There is nothing like seeing squabbling individuals (each with a unique talent or two) realize that they have to end the division between them and work together to solve a problem that affects everyone.
Tropes like that are common in superhero comic books, animation, movies and other forms of media. The concept of having superheroes is precisely the key element behind the UltraForce of the Ultraverse.
To put things in perspective, UltraForce is a team of superheroes (called Ultras in the Ultraverse) composed of Prime, Hardcase, Prototype, Topaz, Ghoul, Pixx and Contrary. The team was formed to protect the public while, at the same time, keep their fellow Ultras (examples: Mantra, The Strangers, Night Man, etc.) from getting out of line with the general public and their government leaders.
Previously, I discussed what would it be like had superheroes conspired with government officials and corporate media as told in UltraForce #2. For this article, we take a look back at the formation of the team in UltraForce #1, published by Malibu Comics in August 1994 with a story by Gerard Jones and art by the legendary George Perez.
The story begins with a disaster as fighter planes get pulled down to the ground by an unknown force. A pilot who ejected and flew by parachute finds himself pulled down as well. Down on his back, he feels intense pain and could not get himself up. His body begins to get destroyed when a voice is heard.
“You thought your little flying toys would stop me. You thought your mastery of light and air made you invincible. And no creature of the dark, hidden places could possibly beat you. Now feel the weight. Feel what we feel. The weight of the core of the Earth. The weight of eons of darkness. The age of light and air is done. Prepare for a new age. The age of Atalon!”
Inside a ship above the desert, Hardcase reacts as he watches multiple monitors showing current events highlighting people’s fear of the Ultras, citizen demanding controls, Hardcase reported as saying “only Ultras can control Ultras”, plus an image of Prime and Prototype in action. With him were Contrary, Pixx and Ghoul.
“No!” said Hardcase. “I won’t go through that again!”
Harcase clarifies to his companions that, due to his past with The Squad ending in tragedy, he won’t join a group and end up counting friends’ bodies again. Regarding his reported quote in the media, he stated that he specifically said that government could never control Ultras plus he did not say an UltraForce should try to do it. Being an actor in Hollywood, he decides to go to the media and wash his hands of this.
Contrary, who is the schemer in the team, asked him, “Won’t the public fear Ultras more and more…unless someone steps up to teach Ultras how to function in the world?”
Hardcase asked if she was the one to do the teaching.
Pixx butts into the conversation telling them that Prime and Prototype are about to approach the press. After calling Pixx an attentive student, Contrary tells Hardcase she is the to teach the Ultras which she claims is her business.
In front of the press, Prime (who is a kid inside that overly muscular body) talks impulsively to them and Prototype (who is receiving communication feed from Ultratech which seeks a public coup with the idea of him gathering the team) who states that an UltraForce is needed and that he will recruit one.
This sets off Prime to act even more impulsively over who has credit over the UltraForce idea. Behind the scenes, Ultratech’s Leland and Hardcase watch as things turn wrong (between Prime and Prototype) in front of the press.
“They’re going to force the government to crack down on Ultras!” – Hardcase.
Concerned that the embarrassment could start a civil war between Ultras and Normals (the people), Hardcase tells Contrary he wants to leave the ship to prevent things from getting worse. Contrary gets on his way saying she was going to talk to Prime and Prototype and even have their ship fly after them.
Hardcase disagrees with her idea and insisted she should not be near the mess (about Ultras and the public) until she comes clean with all her secrets and explain what her academy for Ultras is about.
“Is this the same Hardcase who didn’t want responsibility of leading other Ultras…laying down the law for me?” – Contrary
Eventually Contrary sends Hardcase away and tells Pixx to bring their ship to the Redstone Arsenal.
Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, Topaz appears suddenly in the middle of a football game causing confusion to the players and the spectators.
I absolutely enjoyed reading UltraForce #1 for the fact that it has a very engaging story, great art, in-depth characterization and a great presentation of superheroes banding together for a higher cause. It is the complete package of what a fun yet thoughtful superhero comic book should be!
The story written by Gerard Jones shows lots of signs that things were carefully planned not just for the comic book but for the Ultraverse as a whole as it focused on the concept about the Ultras being on the edge of getting misunderstood by the general public (the people who don’t have powers) who in turn relied on the news coverage of corporate media (which itself has lapses or made deliberate moves that did not give the viewers an accurate look at the events that happened) to take a look at beings with powers.
