I guess this story starts with me getting a Sega CD, of all things. While trying to build a library for it, I went to a local comic book store and found a bundle containing Microcosm, a Psygnosis game, and Ultraverse Prime, which had a really ripped, angry looking superhero on the cover. I went home and researched the two games, and found this ‘Ultraverse Prime’ was actually a license of some comic book character (and as a bit of useless trivia, the cover to the video game is based on the second book‘s cover) about a teenager named Kevin, who because of some shady genetic engineering going on at the fertility clinic his parents visited, can temporarily create a second body around himself, essentially turning him into a muscle-bound seven+ foot adult version of himself with immense strength, super speed, flight, nigh invulnerability, and a few other tricks.
So, it sounded like He-Man, only with genetics instead of a magic sword, and the ability to fly. I like He-Man, although it’s hard to tell if He-Man likes me back, given the unbelievably stupid writing. And despite the chance to fix those mistakes, the 2002 series is basically the 1983 one with a really (really) nice coat of paint, but the same dumbass writing from which I deduced everyone on Eternia is missing a chromosome if they couldn‘t put all the pieces together and figure out for themselves that Adam is He-Man.
But I digress.
I did eventually get the game from eBay, but I never played it. I did, however, take a shine to the comics for almost a month. Almost a month of intrigue, smiles, a few moments I wanted to smack Prime upside the head with his own rolled up comic book for, and an ending that was nothing short of depressing.
The first issue was majorly screwed up. Not in a particularly bad way, it's mostly just a teaser showing off Prime’s powers as he busts up drug rings and helps turn the tide in an army skirmish, and then leaving you to ponder why he liquefied and left a kid behind. Granted, I had already read the back story on Wikipedia, so I knew what some of this nonsense meant, but I still have to wonder why the "this is madness" guy from 300 was running a drug house.
The second issue was kind of shaky, and after how bizarre the first issue was I was wondering what I had gotten myself into. Kevin shows up at his home naked which causes gossip among his peers, and the next day he runs out of class sick and spontaneously turns into Prime. After class lets out he uses the opportunity to woo Kelly Cantrell, a girl he has a crush on but thinks he's a dweeb. Which I can understand. Call me narrow minded, but I was not about to accept Archie Andrews as the secret identity of a superhero who was essentially a cross between Superman and the Hulk.
By the fourth issue, Kevin was looking a lot less dopey, but… maybe it was just my first impression but I was still having trouble accepting him as the hero.
The third issue was oddly eerie after the first two. After a flashback to a transformation he had before the first issue, Kevin finds himself at the lab of Dr. Gross, the scientist responsible for his transformation, and Duey, Gross' assistant "son" who received the same treatment as Kevin, only because Gross hadn't perfected his experiments yet he turns into a grotesque ogre-thing with little arms all over his body, like those frogs with trematodes. In a fit of confusion, Prime escapes and accidentally mortally wounds Dr. Gross in the process, forcing Gross into a Prime-like body of his own. While trying to seek help from a well-known hero named Hardcase, Prime gets into a fight with Prototype, another Ultraverse character who's basically Iron Man with a different color scheme.
Prime's body starts to break down during the fight, but he's able to escape when a fire breaks out. On the way home the Prime body finally falls apart completely, leaving Kevin unconscious in a pile of goo to be found and rescued by his father. Desperate for some kind of help, Russell makes a phone call that will come back to bite him in the ass.
At school the next day Kevin approaches Kelly about their new mutual friend, thinking he could use his secret to win her over. When I finished the fifth issue which had Prime slugging it out with a He-Man parody, I knew I was in love.
And now the military wants a piece of him. Russell tried to get help from one General Samuels, some military nutjob who, instead of giving Russell the help he's seeking, attempts to control Prime through deceit, blackmail, and torture. My first impression of Prime was that he was like He-Man, but at this point I was seeing him as more like the Hulk: undergoing barely controllable transformations that were scaring and confusing him and causing him to hate himself. Kevin also had his sick origin and an example of the abomination he could have turned into thrown into his face, and now he's the rope in a tug-of-war between Gross and Samuels over who he belongs to. Even worse, Prime wasn't tearing just Kevin apart, but his family as well. As it turns out, his father knew about the experiments Gross performed on him and was just as, if not more traumatized than Kevin was, and now his mother is going batshit because her son's disappeared and her husband's acting weird.
