Out of the Vault – Prime

As mentioned in last week’s Vault, in 1993, Malibu Comics started an ambitious project: a new line of comics featuring a new universe of interrelated characters. Other companies were also doing the same thing at around the same time, like the Milestone Comics Dakotaverse and Dark Horse Comics’s Comics Greatest World.

One thing that Ultraverse did to help itself succeed (I don’t know how purposeful it was, but it seems so) was to create characters that were analogues of successful characters from the Big Two. They had their Batman (Night Man), they had their X-Men (Freex), they had their Dr. Strange (Mantra), they had their Dracula (Rune), they had their Iron Man (Prototype).

And for their Superman, they had Prime.

Although Captain Marvel might be a better analogue. I’ll get to that in a bit.

Prime started out with an incredibly huge, overmuscled dude in a costume screaming at a high school gym coach, accusing him of molesting the girls. Prime puts the coach in the hospital, and not long after, some mysterious agency interviews the coach about his experiences, trying to track Prime down. We also hear how he took down a crack house before flying to Somalia to fight some warlord’s thugs who were blocking an aid shipment.

We learn several things about Prime from these stories. He’s rash, he’s overconfident, he likes talking about himself in catchphrases, he’s incredibly strong but can’t control his strength.

Oh yeah, and when he’s wounded, he bleeds goo.

Just as he’s in the middle of destroying a tank in Somalia, his entire body starts to melt.  He takes off for the U.S. again, and it’s a good thing he’s fast, because he manages to reach his home town just as  he’s losing both his physical integrity and his strength. He crashes through the window of a skyscraper into a deserted office as his melting body becomes translucent and this happens.

Turns out Prime is actually 13-year-old Kevin Green, a high-school student who was conceived with the help of “fertility treatments” which were actually part of a military experimental program. And Kevin has just discovered that he can form a protoplasmic shell with incredible abilities. Like Billy Batson, who turns into Captain Marvel with the magic word “Shazam!” Kevin goes from teen to apparent grown-up in seconds.

So in issue two, he does what any high-school boy would do with such power. He uses it to impress girls. In this case, his high-school crush Kelly.

Unfortunately, their romantic interlude comes to a crashing halt with the attack, and later, Kelly decides she’s a little creeped out by this superhero in his twenties being all over a 13-year-old girl, especially right after being molested by the gym teacher. By that time, though, Prime’s got other problems.

As written by Gerard Jones and Len Strazewski, Prime was a fun combination of super-adventure and awkward high-school discomfort. Both the writing and Norm Breyfogle’s art had to walk a fine line between comedy, action and horror (or perhaps disgust, since gross-out bodily functions play a big role). Breyfogle’s art was perfectly suited to a book like Prime, since it could shift from dramatic to kinetic to cartoony from panel to panel.

And the production values were gorgeous. Every page featured full bleed color with interconnected, overlapping panels. You’ll notice in scans the relative lack of white gutters between panels. Every page was like that, utilizing the entire page for storytelling.

Prime was my favorite of the Ultraverse books. Kevin went through growing pains, disillusionment, and a series of discoveries that his powers were more than just super-strength. Breyfogle left after issue 12, and the series began to feature rotating artists of varying quality, but I still generally enjoyed it.

The series ended after 26 issues with the Marvel buy-out. Marvel cancelled the entire line, then rebooted a few books, Prime among them. But I was in a very anti-Marvel period at the time, and was in no mood to deal with the promised Prime/Spider-man crossover promised on “Black September.” So I never picked up any of the Marvel Primes.

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