Publisher: Image Comics (Skybound)
Writer/Artist: James Harren
Colours: Dave Stewart
Lettering: Rus Wooton
Release Date: 17th March 2021
A plague is spreading across the planet, infecting people seemingly at random, turning them into monstrous rampaging Kaiju. Standing between them and dominion over the Earth are the Ultramega, three superpowered heroes recruited by a mysterious cosmic entity to protect mankind and fight the war against the Kaiju. However, even with all of their powers, the forces set against the Ultramega are overwhelming, and the biggest and best that humanity has to defend it may not be enough.
HOOOLLEEEEE SHIT!!!!!! This is a monstrous introduction to Ultramega in more ways than one! Weighing in at 68 pages, this is a first issue that has room to breathe, stretch its scaly, mutated limbs and really develop the incredible world and characters that James Harren has crafted into something that I honestly wasn’t expecting. I’m actually not sure I have the superlatives in my vocabulary to do this one justice.
This is NOT your typical Kaiju story. First pass, I was thinking about God Country, Kaijumax, Big Girls, B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth, Black Hammer, Rumble, House of Penance, Junji Ito, H.P. Lovecraft….
Okay, so it’s probably cheating somewhat to have B.P.R.D. and Rumble in this list, as Harren has been heavily involved in both, but it does serve to illustrate the pedigree of creator that is involved with this title. James Harren IS a superb artist, there is no denying that. He’s capable of producing some incredibly horrific, haunting artwork and the work in Ultramega is no exception. And when paired with Dave Stewart, one of the absolutely best colourists working today, you have a book that people should be buying purely on the strength of how good it looks.
This issue features some exceptionally well rendered Cyclopean monstrosities and OTT fight scenes, but beyond that typically stylised “Kaiju” aesthetic, there are some truly dark and disturbing moments. Moments which blend the worlds of body horror and cosmic horror into something with a really dark edge to it. There are parts of this issue that are pure 1980s sci-fi horror in their technicolour grotesqueness, there are others that would make David Cronenberg proud, there are Lovecraftian moments of creeping, insidious cosmic horror, and there are others that just make your flesh crawl… and it’s all absolutely glorious.
The vast range of horror and grotesquery also serves to highlight some genuinely brilliant character narrative and some surprisingly heart-breaking moments in the story. In amongst all the mayhem and carnage we are presented with, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that Jason, Meier and Ern are human beings. Jason, is a worn out, retired boxer, with a family he never sees because of his “duties” as an Ultramega; Meier was just a kid when he got his powers, and the trauma of all that horror is clear in the person he has become in this story; and Ern is a closed book, clearly suffering from PTSD as a result of an event that sent him wandering amongst the shadows and the unwanted, destitute people that live on the streets. These are characters who have been recruited into a war by a “supreme being” which immediately abandons them without any guidance, leaving them to face insurmountable odds day after day after day with no idea whether they’re even making a dent, never mind winning the war.
This is a story with an extremely well thought out back story and some very satisfying surprises as we progress through the issue. Without giving too much away, while this issue is focussed on Jason, it is not his story, it’s not Meier’s or Ern’s story; this is about what comes after them, and as a setup (albeit a long one) it is one of the best first issues I’ve had the pleasure of reading in a while.
This is James Harren’s debut as a writer, and it is an exceptional debut. There is something for everyone in here. Horror, comedy, Kaiju, superb character development, emotional depth, more Kaiju… If you’re a regular reader of my reviews then I’m going to assume that have broadly similar tastes to me in terms of the genre that float your boat, and this is a book that hits so many of my favourite genre and sub-genre that it’s one I can’t recommend enough.
[PREVIEW ARTWORK – CLICK TO ENLARGE]
The writer of this piece was: Mark Scott
Mark Tweets from @macoy_comicgeek