Ultraverse Premiere

One of the more novel ideas Malibu used to promote their Ultraverse line from within was the Ultraverse Premiere “floating flip book.”

From March of 1994 to February 1995, UP would appear as a flip-book published on the reverse side of a different Ultraverse core title. One month, UP was published as the flip side of Rune; the next month UP was published as the flip side of Mantra.

Ultraverse Premiere #1

Taking its lead from the #0 issue of November 1993, UP consisted of three short stories featuring three different Ultraverse heroes and villains. It acted as a springboard for new characters, such as Ripfire, allowed for group book characters like The Strangers’ Lady Killer to receive some solo attention, or to show how Ultras affected their world.

It was also a clever excuse to get readers of UP to pick up titles they would otherwise have avoided.

Most importantly, it was a noble experiment the likes of which hasn’t been duplicated to the same extent. There have always been back-up features and flip-books, but never to the same full-length degree Malibu attempted.

Yet another reason to miss the Ultraverse.

Ultraverse Premiere #7

The Strangers # 8: An Epic Begins

The Strangers #8 by Steve Englehart and Rick Hoberg The Strangers # 8
“Taken By the Sky!”
Written by Steve Englehart, Art by Rick Hoberg (pages 1-16), Steve Skroce (17-24) & Tim Eldred (inks)
Edited by Roland Mann

The cover proclaims “Beginning Their First Epic!” which kinda discounts the recently concluded Break-Thru, doesn’t it? Anyway, we start with our heroes returning to Earth and finding a large contingent of media (and military) waiting for them. As Grenade points out, “Stealing J.D. Hunt’s rocket from an air force base will do that for you!”

There’s a nice exchange between Leopold (of Aladdin) and Captain Christopher Dugan. While Aladdin wants The Strangers to come in for questioning, the Captain refuses, claiming that he gave our heroes permission to use the rocket — this is obviously not the case but Dugan feels the world owes The Strangers thanks for their role in defusing the crisis. Awful nice of him, isn’t it?

We also get a conversation between David and Dugan about gays serving in the military. Keep in mind that this was during the Clinton era and the topic of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was definitely seeping into the minds of the populace. Englehart’s own views come across pretty clearly, I believe, as Dugan responds to David’s admission of his homosexuality by saying, “We’re not all neanderthals in the service, son! I signed up to protect the country, not worry about its love life! The only way I rate people is by effort on the job!”

It’s interesting to see how far we’ve come on discussions like this in just a couple of decades — by today’s standards, dialogue like this seems very heavy-handed and preachy but at the time, it was a pretty bold declaration.

It’s at this point that Chief Aula shows up and informs Yrial that it’s time to come home — she was assigned to The Strangers to help them learn about their origins and she’s done so. Thus, her mission is over. To everyone’s surprise, Yrial states that she’d like to remain with the group and learn more about their ways but this only proves to the Chief that she’s grown too close to them. Yrial strikes out at her leader but eventually relents, telling her friends to abide by her decision to follow the dictates of her people.

The Strangers, of course, ignore this and fly to Sky Island in hopes of getting her back. They liberate Yrial and she tells them that she’s secretly visited their world many times and grown to appreciate it. After a terrific battle between Sky Island’s inhabitants and The Strangers, Yrial once again submits to the Chief’s orders and she’s imprisoned. The Strangers leave but Elena discovers that Yrial slipped a small piece of clay into the folds of her cloak — one that hads longitude and latitude coordinates on it. The Strangers realize that Yrial still needs their help and they swear to follow through on this clue.

Story-wise… some good moments, especially for Yrial. She was always my least-favorite member of the team and so any storyline set amongst her people were never my favorites. Even so, we have nice scenes for several different characters, though by this time I was beginning to feel that David was being defined by his sexuality, as opposed to having it just be a part of who he was. Again, I realize what Englehart was going for and applaud it but it’s still a bit cumbersome.

Steve Skroce, who would do some fine work at Marvel, fills in here on the latter half of the book and does a nice job. In fact, he does a passable imitation of Rick Hoberg — which may be attributable to Eldred on inks. Skroce draws a very fetching Electrocute, in particular.

The cover… I don’t like it. Several characters (like Candy) look stiff and weird and the colors on Yrial makes her fade into the background.

So we’re off and running on this ‘epic’ and we’ll have to see if it lives up to the billing.

Steve Englehart Speaks (Circa 2005)!

