A quarter of a century has now passed since the first Ultraverse titles went on sale. Some have said it was a great time to be a comic book fan during one of the biggest company booms in the medium’s history. Everywhere you turned there seemed to be a new comic book publisher making their arrival on the scene. Without Wizard Magazine to keep me informed, it was hard to keep track, and honestly, as a teen, there was only so much I could spend my allowance on. So unfortunately, Ultraverse did not make the cut in my reading adventures.
(Editor’s Note: For some great background info on the Ultraverse and some musings from a reader there from the beginning, be sure to check out this article on The Exiles from The Unspoken Decade’s own proprietor, Dean Compton!)
Enter “Staycation 2018.” As the wife and daughter head to the beach, I have the whole week to fill some time. And thanks to YouTube, what better way to celebrate the 25 year anniversary of the Ultraverse than watching their 1994-1995 cartoon, Ultraforce, which aired on USA. But there was no way that this experience was going to go unshared. So here it is, a breakdown and personal thoughts on the 13 episode series, Ultraforce.
Can we just, real quick, take a minute and talk about our opening title sequence? There may be a lot of comparison to the wildly popular X-Men animated series theme as that set the tone for a lot of what we had seen in the 90’s; however, there is one thing that particular show opener lacked compared to this….someone screaming the name of the show at you! Not since the likes of the Mortal Kombat commercial have I felt like running into the adjacent room and bellowing ULTRAFOOOORRRRRRCE! Have a listen!
Episodes 1-3 – “Prime Time” – “The Stuff of Heroes” – “Armageddon”
Our first three episodes are all one story. These serve as a starting point for our team, revealing how Ultraforce came together to face a threat from Hardcase’s past, NM-E, a thing that looks like a cross between an H.R. Giger Alien and Robocop. However, they find a more dire threat in the form of a subterranean ruler of the Fire People by the name of Atalon who is bent on destroying the world so his people may once again rule!
Main Characters – This is going to be a rather long list since this is an introduction to the team and some of the foes, so here we go.
Hardcase – The more seasoned “ultra” of the group, as we learn quite early, he had been on a team called “The Squad.” It is not really explored in depth in these first three episodes, but he is also a well known actor. By episode two, he becomes the only one on the team that is aware of Prime’s actual identity.
Prime – Kevin Green, a 13-year-old boy who can become the superhero Prime. The transformation isn’t pretty, though, and Kevin can only spend a certain amount of time in the form of Prime before the body begins to ooze and fall apart around Kevin’s 13-year-old body. Quite possibly the most powerful of the team, his immaturity gets the best of him most days.
Prototype – Jimmy Ruiz, employee of the corporation Ultratech and wielder of their Prototype super suit. Though a bit cocky in his first introduction, Prototype usually has the skills to back up his attitude. In these first episodes Prototype and Prime butt heads frequently, a theme that recurs throughout the series.
Contrary – There really isn’t much you learn about Contrary in these first 3 episodes, or throughout the whole series at that. She teleports Prime, Hardcase, and Prototype on board her ship just before they are about to be blown to bits by some government missiles. Contrary has some kind of emotion manipulation powers, and that is just a guess based on the times I saw her use it by touching someone and then a white aura appearing as she tells them how to feel.
Ghoul – A zombie-like ultra who, when we first meet him, is helping Contrary. He has the ability to touch objects and get a sense of what happened in their past and is also able to see future events. The first thing I noticed with this character on the show, aside from his shocking appearance, was his voice. You don’t expect something that sounds like Groucho Marx to come out of that worm infested head.
Pixx – Assisting Contrary, Pixx is relied on to tackle some of the tech issues the team faces. In a dramatic turn of events in the 3rd epsisode, Pixx dies due to radiation exposure, a fate that Ghoul foresaw. It is at her grave that Hardcase credits Pixx for being the impetus that brought Ultraforce together. Quick fact, according to the tombstone, Pixx was born the same year I was, 1978, making her 16 or 17 when she died.
Topaz – Topaz is a the staff wielding warrior queen of another world who mistakenly ends up on Earth. Don’t ask me why or how; maybe it’s something I missed. Being from a world whose male species are looked down upon and even hunted, it is quite comical when her arrival is in the middle of the field of a football game. Topaz is recruited by Contrary and Pixx, and she reluctantly agrees to help them, even though men are on the team. “The QUEEN OF GWENDOR!!!” If I had to hear that one more time in this series… yeesh!
