Disney-Marvel and the Ultraverse

Deadline Hollywood has more on the Marvel/Diisney deal. I didn’t know that Iger was so well connected to comics, and that they wanted Marvel as much as 10 years ago.

Anyway, with a new player owning Marvel, I have to wonder if that will make it possible for the Ultraverse characters to come back in some form. The Quesada crew were totally against it for bizarre reasons (he claimed the deal we creators had made it impossible, which is absurd). I wonder if teh Disney people will be more open to the idea. We shall see.

Occasionally, people ask me if there is any chance of the Ultraverse relaunching. I certainly think that could happen if Disney felt there was some potential there. After all, they could afford it. I have no idea why Quesada thought paying us our meager percentages was too much. It would have been no more than 10% to the creators in total, less than some licensing fees.

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  1. So, what went wrong? Why didn’t many of these new “superhero” universes survive the 90s? A decade later, DC and Marvel are the only universes that still seem to matter today.

  2. TJ,

    Marvel bought out Malibu which published the Ultraverse.

    Marvel continued publishing some Ultraverse titles for a while after the buy-out but they never really treated those series well and they were run into the ground in most cases less than two years after the buy-out.

    There have been several misfired attempts to revive at least a few of the titles but something has always happened at the last minute and so the characters and titles remain in limbo.

    (Malibu spin-off projects that did take off the ground included a Nightman TV series and an Ultra-Force animated spin-off. The animated series was not great; the live-action Nightman managed to survive a full year AFAIK as a syndicated series and continued to have that single season shown for while in various outlets…)

    The creators are upset because they signed contracts guaranteeing them monies from any kind of deals but if something doesn’t get published or developed into a series or movie they get squat. In the meantime, there have been ridiculous comments that they’re owed nothing or that Marvel can’t afford to publish these projects. Moral of the story: don’t bother to try to do creator-owned projects at Marvel or DC unless you’re buddies with the EIC’s at either company. It’s a poorly-kept secret that Quesada seems to be sucking up to his Hollywood writer buddies and puts them on comics writing gigs at Marvel. These same guys, excepting Loeb (who’s at best mediocre), manage to miss deadlines all the time and cause pile-ups in the publishing schedule. I guess Hollywood is Quesada’s next gig if he’s laid-off or canned from Marvel.

    It’s sad because most of the Ultra titles didn’t sell that badly… They were averaging 45,000-50,000 copies a month before the buy-out. They really went downhill after Marvel took stewardship of them and Marvel has basically done nothing with them after buying out Malibu.

    For a while, Marvel advertised the fact that it used Malibu’s digital coloring processes. They stopped doing that years ago and that appears to be the “big legacy” they’re supporting as far as Malibu goes!

  3. Marvel bought Malibu for the coloring dept which was one of the first all digital coloring departments. They wanted to have that at their disposal. They ran the books badly all right. They put hacks on the books after they got rid of most of us founders. And the books sucked. Fortunately, my books were canceled before they did that though I hear that Hardcase showed up all messed up in one book.

    But, to answer TJX question, there was a glut of books in the early 90s and a glut of superhero universes. People could not keep up with all of them. All the publishers used gimmicks to get people to order their books and did a poor job on the insides. Marvel was worse. They really cranked out a lot of crap. The glut killed a lot of publishers and Marvel even went bankrupt.

    The Ultraverse was a decent universe. Not as good as I wanted it to be, but a lot of fans liked it. I has problems with my books keeping good artists because there was so much work at that point, anyone who could draw a straight line was getting work and people kept jumping books. On Hardcase they saddled me with a Leifeld wannabe on my first couple issues. The other book I did was The Solution. Darick Robertson was the artist for a while on that.

