Wrath character on this second page is interesting: at first glance I thought it was Marvel‘s Omega Red. I’m sure it’s the hair/color and the red/white color scheme. Also, this is from the ’90s, where many visual designs seemed to feed off each other as ‘trends’ and such.


And here we are–another "month" of Ultraverse books completed! Not many house ads this time around, and I noticed that none of the titles had an ad for The Solution, which also premieres in the September 1993 group with Firearm. I strongly suspect that is part of how I initially missed the title. The ads certainly helped cement the first issue covers as "iconic" for me, and so it’s odd that one title out of 8 or so got "left out."

NEXT WEEK: I’ll begin Month #4 of the Ultraverse with titles released for September 1993!

ultraverse_early_house_ads_august1993_blogtrailer

Ultraverse Revisited: Hardcase #3

ultraverse_revisited

hardcase_0003Hard Decisions

Writer: James Hudnall
Penciller: Jim Callahan
Inker: Rodney Ramos
Letterer: Tim Eldred
Color Designer: Moose Baumann
Editors: Chris Ulm, Hank Kanalz
Published by: Malibu Comics
Cover Date: August 1993
Cover Price: $1.95

This is another "new" issue to me, that to the best of my recollection I have never before read. As such, I’m continuing to rather enjoy the building of the earliest part of the Ultraverse, and at three issues in, beginning to get a bit more of an appreciation of the world of this one title at least.

First off, I noticed that we’re back to Jim Callahan art, which is a welcome refresher after the "studio art" we had for the second issue. Having Callahan‘s work again brings us back around to the first issue in visual familiarity/continuity, making this feel like a more "authentic" issue of the title, based on first impressions from that first issue.

The issue’s story opens with the Choice Corporation (Choice the character being their public spokesmodel) as we get a glimpse into the recent past, and then the top men of the corporation are trying to figure out how to get her back/neutralize her…and we have a bit of a reminder of "The Man Who Isn’t A Man" existing (and truthfully, I’d forgotten about him entirely in context of this title); TMWIAM sends his group of assassins/enforcers "The Omega Team" in to try to deal with Hardcase and collect Choice. Meanwhile, Hardcase and Choice speak with a Detective Chuck Brown–I believe he’s the brother of the police officer that was killed in the first issue…showing that that character wasn’t just a throw-away to "guilt" Hardcase, but something for lasting connection and repercussions. We also get the development than apparently Choice is able to be frank with Hardcase, but talking to anyone else, her "conditioning" kicks in and she denies any and all notion of impropriety regarding the Choice Corporation and any of their actions. Hardcase takes her to a beach to get away so he can get more information out of her, when Gun Nut, Trouble, and The Needler (The Omega Team) attack. Most of the rest of the issue is their fight; three against two. When the Omegas are down, a camera crew catches up, asking Hardcase about the fight, and Choice chimes in blaming them on a rival corporation (despite knowing the Choice Corporation had sent them, after HER). Back in the offices of the Choice Corporation, The Man Who Isn’t A Man assumes control of "cleanup" of the situation, and Hardcase and Choice get back to his house…and find The Strangers waiting for them!

In pulling issues for Months 3 and 4, I was reminded of the Hardcase/Strangers crossover in the #4s, but was somewhat surprised to have this issue actually end on the Strangers showing up–I’d "assumed" they’d show up partway into the next issue, and the story would then cross into their title; or vice-versa of Hardcase showing up partway into their issue and then everyone follow over into Hardcase. But I think I do like this better than my assumption…as even without recalling/knowing of the "crossover," just having them show up here at the end of #3 kinda mirrors the ending of Prime #3, with the third issues leading into the shared world of the Ultraverse at large, where the first couple issues of each title pretty much stuck to themselves.

This issue continued the situation of folks being after Choice, and Hardcase being involved. The fight sequence seems a bit long-ish, but when we have 26 story pages, that makes it less problematic to me, as it keeps the fight-to-other-stuff ratio lower for the issue itself.

Another good issue that leaves me curious about where things go and thus looking forward to the next issue!

hardcase_0003_blogtrailer

Ultraverse Revisited: Prime #3

ultraverse_revisited

prime_0003Dead Again…And Again!

Writers: Len Strazewski & Gerard Jones
Artist: Norm Breyfogle
Letterer: Tim Eldred
Color Design: Keith Conroy
Editor: Chris Ulm
Published by: Malibu Comics
Cover Date: August 1993
Cover Price: $1.95

This issue gave me a fair bit of deja vu…I remember getting #1 and missing #2…so it makes sense that this was my "second" issue of the series back in ’93. Back then with comics, I just went with whatever the "next issue" was in my own possession, and read along and filled in gaps and such.