NM-E – Ah yes, our first villain! You cannot go wrong with an enemy named… NM-E. And the look of this character is impressive. NM-E is responsible for almost completely wiping out Hardcase’s former team, “The Squad.” It is an almost unstoppable killing machine whose reappearance sparked the motivation of Ultraforce to find each other.
Atalon – Ruler of the Fire People, a subterranean race, Atalon seeks revenge on the surface dwellers for sins they had committed in the past. With powers that resemble telekinesis, this big guy threatens the Earth by looking to use an entire nuclear arsenal against every country. It isn’t until Ghoul confronts him with the revered ancient ghosts of the Fire People that Atalon’s menace is ended.
Episodes 4 and 5 – “Lord Pumpkin’s Pie” – “You Can’t Go Home Again”
Jimmy Ruiz (Prototype) gets a call from his mother with concerns about the neighborhood and the effects a new drug called “ZOOK” is having on his friends. The kids are addicted to taking “zook pods” (there’s a joke here somewhere, I know it) which increases their size and strength for a limited amount of time, and Jimmy is interested in finding the supplier, “The Pump” (or Lord Pumpkin as he is formally known). Lord Pumpkin employs the services of a young kid by the name of Pistol and an overgrown slime covered hulk called Sludge. The episodes focus mainly on Jimmy trying to show others and himself that he does not need the Prototype suit to be a hero, but it is soon evident he may unknowingly be an Ultra. Just when things seem to be over Jimmy’s head, the rest of Ultraforce show up to help him out.
Lord Pumpkin – A fashionable criminal with an affinity for purple, wooden body, and a lit pumpkin for a head. He profits off the sale of “zook” which he grows off of sentient vines in a theater. (I feel weird typing that out.) This new drug on the streets causes some friction with another local supplier, and The Pump is involved in a gang war. After seeing Jimmy’s latent powers increase the potency of his zook, Lord Pumpkin makes a play to “persuade” Jimmy to use his powers for nefarious use. Unfortunately, Pump meets his end when his candle wick gets shot out by Jimmy.
Pistol – As Lord Pumpkin’s protege, it is safe to say this kid has problems. With a look of a 1930’s gangster, Pistol can generate guns in his hands making him an unpredictable threat. If it wasn’t for his eager hotheadedness, I might be able to take him more seriously.
Sludge – Frank Hoag, a former cop whose large, disturbingly gooey, condition can only be controlled by the zook that Lord Pumpkin is growing. Since the condition hampers his intellect (driven home by the constant misuse of the English language), Sludge reluctantly does Lord Pumpkin’s bidding. The times he is able to get some zook, he returns back to normal size but only for a few very short moments. There is a point where Sludge does use his powers by grabbing one of Pistol’s guns and melting it before his eyes.
(Just One More Editor’s Note, I Swear: For more on Sludge, check out The Unspoken Decade’s own Dean Compton and Emily Scott’s podcast on the subject, in a segment that only Emily wants to call The Spoken Decade.)
Episode 6 – “Wrack & Ruin”
The cure for being an ultra is here… or so the vampire Rune wants us to believe. Manipulating General Rayder at ALADDIN (a group that watches super powered individuals) to disclose the news that Ultras will need to turn themselves in for a cure, Rune lies in wait at the facility to capture and drain their power. Using ALADDIN to contact Contrary, Hardcase agrees to turn over Prime for a potential cure. Sensing that something is not right, Hardcase and Topaz visit the facility just in time to rescue Prime from Rune.
Rune – This gargoyle-esque vampire creature drains the power from other ultras as sustenance. There is a point where Prime blasts him with some type of energy beam from his fist, a power i did not know he had, and Rune just absorbs it with a smile on his face. General Rayder informs Hardcase that Rune can be stopped with a focused attack on the stones around his neck. Crushing them, Rune is flown into the sky by the fiery form of a free General Rayder.
Episode 7 – “Night and The Nightman”
A strange accident affects a young lady turning her into a shape-shifter with bad intentions called Chrysalis. We also get the introduction of Night Man, who is saved before falling to his death by Contrary. Declining their offer to become part of the team, Night Man heads back to the city to find Chrysalis before she uses her newfound power to wreak even more havoc on citizens.