  4. At last someone has brought up Malibu after all this time and I am greatful that it happens to be one of the creators. I always hoped that the Ultraverse would return in some way after several years after Marvel’s editorial stupidity caused the franchise to be run into the grave. I have always wondered why Marvel never brought these characters back and if they weren’t why couldn’t they just sell them if they weren’t going to use them.
    The current quandary is whether Disney cares enough to do revive the Ultraverse or not-Hopefully they will.
    James, let’s say you and the other creators get the Ultraverse back what would be your next move? Would you try to be independent again or would you join another company? I would suggest Image Comics or maybe Devil’s Due if that be the case. Like I said, I never liked how Marvel did you people and it would be cool if your franchise returned.
    Oh by the way, did you hear that Dwayne McDuffie sold his Milestone franchise to DC and it has been fully intergrated into the main universe? I personally thought that was a bad idea because the Milestone characters were more interesting when they were separate from the DC ones. It seems that history is repeating itself unfortunately as McDuffie won’t always be around to protect his characters.

  5. Draco,

    If we got the characters back I suspect it would be a matter of financial backing because it still costs money to pay and artist, colorist, etc to do their part. And I suspect the other writers would want to work on spec, which is what they’d have to do at Image. I wouldn’t have a problem with that, but I doubt I could find a suitabel artist who could afford to.

    No, I think IF the Ultraverse gets rebooted it will be because Disney or future Marvel people decide it’s a good idea, or they sell it to someone who is interested. I would like to revisit the characters I created and do something more interesting, now that I have had time to think about it more. But I don’t expect that will happen. More likely, they would hand it off to someone else.

  6. So basically what you are saying is that even if the franchise does return the ball is still not in your court unfortunately? Ouch. Sorry to hear that. Like I said, hopefully maybe Image, Devil’s Due, Udon or maybe Wildstorm may pick up the tab should they ever sell the characters because I don’t have enough faith in Joe Quesada as long as he is in charge of Marvel. With some of the decisions he has made, he is most likely going to be more maligned than Jim Shooter was back while he was at Marvel-Although Jim Shooter was a much better EIC than he will ever be.
    On the subject of Wildstorm, if the Ultraverse does return, I would love to see a crosssover between the two universes:

    Exiles/ Wildcats
    Rune/ Defile
    Helspont/Lord Pumpkin
    The Solution/ Wetworks
    Mantra/Voo Doo
    Strike/ Grifter
    Amber Hunt/Hawksmoor

    These are just ideas I had in my head if your franchise came back. Has anyone ever thought about these two universes ever meeting back then?

  7. If it’s Wildstorm, that would be DC. I don’t know if DC or Wildstorm would be disposed to use the founders. As for a cross over between Image and the Ultraverse. When we started the Ultraverse Malibu was distributing Image books. By the time our books launched that deal ended and I don’t think they looked favorably on Malibu at that time, so no.

    I am open to doing more stories of my characters, but I doubt that will happen. It all depends on what the people in charge want to do. I suspect for now Disney will focus on the known Marvel properties.

    McDuffie probably wanted to cash out on his books. I can’t say I blame him, because he probably couldn’t do anything outside of DC with those books anyway. I hope he kept a stake in them.

  8. Fair enough. Another question I have, James: Do you think that if someone like DC had brought Malibu out instead of Marvel that things would have been different? I mean when McDuffie had his Milestone imprint it was structured in a way that he got certain rights and was allowed creative control until it was cancelled-but he was able to bring the imprint back just recently. Also if you look at Jim Lee and his Wildstorm imprint which DC bought out 11 years ago, it is still going strong as they have all kinds of distribution deals such as Warcraft, God Of War, Supernatural, X-Files apart from Wildcats, the Authority, Stormwatch, Gen 13, etc.
    Maybe I am wrong in my assessment but I think that Malibu would have lasted longer under DC instead of Marvel if McDuffie and Jim Lee still have use of their franchises. Am I right or wrong in my assessment, James?

  9. Hey guys,

    Interesting discussion here on the topic of Ultraverse. I actually just got into reading the titles as I was able to get a nice deal on eBay. Is there any website that lists the continuity of how to read the books? There are so many titles I’m not sure where to start.


  10. Draco,

    DC probably would have been a better place for the books and they might have allowed us founders to actually stay involved. Marvel seemed anxious to replace us with their hacks. They also wanted us to inject their characters into our books, which was a bad fit in my opinion.


    I am not aware of a site like that but they are probably out there if you google on Ultraverse and reading list. If you have THE SQUAD, which I wrote, it is a good starting series because it takes place right before the rest of the Ultraverse started to come together. Hardcase, Prime, Strangers were the first books that launched so start with those.

