Crowdfunding Review: “Ultra Star” (Riot Press Productions)

Ultra Star was the first issue of a solo-owned IP that Parnell decided to bring to crowdfunding, and is the first campaign of Patrick Thomas Parnell’s that I have backed. He has done four previous campaigns surrounding his Johnny Phantasm IP, for which he is the co-creator and artist. Johnny Phantasm’s abstract art style and Beetlejuice-meets-Scarface story never really appealed to me. Parnell’s superhero story, Ultra Star, was something that I could get behind. Since the launch of Ultra Star in April of 2020, Parnell has added three more campaigns to his belt.

The Ultra Star team consists mostly of Parnell; who created, wrote, illustrated, and lettered the book, while Matt Yackey assisted him with the colors. The campaign opened in April of 2021, and ended having raised $32,140, while the in-demand period brought the final to $42,185.

I backed the Ultra Level 3 tier, which came with two copies of Ultra Star, one with the Kenneth Rocafort cover and the other that was a collaboration with Parnell (pencils), Art Thibert (inks) and Kyle Ritter (colors). It also came with two ashcan-sized books, a postcard set, a sticker, and a package of trading cards.

Today we are reviewing Ultra Star not just as a book, but as a crowdfunding experience. This review will cover the following criteria:

  • Book Content and Quality
  • Communication and Fulfillment
  • Packaging and Shipping
  • Stretch Goals and Bonuses
The Ultra Star package as received

Book Content and Quality

Ultra Star was a 40-page, staple-bound floppy comic. On the Indiegogo page, it was advertised as a “40-page oversized comic book”. There was nothing else given for details on the campaign page about the physical expectations of the book. When I received it, my first impression was that it was not “oversized”. It was the same physical size as another comic that I had gotten the mail that day. I did not realize, despite catching many livestreams, that Parnell was in fact referring to the number of pages being greater than he has provided in the past, or greater than the standard retail comic book.

The paper style of the of the book was never addressed on the campaign page, but I do remember Parnell saying that it was not going to be the newspaper print that his previous Johnny Phantasm campaigns have been. We did receive a lightweight comic with glossy white pages. I would liken the paper stock to being slightly thicker than a magazine. I received a ‘Girl Scout Camp Guide’ mass mailed pamphlet this week that was printed on thicker paper. Aside from wrinkles in the paper from me flipping through the book multiple times, there is nothing physically wrong with the paper choice. However, when comparing the book with previous books and a similar price point of $25 there is a noticeable difference.

The story of Ultra Star opens up following a journalist, Mr. Barry, who claims to have a gift discovering the true identities of superheroes; and the current object of his obsession? Ultra Star. However, Ultra Star has gone into hiding after he seemingly caused a massive casualty incident, which has led to him being despised by the public. However, Ultra Star shows up unannounced at Mr. Barry’s office, and from here, Ultra Star recounts various moments of his life as he is talking to Mr. Barry. There is a lot of action in these pages, and several questions are raised, but there aren’t a lot of answers. In fact, I don’t feel as though any answers are addressed before the ending of this issue. I think it has a good set up, but the ending is just too soon. One of the unachieved stretch goals was eight additional page, and I am not sure if it seemed truncated because of this.

As far as the book’s lettering was concerned, there was an overuse of hyphens in the writing. At one point, I had to reread a word balloon multiple times to understand what it was saying as there were multiple hyphens in the one, single balloon. At points, I wondered if this was a dialogue choice to represent a stutter, but it appeared with multiple characters.

My biggest complaint with the story is that I had trouble following the timeline. For example, in the beginning of the book (present day), Mr. Barry talks to the reader about the accident that took place “months ago”. During the present time, there is conversation between Ultra Star and Mr. Barry, where they narrate over a flashback (the unveiling of Ultra Star’s statue) which the book states was 13 months ago. In this flashback, Ultra Star battles Maxwell James Edwards III, who had just gotten out of prison. During the battle, Maxwell calls out Ultra Star and blames him for the accident. So, in this 13-month-ago flashback, the accident has already happened, but it was “months ago” according to the narrators in the present. The term “months ago” doesn’t make me think that it would have happened longer than a year ago.

Another inconsistency, though admittedly it could be a plot twist that is yet to be revealed, comes when Ultra Star is recounting his youth. After the fight with Maxwell, we are brought back to the office and Ultra Star admits that he is having trouble forgiving himself. The action jumps to another flashback that is set eight years ago, where we assume Ultra Star is a kid playing in the suburbs. A child named Seth, who is wearing a t-shirt with a star on it, ends up falling to his death. One would naturally assume that this IS Ultra Star, but then Ultra Star says “It’s all fun and games until one of your best friends ends up dead.” So who then is the boy in the white star shirt?

Overall, the art is abstract and in a similar style to Parnell’s Johnny Phantasm. However, we can see that Parnell shines in his ability to do mechs. He puts in great effort to details of the machines, but not always the same effort when it comes to the human characters. There is one panel when the young boy, Seth, dies and he is looking like a puppet, a Pinocchio character that has broken wood versus broken bones. Facial expressions in several other panels are lacking or exist of only dots for eyes or a line for a mouth. These details did not take away from the overall impression of the panel, but it could have helped to provide a little more greatness.

The colors of the book helped to enhance the storytelling and the action that was going on in the book. The color palette was not extraordinarily dynamic, but it worked well for the theme of the book, and for allowing items on the page to be discernible as well as differentiating the characters. The palette was relatively muted, but the brightest points of the book had the brightest colors: Ultra Star being yellow, the fights with explosions, and the panels with an imminent unknown object. The colors were used well as a part of the storytelling process.