I wanted to see how Kevin would break away from both Gross and Samuels and how he would finally come to terms with being Prime. Each issue left me savoring his last episode and pondering the next. At the end of issue 9 he was thoroughly pissed, having realized Samuels' lies that got him caught in a nuclear explosion that could have killed a bunch of innocent civilians. At issue 10, I knew it was coming. He was going to get away from the psychotic military general and forge his own path. But how? And then...
...and then I hit the Rogue Prime arc, and if I had balls I imagine that’s what a kick in them would feel like.
Even if his resemblance to Richie Cunningham was somewhat of a turn-off for me, Kevin seemed like a fairly sweet and well-adjusted kid. But when Kevin does finally accept being Prime, he becomes a total dickhead about it. Here’s a question: a few issues ago, Prime got in General
Thunderbolt Ross’ Samuels’ face and threatened to kill him if he so much as touched his parents. Why now is he not giving two shits that Ruth is threatening to leave Russell? Okay, I guess I can understand why Kevin became bitter. He'd had his life turned upside down, had just gotten out of the hands of some asshole who was trying to control him with lies and an electrified dog collar just to further his own glory and ambitions, was rescued by some gun-toting Punisher knockoff he thought was "the shit", and then his father ran off. And maybe the thing that got me most about Rogue Prime was that he was introduced as "The REAL Prime." But it was like Jones and Strazewski were taking me on a pleasant car ride and telling me about this friend of theirs, then slammed on the brakes for giggles, then laughed at me when I got a bloody nose from slamming against the front seat.
Here's the Rogue Prime arc in a nutshell: Kevin/Prime acts like a prat for six issues. He goes into night clubs picking fights. Russell runs off in search of answers to Kevin’s “problem.” Prime gets into a fight with Mike Haggar and Johnny Cage. Prime gets accused of being a pedophile because somebody finds the extra set of clothes he has to carry around because he trashes the set he’s wearing when he transforms. He tries to bust some zombie voodoo drug lord (I'm not making that up). He meets a kid with superspeed named Turbocharge although the cover makes it look like Prime shat him out, but Prime tells him to get lost which really would have sucked if Prime had spawned him. The military opens fire on Prime, a move that only succeeds in pissing him off. Kevin’s mom decides to move to New York to get away from Prime hohoho the irony.
Plus, the art style was changing every damn issue, with 16 being particularly sickening. Norm Breyfogle, the guy who did the artwork, quit after the twelfth issue. Maybe he realized how much this new Prime sucked. Or maybe he hated drawing that puke. C'mon, look at him. If you saw that flying around calling itself a hero, would you want him to come to your rescue? I for one would tell him to leave me in the burning building, then wait for a real hero to show up.
The only issue I can really suggest reading is 11, the first issue of this nonsense which contains a major plot point, and it gives you a taste of the shittiness of the arc so you don't have to try to down a whole mouthful of it. Maybe 15 as well, which has an atypically decent bit where Prime goes to wreck up the aforementioned voodoo drug lord and sees all the evils in his life. But the rest is just different ways of Kevin/Prime being a dick. I would suggest skipping them, but I wonder if it was these books that made me appreciate the following arc that much more.
Oh yeah, and Kelly's wearing a Nine Inch Nails shirt in one issue.
I slogged through it anyway, knowing the original Prime was coming back in issue 17. When I got there, I didn't know what to think, like my new friend suddenly backslapped me and told me to get out of his life. Issue 17 was like he came back with flowers, trying to apologize and explain himself and admit what an asshole he was, and how he got some counseling and promised he'd never do it again. But I wasn’t about to forget this betrayal.
But he tried hard to win back my trust. He showed me how with Hardcase's help he cleaned himself up, rising from the ashes into an admirable superhero. He added some blue to his red and gold to make his color scheme easier on the eyes. He was cracking jokes and showing off his moves to impress me. He stopped asking me to accept Jimmy Olsen as the protagonist, although I was kind of wishing he would decide on who he wanted me to accept instead.
