THE MALIBU ULTRAVERSE
And the upcoming 20th Anniversary
Malibu comics had been around since the 1980s, publishing primarily old superheroes whose copyrights had expired, along with some newer materials such as Star Trek.
In 1992, Malibu brought together a team of some of the top writers in the industry, Mike W. Barr, Steve Enlgehart, Steve Gerber, James D. Hudnall, Gerard Jones, Larry Niven, James Robinson and Len Strazewski and charged them with creating a brand new, cohesive comic book universe from the ground up and populating it with a host of exciting, brand new characters.
In 1993, the new Ultra-heroes, or “Ultras,” came to life, in a brave new world called “The Ultraverse.” They could not be called “Super-heroes,” because Marvel and DC Comics jointly owns a copyright on that term.
Malibu became the darling of the industry, in many ways far ahead of its Big-Two competition. Malibu had Mac computers on the desks and they were using a much higher grade of paper for pages and covers, which coupled with advanced computer-coloring, produced superior art and graphics.
Malibu was experimenting – Issue #0 of Firearm came in a bubble package with a 35 minute vhs cassette tape. The first half of the story was on the video, the second half continued in the book. Malibu was also into games and even producing comics on CD-Roms to be read on a computer.
The UltraForce Team-up had its own animated TV show for several seasons, and there was also a Night Man TV show, based upon the Night Man comic book. For years afterwards, there was an effort to bring PRIME to the big screen, a movie that was still being discussed as late as 2002.
Ultravese Trading cards are still very popular, and are actively bought and sold on Ebay.
In 1994, DC Comics began negotiations to purchase Malibu, with the Ultraverse universe and other successful titles, such as The Protectors, The Ferret, and more. Marvel Comics got wind of the negotiations and panicked – they were afraid that if the purchase went through, it could ultimately relegate them to the number 2 comic company, instead of Marvel’s long-standing position as number 1.
Marvel did an end run around DC and at the 1994 San Diego Comic Book Convention (Comic-Con) was successful in purchasing Malibu. And then they immediately began to change it, first with pointless crossovers bringing Marvel characters into interactions with Ultras. As fans began leaving the titles, Marvel ultimately discontinued many of the characters and re-booting others with an event called Black September.
Marvel junior editors began pushing T&A into the books, hoping to make them more appealing to teenage boys. The worst example was when they took the incredibly complex Eden Blake / Lukasz / Mantra character, and substituted as Mantra, Eden’s former babysitter, 16 year old Lauren Sherwood, who was an apparent graduate from the Malibu Bimbo High School for Stripper wannabees.
Fans left the titles in droves, and letters columns were filled with complaints. Marvel by this time was teetering on the verge of bankruptcy and decided to simply close down the Ultraverse and let the characters disappear. The very last book published under the Malibu / Ultraverse banner was ULTRAVERSE FUTURE SHOCK, in 1997. After that, the Ultraverse was no more. Marvel did allow one of the fans to write a very moving three page epitaph which was included in that issue.
Scott Mitchell Rosenberg, Malibu Publisher, served as part of the Marvel creditors group during the Marvel bankruptcy (for more, read “The Comic Wars,” by Dan Raviv), and then went on to bring the Men In Black films to theaters. Scott later would found Platinum Studios, which in 2011 had a number of comic book properties in early stages of transformation to the big screen. Scott most recently wrote and was an executive producer on the “Cowboys and Aliens” movie, starring Daniel Craig (James Bond) and Harrison Ford (Indiana Jones himself!).
Today, the Ultraverse still draws fans – just check out the auctions on Ebay, however, Marvel for some strange reason refuses to acknowledge that the Ultraverse ever existed, although they still own the rights to the characters.
Former Marvel Editor-In-Chief Joe Quesada, when asked about bringing back some of the characters, simply says he is on orders from on high not to even discuss the matter.
In its brief lifetime, roughly 1993 - 1997, I have identified approximately 550 different publications, promotional books, ash cans, alternate covers, and gold and silver holograph covers, most of which are available for reasonable prices on Ebay, at various on-line retail sites or in the dollar bins at local comic book retailer, making them fun and interesting to collect for everyone.
There is currently an Ultraverse fan group very active on Facebook – and many of the former Malibu artists, writers and staff members post frequently. And currently, there is some interesting discussions about trying to establish an Ultraverse retrospective program for the San Diego Comic Convention in 2013 – the 20th Anniversary of the comic book universe that refuses to die – The Malibu Ultraverse!