Saturday, March 15, 2008

Ultra #7

Ultra #7, February 2005, Image Comics
by Joshua & Jonathan Luna

For as many comic books liter our apartment on any given day, nearly as many tabloids and magazines are scattered about, as well. My girlfriend loves ‘em. She buys those rags weekly as faithfully as I visit the comic book store. So, when I threw Ultra #7 onto a pile of her just-reads earlier today, I almost couldn’t tell it apart. The cover of the Luna Brothers’ Ultra #7 mimics the cover of a People Magazine, and while I’ve seen comics try to satirize other print media before, this is the best example of subtle effectiveness. Further, since Ultra’s title character is caught in the crosshairs of a sex scandal in and around this issue, the motif fits perfectly. It isn’t just a sales gimmick . . . like most pictures on the covers of those real magazines.

What do I mean? Well, I have a fanboy goal to collect every comic book appearance of Cloak and Dagger. Now, is there a teenybopper somewhere with similar ambitions to collect every tabloid appearance of Britney, or Lindsay? I mean, does Britney deserve the cover of these weekly magazines for shortchanging a gas station attendant, or something? At this point, it’s like giving Aunt May the cover for baking Peter a pie. It always happens, yet it only really appeals to a fraction of that title’s core readership. It’s a sales gimmick -- an attempt to remain relevant. But I digress.

I picked up Ultra #7 several weeks ago with the intention of including in this week’s Women’s History Month series, because my brief experience with the Luna Brothers’ work has led me to conclude that they are extremely capable of capturing the female condition in any supernatural context. For instance, their most recent series, The Sword, is a fine balance of science fiction and twenty-something strife; the reader experiences the lead character’s frustration and disbelief right along with her. The single issue of Girls I’d read before (the second issue will come tomorrow) was a memorable look at relationships through a similar lens of dark fantasy. So, when I picked up Ultra #7, its cover not withstanding, I had some high hopes about its story.

Boy, were those high hopes ever met.

Ultra #7 is the perfect issue for a new reader like me, as it effectively concludes an obvious integral storyline and focuses more on its eclectic cast’s relationships. After recovering from an arsonist’s attack, which cost the lives of many innocents, Ultra’s public image continues to suffer thanks to the release of a compromising picture. At first, this controversy affects her arrival to the 77th Annual Superhero Awards -- a brilliant enough concept in itself -- until a fan reminds the condemning crowd of Ultra’s selflessness. Though Ultra doesn’t win the Best Superheroine award, her associate Cowgirl does, and during an after party, the two share a tender moment that implies a romantic overtone to their relationship. To the Lunas’ credit, the sequence isn’t overtly homosexual as it is tragically romantic -- their relationship isn’t necessarily forbidden because of social taboo, but because of its potential interference in their respective heroic careers. If only everyone with power felt such noble restraint when it came to their romantic urges.

No, Ultra has nothing to do with former Governor Spitzer. I’m just saying.

What I don’t know how to articulate is an adequate description of Jonathan Luna’s artwork. His characters appear almost photographic in appearance, with such a natural grace and expressionism that one almost forgets he’s actually reading a comic book. Every panel is practically cinematic in scope, with character blocking and background effects working together to establish and reflect the mood of the characters’ dialogue. The line work is crisp, the colors are effective and dynamic. ‘Nuff said.

Of all of the issues I’ve read so far this week, Ultra strikes me as the best example of depicting strong women in comics. At least in this chapter, these superheroines aren’t facing archnemeses, but rather their own roles in society. In the face of controversy, scandal, and conflicting romantic emotions, these women still emerge as powerful, competent protagonists -- not victims to desperation, but determined to resolve their respective plights only so that they can continue to contribute to the betterment of said society. If only the young starlets that graced the covers of real tabloids adopted the same mentality . . . How much better would the world be, if only in the quality of our entertainment?

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