Chrysalis (Ellie Tremain) – Super strength shape-shifter that envelops her victims in cocoons. I don’t think I understand her motivation other than apparent daddy issues. At one point she transforms into Contrary, goes to a charity ball, and asks her dad to dance with her. That is kind of icky.
Night Man – Johnny Domino, famous jazz saxophone player and a man changed by a freak accident who now possesses night vision, a bit of telepathy, and no need for sleep. Night Man’s crowning achievement in this episode is sending us out with a nighttime saxophone solo on top of a skyscraper while in costume. Beat that, Batman!
Episode 8 – “Prime Ambition”
After two teenagers attempt a bank robbery, Prime discovers they have have abilities similar to his own and goes on a hunt for Dr. Gross, as it appears they are connected. Much to Hardcase’s dismay, 13 year old Kevin Green is still trying to get a grasp on being as responsible a hero as Prime. Things come to a head when Dr. Gross uses Organism 8 to distract Prime in order to kidnap Kelly, a girl that Kevin has a big crush on. Luckily the rest of Ultraforce assist Prime and make the save.
Organism 8 – Dr. Gross’ semi-solid gelatinous bestial creation who seems to have a very low intelligence and silently does the Dr.’s bidding.
Dr. Gross – The creator of Prime, Dr. Gross has been experimenting on people for quite a while but has recently moved to the sewers to continue his experiments. After seeing Prime leaking the green goo, Dr. Gross makes the move to try and capture him. Things don’t work out so well for him in the end when he tries to enhance himself but ends up a sticky amorphous blob.
Episode 9 – “A Veiled Threat”
In order to get ahead of Metropolitan Studios (a movie company whose logo happens to match the Malibu Comics insignia), Luthor Silk, the slimy head of Cosmic Studios, puts a plan into action. Using two ultras by the name of Veil and Headknocker, they plot to transfer Hardcase’s neural center into another actor’s head, effectively depowering Hardcase. Just as a quick aside, not even 5 minutes in and Topaz has uttered “Queen of Gwendor” three times already. And oh yeah, Pixx is back! (Although we find out she virtually lives on to this day because she downloaded her consciousness into Contrary’s ship.) Topaz, Ghoul, and Hardcase take center stage in this episode, and as Veil’s plan unfolds, Hardcase is faced with a tough choice in order to save Starburst, a woman he loved from his past who also happened to be a teammate on The Squad.
Headknocker – This goof. Helping out Veil, he’s a hired muscle bound Ultra thug who is most likely in it just for the paycheck. It is clear that Hardcase and Headknocker have faced each other in the past. Here’s a moment that sums up Headknocker. Running to attack Ghoul and Topaz, they move out of the way as Headknocker lunges forward. He immediately hits a wall and get his oversized noggin stuck. *slow clap*
Veil – The centerpiece villain here, Veil has the powers, according to Pixx, of “limited invisibility, can control other people’s senses, and nervous systems, even the brain!” Veil’s also been responsible for the recent de-powering of Ultras. Throughout the episode, Veil uses her influence by disguising herself as an actress. Topaz and Ghoul investigate and find that Veil is not who she says she is and confront her. At one point, as Veil is pursuing Hardcase, he tells her he plans to turn in for the night, that is, until she uses her ultra-abilty and whispers the phrase, “Testosterone..INCREASE!” HA! Don’t worry, they just put the top down and drive Hardcase’s car really fast. What did you think was going to happen?
Episode 10 – “Pump It Up!”
Giving a young student, Mosh, a powered guitar that has the ability to manipulate people to do his bidding, Lord Pumpkin is at it again! Ultraforce, specifically Ghoul and Prime, get involved when Mosh plays a concert outside of Kevin’s school and a riot ensues. Ghoul loses an arm again but is able to keep his wits about him in order to help Prime foil Pumpkin’s plan to change all the people into… pumpkin heads?
Rogue Prime – Upset with how Prime is perceived, no thanks to Mosh and Lord Pumpkin’s manipulation, Kevin brings forth an edgier version of his super persona who insists on being called Rogue Prime, which rolls right off the tongue.
