I decided to start this blog mostly to talk about older comics that I think are weird or interesting, but with a name like “Wednesday Reads” I think it’s important to at least talk a little bit about what I’m reading week-to-week. So I decided, every Monday I’ll look back at the previous Wednesday and discuss my top three single issues in a little bit more detail than I do in the weekly Wednesday Reads thread on Twitter.
I haven’t actually had time to read everything this week because my real job has been really busy; if you were looking for this week’s Wednesday Reads thread on Twitter, that’s why it’s not there. However, I made a point of reading the one comic of the week that I was really, really looking forward to. So unfortunately, no honourable mentions this week because I’ve only read this one book three, but instead of giving it a couple of paragraphs, I’m going to give it a full review instead.
(James Harren, Dave Stewart & Rus Wooton)
I knew I was gonna love this one. Ultramega is a comic I’ve been frothing at the mouth to read since it was first announced, because James Harren is one of my absolute favourite artists working today. I first came across his work on The Mighty Thor and immediately went back to check out Rumble solely for his art. So it’s safe to say that I was going to be at the front of the queue for a book he has complete creative freedom to go as wild as he can imagine.
I don’t have a massive familiarity with the tokusatsu/kaiju genres, I must admit. The genres ticks a lot of my individual boxes, but on the whole I’ve never been extraordinarily compelled to invest in it outside of outliers like Pacific Rim or James Stokoe’s Godzilla: The Half Century War. I’ve always wanted to like Ultraman, because it feels like the best crossover from my comfort zone of superheroes into the world of giant monster battles, but Marvel’s recent series didn’t click for me. However, Ultramega hits the sweet spot absolutely perfectly.
The thing that really drew me to Harren back on The Mighty Thor was the way he drew The Mangog. His interpretation of The Hatred Who Walks genuinely looked like something that should not exist; like its very presence in reality was something blasphemous and wrong. It captured the spirit of the original Kirby design far better than any other attempt to recreate it 1:1 and I knew that Harren was born to draw monsters. In Ultramega, he takes that to another level with kaiju designs that make me want to throw up, which is the biggest compliment I could give it.
The combat and the violence in Ultramega is as gratuitous and bloody as I had hoped it to be and the fight scenes are incredibly well-choreographed. Another problem I have with these genres is that the fights never really have the impact I was hoping them to have, but Harren lands every blow effectively. Dave Stewart’s make all the difference and his decision to depict the city as gray and bland as possible pays when the fighting starts and the solid reds, greens and blues stand out against the landscape like a violent pop-art fantasy.
It could just be beautiful, bloody violence — and a lot of it is — but the human story at the heart of Ultramega is what really drives the action and keeps us grounded as giant power rangers are thrown through buildings and blood spurts out from the page like a fountain. As a writer, Harren is somewhat of an unknown quantity and all the beautiful art in the world won’t save a story I’m not invested in, but Ultramega #1 weaves its threads expertly from the moment you pick it up.
The core concept at the heart of Ultramega is really simple; there’s a sickness in humanity that can manifest as kaiju creatures and the Ultramega warriors — of which there are three — are blessed with abilities by weird aliens that allow them to protect Earth. However, proximity to an Ultramega warrior exacerbates the sickness, meaning that those chosen have to be careful around family, friends and relationships lest their loved ones turn into a giant monster that they then have to kill.
The story of the three men gifted and cursed with the power of the Ultramega is what really matters and the lead character, Jason, has a tragic backstory on par with the best of them. I really don’t want to reveal too much about the actual plot of the comic because I really want you to read it, but the revelations and realisations that come out regarding Jason and his past over the course of this book will stick with you a long time after you put it down.
I’m interested in seeing where Ultramega goes from this first issue because it sets up a lot of stuff and then clears the table by the end of the issue to do something new, but as a single unit of comic it’s incredibly satisfying. Harren cements his spot as my favourite artist working currently with this issue, although James Stokoe had a new comic out this week that I’ve not read and there’s a new Daniel Warren Johnson joint coming out at the end of the month, so the competition is heated. If you read one comic this week, make it Ultramega #1. That’s exactly what I did and I reckon I made the exact right choice.