Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Ultraverse Month 3 -- August 1993

Ultraverse Month 3 -- August

Big month, this month, with eight titles coming out. This includes two new titles (Exiles and Prototype, the later being something that has been heavily set up in Ultra Monthly the last two months).

First, a look at the new titles:

Exiles #1
So, Freex looked like it was going to be the “X-book” of the Ultraverse last month. (The advertising tagline, “Fighting to save themselves from mankind and mankind from itself” is a clever twist of words, but also a very “mutant-y” sounding line.) This month, Exiles comes on the scene. Now, if you haven’t read Exiles, “I know something you don’t know”, and for its time, it was brilliant. More on that when I get to month six or so . . .

Meanwhile, this book sets up like the X-Men . . . two groups of opposing forces are targeting and “kidnapping” people they refer to as “potentials” -- people who may have a fatal “Theta Virus”, unless their messnger RNA (M-RNA) is altered, turning them into an “Ultra-hero”! The good guys quickly become “exiles” when they try stopping the bad guys from kidnapping a potential and people end up dead. This issue introduces the HUGE cast of characters (including Ghoul, who becomes a major player later in the UV) and corporate bad guy Malcolm Kort.

It’s also written by FOUR writers and drawn by two pencilers. I’m very curious how and why the arrangement occurred. I thought it was a Steve Gerber book, and him alone. Maybe it was in later issues. However, what looks like, on the outside, a standard “team of teen heroes” book actually forms the spine of a major development in the UV later on AND has a big twist in issue four. In many ways, this series alone is a set up for something bigger, which may explain why they had four writers (including the line editor, Chris Ulm). It’s also of interest because it is the first UV book I’ve seen that dd not have Tim Eldred as letterer. Writers, Steve Gerber, Tom Mason, Dave Olbrich, Chris Ulm. Pencils, Paul Pelletier. Inks, Ken Branch. Letters, Clem Robbins. “Color design”, Paul Mounts and Moose Baumann.

Prototype #1
Prototype is the Ultraverse’s version of Iron Man. That’s not a bad thing. (Although, it’s easy to make these connections. Heck, Exiles not only sounds like it should be an X-book, it ended up being used as a title for an X-book!) Like Choice, from Hardcase, Prototype is the face of a corporation, meant to do demonstrations and photo ops. Once more, we get a book that starts with some ultra-violence. This time, the tearing off of the original Prototype’s arm in a flash back, the blinding of a woman by a green baddy, Of course, green baddy gets attacked by the NEW Prototype, a young kid named Jimmy (and there may be more to him than just armor). Oh, and we are introduced to Prototype’s corporate bad guy (I guess) Mr. Leland, the CEO of Ultra-Tech. Writers, Tom Mason & Len Strazewski. Art, David Ammerman & James Pascoe. Letters, Tim Eldred. “Color design”, Paul Mounts.

Freex #2
Well, with issue one I said it was better than Strangers because it had a smaller cast size. With this issue, we learn that there’s actually a much larger cast in the wings. However, since the introductions spill over from last issue, it’s easier to take in. Turns out “our heroes”, now on the fun because they are freaks, have been targeted by some unknown bad guy and brought together because of one of them (whose power is to travel in electricity and can read information from computers) saw they were all targeted. It’d be interesting if they were being targeted by the same bad guys from Exiles . . . but I can’t remember. Meanwhile, they fought cops this issue. And had lots of in-fighting. This reads like an X-Men book, only I understand it. Writer, Gerard Jones. Pencils, Ben Herrera. Inks, Micheal Christian. Letters, Tim Eldred. “Color design”, Keith Conroy. Editor, Hank Kanalz. (First book not edited by Chris Ulm.)

