A confession: I have a bit of a soft spot for some of the more oddball comics characters out there. This won’t come as any big surprise to those of you who’ve visited this site regularly, but there you go. And they don’t get much odder than Ultra, the Multi-Alien.
Ultra was a late arrival to DC’s Mystery in Space comic. His origin is all but spelled out on the cover of his first appearance, which I’ve re-created here. DC had something of a tradition of sci fi/space heroes, and Ultra definitely fit into that tradition. He starts off in this first story as spaceman Ace Arn, from Earth. These four aliens, from the planets Ulla, Laroo, Trago and Raagan, each have special ray guns, designed to transform whoever they fire them on into a member of their own respective alien species. This being will then be under the control of the one who shot them. Don’t ask me to explain why this is a goal to be desired. I don’t know; I’m getting confused typing this.
Ace Arn is forced to crash-land on the planet where these four aliens are hiding out. And (by a further stroke of fate or coincidence only possible in comics) all four fire their guns at him at the exact same instant, causing him to be transformed partially into being like all of them. Only contrary to their plans, he retains his own will, and abruptly rounds up the bad guys, somehow instantly knowing how to use all these powers he never had before. Taking the first letter from the names of each of their planets (Ulla, Laroo, Trago and Raagan), he adds an “A” for his own name, taking on a new identity as Ultra. I did say this was odd, didn’t I?
The art for the strip was created by Lee Elias. About 20 years earlier, he had done really great work for Harvey Comics on their Black Cat comic (I took a shot at the character myself here). I have no inside awareness as to the thinking behind the creation of Ultra, but I do have some guesses about it. As mentioned, this strip appeared late in Mystery in Space’s run. I suspect sales were flagging, and they were looking for a potential new “anchor” strip that would capture enough reader interest to bolster their sales.
As DC sci fi strips go, though, this was really different. On the face of things, Ultra was kind of a monster character, something very unlike most other DC characters. Again, guessing: monster-mania was still very much in effect in pop culture at the time. You had shows like The Munsters and The Addams Family on TV, along with all the late night monster movies, model kits and toys. So perhaps Ultra was an attempt to tap into some of that.
Mystery in Space was canceled with issue #110, so Ultra must not have caught on with readers as much as DC had hoped. But there’s often something fun about oddball characters like Ultra, despite (or maybe because of) their oddity. I’ve always had a soft spot for the guy ever since the first time I saw him as a kid.
Hence my re-creation/re-interpretation. As is usual with any of these, I’ve made some changes. For me, that’s the only point in doing re-creations, if I can find some kind of fresh spin to put on them. If you care to study it and compare it to the original, there’s one big change (that’s kind of a hint), and a number of small ones too.
Hope you enjoy my little self-indulgence here. 🙂