The colors! THE COLORS!

Grade: C


Communication and Fulfillment

Parnell would often give weekly updates on Ultra Star via his YouTube channel, if not more often. However, the true place to give updates should be on the platform where it was backed, Indiegogo. The first update to the campaign was done 30 days into the campaign. This was to reveal the art of the other cover that was available on the campaign since the beginning – a collaboration of Parnell, Art Thibert and Kyle Ritter. During the remainder of the campaign, there were regular updates that showed the progress, items being received, updates on shipping, and even announcing the opportunity for a second chance at backing Ultra Star on Parnell’s newest campaign Johnny Phantasm Extreme 93. I realize there probably isn’t much to update in the beginning of a campaign, but Parnell could have done a better job updating on Indiegogo, such as announcing certain monetary or backer milestones, when stretch goals were met, or even sharing art pages.

It was declared from the get-go that Ultra Star would have a fulfillment date of December of 2021. I received mine on January 4, 2022. I did see others sharing on social media that they had received theirs during the month of December. So, with the fulfillment process, Parnell nailed it. It was even questioned whether he would make the deadline as he was planning to launch the next Johnny Phantasm campaign the beginning of January 2022. He assured backers that he would have the majority of the fulfillment done before doing so, and he was true to his word.

General Star’s design certainly changed since his original inception!

Grade: C+


Packaging and Shipping

My order came packaged in a Gemini mailer. Each cover was bagged and boarded individually, with some of the stretch goals and extras in each of them. The poker chip was taped to the inside of the box, and the two packages of trading cards that were loose. However, everything packaged together did not bend or disturb any of the items inside. The one downfall of the packaging was that the bags were sealed with scotch tape. This does tend to be the norm for most of the campaigns that I receive, but I find the tape to be too sticky and will often stretch or rip the bags. In this case, there was not any extreme stretching or ripping, but the bags were wrinkled around the taped area. No biggie, as it can be – and I have received – far worse. The package was shipped first class on December 30th, and arrived on January 4th. So shipping was quick from Florida to Maine, even with any residual holiday hickups.

Grade: B+


Stretch Goals and Bonuses

Parnell had decently outlined stretch goals starting at $12,000, with the first 5 stretch goals being in $2,000 increments and all of them being a new trading card. The $20,000 stretch goal being packaging for the trading card set. A $25,000 stretch goal for one of his sought-after clay poker chips; this one celebrating his Red Spade character. And the last stretch goal that was met was a $35,000 foil trading card.

Because of the tier level that I backed and the stretch goals, I received two packages of trading cards. Having two sets is a nice touch, that way I can keep one in the package and open the other one. However, I have decided not to open either, at least not yet. I did have to check to see whether the foil card that was obtained as a stretch goal was included in the packaging because I did not see reference to it in the updates. In addition, none of the images of the trading cards on the campaign appeared to be foil. Bottom line, we did not receive a foil card as was promoted with the stretch goal. If there was an updated reason for this, I did not catch it on a live stream, and it is not addressed in the updates of the Ultra Star campaign.

Unlocked?

The ashcans that came with certain tiers were talked about on stream being similar in style to those that came with He-Man toys. Not being familiar with that reference, they came across as being on the tiny side when I saw them. I am used to bigger ashcan comics from other campaigns I have backed. However, the additional back information of the characters they covered was well done, and they were enjoyable to read.

The post card set that was three prints that were post card size and nothing printed on the back. These could be used as post cards, but I instead added them to my binder of prints. We did get a 6X9 print of the Kenneth Rocafort cover, and that was an unexpected bonus.

The I AM RADIOACTIVE ashcan

Grade: C


Overall, I am a little bummed by the book and campaign. There are several positive points: the story is shaping up to be something that I would be interested in reading more of, but it cut off too soon. Issue one ended where I had more questions raised than are answered. The book never even went into great detail about the horrible accident that was discussed more than once within the story. It obviously has a great impact, but more of the why is needed. With the importance placed in this book, I would have hoped it would have been addressed in this book. There are other things within the story that should be addressed or worked on as far as consistency and word balloons.

There were specifics regarding the bonus items in the campaign were not disclosed on the campaign page, so when the items were received, they seemed a little lackluster. Was it an oversight that the foil card was not shipped to the backers, or was there a decision not to include it that wasn’t conveyed properly to the backers? Some of these issues might not have been so disappointing if this had been Patrick’s first or second campaign, but with Ultra Star being his fifth, I would think that a lot of these kinks would have been worked out by now. The next Riot Press campaign would benefit from a little more detail, whether on the campaign or in the updates page itself.

If you’d like to get your hands on a copy of Ultra Star, Patrick Thomas Parnell is offering an exclusive “second chance” cover featuring artwork by Donal DeLay as part of his Johnny Phantasm Extreme 93 campaign which you can check out here. Don’t waste time though, this second chance edition of Ultra Star will only be offered for a limited time (we’re talking days here, not weeks).

Overall Grade: B-

The Donal DeLay “Second Chance” Cover

Thanks for reading!

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2 comments

  • Thanks for the review! I would give it a C. I don’t care too much for the extras and would wish these campaigns would focus more on delivering a bigger or better book but if a trading card is promised than a trading card should be delivered. Overall the book was enjoyable but too short and not worth $25 in my opinion. I’ll skip JP93 for that reason.

    Liked by 1 person

  • For the record, he explained in one of his videos why the card is missing. It’s understandable. Sometimes things just don’t go exactly as planned.

    Like

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