ULTRAMEGA #1/ Concept, Story, Art & Cover by JAMES HARREN / Color by DAVE STEWART/ Letters by RUS WOOTON/ Variant Covers by TRADD MOORE & ATTACK PETER/ Published by IMAGE COMICS & SKYBOUND ENTERTAINMENT
I was something of an anomaly as a kid in that while I loved superheroes, I never got into Kaiju. I didn’t dislike Godzilla. I just seemingly never got the gene that seems to cause some children to go from knowing every obscure factoid about dinosaurs to loving giant monsters stomping on model cities. I also was just old enough to miss out on the Power Rangers craze and the mass popularization of sentai soldier superhero shows in the United States. As such, I didn’t get the same nostalgic thrill I’m sure many will reading Ultramega #1, but I think fans of the genre will appreciate this book as a more adult spin on the genre.
The setting of Ultramega is the not too distant future of an Earth much like our own. Indeed, the only major difference is that the unspeakable pandemic that brought their society to its knees is a space plague that transforms people into giant monsters. Thankfully, a seemingly benevolent alien offered a solution in the form of power crystals that would transform those who answered the call into champions capable of both triggering the plague before it fully gestated and slaying the resulting monsters while they were weak. Collectively known as the Ultramega, these heroes spent years fighting to maintain some sense of normalcy. Unfortunately, now only one of them, a retired boxer named Jason, remains to carry on the fight.
I should note, in case this isn’t made apparent from the artwork that follows, that this is not a kid-friendly comic, despite the set-up surely sounding familiar to anyone even vaguely familiar with the sentai genre. Creator James Harren offers a decidedly adult take on series like Ultraman and Kamen Rider. Indeed, the afterword of this first issue cites Devil Man and Robocop as influences as important as the golden age of OVA anime.
This results in a story that is far deeper than Hollywood’s latest attempts at making Godzilla movies, despite less time being devoted to the human characters. While we do learn about Jason’s dissatisfaction with his life as a professional monster killer and his simple desire to spend more time with his wife and son, the meta-narrative is more concerned with the deeper themes of power and society. Much as Godzilla was a metaphor for nuclear war, Ultramega symbolizes our helplessness in the face of COVID-19, with the people around us randomly transformed into monsters and no apparent solution but destruction that merely slows the arrival of total chaos.
Of course if all you care about is seeing giant monsters slap each other around and things blowing up, you’ll find Ultramega quite satisfying as well. Harren’s artwork is full of grit and blood, like the kind of giant monster movies you wish you could have seen as a kid. The colors by Dave Stewart are oddly muted, but mirror the drab theme of the story and the suggestion that humanity’s days are numbered and that Jason is only prolonging the inevitable.
Ultramega is not a cheerful book, but it is a timely one that redefines the Kaiju and Sentai genres through a mature and thoughtful lens. Also, you get to see giant monsters rip each other’s arms off.
Ultramega #1 releases on March 17, 2021 and is rated M for Mature Audiences.