  11. All I have left to say, James, is keep the faith and remain strong and hopefully the Ultraverse will return like Milestone recently did.

  12. Wow
    I can’t believe that I’ve just discovered this blog for the first time! I’ve always loved the Ultraverse (in truth I discovered Hardcase and the Solution late via EBay and read them straight through) books such as The Nightman & Solitaire.

    I’m always looking for signs that it may one day come back (exhale).

    I wonder, throughout the existence of comics, there have been examples of creators basically taking a character/concept with them even when they clearly didn’t own it outright. How you ask? They create a new character similar to the one they left behind. For instance AC comics ran a character called the Scarlet Scorpion rumored to be a Blue Bettle knock off since they were not able to acquire those rights.

    Is this frowed upon? Have you ever done a “Hardcase-ish” book elsewhere?

    Make mine Ultravers.

  13. Starlin did Mogul at DC which was a Thanos clone. Others have done similar things. I did a series called Trig which was sort of based on Strikeforce: Morituri which I did for Marvel in the 80s. It will hopefully come out in English here sometime, but it was done in France. And I made it different enough it wasn’t a swipe.

    I have not done any Hardcase type book. But I did some books for Image after the Ultraverse: They are on my bibliography page

  14. So this is an ok way to make comics? I mean its “allowed”? Obviously one can’t clone the work exactly (thinking of Liefeld’s Fighting American – after he was off Cap) or you’ll cause problems but a dark vigilante is a dark vigilante. I wonder how close is too close?

  15. I picked up an occasional comic book in the mid 90s, and because I can’t bring myself to throw books away, once read I stashed them out in my garage. 5 years ago I got married and my new wife helped me move from the old house to our new one. We came across a big trash bag filled with comics, including several Ultraverse books, including Mantra.

    I had alwasy wondered what happened to the character so I sorted out everything I had and began buying missing issues at a local comic store, on line and on E-bay. Since there were so many crossovers, I began collecting the other Ultraverse characters as well.

    To date, I have identified over 500 Ultraverse books, inlcuding cover variations, ash cans and special issues, and I have two extensive sets of such books. I am still discovering new books from time to time.

    Along the way, I began reading everything I could find on the Internet relating to Malibu in general and The Ultraverse in particular. I have been to dozens of forums and heard comments from Tom Mason and a host of others.

    From what I have come to understand, Malibu had within a few short years captured about 10% of the market — pretty good for an independent newcomer. DC comics had approached Malibu publisher Scott Rosenber about buying the company.

    Marvel got word and panicked — this merger of Malibu and DC could make Marvel number 2 in the industry, so and at the San Diego Comicon in 1994 they did an end-run around DC by offering a substantial better deal.

    There has been lots of comments that Marvel wanted the Malibu computer coloring process, but from what I’ve been told, that may not have really been the case, because Marvel continued send their coloring business to Ireland for some time after the purchase.

    I understand that Marvel did begin sending in a slew of minor league junior editors who were intent on teaching the Malibu staff how to do things “the Marvel way.”

    Of course in fairness, by 1995 Marvel itself was teetering on bankruptcy, and the entire comic industry was on the verge of oblivion, in part because Marvel had bought out two of the main distributing companies and began dictating impossible terms to retailers. That was when the little wire racks of comics disappeared from the corner drugstores, bookstores and supermakrets.

    Then Marvel got the idea of BLACK SEPTEMBER, where many of the characters got disappeared or re-booted. The most egregious was when they took Mike Barr’s incredible Mantra character, who was the incarnation of a 1500 year old warrior named Lukasz, in the voluptuous and sophisticated Eden Blake, divorced mother of two, and replaced her/him with the “new Mantra,” being Lauren Sherwood, Eden’s former baby sitter.

    This new character was oyew T&A and Lauren looked like she was a drop out from Bimbo High School. The book lasted 7 regular issues, and the hate mail was was furious in the sign off in the final book.

    I was surprised about a year ago when I received an E-mail from Scott Mitchell Rosenberg, telling me how much he appreciated all the nice things I had been saying about his former company in various on-line forums and on Ebay.