Hardcase #3
As these series move on, I’ll probably say less about them. I don’t think I need to say too much about the plots, because that’d take all the fund out of reading them for you, Gentle Reader (if there even are any of you!). I may eventually do some links to the online comic dealers or to eBay auctions to help you find them. Anyway, this issue just pushes forward the whole Choice subplot, as we learn there’s more to her than just being a super-powered cola spokesperson. I like her powers. She says a word and she gets that power for an hour. Like, when someone shoots at her, she says, “Shield,” and she has shield around her for the next hour. I like that. So far, still pretty cool take on the superhero. And the art was 800 times better than last issue. And there’s a set up for the first Ultraverse crossover as the Strangers just show up at Hardcase’s house. Writer, James Hudnall. Pencils, Jim Calihan. Inks, Rodney Ramos. Letters, Tim Eldred. "Color design", Moose Baumann. “Special thanks to Roger Robinson layout”. (Note: edited by Chris Ulm and Hank Kanalz.)

Mantra #2
This second issue once more pushes everything FAST. So much happens in these 22 pages or so, it’s quite refreshing when I consider current day comics. I love how things just keep moving. But that doesn’t mean all action. There’ some nice character moments as the warrior trapped in the woman’s body decides to give the kids one last night out with their mom, since he has no plans to stay in her body any longer. Nice stuff. Writer, Mike W. Barr. Pencils, Terry Dodson. Inks, Al Vey. Letters, Patrick Owsley. Colorist, Moose Baumann.

Of note, this is the first time they didn’t say “Color design”. Also, they included a special note: Warstrike created by Dan Danko. Boneyard created by Chris Ulm. At the start, the Ultraverse focused on creator’s rights. Very cool.

Prime #3
Prime learns more about his past. His father seems to know something about his son’s secret. It all involves a big governmental experiment gone bad, a mad scientist did experiments on infertile couples and never told anyone. Most of the baby’s died, but Prime didn’t and instead became a superhero. You know, a clich├ęd plot like this could be really hard to read. In this case, the characterization is awesome. I like the boy that becomes Prime, and I’m enjoying as he learns about his past, his powers, and his limitations. Oh, and Prototype and Prime will fight next issue. I think Prototype will be a guest star, though, not a crossover. Writers, Len Strazewski & Gerard Jones. Art, Norm Breyfogle. Letters, Tim Eldred. “Color design”, Keith Conroy.

Strangers #3
The Strangers each get a chance to shine as they fight TNTNT, a group of super villains whose names are Tyrannosaur, Naiad, Torso, Neu-ronne, and Tugun. TNTNT. Cute, eh? The most interesting thing of the book, though, is the old man who seems to have also gained some powers from the lightning “jumpstart”. His cancer disappeared, but he started hearing an evil sounding voice that he thought might be his cancer. Also, Johnny Domino, soon to be the Night-Man, wakes up in his hospital bed, while the Strangers go public and reveal their identities to the world. Oh, and corporate bad guy J.D. Hunt shows up. Yes, that’s three suit and tie bad guys in the Ultraverse this month alone. Story ends with The Strangers showing up at Hardcase’s house for next month’s crossover. Writer, Steve Englehart. Pencils, Rick Hoberg. Inks, Tim Burgaard & Larry Welch. Letters, Tim Eldred. “Color design”, Keith Conroy. Thanks to Terral Lawrence.

Ultra-Monthly #3
More of the same. I still enjoy it. They infused Ultra Monthly with some fun personality.

What have I learned so far? Team books are difficult when you have a large cast and try to spotlight them all in one issue. Three issues of Strangers trying to give each character a moment in the Spotlight feels a little bit tedious, rushed, and cramped. Meanwhile, Freex has a similar sized cast but gives them room to stretch.

Also, as important as I believe writers are to things, and I do believe that to be true, let’s face it . . . in comics, if your art isn’t awesome, your comic isn’t awesome. And the art suffers in many of these titles.

They’re up to seven titles this month, up from three two months ago. Wild. There’s some heavier months ahead . . .

As evidenced by the fact that Chris Ulm and Tim Eldred are no longer editing and lettering ALL the books, respectively. After the first and second months, I wondered when this would happen.

I’m going to keep my comments on plot and stuff to a minimum from here on out, and keep my comments to observations about the comics, I think.

~ Ben

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