230px-SteveEnglehartOne of the big movers and shakers of the Ultraverse was, of course, Steve Englehart. Between The Strangers and Night Man, he did a lot to define the universe that we all love. I came across this chat transcript from 2005 and thought it might be of interest to everyone. The entire thing is fascinating and covers the whole gamut of his writing career but there is a little nugget of Ultraverse info that I’m sharing here:

Jellobay: Any chance Night Man or the Strangers might make a comeback?
Steve Englehart: I don’t think there’s much chance of Ultraverse stuff coming back.
Steve Englehart: I had a long talk with Marvel recently and they gave me no hope in that direction.
Jellobay: Too bad. There would be a market for it.
Steve Englehart: I agree there’d be a market for the Ultraverse, but Marvel says no.
Brian Cronin: Is it a sales thing, or a rights thing, Steve? Or an “I can’t talk about it” thing?
Steve Englehart: It’s some sort of contract thing, as best as I can tell. I was skeptical of that for a long time, but I keep hearing it.
Steve Englehart: Something evidently in the agreement between Marvel and Malibu, though I can’t even imagine what it could be. In the end, the contract explanation could just be hot air. All I know is, they don’t want to go there.

Here is some more about The Strangers in particular:

Lex: Mr. Englehart, I just wanted to thank you for your “Strangers” comic. It was one of the comics I followed when I first became a comics reader. I think of it as starting my love of this medium. So, thank you for that.
Jellobay: “Strangers” was the best, I still read through them from time to time.
Steve Englehart: I liked that book a lot, too, and it tends to get overlooked now because of the “Night Man.” But I have to say, overall, I get asked about the Ultraverse a lot, which tells me people really would like to see it again…which brings me back to Marvel’s not wanting to go there

Lex: Which was your favorite “Strangers” character to write?
Steve Englehart: Well, I have to say Atom Bob, because he was, in the beginning, so laid back about it all…and in the end, he was something else entirely.

Lex: Atom Bob. He was always my favorite. Did you intend for him to become the Pilgrim from the beginning?
Steve Englehart: No, I did not intend the Pilgrim thing from the beginning. I just sort of said one day “who would be the least likely person…?”
Brian Cronin: I remember being really freaked out by that
Brian Cronin: The pilgrim revelation.
Lex: Well, yeah, he was the least likely person to become Pilgrim. I didn’t realize how emotional invested I was in the Strangers characters until that happened. It was huge!
Brian Cronin: Yeah, Lex. It is long enough ago that I’m detached now. but at the time, I’m sure I was foaming at the mouth, “how could you do that?!?”
Steve Englehart: I love to make readers foam. :)

Brian Cronin: By the by, “Strangers” can’t be as good as “Night Man,” because Night Man had a team-up with Gambit!
Jellobay: I’m a Marvel fan boy, but they ruined the Ultraverse.
Steve Englehart: Yeah, various Ultraverse characters have appeared in the Marvel Universe– but now there’s an edict that they can’t any more, for the same unclear reasons as below. But I have been saying for ten years now, it would so cool for these guys, who only knew a few superheroes among themselves, and had achieved a level of celebrity in their universe– if they came to the Marvel Universe, they wouldn’t know they were supposed to be impressed by Spider-Man, or care who the X-Men were. It would let us see the Marvel U with fresh eyes. But it’s never happened.

Brian Cronin: Did you write for the “Night Man” TV series?
Steve Englehart: I wrote 3 episodes of the TV series.

Do check out the entire transcript for more!

 

 

Wrath of Aladdin Case File 001

A worldwide phenomenon, Often labeled with many names and showing up under many titles in our archives such as ‘the rise’ ‘moon called’ and ‘break thru’, followed closely on the heels of the birth of the Ultras.  Ultra Amber Hunt, with her shifting powers, was used as a catalyst for classified entities seemingly battling for control over the entire planet.  The events were rapidly changing the very ecosystem of our planet and were quite frankly difficult for Aladdin to keep up with.

Subject Solitaire, proving to be of continued interest to agent Rains, gathered intelligence from a private network regarding the activities of a cult following an individual known as the Moon Man who had invaded and succeeded in taking over Looneyville – the happiest place on earth. With the local authorities busy assisting us and the U.S. Army with the rising tide of Ultra’s needing to get to the moon subject Solitaire took it upon himself to use his incredible acrobatic skills to gain entry by way of the east quadrant of Looneyville.

What followed was a textbook account of counter insertion as Subject Solitaire traversed the rooftops of old town village, swimming through the wacky wave park and super slide surprise land, and finally snaking through the silly swamp where subject solitaire met with his first wave of resistance who were armed with a curious choice of classic weaponry that proved quite easy to smuggle into through the gates of Looneyville: bows and arrows.

With cunning and subterfuge subject Solitaire demonstrated a mastery of guerrilla warfare tactics, possibly programmed through his nanotech, as he disarmed and subdued cultist after cultist with little more than strength, speed, agility, and akido. Once given the opportunity subject solitaire displayed additional mastery of the bow and arrow with precise quickly drawn strikes that proved to increase his intelligence and pave the way through the heart of Looneyville to the large space observatory.

