Kaiju action comics aren’t too hard to come by, but they are often of middling quality. The latest series in the genre is Image Comics’s Ultramega, written and penciled by James Harren, colored by Dave Stewart, and lettered by Rus Wooton. The series’ debut issue is out this week, and it introduces us to a world where a cosmic plague is now rampant and causing humans to transform into deadly kaiju. Only the titular Ultramega, three humans granted a variety of powers when in their own colossal forms, can hope to save humanity. But can they hope to hold readers’ interest? Does Ultramega #1 make a giant-sized first impression, or is it dwarfed by by similar titles on the market?
The issue gets off to a good start, thanks largely to Harren’s sense of humor. We get a brief flashback to when our protagonist, Jason, first got his powers and learned of the impending alien threat. His reaction is much like how many readers might imagine themselves coping with sudden revelations from beings on high: with bewilderment, and by just kind of going along with it. The humor extends into the opening fight scene as well thanks to some enjoyably ridiculous dialogue from the first monster Jason battles: “Bloated and beautiful I will become! A vessel of pickled human woe, for my queen!”
Unfortunately, my excitement for the story petered out across the second half. The irony is that this occurred in parallel with the rising action and the three Ultramegas’ final battle with the big bad. The issue largely stems from how much lore we’re only given right before it becomes relevant. We get what other series might tease out slowly as a major plot twist, but is instead just dropped on us halfway through. Not only does the writing not beat around the bush (which isn’t inherently good or bad), but it doesn’t give the characters time to reflect in any meaningful way either.
Ultimately, the weaknesses of the plot and the characters are intertwined. The issue spends a little bit of time developing both, but not to a satisfying enough degree for either. We have a vague sense of our protagonist as a tired, overworked everyman, but he reads more archetypal than unique or multifaceted. The supporting cast, in turn, has far less depth than even him. The character with the most personality in the issue is the previously mentioned monster from the first fight scene, who doesn’t get to stay on page for very long.
On the positive side, I can praise the issue’s art with few reservations. This is where the creative team’s enthusiasm and talent show most successfully and charmingly. The kaiju in this series are clearly meant to be disgusting, and boy are they. There’s flesh and blood and gore abound, and Harren and Stewart sell the idea that alien invasion and the battle against it are pure hell. There are some creative visual reveals that I won’t spoil, as well as a multitude of moments that call to mind the likes of Ultraman and Evangelion in a good way. I also adore the highly detailed architecture and the electric feel of the coloration. My only complaint art-wise is that the sense of scale feels a bit inconsistent at times.
Ultramega #1 makes a favorable first impression for the series, but it’s not a must-read. The artwork shines throughout and the opening scenes mix the horror with some fun humor. With that said, that humor and unique flair dwindles as the plot amps up. Despite the fact that this issue has triple the page-count of an average American comic, I left it not feeling like I knew any more about the characters or their world than I did from reading any other shorter series debut.
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