Growth! Power! Change! Mantra! (#SFWApro)

Malibu Comics was a short-lived but fun line back in the 1990s before it lost money (the mid-1990s was a bad time for the industry), Marvel took it over and Marvel then ruined most of the fun. One of the most interesting books was Mantra.

Written by Mike Barr and drawn by Terry Dodson (cover by Hoang Nguyen), Mantra told the story of Lukasz, an immortal warrior fighting for the sorcerer Archimage against his malevolent opposite number, Boneyard. Lukasz got his immortality via Archimage: every time Lukasz died, he’d be reborn in some other man’s body, pushing the rightful owner’s soul out. Which is shitty, but Lukasz doesn’t care, nor about how everyone the host knew (family, friends) will be left behind as Lukasz takes the body off for more adventures. If he gets killed again he just gets another body.

Then one day, Archimage falls to Boneyard. His last act before imprisonment is to transfer the dying Lukasz to a new body.The body of a woman named Eden Blake. And with Archimage out of action, it’s Lukasz’ last body — Eden dies, he’s done. Archimage has reasons for this: Eden’s a powerful latent mage who may be a match for Boneyard. All Lukasz has to do is chant “Power — Growth — Change!” and he becomes his magical self, Mantra.

Lukasz hates it. He hates being a woman. Let alone an incredibly hot woman who has every man who sees her wiping up drool. Let alone forever. And saddled with her two kids and ex-husband and mother (he decides it’s better to use Eden as his secret identity than just give up and walk away). With all his heart he’s determined to defeat Boneyard’s hunters and free Archimage so he can be a real man again.

This wasn’t meant as trans representation, but belongs to an older school of looking at gender differences through gender-flipping, like Thorne Smith’s novel Turnabout. Barr obviously found the idea interesting as he also used it in Camelot 3000. And I think it worked well. The stories are solid and Lukasz adjusting to his new life and gradually becoming a better person was well executed (though if you don’t want to read about an obnoxious sexist gradually getting his shit together, this may not be for you). Eden’s spirit turns out to be hanging around and they fall in love, though there’s not much they can do about it.

The art, unfortunately, is in the most egregious boobs-and-butt style of the 1990s, as you can see from Dodson’s cover above.

Unfortunately after Marvel bought the company, the strip went downhill fast. Malibu’s editors, according to Barr, were really uncomfortable with the whole concept. So whether it was their idea or Marvel’s, they gave the strip a soft reboot: Eden’s power passes to a nerdy teenage girl and Mantra-admirer who becomes the new Mantra. So instantly we have a less interesting strip. The editors explained the new hook would be how a teenage nerd adapts to suddenly being hot (she got the looks too) and a super-hero, but after a couple of issues, she was just a generically hot teenage superhero. Though even if they’d kept original Mantra, she’d have been gone too when the company shut its doors.

Marvel has done absolutely nothing since then. Some creators have said it’s because of the percentage Marvel would have to pay them if it uses the characters; Malibu marketing VP Tom Mason says in this thread that it may have more to do with the movie rights residing with someone Marvel doesn’t want to do business with.

Either way, it’s a shame. Mantra was far from the only good character the Ultraverse had.

All rights to covers remain with current holders.

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