 

 

Solitaire #2 Moon Madness

It bares noting that not a single cultist was killed during subject solitaire’s infiltration and hundreds upon hundreds of straggling tourists were able to seek shelter and survive the coming events inside the depths of Looneyville which proved quite useful as a makeshift disaster shelter.

It bares further noting that agents within subject solitaire’s own private intelligence network report a bout of extreme delirium during the healing process of an arrow strike to the chest.  it would appear that Subject Solitaire is most vulnerable directly after a high impact wound delivered to a vital section of his still very human anatomy.  While the nanotech in subject solitaires system repaired his system his brain and very consciousness struggled to process the input causing fever like symptoms, visions, and while reports vary subject solitaire was seemingly unconscious from between 1 to 5 minutes during the process.

Further research by agent rains would lead Aladdin researchers to believe that subject solitaire suffers from intense reaction detachment disorder.  there is more data on that investigation in a separate case file.  These findings are of great interest to Aladdin, and agent Rains in particular, as we have additional intelligence that subject solitaire’s father Anton Lone was ultimately responsible for outfitting the moon cult with the atomic bomb that was intended to blow up Looneyville and send the occupants to the stars to meet the moon entity.

Anton lone’s motivations, clearly financial in origin and very involvement in this escapade only serve to fuel subject solitaire’s rage and motivation to continue his crusading quest to rid the world of his father’s legacy.

The Strangers # 7: Prototype!

strangers7The Strangers # 7
“Prototype-A Behavior”
Scripted by Steve Englehart with co-plot by Tom Mason & Len Strazewski
Art by Rick Hoberg & Tim Eldred
Edited by Roland Mann

This issue picks up from Break-Thru # 1 and Prototype # 5 so we start in the middle of the action — The Strangers, we are told, have stolen J.D. Hunt’s rocket to get to the moon in hopes of investigating the strange energies that are found there. Now, I thought about doing mini-reviews of those other issues but I chose not to because both series will be covered elsewhere and I think we all need to be reminded sometimes of what it’s like to follow only one or two series — and then have said series hijacked by a crossover. It’s been about 20 years since I’ve read Break-Thru and much of my memory is cloudy… so reading this issue of Strangers is very much like being a reader who chose not to follow the rest of the crossover.

How does it hold up?

Pretty well, actually!

We get some really fun interactions between Prototype and The Strangers — I particularly enjoyed Prototype claiming that he’s a more experienced Ultra than our heroes and Electrocute pointing out that all he did was trade shows and public appearances until The Strangers showed up. We also get to meet Supra and Empire, who are there to reclaim the rocket — as is Prototype. Obviously, this means that we get some classic hero-on-hero action! That sounds kinda rude but you know what I mean…

We also learn that Dave’s indigo power allows them to survive in space. Yes, it turns out that whatever force gave The Strangers their powers knew they’d eventually need to leave Earth and journey into the stars.

Meanwhile, Yrial and Electrocute battle Prototype out in space and we’re reminded once more that our android heroine is one of the most powerful members of the team. Her actions lead to Prototype realizing that fighting is getting him nowhere so he surrenders and offers to work with The Strangers. A wise decision.

After battling some carnivorous aliens, Empire is killed and Electrocute is reminded once more of how little she understands about the human experience… seeing death so close and personal greatly upsets her and leads to her begging Grenade for comfort. If it sounds like I focus a lot on Electrocute in these reviews it’s because Englehart’s characterization really shines in her scenes. She’s the classic “tin man” who yearns to be human and while it’s a classic trope, it’s always effective when done well.

There’s an emotional sacrifice on the part of Supra that allows our heroes to escape with the rocket and continue their trek to the moon — kind of a shame to see both of the new characters we’re introduce to here killed off but they’re more interesting in death than they were beforehand.

We then get an absolutely hilarious two-page strip featuring Englehart and Hoberg explaining The Strangers and their origins to some young fans, who continually point out all the other heroes that are similar or that these creators have worked on previously. I loved this. Really, really worth seeking out.

Story-wise, this is a fun issue with solid characterization. Even if you aren’t reading the rest of Break-Thru, it made sense and progressed not just the crossover’s plot but the ongoing Strangers subplots.

Great art from Hoberg — as always, his facial expressions are solid and he draws a fantastic Prototype!

Next issue: The End of a Stranger?! Can it be? Stay tuned….

Prime #4 Variant Covers by Norm Breyfogle

Prime #4 featured a cool battle between Prime and Prototype! To build hype for the issue, it was printed with two different covers to choose from, both by Norm Breyfogle. Check ‘em out!

Prime #4 – Prototype Victorious

Prime #4 Prototype Victorious

 Prime #4 – Prime Victorious

Prime #4 Prime Victorious

Two of my favorite Ultraverse heroes drawn by one of my favorite artists! Two great tastes that taste great together!

