comic books superheroes

I Miss the Ultraverse

I miss the Ultraverse.  It was a shining star that burned bright and was extinguished before it’s time.

Back in early 1993, Malibu Comics launched a line of superhero titles under the Ultraverse imprint.  It was designed to be a shared universe where the characters could crossover and interact whenever the writers wanted.

Hardcase from the Malibu Ultraverse

Prime from the Malibu Ultraverse

Mantra from the Malibu Ultraverse

The early 1990s was the era of the comics boom.  Beyond just Marvel and DC, there were major competitors entering the field like Image, Valiant, and even Dark Horse’s line of superhero comics.  Malibu chose to pattern the Ultraverse after Valiant’s success with a cohesive universe and tight continuity.  The Ultraverse did fairly well, starting with just a handful of titles and then expanding.  In addition to great stories, these books offered readers higher-quality paper and cutting edge digital coloring.

Freex from the Malibu Ultraverse

One of the cornerstones of the Ultraverse was their creators.  They recruited comics legends as well as up-and-coming stars.   Here is a list of just some of the creators and the books they worked on:

  • George Perez – UltraForce
  • Barry Windsor-Smith – Rune
  • Terry Dodson – Mantra
  • Norm Breyfogle – Prime, Hardcase
  • Darick Robertson – The Night Man
  • Cully Hamner – Firearm
  • Howard Chaykin – Firearm
  • Paul Pelletier – Exiles
  • Aaron Lopresti – Sludge
  • Jeff Johnson – Solitaire
  • James Robinson – Firearm
  • Mike W. Barr – Mantra
  • Steve Gerber – Exiles, Sludge
  • Steve Englehart – Strangers, The Night Man
  • Gerard Jones – Prime, Freex, UltraForce, Solitaire
  • Len Strazewski – Prime, Prototype
  • James Hudnall – Hardcase

Prototype from the Malibu Ultraverse

My personal favorites were: Prime, Firearm, Freex, Prototype, and The Night Man.  These stories were full of creativity and energy!  You could tell the writers and artists were excited to build these new characters and the Ultraverse world.  For me, it was thrilling to be there on the ground floor of a shared universe.  Malibu was great about interconnecting the books with crossovers, previews, and character team-ups.  I imagine the excitement I felt must have been how Marvel fans felt in the 1960s.  This was the beginning of something big!

The Night Man from the Malibu Ultraverse

Marvel Comics purchased Malibu and began shutting down the Ultraverse by 1995.  There were some botched attempts to relaunch the Ultraverse by Marvel, including crossovers with Marvel characters and even a Saturday morning cartoon.  By 1997 the party was over. There are two trains of thought as to why Marvel bought Malibu.  The most common is that Marvel wanted Malibu’s cutting-edge coloring.  The other common theory is that Marvel simply wanted to shut down the competition.  Regardless of the truth, I believe that if Marvel hadn’t purchased Malibu, we might still be reading adventures set in the Ultraverse.

Firearm from the Malibu Ultraverse

Not having re-read them recently, I don’t know if these books have stood the test of time.  I imagine some of the titles still hold up.  Certainly the 1990s stereotypes are present in some of these books, but that’s to be expected from any publisher during that era: tough guys, “bad” girls, big muscles, and bigger guns.  As with any new comic, it took a few issues for the creative teams to find their feet.  For example, I recall that Prototype took about six issues before it really hit its stride.  There are no trade paperbacks available for those interested in checking out these books, however, most are plentiful in back issue bins.  Pick a title or two, give them a try.  The Ultraverse was a fun place to hang out!

Anyone else miss the Ultraverse?

14 thoughts on “I Miss the Ultraverse

  1. @Onthink – The comic was MUCH better than the TV show. If you ever read Valiant’s Shadowman, it was a more superhero-y version of that book.

    @liquidcross – Wow! I’d never read that post of yours. Nicely written, sir! Great minds think alike!

  2. I vaugely remember the Ultraverse. But I DO have a few issues of a Nightman/Gambit TEAM-UP that must have been released when Marvel purchased the company like you said…

  3. I miss the Ultraverse too. Lord Pumpkin, Mantra, The Strangers and co. were great 90’s comics in a company that wasn’t letting the artists and visuals steer the boat, yet they had some of the games best artists in their ranks.

    Mantra was even where we discovered Terry Dodson and look at that guy now! Maybe if the CrossGen relaunch goes okay for the House of Ideas they’ll remember they have that other universe still in the draw. And hopefully not relaunch it again with a Marvel co-star in each book – but just as they were at the start.