Picking up from the previous issue’s cliffhanger–Prime’s been captured by a creature sent by Doc Gross. Its body went unstable and goopy, so it was able to "absorb" Prime into itself. This makes for a multi-layer thing for Kevin–he’s in full Prime mode, but Prime being trapped inside the creature is like when the Prime body itself breaks down and Kevin has to tear his way out. As Kevin panics, we get a flashback to his earliest experience with a Prime body. We then cut to his parents arguing–his mother freaked out at Kevin’s disappearance, his dad insisting he’ll be ok. Then back to Kevin as Prime–having blacked out for lack of air (he still needs to breathe, even as Prime)–now chained into a huge chair and the Doc throws a switch, zapping him with a lot of electricity. He then monologues, which as exposition fills us (and Kevin/Prime!) in on some of the origin of Prime–he’s the result of genetic experimentation performed for "military application." When Prime breaks free of the chair–angry at having been capture, believing Doc’s tale to be lies, etc.–Doc’s assistant, Duey, "Primes up" into a bulked-up body…he’s the result of a much earlier stage of the Doc’s experiments. Duey and "little brother" Prime slug it out for a bit, and Duey manages to do some real damage to Kevin’s Prime body.

This damage includes tearing his cape–which gushes goop, as we see that even the clothing is part of the body, and is not spontaneously-generated fabric or such. Lashing out in desperate anger, Prime apparently snaps Duey’s neck, and when he throws him against an electronics panel, it seems to electrocute the Doc, and fire breaks out, leading to an explosion after Prime himself gets out. Thinking he’s killed those people and desperate to find someone to help him figure out what he’s supposed to do, he aims to seek out Hardcase when he spots an old The Squad billboard. Seeing a random tank falling, he redirects to catch it…only to find out he’s ruined a staged scene with the new Prototype–who is none too happy. The final page cuts back to Duey and the Doc, showing us that they’ve survived, and something with a "vat" is gonna save Doc.

This is a pretty full issue, and fun to revisit. We definitely get a lot of world-building for Prime, showing us Kevin’s first experience with the Prime body’s generation, as well as the monologue as we’re shown that Doc Gross had a huge hand in experiments, of which Prime is apparently one of many. We’ve got resolution of the previous issue’s cliffhanger, and then new action with Duey’s powers revealed; and while it’s rather "convenient" that he just happens to see a video shoot that Prototype’s involved in, we’re set up for them to fight next issue. This also takes the world building from being simply Prime in isolation to showing that he truly is part of this shared universe, beyond seeing a poster on a wall in the background or some billboard or news reference–this is ACTUALLY Prime directly coming into contact with another character with another title.

Prime seems rather brash and immature…but then I remind myself that he’s actually Kevin Green, a 13-year-old kid, and he’s WAY out of his league here, facing actualities that he’s only dreamed of or seen on tv or in comic books. That goes along with the character’s over the top visuals–the muscles with muscles–influenced by his imagination but not mattering that much confronted with "real life."

I really enjoy the art–it’s not just Prime that’s over the top, but as it’s part of the "point," it works so well. And that Prime and Duey have this "goop" as "blood," they can be shown taking ridiculous damage, with gross explosions of green stuff, and it doesn’t have to be "censored" the way blood would be (not that these titles carry the Comics Code stamp, even though they had some newsstand distribution at first). It’s not hard to follow what’s going on visually, and to "hear" some of the sound effects and such as I read, thanks to the CD-Romix of the first issue.

I read this in 1993, as a kid, having read the first issue and not the second…so it’s certainly doable that way. But I’d recommend getting the first couple issues to go with this, as opposed to seeking this out as a single issue to read. Given 40+ issues of Prime exist, unless you’re going for the random single issue "in isolation" experience, or filling in a missing issue in a collection…start at the beginning and definitely read this as part of a cluster of issues.

I’m looking forward to the #4s for the original titles: the next issue of Prime has Prototype, and I believe Hardcase and The Strangers have a crossover as well! "Three months in" and along with the establishment of the individual titles/characters, we’re getting the establishment of the universe in general and seeing things start to mix…which is where the Ultraverse becomes so much more interesting than just these individual characters.

