“The world is about to enter a period of crisis, an apocalyptic virus is set to arrive and will turn people into gigantic monsters who will continue to spread and eventually consume the world, but I can provide you with the power to draw them out and defeat them.” This is a heavily paraphrased version of the ultimatum that is presented to three “warriors” by an alien entity at the beginning of the first issue of James Harren (Rumble, BPRD) and Dave Stewart’s (The New Frontier, BPRD) horror/action love letter to tokusatsu (think Power Rangers, Ultraman etc.), Ultramega #1.
From this starting point, the story follows one of these three warriors, Jason, as he performs his duty as an Ultramega. Following the previous defeat and dismemberment of one of his fellow Ultramegas, the disappearance of the other, and carrying the responsibilities of being a parent to a young child, Jason is run ragged and haunted by a decision made shortly after receiving his powers. Ten years ago Jason and his then-wife Lilith conceived a child whilst, unbeknownst to either of them, Lilith was infected. Knowing that his continued presence could activate the virus and transform Lilith and his son into monsters that he would then have to kill, Jason fled, cut all contact, and created a new life. Jason’s child has now had ten years to gestate and finally emerges, unlike anything he and his fellow heroes have ever faced… and they fail. This issue greatly benefits from having sixty-eight pages to create and define its world, so it can then destroy it and establish a new equilibrium in the ashes of the defeat.
Ultramega offers something often lacking from mainstream tokusatsu media, body horror and gore. Harren takes the core concept of giant creatures battling to its logical outcome, when kaiju bleed, they bleed on a kaiju scale. Whilst the gore is extreme and often shocking, it rarely feels gratuitous, and is sometimes stunning, such as when one of our heroes is impaled on the spire of a skyscraper. In the past, I’ve had problems with comics with comparable levels of gore, such as when Invincible decides to push the boat out on its slugfests, but this is usually more due to the context and an unexpected shift in tone rather than the actual content itself. Here the content is exceptional, in part thanks to Stewart’s choice of colours for the various now-outside-insides and the often grim tone is established almost immediately. The body horror presents itself largely in how the virus interacts with the body when it begins to activate. Pupae and larvae emerge from orifices; limbs turn into interlocking tendrils of oozing meat allowing the person to adhere to surfaces, the only truly human element of a monster being the enormous human skull emerging from a maw on its chest, lifted by a bed of maggots. It’s horrifying and ingenious, creating a sense of dichotomy between decay and uncontrolled growth.
For a comic ostensibly about people blown up to gargantuan proportions to fight similarly sized monsters, it sets the table very well for the exploration of several philosophical and moral questions, questions it will hopefully manage to bring to satisfying conclusions. Does the existence of the Ultramegas create the monsters they then have to fight (To quote Homer “The blade itself incites to deeds of violence”)? The comparative morality of the expectation of individual heroism and collective responsibility. Is it reasonable to permanently remove from society those who could potentially pose a threat when they have no conscious intention to do so? Whilst the remaining run seems like it’s going to be quite different from the majority of the first issue, given the developments following the final kaiju fight, that just allows for a different framework to examine the mysteries and quandaries presented. After this brilliant first issue, it’ll be incredibly exciting to see how these are resolved.