The books were extremely enjoyable and made me giddy as all hell. Maybe seeing Prime save Kelly's butt again and accepting only enough reward money to buy Hanukkah presents for his otherwise broke family and coming home to another surprise from his father just tasted all the sweeter after gagging on that Rogue Prime bile, but it was great to see Kevin back to himself, only taking to Prime as a hero instead of a frightened child (or, you know, an entitled dick). Heck, by the end of #18, just two books in, I realized Prime was back and better than ever.
One knock I have against this arc is the two Primevil books, which were kind of stupid. Maybe not so much the second one, but the first one uses a sickening art style which left me wondering if the book was a joke or something. In a previous issue, an assassin named Rafferty managed to blow Prime's head off, though since Kevin was protected by the torso he got away with a concussion. Then he runs into a discarded Prime body that got taken to something called the Godwheel and given life through magic, now called Primevil. Kevin primes up to fight it, but thanks to his concussion, his head forms on backwards and he subsequently gets his butt kicked. But as luck would have it, the government was conditioning a heroine named Phade to seduce Prime, and she manages to intervene in time to save his neck. Prime puts his head on the right way, then beats the snot out of Primevil. But hey, still better than Rogue Prime. And they lead to Issue #24, and #23 has a nifty Prime sketch gallery in the back.
#24 was so damn sweet I forgave the Rogue Prime incident, and almost forgot it altogether. After watching everyone’s struggles - Kevin’s, his father’s and his mother’s - that payoff was just too incredible. And as if seeing the Green family back together with the confused haze lifted wasn't great enough, even Kevin says he hated the Rogue Prime and never wanted to turn into him again. Years later, that issue still makes me happy.
While I would have been happy if #24 was the end of the series, there were more books in the To Do pile. Namely, the Power of Prime miniseries, and the fifteen issue Marvel run. I also wanted to check out some Ultraforce books, to see what Hardcase said to Kevin/Prime that got Kevin to pack that Rogue Prime shit in. Reading issues 25 and 26 was like Prime found out I'm a He-Man fan, and instead of being himself, whom I was liking just fine, decided to try being like He-Man by stating his powers come from magic. He even even brought in Elven, his female counterpart except she looks like Evil-Lyn and her name even sounds like “Evil-Lyn.”
By the way, in the back of my head I know She-Ra exists but I often forget her existence, mostly because I try to. Or any female characters that's a pre-existing character with breasts nailed, be it She-Ra, Elven, or She-Hulk. You’d think I’d be more sympathetic towards the female character, but surprise, I’m not.
Except 25 and 26 brought me to a dead-end which was continued in a miniseries called Power of
Grayskull Prime, which I didn't have. I had a few from the Marvel run, but didn't think I should go on until I read the Power of Prime. I ordered all the issues I was missing from the Malibu and Marvel series, and while waiting I revisited the other Prime books, making sure to avoid the Rogue books because I’d rather have a colonoscopy than read another page of Rogue Prime unless it was the issue he went Final in.
As it turns out, it wasn't an Ultraforce where Hardcase slapped some sense into Kevin, but a special I already had but skipped over because it was inexplicably called the "Prime Gross and Disgusting". The cover had an impressive image of Kevin with the classic Prime behind him, yet when I opened it, it had Rogue Prime… well, doing what Rogue Prime does (that is, being a bastard for those of you who haven't been paying attention). Even knowing this was the issue where Hardcase inspired Kevin to abandon the Rogue Prime and become Final, the Rogue parts were still completely painful. I'm also not sure what's supposed to be gross and disgusting about this book. Maybe it's a joke on Dr. Gross, and the disgusting part was Dr. Gross showing Prime images of scantily clad women dancing around in an attempt to get him to "prime up" so he can steal some cells from him and use them to impregnate Hardcase's comatose girlfriend. But Hardcase isn't taking her abduction sitting down, but when he finds her he earns an ass whooping from a tag team of Dr. Gross and Duey, essentially two Primes. As Kevin watches he realizes what a shit he's been, evolves once more, and comes to Hardcase's rescue. Hardcase gets his girlfriend back, and Kevin takes home some of Hardcase's respect and the determination to make a true hero of himself.
