Friday, September 21, 2007

My favorite 70's Superman analog. Well, after Vartox. And Hyperion. And I suppose Miracleman counts there? OK, Ultraa sucks.

As most readers probably already know, with all the legal drama (I typed 'trauma' there the first time, which probably isn't wrong either) over the rights to the name and character of 'Superboy,' DC Comics has recently been bending over backwards to avoid using the name. In the Legion of Super Heroes cartoon, for example, Superboy is referred to as Superman from the very start, even though most of the rest of the Legion are Boys or Lads. And Superboy-Prime, villain of Infinite Crisis and Sinestro Corps, is now referred to as Superman-Prime. Man, and I thought Cyborg Superman was a dumb name; it seems elegant now. It could be worse though: he could've decided to call himself Ultraa.

Ah, Ultraa. Was there anyone on Earth-Prime who wasn't a complete dick? (OK, maybe Julius Schwartz.) He was that universe's version of Superman (although they'd get another one later, and had the comics...) and just seems like a overbearing ass. After a clash with the visiting JLA, Ultraa felt responsible for the appearance of Earth-Prime's first super-villain, Maxitron (ooh, scary. Are you sure you're not from the Charlton universe or something?) on the argument that adding super-heroes to that earth, super-villains would inevitably follow.

And don't confuse Ultra with Ultra the Multi Alien. This may be the only time this sentence appears on the internet, but Ultra the Multi Alien has a better design. I know I often rant about how old comics were better and more fun and bladda bladda blah; but one thing I should give new comics more credit for is the coloring. Wade through a pile of these old Justice League of America issues, and you see a ton of flat purple bad guys, monsters, and machines. And comics today don't have to have redheads with crayon orange hair, thankfully.

The opening caption of this issue has a little more jaded banter than usual, pointing out that Central City has seen more superhero battles than most cities, including the whole of the West Coast by my count. Today, it's Flash and Wonder Woman, versus Poison Ivy and Mirror Master. I know, I thought that'd be over quick, but the Leaguers actually have a hard time.
Poison Ivy can apparently talk at super-speed, then...
I had to look up Luther Burbank, since I had no idea who Ivy was talking about. Comics are educational! Um, except when they're not. Anyway, I think I'll make all my exclaimations like that from now on: "What in the name of Gil Kane is going on here?" "Sweet Bill Sienkiewicz!" "Holy Howard Chaykin!"

Even though Ivy points out Ultraa is as fast as Flash, MM still has time to put their heads into "light-cocoons!" which should blind, then suffocate the heroes. Except Wonder Woman can still hear him, and gives Mirror Master...a shove. Diana should be able to punch the hell out of him and Ivy, but not unlike a typical episode of Super-Friends, if she actually did something, the story would be over right there, and we'd be left with dead air; or worse, Wonder Woman lecturing on safety or nutrition or something. I for one don't need to hear WW extol the virtues of steamed cauliflower, thanks. (You know she would. Probably buys organic, too.)

Using one of his gimmicks, Mirror Master teleports himself and Ivy away with their prize, but stupidly had mentioned Injustice Gang Headquarters, cluing the heroes in to larger goings-on. Wonder Woman realizes the sundial they stole is worthless--she had been a security liason to the museum exhibit in her secret identity, which is why she was in town.
Oh, I can just see my wife letting me in the same room with Wonder Woman, let alone dinner...
A brief aside: I'm a good husband, faithful, loyal, and true. I've never done anything untoward or sketchy the whole time I've been with my wife, and am probably only slightly less tame than Barry there. But there is no way in God's green hell my wife would be on board for dinner with Wonder Woman. Especially not in her civilian identity, since if I can keep her identity a secret, what else am I hiding? Also, because glasses are sexy.

Ultraa has a bit of a meltdown there, angered that superpowered beings would endanger innocent lives for nothing. Technically, Mirror Master doesn't have powers; and I think Ivy's only power at this point was immunity to poisons, if she even had that; everything else was gimmicks and weapons. He takes off in a huff, leaving WW and Flash to wonder what his problem is; until a group of terrified civilians ask if it's all clear, and they have to wonder if Ultraa has a point. Pfft! If you're afraid of becoming collateral damage in a super-powered skirmish, you shouldn't live in Central.

Ivy and Mirror Master reappear at Injustice Gang headquarters, which Ivy recognizes (per the Joker's descriptions) as the old JLA cave headquarters. She voices her concerns, but is overruled by the Gang's cloaked leader, who points out maybe someone who wants to kill Batman to prove her love to him isn't a "paragon of passionless intellect." Chronos breaks it up, but wants answers: he and the others had stolen models of an oil rig, a windvane, a sundial, and a hydroelectic dam. The mystery villain tells a long, involved, and utterly lame story about how they were really super-advanced artifacts left by aliens a thousand years ago, that they would come back to lay claim to the energy sources they represented, leaving mankind in savage ruin.
They were going to trade beads for mining rights, but this seemed more stylish and ironic. Dumbest...Macguffin...ever. The aliens actually hand a viking a model windmill, and he looks positively thrilled over the whole thing. It makes me long for the highbrow motivation of "Let's you and him fight" but I should probably be careful what I wish for there.

Back at the JLA Satellite, Red Tornado is voicing what is probably the reader's concern at this point:
Translation:  Why should I care again?
Before the conversation's even over, Ultraa smashes through the satellite's hull (forcing Superman to repair it before it explosively decompresses) with a blocky yet color-coordinated hand weapon. He looks giant-sized, although I'm still not sure if he was a giant, or the perspective was off all issue; as he explains his plan:
Next time, Ultraa found Jesus, and more trouble ensued...
Rrr. When Hal sees the problem with your plan, odds are it's not a very good plan then, is it?

