Altered Reality: The Ultraverse Before and After Black September

Welcome Ultra-fans to the Super-Blog Team-Up! Today the Ultraverse Network is part of a crossover banding together several different blogs under the banner of Parallel Worlds and Alternate Realities! Each blog in this crossover will focus on alternate versions of their favorite characters and niches.

Super-Blog Team Up

Here at the ULTRAVERSE NETWORK, we’ll explore how the Black September crossover altered the continuity of the Ultraverse.

When Malibu Comics was purchased by Marvel, the entire Ultraverse line was cancelled and restarted. Only a few of the more popular series were rebooted and relaunched, with some being radically altered. The history and continuity of the Ultraverse was retroactively changed in numerous ways, and a number of characters simply ceased to exist (or in the new continuity, ceased to have ever existed). The story covering this reality-altering event was labeled “Countdown to Black September”, which ran through Ultraforce vol I #8-10, Ultraforce/Avengers Prelude, Avengers/Ultraforce, & Ultraforce/Avengers. Each of the rebooted and relaunched Ultraverse books started with a special “∞”-numbered issue identified as part of Black September.

Ultraverse Black September Infinity

Confession time, I’m not an expert on the post-Black September Ultraverse. I was a big Ultraverse reader when Malibu launched the line, but after the Marvel buy-out I drifted away. For this post, most of what I’m sharing has come from research or information shared by other Ultra-fans. In the coming weeks and months I will update this post if we uncover any further continuity changes. Additionally, I strongly encourage you readers to contribute any missed continuity changes in the comments.

In this post we won’t be recapping the Black September event itself (read it or Google it if you are curious). Instead we’ll be focusing on the retroactive continuity changes (retcons) that resulted from Black September; not to be confused with story-driven character changes. For example, while the changes to Mantra after Black September were dramatic, they were progressions of the story, not retcons. In the post-Black September continuity, Lukasz still inhabited the body of Eden Blake, and then the Mantra power was transferred to Lauren Sherwood. Therefore no retcon occurred. Night Man was another character who experienced dramatic changes from progression of his story as opposed to retcons.

Ultraverse Black September - New World Order

Below is a list of continuity changes (retcons) found in the post-Black September Ultraverse:

  • Prototype – One of the biggest retcons was the elimination of Jimmy Ruiz from the history of Prototype. When Malibu first launched the Ultraverse, Jimmy Ruiz was a teenager working for UltraTech piloting the new Prototype armor. Ruiz replaced the former pilot of the Prototype armor, Bob Campbell. Campbell was forcibly retired after losing his arm on the job. While Ruiz struggled in his role as Prototype, he proved himself on many occasions and was a valued member of the Ultraforce. In the post-Black September continuity, Ruiz was written out of continuity and Bob Campbell was retconned as the only Prototype to have ever existed. Campbell was a member of the Ultraforce and had never suffered the loss of his arm. As far as we know, Campbell was retconned to replace Ruiz in all of his adventures.
  • Hardcase – Hardcase (alter ego Tom Hawke) was one of the premier Ultraverse heroes when Malibu launched the line. In the post-Black September continuity, Tom Hawke existed but never became Hardcase. Since he never became Hardcase, it seems likely that his team called “The Squad” also never existed.
    Here is where it gets a little confusing. A little more than a year after the Black September reboot, Hardcase made an appearance (even though he’d been retconned out of existence). Hardcase returned wearing his original uniform and informed the Ultraforce that he knew about the alterations to the history of the universe. When Black September occurred, he was apparently shunted into a limbo dimension. According to Mark Bourne, a former editor of the Ultraverse titles, Hardcase’s appearance occurred because the creative team wanted to return the stories to the original Ultraverse continuity. Marvel Comics filed for bankruptcy before that story could unfold and the Ultraverse line was canceled. The final Ultraverse story, Future Shock, addressed some of these altered reality plot threads.
  • Choice – Choice was a supporting character in the Hardcase title. Her origin was deeply-rooted in the history of “The Squad”. She never appeared in the post-Black September Ultraverse, and we can assume she was written out of continuity due to her ties to “The Squad”.
  • Contrary – Contrary was a mysterious character, tied into the origin of the Freex (or most likely tied into), and founder of the Ultraforce. She organized the Ultraforce team and provided their technology. She was also known for manipulating people to further her own agenda. In the post-Black September continuity, she was written out of continuity and ceased to have ever existed. Personally, I think Marvel got rid of her because they thought she was robbing Emma Frost’s M.O. and wardrobe.
  • Rune – Rune’s origin was altered slightly in the post-Black September continuity. In the original Ultraverse, Rune began as a barbarian on an alien world who ate the flesh of a dragon to gain it’s strength. In the post-Black September continuity, Rune began in Africa and consuming the dragon was removed from his history.
  • Solitaire – Solitaire escaped Black September relatively unscathed. The only real post-Black September alteration is the mystery of what inspired Solitaire to begin his quest in becoming a hero. In the original Ultraverse continuity, he was inspired after he witnessed a battle between Hardcase and Headknocker which most likely didn’t happen in the post-Black September continuity.
  • Ultraverse history – Another minor retcon in the post-Black September continuity was that Marvel’s Infinity Gems were woven into the origins of the Ultraverse itself. In the post-Black September continuity, the entity on the Moon who triggered the Jumpstart effects was apparently awoken by the disruption of the space/time continuum caused by the Infinity Gems.