A week later I had the Power of
Grayskull Prime, and after reading it I was pretty sickened that I waited a flippin' week for that. It had a neat ending, but everything leading up to it was was kind of a backslap to what everything after Rogue Prime was about, with Kevin back to being all angsty about his parents. Though meeting the other Gross babies was neat.
And now we’re at the Marvel run. I wasn't sure what to expect from it, but I should have taken it as a sign of how this was all going to end when I saw how messed up many of the covers were.
"The real Prime can take a kick between the legs!"
The Black September was like a retelling of Rogue Prime, in that Kevin suddenly becomes drunk with his Prime power and is being an asshole about it again, but after witnessing a battle between another hero he admires and a villian with similarities to him he changes his tune and turns into a new Prime to join in the battle. Only this time, it's friggin' Spider-Man instead of Hardcase. From what I can gather from reading Hardcase, Loki made his way to the Ultraverse and used the Infinity Gems to rewrite it. Of if you want to be cynical, the Marvel editors rewrote it and started whoring Prime out to Spider-Man, Hulk, X-Men, and Avengers crossovers.
Well, those scenes of Prime being a jerk weren't flashbacks, they were real time. Prime and Kevin somehow got seperated, perhaps because of Loki's meddling, and since Prime doesn't have Kevin as his mind and soul he's running amuck. Elsewhere, Kevin has an epiphany with the help of some natives who worship Spider-Man, the Lizard, and a pendant of Spider-Man's emblem that lets him see visions of his life. This somehow enables him to turn into a Spider-Man Prime hybrid, and then with Phade's help has to recombine with Prime. It still read like a shoehorned cater to Spider-Man fans, but at least it wasn't as awful as Rogue Prime. Not sure how you get worse than Rogue, though.
Issue 5 really doesn't have a reason to exist. Issue 4 ends with Prime flying off knowing he has to face up to his parents about the havok the fake Prime caused, but 5 inexplicably has him teleported to feudal Japan to team up with a female samurai called Arena to stop the resurrection of
Cthulhu Hiruko. There's a tacked on line where Kevin tells Hiruko he understands what it's like to have your parents see you as a freak (again, I thought this was settled in 1.24), but you're not missing anything by not reading it, plot or otherwise.
6, 7, and 8 are crossover comics where Prime teams up with Solitaire to take out a drug ring (what is it with Prime and drug lords??) I think Marvel was just faffing around with Prime, completely missing/ignoring what he was about. There was no continuity between issues, and even the storyline of individual issues wasn't making much sense. There's something about a fake Prime busting drug houses, which isn't mentioned until well after it needed to be to make any sense. My strongest memory is a drug that turns people into monsters, and a dream Kevin had where he's grown up and as big as Prime is, working on the car with his dad. Yeah, not much to be had from these ones either.
9 and 10 were actually a welcome return to form after that dumbass Hiruko issue and the ho-hum Solitaire crossover. It actually picks up where 4 left off, though I don't know where the in between issues fall in. Prime's friendship with Turbocharge hits a snag when Turbocharge reveals a secret that confuses the hell out of Kevin. In sorting it out, Kevin learns something about himself and secrets in general. These are easily the highlight of the second volume. Breyfogle was back on the artwork, but funny thing, despite my initial reaction to that design I actually liked seeing Kevin and Prime drawn like that again. I dunno, the recent designs may have been more respectable, but they were also more generic. The classic design may have been a little dopey, but at least Kevin and Prime were distinct, and with a little tweaking even that design was respectable.
But Prime's plot schizophrenia has a relapse at issue 11 and comes back worse than before, completely abandoning what happened in issues 9 and 10 to bring in - and I really wish I was making this up - some evil polka-dotted Mexican military dictator whose motivation for world domination is "my father was an asshole, and I vow to get back at him by being an even bigger asshole" who gets beaten not by Prime, but by an evil pumpkin man who in turns gets beaten again not by Prime, but by an evil squash man. The staff got a complete overhaul with new writers, and it shows, because these issues suck ass.