Happy Thanksgiving from ULTRAVERSE NETWORK

Happy Thanksgiving to all you Ultra-Fans! To celebrate, today we’re featuring the Prime balloon from the 1994 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade! This comes from Prime #19 written by Gerard Jones & Len Strazewski, with pencils by Dave Cockrum & Tim Hamilton, and inks by Keith Aiken & Rodney Gates.

This year I’m thankful for the fun we’ve had with the Ultraverse Network! Celebrating these characters, interacting with fellow fans and creators alike, and finding my joy reading these comics over again!

Prime #19 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

Debutant Debut – Mantra #1

Mantra 1

Mantra 1

As referenced in the first episode of our Ultraverse Podcast, The Prime of Your Life, here is the cover to Mantra #1.

Upon initial review, I’d argue that the cover depicts an adventure that’s taking place elsewhere and off-screen. Where is this half-naked and oddly posed woman leaping? And who is it that yelling guy with triple-barreled gun shooting? And who is the weird guy whose face is horribly obscured by the logo?

I do my best not to nitpick. I try my hardest not to be a jerk. But this cover does nothing for the fantastic book inside.

I love you, Mantra. Let’s not fight.

Strangers # 6: Deathwish Returns

strangers6The Strangers # 6
“The Tao of Physiques!”
Written by Steve Englehart
Art by Rick Hoberg and Dave Simons
Edited by Chris Ulm

After being dispatched last issue, the supervillain Deathwish makes a speedy return… it was such a quick rematch that even Englehart had to joke about it on page one: “Thought he was gone, didn’t you? So did they…”

Now, one might ask if Deathwish was an interesting enough foe to deserve a return bout, especially so soon. I’ll admit to not feeling the Deathwish love but both last issue and this one gives us the opportunity for some really great characterization – so even if Deathwish himself is kind of blah, he serves as a useful tool for exploring David’s powers and their limitations (last ish) and Electrocute’s status as an artificial lifeform (stay tuned).

After doing some cleanup at the scene of last issue’s battle, Zip-Zap continues teasing Yrial about her membership with the team. Though she continues to loudly proclaim that she’s not really a Stranger and has no desire to be, her actions suggest otherwise. At this point, Yrial is becoming a little more interesting but I still find her to the one member who sticks out like a sore thumb.

At the hospital, Deathwish returns out of the body of G. Lawrence Bushnell, empowered once more by all the beings who are lying near death in the medical facility. Another fight ensues, with Zip-Zap showing off his powers in close quarters. Eventually, Lady-Killer, Zip-Zap and Yrial follow Deathwish into the morgue, where they’re forced to take on their foe while the other members of the team rush to the scene. When Yrial initally refuses to enter the fray, a disappointed Zip-Zap declares “This is the coldest, lowest, sorriest, slimiest–! I thought behind all that shuckin’ an’ jivin’ — I thought we were friends!” It’s a powerful moment though I didn’t know a single person who still said shuckin’ an’ jivin’ in 1993. Perhaps I was just around the wrong people.

Anyway, the other Strangers show up and a massive battle takes place — with Electrocute taking center stage. In a really well-done scene, she declares “I was made in a factory! I can’t die — and I hate it!!! J.D. Hunt made sure the fear of pain and death weren’t programmed into me — so he could anything he wanted with me! You think I’m proud of that? I want to fear death! I want to be able to die — so I can know I lived! But I can’t die! I can’t die! I cant dieee!!!”

Yes, it’s powerfully overwritten but the moment kind of demands it. The expression on her face (as depicted by Hoberg and Simons), coupled with her words really makes the character (forgive me) come alive. Her desperate need and desire to be “real” has never been as clearly depicted to this point. It really, really works.

Meanwhile, Yrial has found the nurse for Deathwish’s host and unleashes Henrietta’s full potential. The nurse, too, was changed by the Jumpstart… and within her is a beautiful embodiment of Life itself. Freed from the shackles of her physical form, Henrietta goes in search of Deathwish and the two of embrace, vanishing before the eyes of our heroes. Yrial proclaims that “I helped the woman of light come forth, knowing she would nullify the man of darkness…!” Zip-Zap apologizes for doubting her while the rest of the team mulls over the fact that people changed by the Jumpstart sometimes don’t show those effects for many months. As they wonder who else is out there, we’re teased that next month brings the crossover known as Break-Thru… and for The Strangers, that means Prototype!

We get a nifty Lady-Killer pin-up by Statema & Schellinger to round out the issue.

Great story by Englehart, especially the parts with Zip-Zap, Yrial and Electrocute. The art was quite nice and I think that Simons is a really nice complement to Hoberg, especially on the facial work.

The series is really hitting its stride, folks!