    I know he was part of the Marvel bankruptcy creditor’s group, and I suppose that there was some sort of confidentiality agreement that prevents him from saying much about the sunseting of the ULtravevese, although he did say that it is all on line if you work a bit digging for it.

    I sent Scott a little tin Ultravese lapel pin and an Ultravese notebook sticker as mementos,althoug i’m sure he has barrels of them.

    About 4-5 months later, I recieved a surprise in the mail at my office — about 7 or 8 first editions of new books and graphic novels from Scott’s new company, Platinum Studios. Each book was hand signed “To Michael from Scott,” and each book was embossed in the cover a little logo that said “From Scott’s Vault — Limited to 1000 copies.”

    I was knocked out and this past summer when my wife and I were at the San Diego Comic-Con, we hoped to meet Scott, introduce ourselves, and than him personally for his incredible thoughtfullness, but it wasn’t to be. Maybe next year.

    I think Scott would love to see the Ultraverse revived, but nowdays he is busy with other projects. After playing an instrumental role in brining MEN IN BLACK to the big screen, Scott now has several properities in various stages of development, most particularlly the COWBOYS and ALIENS graphic novel. Just recently, it was announced that Robert Downey Junior has signed on for the lead role.

    I had petiitioned the Comic-Con governance to do something in 2008 to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the founding of the Ultraverse — but received no repsonse.

    I also felt that Wizard should have mentioned the purchase of Malbiu comics when they did a recent issue on the milestones of Marvel’s first 70 years. I have also read at various sites that there was still talk of a PRIME movie, as late as 2002.

    Why won’t Marvel bring back the characters — as a small stock holder I ask them that — but got no answer. I e-mailed Joe Quesada, no response. But a whole lot of people still remember the characters, and it just seems a waste.

  16. Michael,

    That’s news to me, but it’s interesting. Marvel basically destroyed what was left of Malibu. Unlike DC, who still operate Wildstorm, Marvel did not expand their company by buying an additional line of books. They are incapable of understanding anything outside of their own comics. The few attempts at stepping outside the Marvel line have failed. Epic was the most successful and they did not support it. They do have that imprint now where Criminal and so on are published, but that’s mainly to keep their contract creators happy.

    I would love to see something happen with the Ultraverse, but I don’t think they would do anything smart with it and I don’t expect them to do anything as long as the current crew is in charge. That may change now that they have been bought by Disney.

  17. I did some work for Epic and IMHO the key to its success was Archie Goodwin, one of the two best editors I’ve every worked with. If they’d listened to him on more things, they’d be far better off than they are now. It’s a shame he passed away so young. But then again, he had no time for office politics so he’d probably have been marginalized or pushed out by Estrada and his ilk.

  18. Archie went over to DC where he would have been fine if he lived. But yeah. he was a great editor. I am happy to have worked with him on several projects. Great guy.

  19. By the way, James, were you aware that there were two alternate covers for Issue #5 of The Solution? The common cover features the character DropKick leaning to the reader’s left while holding an infant in his right arm and jumping through a glass window.

    The much rarer alternate cover has a completely different rendition of the scene, with Dropkick leaning the the reader’s right.

    Through all the several thousand copies of Ultraverse books I have bought and sold, I have only come across this alternate cover 3 times.

    The other interesting rarity is one of the Mantra issues — also issue #5. The common issue has Mantra looking at a film strip cell at a “cartoon” rendition of herself. The much rarer cover has the regular cover on one side, and Mantra standing next to Wiley Wolf on the front cover. I have seen exactly two of these.

    Malibu did tons of alternate covers, but neither of these rarities are listed in any of the Collector Guide Books.

  20. “he claimed the deal we creators had made it impossible, which is absurd”

    Actually, it's not absurd if you know anything about creator-owned books and reprint royalties. However, what is absurd is publishing something without checking your facts. What he said was:

    “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.”

  21. That quote is new to me. Where did you find it?

    As for the rest of your snide comment, I am a creator with 25+ years in the business AND one of the Ultraverse founders AND a publisher of many years. I know all about creator royalties. Maybe you should check your facts before making a fool out of yourself.

    I would be interested to know what that other reason is, he cites. If he cited it. You didn't provide attribution.

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