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Ultraverse Revisited: Mantra #2

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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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Ultraverse Revisited: Freex #2

ultraverse_revisited

freex_0002Blown Apart

Writer: Gerard Jones
Penciller: Ben Herrera
Inker: Michael Christian
Letterer: Tim Eldred
Color Design: Keith Conroy
Editor: Hank Kanalz
Published by: Malibu Comics
Cover Date: August 1993
Cover Price: $1.95

After the little bit of teambuilding/interaction in the first isue, this issue has an appropriate story title in "Blown Apart." While we ended the previous issue with a new player in the game showing up and promising answers…this issue seems to open a bit AFTER that, with Valerie already attacking Ray for being a monster (didn’t we hash this out last issue?) where we don’t seem to see what set her off. During the fight, the police have shown up, shown their spotlight into the space these "Freex" are using, and they scatter. Angela refuses to use her powers because she doesn’t want anyone to "see," (and flashes back to kissing a boy and his trying to go further and not understanding her reluctance to be touched); we also see Michael get pieced back together (including "goop") and forming an actual human body (naked), as well as some flashback stuff of him and how HE got his powers (much as we saw with the other characters in the first issue). While Val’s ditched the others, she’s "rescued" by another kid calling himself "Rush" (super speed, apparently) who recruits her to help him with a "job" (he’s being paid). Even though she finds out he’s basically serving as an "enforcer" for "loan sharks," and seems slightly distressed at hearing gunshots and seeing convenient news pieces keeping both her and Rush up to date on what’s going on with the other Freex…she goes along with him, merely asking what they have to do.

While I enjoyed the first issue more than I’d expected to, I did not enjoy this issue as much. I don’t like that I feel like there’s some "missing time" between issues–how I remember that issue ending and how this one begins don’t really match up. I didn’t notice this as much with other second issues, and I’m not quite sure why it jumped out at me here. Perhaps that somehow I was most specifically curious and looking forward to seeing how things played out.

The art isn’t bad, and is mostly consistent…though there’s something to it that just seems a bit "off" in the appearance of the characters’ ages. Perhaps I’m just getting old in their not looking as I’d expect for their age.

I really do not like Val. I get that the character’s supposed to be "hard" and is projecting a front and all; but just because I can be aware of that and the character element successfully conveyed doesn’t mean I have to like her or that I don’t see her as being stupid and petty. I don’t remember this Rush character at all, period. Story element, visually…the character just does not stand out to me from anything I remember ever seeing…as such, I’m pretty sure he’s a minor/throwaway character that’s not gonna last.

Despite the drawbacks, I’m still curious where this story goes, and interested in getting to the next issue. I just don’t have quite the sense of optimism I had with the ending of the first issue.

As usual…this isn’t really an issue to "target" as a standalone…you’ll want to at least get the first issue to read them together, and probably several issues. I think this is the roughest issue for me to read or write about so far in the Ultraverse books…so here’s hoping the next issue is more appealing!

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Ultraverse Revisited: Exiles #1

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exiles_0001Exiles

Writers: Steve Gerber, Tom Mason, Dave Olbrich, Chris Ulm
Penciller: Paul Pelletier
Inker: Ken Banch
Letterer: Clem Robins
Color Design: Paul Mounts, Moose Baumann
Editor: Chris Ulm
Published by: Malibu Comics
Cover Date: August 1993
Cover Price: $1.95

It seems almost fitting to get to this issue, with Marvel having recently started yet another iteration of the title (by name). Thing is…this issue, this title, this iteration–this is the original. Before Blink was popular, before the rise of Generation X, and before the "X" was highlighted…we had simply Exiles. As in "cut off" from others, kept apart. A group that is different and kept out of the main body. Not yet another X-team

The issue opens in a high school, with teen Amber Hunt making out with her boyfriend–a football player. Before long, the school is attacked by an ultra (Supreme Soviet and some robots), and then another group of ultras arrives to oppose them. There’s some back and forth and the "Exiles" (Tinsel, Trax, and Deadeye) come out on top–though one of their own is badly injured–and they get Amber off-site. Once back at their headquarters–an island called Stronghold–Amber freaks out over being "kidnapped" (they saved her life, apparently), even as she meets further members of the group (Leader Dr. Rachel Deming, and Ghoul). While the apparent leader checks on the wounded, we find that Trax is quite a womanizer, and depicted (with Deming’s assistant Heather) in a way that sure as heck wouldn’t fly on the comic pages in 2018! Elsewhere, and in true ’90s fashion–Malcolm Kort–for whom Supreme Soviet works–shows off how "bad-ass" and "evil" he is by subjecting Supreme Soviet (for his failure to capture Amber) to a procedure that seems a lot like Marvel‘s Inhumans’ Terrigen stuff. If a body is brought into contact with this "Theta Virus" and the body is a "potential" they can emerge with mutations and powers. Otherwise, they have unpredictable but always fatal outcomes! The scene shifts to a couple other Exiles (Catapult and Mustang) sent to collect Timothy Halloran…though further villainous henchmen Bloodbath and Bruut get to him first. The battle is joined, and ultimately not only do the Exiles fail to keep the bad guys from making off with Timothy…but Timothy’s mother is killed. This leaves the Exiles angry and ready for payback.