This concept kinda reminds me of the traditional concept behind the X-Men. Charles Xavier founded the X-Men to train mutants to use their gifts for good while trying to establish a bond of understanding and tolerance between mutants and humans.
UltraForce’s concept of the fragile link between Ultras and ordinary people really went deep as it involved not only the media but also the private sector, the government leaders and the armed forces. Heck, in Prototype #1 the corporation Ultratech made its move with Ultras by having a flying, armored guy representing them. In Prime #1, the element of militarism was involved.
The comic book’s concept is nicely reflected in Hardcases thoughts below.
“Great. The military, the media, the eyes of the world…dying for a sign. Are Ultras for them or against them? And what sign are we giving them?”
Gerard Jones also achieved a great job with the characterization. Prime is the impulsive powerful superhero who is also a loose canon because he’s really a kind inside the large, muscular body of a man. Prototype is piloted by a young guy working for a corporation and along the way, he has trouble balancing himself between duty and personal interest. Hardcase, who has been living with guilt as one of two surviving members of The Squad, struggles between his internal struggle and keeping the peace between humans and Ultras. The way I remember these three notable Ultraverse lead characters from their respective comic book series, their personalities were successfully replicated and developed in this comic book.
Contrary meanwhile is subtle yet brainy and strategic figure of the team. For the most part, she is mysterious and yet already has a clear vision about mentoring people with super powers. She is easily the most defining member of UltraForce who does not have her own comic book series. Topaz, who comes from a society of women, is clearly the Ultraverse parallel to DC Comics’ Wonder Woman. She appeared in prior issues of Mantra and her addition to UltraForce added more depth and variety. Of course, given her background, working alongside men is a challenge for her personally. Pixx and Ghoul, meanwhile, contributed nicely as supporting characters in this comic book. For the villain King Atalon, he succeeded in presenting himself and his group as a credible threat to the world. Not only is he powerful in combat, he is very driven with a mission for his kingdom and his people strongly love him and support him.
Even though this was just the first story, UltraForce #1 is already a nice exploration of each member’s personality and the personal relationships between them. How these characters formed a team was not only convincing but was done with a lot of depth and focus. At the same time, the dialogue written for each character is lively to read. Take note how Atalon reacted to Prototype’s attack on him.
“Didn’t your Dr. Einstein tell your people decades ago that great gravity could bend even energy? But you never do listen to your own wise men, do you? Just like my people. We wise ones must find ways to make you listen.”
Spectacle and action? There’s lot of them in this comic book. More than enough to satisfy anyone who enjoys reading superhero stories that pack a lot of hard-hitting action, intense moments of damage on the surrounding made only possible by superheroes, energy blasts and the like.
This bring me to the next aspect of the comic book….George Perez’s great art! I should say that Malibu Comics made the best decision to hire Perez for UltraForce #1 given his established talent of drawing multiple superheroes in high detail (with that distinct style on drawing human faces) and ensuring that what was written on Gerard Jones’ script would come out not only looking great but also always look very lively. I love the way Perez drew the facial expressions of Hardcase, the visualization of Prime’s immense strength, Pixx looking really like a teenager, the high level of detail on the backgrounds, Ghoul’s creepy look and much more. No doubt about it, each and every panel drawn by Perez is great to look at!
I really love reading and re-reading UltraForce #1. It succeeded in its goal of getting the divided superheroes together to form a team in convincing fashion complete with a clear and present danger (Atalon and his people) that justifies the events. It’s got great writing and art, very engaging characters, heavy action and a good amount of characterization. The good news about this comic book is that it can be found in good supply online and you don’t have to worry about paying high prices for it. As of this writing, you can order a near-mint copy of UltraForce #1 for only $4 at the website of Mile High Comics. Apart from comic books, there were some action figures of UltraForce released and there was a short-lived animated series of it on TV.
If you are a comic book reader who is dissatisfied with today’s comic books (and even superhero movies), if you are reader looking for a great superhero team reading experience, or if you want the best superhero comic book experiences of not only the Ultraverse but of the 1990s as a whole, then UltraForce #1 is highly recommended! This comic book is a classic of its decade!
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