  4. This is a direct quote from Roland Mann, an editor & writer at Malibu at the time Marvel Comics purchased the company. His response is viewable on a Malibu Comics Yahoo Group, so people can go check it out themselves if they feel I’m making any of this up:

    “This has been a popular myth since day 1. The truth of the matter is that Malibu was up for sale. Scott Rosenberg was looking for an influx of money. Money was going out the drain so fast because of the outrageous advertising campaign and freelance rates … faster than it was coming in. If you’ll remember, Malibu had had regular influxes of money already (Malibu Interactive being one). DC was interested and was THIIIIIIS close to closing the deal. Marvel caught wind of it and flew to Calif IMMEDIATELY. The very next day. They basically doubled what DC was offering.

    Re: the coloring. Yes, it is true that Malibu had the premier/state of the art coloring at the time. However, let me assure you, it would have been FAR cheaper for Marvel to simply hire the coloring staff away. Image “stole” several of our top colorists as they began to come on strong. Marvel could simply have hired the entire crew for less than 1/10 of what they ultimately paid. Not only that, they COULD have simply hired only 1 of about 10 of the color “captains” and built their own in-house system. IF the reason for the purchase was the coloring system, why did they shut it down in about a year and a half? I’ve never heard the “printing” thing before, but that is very laughable. Printers are available to anybody and everybody. Malibu was not using an exclusive printer. Marvel could have used the same one withOUT purchasing the company.

    The truth is this: Malibu was the #3 company at the time (okay…3-5, depending on what month and what Dark Horse and Image released that month…but mostly #3). Marvel and DC were fairly neck and neck, with Marvel generally edging ahead. Had DC purchased Malibu, it would have given DC a larger market share than Marvel, one that could likely have been held for some time (we’re playing what if’s now). DC’s plans were to leave well-enough alone. It was easier for Marvel to buy it and keep DC from having it. Fringe benefits were, of course, the extra
    library of characters and the “cool” vibe that Malibu had both among fans and creators. Creators liked working for Malibu because it was a young/cool company. The extra characters were “virgin” characters to be marketed to hollywood, toys, cartoons, etc. (and they were–remember: UV toys, cartoons, and a NIGHT MAN tv show)

    Anyway … I just think it is so funny to think of Marvel spending 7 mil. for about 30 computers and a “coloring system.”

  5. No.

    I have great affection for the New Universe. In fact, I liked all of Jim Shooter’s dimensions, from Valiant to Defiant (not Triumphant.) I followed Wildstorm for years. I was a fan of what little First Comics universe there was. I see potential in Marvel U.K. and Dark Horse Comics Greatest World. But Ultraverse? Nothing. Not even a twinge. It always felt like a forced, inorganic cash grab without a single character appealing to me despite my repeatedly giving them a chance. I even had a run of Firearm, James Robinson’s least compelling book until he returned from Hollywood. No-thing.

  6. I recently got my hands on a near complete Ultraverse run on the cheap, I bought it because of this post!

  7. I really only read Nightman, but I thought there was a pretty good start to a comic-book universe being built. But I think the bigger problem is that people tend to read the established brands because that’s what other people read (or so they believe), and every comic book geek wants to be able to discuss his or her favorite stories with others.

  8. Actually, Malibu was going under, so even if Marvel didn’t buy them out, they still wouldn’t be around today. Besides, Marvel has made good use of John Aman.

  9. No, not really… the characters and storylines were not interesting, the artwork was pretty bad and nothing about them was unique at all. Hardcase’s armor makes no sense, it’s not surprising that the cover shows him bleeding from the stomach. Not everyone is going to aim at your shoulders and your hairy chest.

    The cartoon of Ultraverse didn’t help either, it just made it look like a rip-off of the X-Men, especially opening. Saying the team’s name over and over again is just lazy writing.

  10. According to Ultraverse founding father, Tom Mason, Marvel bought it solely to keep the Ultraverse out of DC hands. It had nothing to do with coloring systems. Marvel’s staff was all of the old school of coloring, and would have to learn it from scratch. Once Marvel had it, they did a half hearted attempt to make a few bucks with it, and ruined it by trying to turn it into a copy of the Marvel universe. And they’re were 4 Ultraverse TPBs: “Prime Time” (Prime), “Jumpstart” (Strangers), “One of the Guys” (Mantra), “Wheel of Thunder” (Strangers)

Leave a Reply