zip-zapThe Strangers boasted a very eclectic cast and several of them are very “Nineties” in their presentation… and Leon Balford is perhaps the epitome of that. An urban kid, Leon was pressured by bullies and gang members on an almost daily basis. When The Jumpstart gave him superspeed, he was finally able to claim a measure of independence in his life. Rather than running away from his problems, he chose to run directly at them… at full speed, sometimes without giving proper thought about how he was going to handle them!

I appreciate this character because it really represents Steve Englehart’s inclusiveness. Throughout his work, he always used characters of different cultures, ethnicity and sexual orientations. Now, many times he wasn’t very subtle in how he did so but given the times he was writing in and the fact that in many cases, he was pushing the boundaries farther than anyone in mainstream comics had before him, I think he can be forgiven for utilizing what (to our modern eyes) would be seen as stereotypes.

With Leon, everything screams Nineties. From the way he dresses to the codename Zip-Zap to the way he references then-modern celebrities, Leon is definitely a product of his time. If the Ultraverse were revived, I wonder how he’d be treated now — I think he’d have to be updated in appearance but maybe he’d be seen as “retro” or “old-school” and all would be fine.

A word about Leon’s dialogue… he used street slang very often and some of it was painfully awkward. It really did seem like an older guy trying to be “hip” and failing in his writing. Then again, I wasn’t living on the mean streets of San Francisco at the time so maybe someone did talk the way Zip-Zap did?

Me and You and ‘Bu

What brought me to this sweet thing we called the Ultraverse?

Mantra #4 cover by Terry Dodson & Al Vey

Mantra #4 cover
by Terry Dodson & Al Vey

My then-girlfriend, Monica.

It was the fall of 1994. We were in both in college in Austin. After a brief two year break-up with comics, I decided to start reading them again.

Only too much was happening. There was a new Green Lantern because the old one went crazy. Bruce Wayne wasn’t Batman but was again. And wasn’t Superman dead? And who the hell are all these X-Men?

I was looking over the Marvel and DC Comics at my local comic store when I heard Monica ask if I’d ever read this book called “Mantra.”

What the hell was Mantra?

She handed me Mantra issue 4.

I stared at the cover. While not dynamic or inventive, there was something intriguing about this jaundiced cyborg cuddling up next to a beautiful masked woman spilling out of her armor. And that color! Who did color like that?

Monica told me she thought we should buy it – and by “we” that meant me.

So I did. And I read it and learned about a single mother named Mantra caught up in an centuries old battle with the evil Boneyard  — only Mantra possessed the body of a goddess inhabited by mind and soul of a man!

Crazy stuff. I was sold.

The next day I returned to the store and picked up issues two and three. And then something called Firearm caught my eye. Then there were these books called Prime and Hardcase.

It was new. It was young. It was dynamic.

It was the Ultraverse. And comics won me back again.

Prime Custom Action Figures

Building custom action figures is an art form all it’s own. So it shouldn’t come as any surprise there are some pretty cool Ultraverse custom action figures out there! Today we’re looking at just one example.

Check out these two versions of Prime by Dan Drewes! Classic Prime and Rogue Prime! Apparently Dan used Wrecking Crew figures as the base along with Thor heads.

Prime Toy Custom 1

Prime Toy Custom 2

I love how each figure is similar, yet still so different from the other. Fantastic job, Dan!

I found these at Figure, along with many more custom Ultraverse figures. We’ll definitely cover more in the future!

If you could have your own custom Ultraverse action figure, who would you pick?

Trading Cards: Firearm

Ultraverse started into the trading card business almost immediately.  Here are some of the Firearm related cards featured in the first set they produced.

Firearm card 13

 Firearm card 83

   Firearm card 79

Alec Swans former employers got their own entry as well.

Firearm card 93

Also, in case you wondered what happened to the Jerry Bingham design for Firearm…that design was reworked and became Requiem.

Firearm card 14

Firearm card 14 back

The Strangers # 5: Deathwish!

The Strangers # 5
“Dynamic Tension”
Written by Steve Englehart
Art by Rick Hoberg and Tim Burgard
Edited by Chris Ulm

This issue features some of my favorite moments from the early Strangers run. With the team finally taking some time to re-establish their personal lives, we get to see our heroes away from one another, hanging out with family and friends. It was a really needed set of moments because the first four issues moved at a breakneck speed. By today’s standards, this issue gallops along but at the time, it was very much a “breather” issue, even with the big action at the back half of the book. In fact, I would have been okay if Englehart had used a “day in the life approach” and not had a big villain in this issue at all — just give us more of the characters being who they are.

The issue begins with the team splitting up. Bob goes home to visit his parents and we find out that his newfound celebrity has really changed things – women who ignored him before are calling him up and the media is camped outside his parents’ residence. Leon returns to the mean streets and teaches a lesson to the gangbangers who tormented him in the past. While it wasn’t the most mature thing to do with his powers, it perfectly fit with his age and felt very real. Hugh and Candy talk about his past (he was a “famous” high school quarterback) and the two of them briefly fight about the nature of their relationship before they make up. As Hugh says to the reader, “I’m confused! You must be a real woman–!” Ah, Englehart, you slay me. Elena continues to be my favorite character, working to further the team’s public relations position while Yrial is the one who uncovers the threat of Deathwish, who turns out to be another survivor of the cable car accident from issue one.