I like to imagine the editors were distracted by a loud noise, say, an angry mob yelling about what they were doing to the Ultraverse. When they went to check it out Jones and Strazewski took the opportunity to put out a last hurrah with 9 and 10. When the editors found out about this, they skwered Jones and Strazewski on a ceremonial spear.
Or if you want the boring explanation, Jones and Strazewski quit because they were sick of Marvel telling them how to write their book.
In their place was Keith Giffen, who couldn't have missed the point worse if the point was on an aerial banner, and he was throwing the bullets at the ground in the opposite direction. What the hell happened to Turbocharge? The only time he's even mentioned in any of these books is a hideous pin-up of him and Prime playing a video game in the back of one of the books. Kevin learned how to fight by hanging around Hardcase, Prototype, and the rest of Ultraforce, so why would he suddenly be back to "fighting like a child"? But my neon-flashing red flag of just how clueless this guy was? That would be when Russ said he didn't want to push on Kevin too hard because Kevin could tear him apart if he pissed him off. Except a couple issues before, Russ had no problem getting on Kevin (in Prime form to boot) about the fake Prime's rampage, and saw the worst that came of it was Kevin yelling back at him then feeling guilty about it immediately after. And what about when Kevin (again, in Prime form) welcomed him back with a smile and open arms after he had, you know, run off for several months, or the job he knew Kevin got him, or what he said to Ruth when she thought Prime went psycho again during the Turbocharge race?
And for pete's sake man, if you wanted to do something with a villian who could absorb Prime's power, why not just bring back Manhattan Project instead of pulling Fidel Spotty out of nowhere?
Maybe I shouldn't fault Shaheen too much because Giffen left a pretty big mess behind at 13, and 15 wasn't completely terrible, but it was still a pissass way to go out, and whenever I think about it I don't know if the feeling I get is sadness or nausea. It might be worth nothing that in Vol 1 this was the time Rogue Prime showed up and also left me sick to my stomach. But at least Rogue culminated into something. These just left me wanting to punch everyone involved with the Marvel takeover of Malibu. Ending a story or series is fine (great even), but leave me feeling like my friend told me everything he wanted to, not like I saw him get shot in the head just as he was opening his mouth to say something!
As if the issues themselves weren't bad enough, they left me with no real conclusion. 10 wasn't an ending like Vol. 1's 24 could have been. 13 opened a huge can of worms that was addressed by saying 15's the last issue and everyone lives happily ever after, and I want to forget these five issues ever happened anyway. I suppose I could ignore everything after Vol. 1 Issue 24, but even though somebody completely forgot Vol. 2's 9 and 10 I don't want to (especially since 2.10 is probably my second favorite issue, behind 1.24). I guess the best thing to do would be to accept any issue written by Jones and/or Strazewski, then pretend Prime, Turbocharge, and Phade continued fighting evil as a more tightly knit team, now that they all know each other better.
But I couldn't blame Prime for this like I blamed him for Rogue. It was like my friend had just finished telling me a sweet little story about him and his friend, and was getting ready to continue his story. Suddenly an imposter ran in, slapped me, stabbed him in the gut, then ran off cackling. I was about to tell him off again, when I looked down and saw him curled up on the ground, and caught a fleeting glimpse of the imposter. He picked himself up, hands on his gut trying to stop the bleeding, then limped off to get medical help. But that was the last I ever saw of him.
Leaving me with the memories we had together, the memories I at least have photo albums of so I could go back and relive them. The happy times, the tense times, the questionable, but forgettable times. But there was still so much I wanted to do with him. I wanted to see how he continued his friendship with Turbocharge, now that they each knew each other's big secrets. I wanted to see a little more of Kelly. And I know it's just a worthless fan wish, but I really wanted to see Kevin prime up and lay somebody out to rescue his parents, even fighting off a burglar would have sufficed for me. But thanks to Marvel, the last image I had of him was him bleeding out on the sidewalk. If Wikipedia is to be believed, Joe Quesada wanted to revive the Ultraverse and Prime would be one of the first if he could do it, but complications with profit sharing make it next to impossible. That's great, because I think I'd rather see Prime, and all the Ultraverse for that matter, rest in peace instead of seeing their graves dug up and their bodies strung up like marionettes, because Marvel just screwed it all up then and nowadays they're fucking insane.