Episode 11 – “Primal Scream”
The vampire Rune has returned and he needs to feed! His first intended meal? Prime! Plaguing him with hallucinations of villains from his past, Rune has Prime rampaging through town until Prototype and Hardcase attempt to calm him down. Realizing that Rune can only feed on the bioenergy of Prime, Kevin remains unchanged and faces Rune alone. Outsmarting the beast by grabbing the sole red rune from around his neck, morphing into Prime, and crushing it, turning the villain to dust! Just a quick note, there were a couple of times that it appeared Hardcase could fly and in the first part of the season he needed the assistance of a flight suit. Maybe he could jump real high?
Episodes 12 and 13 – “Everything That Rises Must Converge” – “Jumpin’ at the Boneyard”
The two part season finale begins when a mysterious sentient force on the moon called The Entity reaches out to the Earth. We learn that one year ago, this force was responsible for turning Hardcase into an Ultra. Five strangers, also struck by the beam and given powers, are drawn together with Hardcase and are compelled to steal an Ultratech shuttle in order to reach the Moon and protect The Entity. Upset about their stolen spacecraft, Ultratech enlists Prototype to investigate the heist, who, in turn, gets the remaining members of Ultraforce to tag along. Meanwhile, a being called Boneyard is attempting to absorb the energy of the Entity in order to become very powerful, but he must first find a way to rid himself of the threat of Ultraforce and The Strangers to ensure that his plan goes off without a hitch.
Boneyard – Wait a second! How is Deathlok in this cartoon?!? Oh wait, he’s wearing a cape. Boneyard is on a quest to become one of the most powerful beings in the universe, and absorbing the strange moon force is part of his plan to create a dimensional breach to bring over those under him to help conquer and rule. He’s apparently a sorcerer as well, as he was able to fool The Strangers and Hardcase into believing he was the protector of The Entity.
The Strangers – The five people that were given powers a year ago when The Entity reached out to the planet. The members include:
Grenade – a jacked up stud with explosive burst powers.
Zip-Zap – given the power of speed, Zip-Zap is the street-wise quickster of the group.
Electrocute – it’s all in the name – electric powers come easily to this beautiful android.
Spectral – think Marvel’s Human Torch but different color flames depending on the purpose. He helps the team stay alive in space with “auras” that allow them to breathe.
Atom Bob – Able to manipulate and transmute matter (and magic), before he was aware he had powers, Bob unexpectedly turned a whole bus into water, not harming those inside. My favorite line is when they are on the way to the moon and Bob is helping them all change their clothes into costumes as they declare their hero code names. When Bob finally reveals his costume (one of the better ones of the group, in my opinion), he says aloud, “ATOM BOB at your service!” and the others just stare at him. He finally says, “Well… you come up with a better name for me.”
Space Prime – Prime’s body is pretty darn neat! When a trip to space is in order, it cannot use the oxygen helmets provided by Contrary, so instead, he creates a body that is able to survive the vacuum of space. Ghoul’s reaction was classic to this change. “No mouth, huh? Now that’s what I call an improvement.”
Primevil – a green beast that is a creation by Boneyard out of some leftover Prime goop, it seems to be an equal in power for Space Prime and the rest of Ultraforce
The Entity – A large intergalactic supercomputer that crashed on the moon ages ago with the sole purpose of relaying a message, but no one has been able to receive or understand that message since it landed, hence why it has been reaching out to the Earth.
The Ultraforce cartoon came and went in the mid-90’s, not even registering a blip on some people’s Saturday morning radar. This was a series based on a relatively new comic universe, so it was understandable that it may have had a hard time getting a foothold among other established properties at the time. The concept is simple enough that you can start from the beginning and be invested in the characters and plots. The animation is pretty standard and easily reminds you that you are watching a cartoon from that era, so no complaints there. Based on research, the creators stayed true enough to the heroes and their powers, not varying too greatly from what was established. I’m glad I had the chance to sit down and experience it all. If you’d like to get a good understanding about some of the major players of the Ultraverse, watching Ultraforce is an enjoyable place to start… SO SAYS THE QUEEN OF GWENDOR!
I hope that you all enjoyed my first ever submission for this fantastic site! The Unspoken Decade provides me so much enjoyment, and I hope that this adds to it for all of you! Thanks to TheyStoleMyBrain for his YouTube uploads! You can find all 13 episodes here!