I’m not sure if it would be accurate to call Ultraforce the flagship title of the late Malibu Comics’ Ultraverse superhero line. Ultraforce followed the Justice League and Avengers model, chronicling the adventures of a team consisting of heroes who all had their own solo books and a few lame filler heroes that rounded out the roster. The difference between Ultraforce and its more pedigreed antecedents was, while readers might be interested in reading about a team with Thor, Iron Man, and Captain America on it, they wouldn’t be as stoked to read about characters about whom they knew relatively little, like Prime or Hardcase.
Some background on Malibu Comics and their Ultraverse may be in order. Back in the go-go early Nineties, the comic book market was exploding. People were buying fifteen copies of every issue, special variant holographic chrome rainbow happy happy covers were commonplace, and comic book publishers sprung up seemingly overnight. Malibu was one of those ascendant upstart companies, and they attempted to do something that nobody has ever done successfully: create an entire superhero universe from the ground up.
For a while though, things looked good for Malibu. Case in point: Ultraforce #1, which was written by Gerard Jones, one of the more ubiquitous writers of the Nineties, with art by comics legend George Perez, who can draw rock very well.
Here’s my main gripe: The problem with making a complete superhero universe out of whole cloth is that you come up with all this backstory and create a complex, cohesive universe – and then you populate them with characters that nobody gives two shits about. The Marvel and DC comic book worlds have evolved into their present state over the course of decades, through trial and error. These fictional universes are staffed with characters who have risen to the top and stood the test of time. Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman weren’t created in one long joint-smoking weekend, they have become icons over the course of years. Lesser heroes have fallen by the proverbial wayside, victim of the Darwinist ethic of pulp publishing. If it doesn’t sell, it goes.
I would argue that a book like Ultraforce should only be published after you’ve got some miles under your tires, when you know for sure that, OK, kids really like Prime but aren’t so crazy about Prototype. The problem with the just-add water approach to the Ultraverse and Ultraforce is that there wasn’t a huge fan base for certain characters and readers weren’t absolutely dying to see Prime and Prototype team up. The publisher doesn’t determine what characters are popular, the reading public does. Ultraforce felt premature to me.
I’m sure a Malibu creator would argue the point, but I would counter that any sales success that Ultraforce experienced had more to do with George Pereze and less to do with Hardcase & Co. Am I wrong? Opinions, please.
Wow, this is turning into a longer post than I had planned. I planned on taking a few cheap shots at Ultraforce and getting out, not writing a thesis on Malibu Comics.
The first Ultraforce storyline covered the formation of Ultraforce from a bunch of bickering, bitching heroes into a well-oiled machine full of bickering, bitching heroes. When they’re not fighting with each other, Ultraforce battles a powerful group of subterranean humanoids who have jacked a bunch of nuclear missiles for their own nefarious purposes. The bad guy is basically a lethal, butched-up version of The Mole Man or The Underminer.
The production values and art on this book are top-notch, but the story leaves me a little cold. It’s written in Jones’ characteristic wry style and it’s pretty to look at, but the characters are unlikable and shrill and all the yelling and arguing gets old really fast.
Topaz hails from Planet Lesbo, and finds herself accidentally teleported into our world – right in the middle of a football game. It’s kind of a cute scene – Topaz lands amidst the players and thinks she’s under attack, so she starts kicking ass on two football teams at the same time, and their damn ball, too. She takes a moment to berate the cheerleaders on the sideline:
Hardcase rescues the two fallen heroes from a subterranean death trap, but he’s none too happy about it. Here he is yelling at Yahweh or Gerard Jones while he carries them up to the surface. Check out Prime’s squashed green head! Grody!
Clearly these subterraneans are too tough for one or two superheroes (called “Ultras”), so Hardcase decides to put on a show to raise money for the orphanage! No, wait – wrong story. Hardcase decides to assemble this rag tag bunch into, yes, Ultraforce!
Myself, I would elect somebody more even-keel than Hardcase, who undoubtedly reminded more than a few young readers of their abusive stepfathers. His reaction to everything is violence. Here he is upon learning that his Veronica Mars DVD is on backorder from Amazon:
I think “Heartattack” or “Hardened Artery” would be a better name for Hardcase. You need to deal with that anger, my man, before it kills you.
I have the remaining issues in the storyline, which I will quickly recap: Ultraforce wins. If memory serves, this story made it on to the short-lived Ultraforce cartoon, which was produced by the animation company DiC. I loved DiC cartoons because after the credits they had a little tag that identified their company – it showed the DiC logo and had a kid’s voice say: “Dick!”
What can I say, it doesn’t take a lot to make me laugh.