But before we get there… David tries to use his healing powers on a friend who’s dying of AIDS. Like with Leon, this scene really worked because these are the kinds of things that real people would do with superpowers. The outcome isn’t a good one, though, and it reminds the entire team that their newfound powers don’t make them gods… they have limitations.

The Strangers come together to face Deathwish, who’s killed everyone on his city block. After a quick debriefing with Captain Jacob Rome (San Fran’s official Ultra liaison as of Freex # 2), our heroes come face-to-face with Deathwish, a scary-huge villain who says things like this: “Because it wasn’t Death who touched them! It was far, far worse — the all-consuming lust for oblivion! It was I — Deathwish!”

As Electrocute says, “Goodness!”

We find out that Deathwish grew from Bushnell, the old man who was riding the cable car. He’s basically the old man’s sickness given physical form and he’s eager to spread out and infect others with his precious “oblivion.” While the watching cops wonder if this dark individual has any connection to the Night Man (more continuity cross-promotion), David is able to use what he learned in his failed attempt to help his friend to overwhelm Deathwish and (apparently) destroy him. In a somewhat poignant moment , Deathwish proclaims “No! No! Deathwish does not wish to die…”

A really strong issue! Hoberg catches the despair on David’s face and has some cute moments throughout. While the fight ties in to the major character moment of the issue, I still think that the strongest pieces of the story were the earlier ones where we simply got to know them all as people a little bit more. Englehart was always a master at characterization and the series shines the most when he goes that direction.

In bonus material, we get a couple of Rune pages in a flip-book format and an introduction to the Night Man written by Steve Englehart.

Next issue: the long-awaited return of… Deathwish! Wow, that defeat didn’t last long, did it?

The Strangers You Never Knew…

mantraAs recounted on his website, Steve Englehart was asked by Marvel Comics at one point to revive the Ultraverse… but to do it in a single title. His idea was for the heroes of the Ultraverse to wake up inside the Marvel U and have to find new lives for themselves alongside the Avengers, Spider-Man, etc. Englehart figured that a title like The Strangers might actually make more sense for this group than it did for the originals and so he fashioned a new team concept that would bring together at least one character created by each of the Ultraverse’s founding fathers. The roster of this “All-New, All-Different” Strangers? Here you go:

Hardcase, Choice, Mantra, Prime, Sludge, Rune, Lord Pumpkin, Lady Killer, The Night Man, Rhiannon and Atom Bob.

Englehart’s preference was for a monthly, double-sized book but Marvel was a little leery of trying that… in the end, it didn’t matter since Marvel decided not to do the revival project at all.

That’s one interesting mix of personalities that Englehart was planning to bring together, wasn’t it? I’m not sure how it would have played out as the months went by but it’s yet another missed opportunity for the House of Ideas with regards to the Ultraverse.

Ask Around!

The Ultraverse has always been described as a ‘Writer’s Universe” with emphasis over story building then imagery (pun intended).  James Robinson, who produced some of his first professional work in the Ultraverse, is a writer often name dropped when supporting this claim. James Robinson wrote for Firearm.  Firearm was very will written with very funny and poignant dialog.  Firearm was also very well designed with beautiful imagery. If your not familiar Firearm is about an ex spy turned private eye operating in a tinsel town filled with Ultras.  Here is one of my all time favorite single pages in a comic book, from Firearm #1 (page 16).

firearm - 1_16

I know when I read it for the first time (and every time) it feels like I’m in a great P.I. detective show on television.  Great imagery and design for a comic in a ‘Writer’s Universe’….

Ultra Monthly #1

My professional background is in marketing, so I love stumbling across old promotional material. Especially promotional material for comic books! Today we’re presenting the entire first issue of Ultra Monthly, a giveaway 16-page comic promoting Malibu’s Ultraverse. Normally we don’t share an entire comic, however, this particular issue was free and for promotional purposes. Below is a fantastic description of the magazine from Longbox Graveyard, website of Paul O’Connor (Contributing Editor on Ultra Monthly).

The idea behind Ultra Monthly was that it was a news magazine from inside the Ultraverse — it told the story of the Ultraverse through news stories and “photographs,” relating only what an outsider would be able to divine about the super-powered derring-do of the Ultraverse. I guess it was kind of like Marvels, except that Ultra Monthly was a news magazine, and not a comic (and we didn’t have a couple guys named Busiek and Ross on board, either). Anyway, the point was to show a “street” level view of the Ultraverse, but it was also to promote the characters in the line, and that proved especially challenging for characters that lurked in the shadows of this new fictional world.

Nicely explained, Paul! And now, “The Premiere Ultrahuman News Magazine!” Click the images below to read the entire magazine.

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