Some folks question the status of other characters from the original Ultraverse who didn’t appear in the post-Black September continuity. Such as:

  • Freex – It’s not specified if these characters existed in the post-Black September continuity. Since Contrary was erased from existence (it was strongly hinted Contrary was involved with the creation of the Freex), it’s possible the Freex were as well.  Freex member Cayman did appear in the post-Black September continuity in Ultraforce and the All-New Exiles, but he never made any mention of the Freex.
  • The Strangers – I’m a little blurry on this one. While The Strangers did not appear as a team in the post-Black September continuity, member Zip-Zap is reported to have appeared in a later Prime issue. Unfortunately, I’m not able to verify that appearance. Does anyone else know of it?

While the post-Black September Ultraverse was a very different place for our favorite heroes, all other changes were story-driven rather than retcons. Again, I’ll happily update this post if any further continuity changes are identified. My thanks to the following Ultra-fans for their assistance with research on this post: Mark Bourne, Derek Crabbe, Ryan Carpenter, Neil Robertson, Bruce Reville and Sean Koury! Thanks guys, stay Ultra!

Super-Blog Team-Up Links

As mentioned, several different blogs have teamed-up today to cover Parallel Worlds and Alternate Realities! While we’re featuring the Ultraverse here, you should visit these other comic blogs to see how they spotlight their own favorite characters and niches today. Visit them now, visit them later, and visit them often!

Our thanks to the Super-Blog Team-Up for inviting us to participate in this fantastic crossover!

Jumpstart Your Collection: Gold Holographic Covers

Ultraverse Gold Holographic CoversThe Ultraverse is a dead universe. For now, hopefully. That means no new comics have been produced since 1996, but that also means there is a finite amount of books to collect. And the good news is that most of these books can be found on the cheap.

My contribution to the Ultraverse Network will be from the collector’s angle … I have spent years trying to track down all these books and a big part of that was figuring out which books actually existed. So we’ll start from the top with the gold holographic covers.

Ultra-collectibility rating: 10/10

To me, these are the books to have. The silver holographic books are the ones most people remember, since they were distributed for the first issues of seven launch titles: Prime, Mantra, Hardcase, Strangers, Prototype, Exiles and Freex. Malibu printed 5,000 of each of these to be given out as retailer and fan incentives. These were quite the hot ticket back in the mid-1990s!

But I never even knew the golds existed until a few years ago when I started spotting them online. You don’t see them very often, but they are out there. According to a post from the Ultraverse Facebook group, Malibu publisher Scott Mitchell Rosenberg was asked at the 2012 San Diego Comic Con for the story behind the gold covers. He said there were 200 printed of each of the seven titles, also to be given out as incentives. Nobody really knows how many were actually distributed. I’m guessing a bunch of them were tossed out when Malibu was closed down after the Marvel purchase but I don’t know that for sure.

Some are easier to find than others. My entirely unscientific observation from years of following eBay auctions is that the easiest to spot are Mantra, Protoype and Exiles. Freex is a little tougher. Prime is tougher still. And Hardcase and Strangers are really rare. In a typical year I see anywhere from 10-20 auctions with these. Last year somebody sold 10 gold Mantras in a single batch(the auction said it was some type of warehouse find). Five years ago a set of all seven sold for $150; this year individual golds have been selling for up to $40. It’s not impossible to put together a set, but it will take a lot of time and effort unless you just get lucky (like the dude who got all seven at once).

