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Comics Are Trying to Break Your Heart #117 by Drew Barth

To Wear an Influence

I remember being a tiny child and setting our VCR to record Power Rangers and Big Bad Beetleborgs while I was at school or asleep and I would sit in front of the TV, half watching as I rewound the newly recorded episode. A cataclysm of unknown proportions was going to change the world utterly and shatter all notions of normalcy. Each episode felt like an event that I would never be able to see again. That same urgency—the massiveness and event-level scale—is weaved throughout the first issue of James Harren and Dave Stewart’s Ultramega.

I wouldn’t have been able to read Ultramega when I was younger. due to the gore, the more mature themes, and, more than anything, the body horror. If sentai shows like Power Rangers and Ultraman center around characters transforming, Ultramega takes that to a grotesque degree. As an unknown kaiju plague sweeps through an unnamed city, Jason, Stephen, and Ern have been granted the power to transform into costumed giants—the titular Ultramega—to stop the monsters the infected become. But this is all futile as something more frightening has been percolating beneath the city for a decade and is unleashed as the three heroes and their powers can do nothing to stop it.

So, of course, this issue has that epic sense of worlds changing as our three heroes die gruesome deaths before the first issue’s end. For a first issue, introducing your main cast, giving them distinct personalities and histories, and then killing them off is risky. But here, Harren makes it work. This first issue is an event as we move past the old age of heroes and into the next. We’re in a post-Ultramega era and the heroes have been replaced by machines while the plague has subsided. The stinger at the end of this sixty-six page issue is even a masked hero that is of a normal person size and using powers in a completely different way from what we had seen from the Ultramega. More or less, we were given a full movie as a prequel to the rest of the story that is only beginning. Again, it’s a risk in a first issue, but somehow these moves keep working out because I want to see more of them.

Ultramega is a shot of that VCR nostalgia, but taken in unexpected directions. It also proves that comics can be expanded upon into these giant, event-like issues. Much like Novemberin its length and scope, Ultramegais another Image series that looks to push against the physical boundaries of the comic format. Although we haven’t gotten to the point of making those French comic dice, we’re getting to a point where stories are really beginning to burst at the seams of their pages. How much more story can be contained in monthly issues?

Get excited. Get huge.


Drew Barth at Miami Book Fair in 2019.

Drew Barth (Episode 331) is a writer residing in Winter Park, FL. He received his MFA from the University of Central Florida. Right now, he’s worrying about his cat.