I’m pretty sure I’ve read this issue before. At least, I’ve skimmed it before. Probably to see Ghoul’s first appearance…though I barely recognize him, given changes the character faces later in the Ultraverse stuff. And of course, just by name, Amber Hunt jumps out at me, given what I know of her importance to come–in Break-Thru as well as post-Black September stuff with the original Phoenix Resurrection.

Taken just as a first issue, this isn’t bad, though I didn’t get the same sense of "fun" or such that I’ve gotten with other Ultraverse issues. It also seems kinda strange to me that this is yet another group being introduced so soon in the Ultraverse, despite stuff like Hardcase suggesting so very few Ultras around. Then again, I suppose one could look to stuff like in Prime #1 news referring to the latest new Ultra and whatnot as there being an ‘explosion’ of ultras, beyond just the Jumpstart that hit The Strangers. I don’t get much of a sense of any of the individual characters here…they seem more two dimensional and almost caricature-like. While I was able to get most of the names from context, I had to go online to figure out Mustang’s name…yet he’s front and center on the cover!

The art is pretty good overall–definitely has that ’90s look–but I have to wonder at some of the layouts and such–particularly the inconsistent placement of "caption boxes" identifying several characters, but then not used anywhere else.

We’ve got a lotta characters and situations here…with a lot of potential. With multiple sub-groups of the Exiles, a leader, an island headquarters…this is set up to show us a significant group, major players in the larger world of the Ultraverse.

As with the other titles so far…this is well worth getting from a bargain bin; and as a first issue, it introduces the main characters, shows what they can do, introduces conflict, and baits the reader on what will be missed if the next issue is missed. So snag this if you’re interested and find it for 25-50 cents. If you find it with other issues, I do remember this is best read along with issues 2-4, an arc that makes for a better group purchase than single-issues by themselves.

I do look forward to seeing some more development with Amber Hunt and getting more of a sense of the character prior to her "big stuff." And to seeing some things play out with this title that I know are coming, but have never "experienced" reading along with the Ultraverse issues in general…I’ve always just been aware "looking backward" on them.

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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: Early House Ads July 1993

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Here are house ads from the second month of the Ultraverse line: July 1993! We have two with dates, one without…and then the "Ultrafiles" pages which were all the same this month across all five titles.

ultraverse_ads_prototype

I’m pretty sure that this one for Prototype is my favorite of the month’s ads. There’s just something to the design of the armor that I really like, and I swear this scanned image doesn’t do the print version justice…there’s just something I really like about the coloring. And as with many ads for comics, I really, really like the fact that the promo image basically IS the cover of the first issue. This shows us the character, as well as the image to look for to get the actual comic itself!

Helpful as the "text boxes" may have been on the first round of ads, I find the "tagline" format to be more effective here, making the ad more of a poster image than something in a pamphlet.

ultraverse_ads_exiles

Fighting to Save Themselves From Mankind and Mankind From Itself. Another large-font, central sort of tagline for a new title. Exiles gave us another super-team (seemed the Ultraverse was full of those!) and definitely has a very ’90s look from the ad.

ultraverse_ads_rune

Lacking both tagline AND text box, we have this add with some character and the small Rune logo serving almost as a signature, with the large-text format of Barry Windsor-Smith. This also lacked any date. So we had this image of something called Rune, associated with BWS, and based on other ads, one would only assume this was another title or such "coming soon."

Of course, years later, it’s interesting to look back on it, especially knowing that October 1993 became "Rune Month" with a 3-page story-chunk as flipbooks to the month’s issues, that collectively made up the contents to a Rune #0 issue, with coupons to send away for the standalone #0 issue as its own thing. But more on that in posts to come, as the house ads get closer to the ‘event’ itself.

ultrafiles_july1993a

Where text was swapped out for the Ultrafiles pages to make them unique to each title in the June 1993 issues, for July 1993 they seemed to all be exactly the same, and show all 5 titles out for Ultraverse month #2. The first page (above) is the "Ultratorial #2."

ultrafiles_july1993b

…while the second Ultrafiles page has quick quotes from the creators on the two new additions to the line: Freex and Mantra.

I really like these pages as a common piece across all titles, as well as the "checklist" of showing the covers of the month’s issues. And again, this was a time when the vast majority of comics DID only have one cover…or the "variant" was some sort of spot-coloring or foil in place of color or the presence or not of a UPC box. Not completely different art pieces!

Essentially, the issues thus showed off all of the current month’s titles, plus most of the  issues had full-page ads for the next month’s new series’ debuts. One would not even need the internet or such to know what they’re looking for in shops; one has what one needs from the actual single issue…NO "homework" required.

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