By the way, these books are beautiful! Holograms were not that unusual back then, but the effect works stunningly well when it takes up the entire cover.

One note about the Ultraforce holographic cover. It’s also gold, but was printed seperately. There is no silver version of this book, and there are 5,500 golds. It’s easy to find; I bought 20 from Mile High for $32 total in 2007. So lets just not include that book when we are talking about the others.

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!

Ultraverse Podcast: Prime of Your Life, Episode 02

Ultraverse Podcast: Prime of Your LifeIt’s the second episode of ULTRAVERSE PODCAST: PRIME OF YOUR LIFE!

In this episode, co-hosts the Irredeemable Shag and David continue their coverage of #1 issues, featuring: Firearm, Prototype, Solution, Night Man, Sludge, and Solitaire! Plus, we read some of your Ultra-Feedback on the air!

Thanks for listening!

Next week: The second episode of THE NIGHT MAN PODCAST!

Favorite Covers: Prototype #7 by Jerome K Moore

One of my favorite Ultraverse covers was Prototype #7 by Jerome K Moore! Check out the original art below. Such gorgeous lines and detail! Plus, Arena was a compelling villain with a striking look!

Prototype #7 cover by Jerome K Moore

Jerome posted this to Facebook back in September stating the art was done in pencil, ink, china marker, and gouache. He identified his influences for the piece were: Mike Mignola, Ross Andru, Michael J Zeck, John Romita Sr, and Brian Stelfreeze. The final printed version was colored by George Cox (GC3).

Prototype #7 cover by Jerome K Moore

Absolutely stunning piece!

 

Prototype from Ultraverse Origins

One of my own personal favorite Ultraverse titles was Prototype! I’ve always been a sucker for Iron Man-like characters, and this one had some really interesting aspects. For example, this comic was not only about Jimmy Ruiz, the new Prototype, but it also followed the challenges of Bob Campbell, the middle-aged former Prototype.

Check out this awesome page from Ultraverse Origins #1 written by Tom Mason & Len Strazewski, drawn by Dan Jurgens & Terry Austin! To provide some perspective, this comic was released the same month Prototype #6 was on the shelves. Click the image to enlarge!

Prototype Ultraverse Origins by Dan Jurgens and Terry Austin

Such a cool character with so much potential. A real shame he’s not around today.

Countdown to Ultraverse (Network)

Prior to release of the first Ultraverse comics, Malibu distributed a free giveaway featuring previews of upcoming titles. This giveaway, referred to as “Countdown to Ultraverse,” featured profiles on the first several series. With our Ultraverse Network officially launching tomorrow, this seems the ideal time to refresh everyone’s memory of those early days!

We won’t make a habit of sharing an entire comic, however, this particular issue was free and for promotions. Click the images below to enlarge.

Countdown to Ultraverse

The inside front cover featured a key to identifying all the characters on the cover…

Ultraverse-Preview-00b

Page one featured an editorial by Chris Ulm…

Ultraverse-Preview-01

On with the entries! Hardcase, Prime and The Strangers all received two-page spreads…

Ultraverse-Preview-02-03

Ultraverse-Preview-04-05

Ultraverse-Preview-06-07

The remaining titles all received a single page…

Ultraverse-Preview-10

Ultraverse-Preview-11

Ultraverse-Preview-12

Ultraverse-Preview-13

Ultraverse-Preview-14

Ultraverse-Preview-15

Ultraverse-Preview-16

Ultraverse-Preview-17

Interestingly enough, there were three slightly different versions of, “Countdown to Ultraverse.” In addition to the cover above there was another version with the same artwork, except Hardcase is yelling, “Catch”. In the third variant, Hardcase is still yelling “Catch”, but there are serial numbers appearing in the top right corner. Since this particular version promoted the first trading card series, I’ve included the advertisement appearing within this giveaway!

Ultraverse Preview Skybox Trading Cards

Such great promotional material! An excellent way to generate hype for the Ultraverse!

Be sure to check back here tomorrow for the launch of our network, and the release of our first podcast!