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At first glance sixteen year old Michael Hardaway appears to be just a quiet teenage boy. His father Phillip is a surgeon and medical scientist whose focus of late has been developing an artificial insulin and injection pump to help regulate Type 1 diabetes in people like his son. The trouble with experimental medicine is that it’s just that, experimental, and in Michael’s case the synthetic hormone gives him super speed. Never mind the fact that no insulin or diabetes medication has that kind of effect in the real world. This is fiction, damn it, and suspension of disbelief is required. Despite extreme low blood sugar incidents, Michael is thrilled to have a super power and decides to become an “Ultra,” the phrase used to describe superheroes in the short lived line of Malibu comics during the mid 1990s.

Taking the name Turbo Charge, the “fastest teen alive,” Michael sets a new goal for himself: to become sidekick to the hero called Prime. He just needs to persuade Prime to take him on in that role. Unknown to everyone in this fictional world, Prime is an analog of DC’s Captain Marvel in that thirteen year old Kevin Green transforms into the muscle bound body of a young adult male. Kevin is consumed with keeping this secret from the world though most of all from his mother. Kevin isn’t the only one with a secret. Michael idolizes Prime for being powerful and composed and he has a boyish crush on the hero. Clues that his father Phillip suspects Michael is gay appear here and there in dialog; often as parental concern about “just finding the right girl”. At the same time Michael is completely unaware that his father is being blackmailed by a high level government bureaucrat who’s been tasked with placing the government’s own Ultra, a woman named Phade close enough to Prime to seduce him for unexplained reasons.

Michael and Phade quickly become irritated by each other’s presence and Phade realizes Turbocharge has a crush on Prime. The rivalry continues until Phade learns that Prime is really a thirteen year old boy. At this point she takes on the role of a big sister with Prime while also nudging him to have a heart to heart talk with Turbocharge. When Michael finally confides his sexuality he’s met with a shocked, stammering Prime who recoils at Michael reassuringly touching his arm and they abruptly part. When the two heroes next meet Michael assures Prime that he sees the hero as only his friend. This change in Michael’s feelings having come about in a previous subplot playing out over a number of issues in which Prime begins acting increasingly out of character which in turn affects Michael’s perceptions.

The two volume series is remarkable in handling Michael’s sexuality and his coming out to his father in one issue and to Prime in a later one. The conversation between Michael and his father happens while Michael is recovering in the hospital after suffering a severe hypoglycemic drop. It plays out as so many coming out stories have before with Phillip spouting the usual cliches about wanting the best for his son, that Michael just needs to find the right girl to date because these feelings he’s having are just a phase. Equally notable is the writers calling attention to AIDS research by having Turbocharge and Prime take part in a “Race Against Time” fundraiser demonstration in the same issue as Michael’s second coming out. In another scene Turbocharge is rushing to find Prime (whom the news is erroneously reporting has died) when he comes across a protest in front of the White House. One group of protestors carries signs in favor of gun restrictions and LGBTQA rights while the counter protestors carry signs with pro gun and anti queer sentiments. It’s impressive that a comic featured these themes in stories published from 1994 through 1996.

With regard to Prime, Michael is generally optimistic and eager to be helpful though sometimes his intent is to impress Prime and push Phade out of the picture. Michael believes in his father and his ability to make things right, but he’s also deeply hurt and upset that his father can’t accept Michael for who he is.

Unlike DC’s Flash and related speedster’s, Turbocharge’s super speed was mostly limited to short periods due to metabolic issues. An excess of speed required eating to maintain his blood sugar level from dropping dangerously low and going into a diabetic coma as can happen when diabetics experience severe low blood sugar episodes.

Overall Prime during the run of its two volumes and a mini series had challenges. One of the most apparent is subjectively bad art in this writer’s opinion provided by a round robin of artists. Plots seemed to have been all over the place. Writer and co creator Len Strazewski would himself leave later in the second volume and be replaced by different writers. Even if current Malibu IP owner Marvel were willing to publish a collection of the 1990s comics doing so would be highly problematic in light of co writer Gerard Jones conviction and six year prison sentence for possession of child pornography.

Turbocharge first appeared in Prime #16 (cover dated November, 1994) published by Malibu Comics. Hints about his sexuality were written into various scenes leading up Mike’s coming out revelation to his father in issue #24 volume 1. Turbo comes out to Prime in #9 vol 2 with a June, 1996 cover date.

Turbocharge was created by Len Strazewski and George Perez. Art by George Perez and Jerry Ordway. Michael coming out to his father by John Statema, Keith Aiken, and Gone Fishin’ as colorist. Turbocharge talking with Prime art by Norm Breyfogle and Prism Riot.

Malibu Comics was acquired by Marvel on November 3, 1994. The final issue, Prime #26 volume 2, states Malibu is the copyright holder.

All rights reserved Malibu Comics, owned by Marvel Entertainment

July 12, 2022
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