After throwing WW into a wall, Superman pins Ultraa down (and he does look bigger than a normal person there), and after that great Clark Bar ad, Ultraa fires his weapon. He tells the shaken heroes they will never be able to use their powers again:
I would've thought 'negative waves' would sound like New Age doubletalk, myself.
Flash calls BS, but when he ramps up his superspeed, he can't believe his muscles could generate that power without tearing apart. It's the Anti-Suspension of Disbelief Gun! Superman scoffs that it couldn't affect him, and Ultraa calmly asks what if it was powered by Kryptonite. Superman then believes himself to be powerless, which demoralizes and depowers the rest.

Ultraa coldly flies off, to take out the super-villains next, of course starting with the Injustice Gang. From outside the cave, he shoots the Gang with his negative wave gun, then leaves to finish the rest of earth's villains and heroes...leaving the alien Macguffins in their hands. Only the Tattooed Man even notices the negative waves, but he shrugs it off. The Macguffins send out four energy waves.

Forty-three minutes later, Ultraa answers a morse code summons back to the Satellite, where the League shows him on the monitors why taking out earth's main defense wasn't such a great idea:
OMG! Water, solar, even oil doesn't work? Mr. Burns was right!
The Leaguers harsh on Ultraa, who can't believe it didn't work, and sets off to fix it himself, although the powerless Leaguers insist on accompanying him. After a little ride in Wonder Woman's invisible jet (which seems to get some play every time I do one of these issues), Ultraa storms the Injustice Gang, tearing apart a steel door, and proclaiming himself the "Ultimate Warrior!" (No, not this Ultimate Warrior...that would've made about the same amount of sense and possibly have been more educafating on destrucity...)

Apparently, the whole Gang could hear Ultraa's speech from inside, so they're all facing him when he zooms in. Tattooed Man launches a giant eagle at him (out of his tattoos...yeah, I know. Let's push on, OK?) and notes it's bigger and stronger than ever. Scarecrow then throws some fear gas capsules in, inducing seemingly pants-crapping hysteria in the surprised Ultraa. Chronos offers to finish him off with his "time-gun," but even though he fires it, we don't see it do anything to Ultraa. Yes, I am disappointed, although I'm not sure what Chronos' gun is supposed to do, punch clock-shaped holes in things?...and, I had to come back after a really inappropriate typo in that last sentence.

Outside, the League realizes Ultraa's negative wave treatment has just made the villains stronger. Superman then makes a little speech about how they've each lost faith in themselves, they haven't lost faith in each other, and they can be the super-hero team that helps each other. Red Tornado tells Flash he does have the power, and Flash runs circles around the Scarecrow. Superman has faith in Wonder Woman, who lassos up Mirror Master and the Tattooed Man. Green Lantern tells Red Tornado to "just do what comes naturally!" which I would've have thought would be "get broken," but Reddy punches out Chronos--who is still shooting that time-gun to no avail. Wonder Woman encourages GL to stop the fleeing Poison Ivy, which Hal does by catching her feet, putting a run in her stockings and causing her to scream like a wee nancy girl.

The hooded bad guy tries to use the alien whatzits to make earth's energy sources vanish, and the Leaguers encourage Superman to fry them with his heat vision. It takes him a second, but Superman does, probably also burning a hole through the bad guy, who turns out to be long-time Flash villain Abra Kadabra. His reveal is almost an afterthought, though, as the main plot driver for this one was Ultraa.
Again, Ultraa looks like he might be a giant on this last page, or maybe not.
The League wonders what to do with him, and if he can ever be trusted again. The question just hangs out there, as Ultraa looks contrite and hangs his head like a bad puppy. Reckon the question was more for the readers than anything, but as often seems to be the case, there didn't appear to be a huge outpouring of support for Ultraa. I thought he returned, but I may have just been reading out of order. Per Wikipedia, Ultraa would be retconned during the darkest days of the 90's, into a jerkass from Maxima's world, who also served as a "League-Buster." Whatever that means, besides being a punching bag for Captain Atom.

From Justice League of America #158, "The Super-Power of Negative Thinking!" Oh, I have that one in spades. Written by Gerry Conway, art by Dick Dillin and Frank McLaughlin.


Justin Garrett Blum said...

Ultraa's costume puts me in mind of something that Kirby might have come up with for one of his Eternals. It's not bad, really--in fact, there's something that I kind of like about it--it's just a little too gay for its own good (the thigh-highs are the main culprits here). Which is fine if you're gay, but if you're a straight superhero, then you're giving the wrong impression. Hey--I calls em as I sees em.

The Fortress Keeper said...

Ultraa is a great argument for how Earth-Prime - i.e. "our" world - is better off without super-heroes.

googum said...

Earth-Prime might be better off with 9-feet tall redheaded jerkwad superheroes, but I suspect someone put him up to it: "Oh, yeah, ever since you appeared, I've seen dozens of super-villains. Like this morning."

And the thigh boots: Nexus is one of my favorite heroes and designs ever, and probably the only character that should have them.

Blockade Boy said...

What a wonderful, horrible story! Jeremy Rizza also posted about it, about a year before he wisely turned his blog over to Yours Truly.

And I'm glad he and I weren't the only ones who couldn't figure out what in the Sam Scratch Chronos' "time gun" was supposed to do.