Thursday, 10 June 2010

Malibu - Ultraverse

Another bout of Dead Universe comic book re-reading, and so some more musings. A little context first, however, about Malibu Comics and especially its Ultraverse imprint. This is no accurate historical record of events, but simply my thoughts and opinion on a defunct comic-book imprint that I happen to like.

Malibu Comics was founded in the late 80’s and was a modest publisher that grew to encompass other small-press comic book publishers like Aircel and Eternity. It was also the original publisher-of-record on behalf of Image Comics.

The Ultraverse line launched in 1993, conceptualized as a shared universe built on tight continuity, an ethos shared with the VALIANT, Milestone (published by DC Comics, owned by Milestone Media) and Comics Greatest World (Dark Horse) lines. These lines either launched during (Milestone, Ultraverse, CGW) or benefited from (VALIANT) the speculator boom of the early 1990’s and none are now in regular publication (although the Milestone characters are currently licensed to be used in the DCU). There were of course lots of other small publishers that attempted to capitalize on the boom. So a heady time, and a time of change.

The Ultraverse is today owned by Marvel Comics, who have resisted revisiting the properties due to claims by them (Marvel) that it is too costly to do so due to the contracts that were in place with the various creators of the Ultraverse stable.

Joe Quesada (Marvel’s publisher) was quoted by Newsarama in June 2005:

Let's just say that I wanted to bring these characters back in a very big way, but the way that the deal was initially structured, it's next to impossible to go back and publish these books.

There are rumors out there that it has to do with a certain percentage of sales that has to be doled out to the creative teams. While this is a logistical nightmare because of the way the initial deal was structured, it's not the reason why we have chosen not to go near these characters, there is a bigger one, but I really don't feel like it’s my place to make that dirty laundry public.

I picked up a handful of Ultraverse books at the time of their publication, like Ultraforce (second image, right). They seemed a little flashy and gaudy and not like my main favorites of the time (Milestone and DC), so I didn’t pay too much attention. Years later I started picking up as much as I could, completing most of the runs of the various titles. I enjoyed the first phase of the publisher’s offerings, less-so the transition to Marvel (which I see as the second phase) and hate what the normally excellent Warren Ellis appeared to do by tearing everything up with the Black September reboot.

The tone of the early work (the ‘good stuff’ in my opinion) was based on the concepts laid down by the Ultraverse ‘founding fathers, a truly diverse bunch: Mike W. Barr, Steve Englehart, Steve Gerber, James D. Hudnall, Gerard Jones, James Robinson, Len Strazewski and Larry Niven (yes, the sci-fi prose author). There are tight and clear threads woven amongst the books that reward re-reading. With the departure of the lead creators the quality of the line visibly worsens, to the extent that Malibu probably published the worst comic book that I own – a piece of bad-girl wannabe tat called Witch Hunter; it is truly awful rubbish of the worst kind that I was embarrassed to read. Unfortunately I am a completist (hence the Painting Challenge), so in my collection it stays for good or ill. Mostly the latter.

I think that is such a shame that these characters may never see the light of day again. There have been rumors of a Prime movie for a number of years (see cover image right), which could be a great idea. There was a Night Man T.V. series that I believe ran for two seasons and 44 episodes, but I cannot comment on its quality. I liked the short-lived Ultraforce cartoon which I enjoyed the little I saw, but it is not commercially available (at least legally). There were of course various video games while the line was in publication. This all suggests to me that there is value in other media exploitation of these characters, even if Marvel chooses not to pursue comic-book publication.

Characters and images are ™ and © 2010 Marvel Characters, Inc.

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