One of the most iconic covers featuring the Ultra-Humanite- Justice League of America #196.
Copyright (c) 2018 by Michael Rickard II
People seem to have mixed feelings about Superman’s Golden Age era rogue’s gallery, with the thought that a good number of characters either bordered on comedy or borderline ineptitude. Whether it’s villains like The Toyman, The Prankster, The Puzzler, J. Wilbur Wolfingham, or Mr. Mxyzptlk, many of the original Man of Steel’s foes were focused as either outwitting Supes or embarrassing him. As critics such as Les Daniels have noted, Superman’s Golden Age adventures sometimes had a good amount of comedy in them. However, not all of Superman’s foes were humorous and it’s difficult to think of a Golden Age enemy deadlier than the Ultra-Humanite ("Ultra") or as unusual as one who transplanted his brain into the body of a gorgeous Hollywood actress. Last time around, we looked at Ultra's Golden Age villainy, but that's nothing compared to what he accomplished during the Bronze Age of Comics.
Once DC Comics explained that its World War Two era comic books took place in an alternate dimension known as Earth-Two, it wasn't long before writers started looking at some of the era's villains to use for the annual summertime team-ups involving the Justice League of America and the Justice Society of America.
The Earth-Two characters became popular enough in the 1970's that DC revived All-Star Comics (the original home of the Justice Society) and included a feature in their book, Superman Family, showcasing the Earth-Two Superman's later adventures. Entitled "Mr. and Mrs. Superman," it featured the Earth-Two Clark Kent and Lois Lane's exploits, including clashes with the Ultra-Humanite.
However, it would be in 1981 that Ultra came into his own as one of Earth-Two's greatest villains. In Justice League of America #195-197, Ultra led a contingent of super-villains from Earth -One and Earth-Two against the JLA and JSA, promising to banish one of the worlds' heroes to limbo. Ultra's fondness for transferring his mind sees him in the body of a great albino ape in this story, a form he would perhaps become best known for. Although Ultra is defeated, he does not remain so for long.
Roy Thomas brought back many Golden Age heroes AND villains in the 1980's book All-Star Squadron.
Around this time, DC Comics signed long-time Marvel Comics writer Roy Thomas, with Thomas finally getting his chance to write about his childhood heroes from the Golden Age. Roy Thomas began writing All-Star Squadron, a comic that featured many of the Golden Age's heroes during the early days of America's involvement in World War Two. Although Thomas focused on characters other than the JSA, he occasionally featured guest appearances from the era's top stars, i.e., Batman and Robin, Superman, and Wonder Woman.
Ultra's Golden Age return in All-Star Squadron was nothing short of epic.
One such story was an epic that saw Ultra (in his Delores Winters incarnation) return to menace not only Superman, but the entire United States. Ultra assembled a small army of villains and kidnapped heroes Superman, Robotman, and Firebrand, seeking to transfer his brain into Robotman's body. The multi-part story (All Star Comics #21-26 and All-Star Squadron Annual #2) included many nods to the Golden Age including Ultra attacking Superman's Fortress of Solitude (the Golden Age version was located in the mountains as opposed to the arctic version fans are largely familiar with) and stealing the Powerstone, a magical artifact once used by Lex Luthor against the Man of Steel. Ultra is defeated, but proves himself/herself one of the most capable adversaries of the Golden Age. The story is arguably the best in the All-Star Squadron's run.
Ultra returned in contemporary times, this time seeking revenge on Superman and his friends in the Justice Society. In Infinity Inc, (a book chronicling the adventures of the JSA's super-powered offspring), Ultra drowns the JSA in a magical stream that seemingly kills them, but brings them back to life as evil. Infinity Inc. battles the now criminal JSA members, leading to a showdown with Ultra. This storyline ran in Infinity Inc. #4-10, providing a strong start for DC's new title and again showing Ultra's status as a tier one villain on Earth-Two.
Although DC's Crisis on Infinite Earths destroyed the Golden Age versions of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman (I realize it's more complex than this but anyone familiar with the Crisis shouldn't need any explanation. Anyone unfamiliar with the Crisis should count themselves lucky), Ultra remained a foe for the JSA. However, it would be many years before he returned in a status befitting his earlier glory.
JSA #32-37 saw Ultra steal the aged body of Johnny Thunder, the one-time wielder of the magical Thunderbolt (a magical being of near-unlimited power). After Ultra tricks the current wielder of the Thunderbolt into handing over his power, Ultra uses it to seize control of Earth, dominating the world and most of its heroes. However, Ultra finds himself thwarted once more, and appears to die when the new Crimson Avengers guns him down with her magical bullets.
Justice is served on Ultra...
DC has rebooted its universe several times and the Ultra-Humanite always finds a way to return in one form or another and it's likely he'll return to menace whatever version of Superman DC Comics rolls out.
Ultra's status as Superman's first supervillain opponent and his later depictions make him one of the Man of Tomorrow's greatest villains. Whether it's his Golden Age stories or the ones discussed today, he makes for a powerful adversary and has been featured in some of comics' most exciting adventures.
Daniels, Les. Superman: The Complete History: The Life and Times of the Man of Steel. Chronicle Books, 1998
Fleisher, Michael. The Great Superman Book (The Complete Encyclopedia of Comic Book Heroes; Vol. 3). Warner Books Inc,, 1978.
"Ultra-Humanite (New Earth). "DC.Wikia.com. Living Characters. http://dc.wikia.com/wiki/Ultra-Humanite_(New_Earth). Accessed 19 June 2018.
Younis, Steven. “Who's Who in the Superman Comics.” Superman Homepage. Golden Age Superman. 2011. https://www.supermanhomepage.com/comics/who/who-intro.php?topic=superman-goldenage. Accessed 19 June 2018.
Wikipedia contributors. "Ultra-Humanite." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 4 May. 2018. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ultra-Humanite#Golden_Age. 14 Jun. 2018.