Bringing out notably entertaining retired series.

§ February 5th, 2021 § Filed under publishing § 23 Comments

So Twitter pal OneWordLong spends a few more words than that asking

“Q: I’ve always harbored a low key ambition to collect/read all the Malibu-verse books. I remember liking the printing and art as I flipped thru them in the day. But would they scratch that ‘lets read a Comics Universe’ itch?
I appreciate your thoughts. thank you.”

I was thinking about this since the question was posed, and was all ready to go with a discussion with what little I could recall of the Ultraverse, Malibu’s superhero universe imprint that launched in 1993. But then I remembered “oh yeah they had a superhero universe type thing that preceded that.” (I mean, aside from their brief stint publishing Image Comics, of course.)

Now I gotta be honest…my exposure to the initial Malibu-verse line was fairly limited, beyond, you know, racking and selling the things at the shop I worked at. Nothing against them in the slightest, or against the people making them (disclosure: I know Dave Olbrich, co-founder and former publisher of Malibu, and have had friendly dealings with other co-founder Tom Mason), but the 1990s were a pretty wild time for comics publishing and I could only pick and choose so much to read.

I will tell you one that, somehow, I just learned now (or had learned before and forgotten in the ensuing decades) by looking things up on the Wikipedias is that the initial “Malibu-Verse,” as represented by The Protectors (pictured) and its handful of spinoffs, were in fact revivals of now public-domain superheroes originally published by Centaur Publications in the 1940s. You know, had I realized that at the time, I may have been more inclined to stick my nose between the covers of some of those books.

Eventually Malibu ran a crossover storyline called “Genesis” (not to be confused with) that roped in some other of their titles into an attempt at a shared universe thingie (including Dinosaurs for Hire by the aforementioned Mr. Mason, a rudely funny comic), and despite this attempt at broadening the line (plus promotional POGs!) the line was effectively supplanted by Malibu’s launch of the Ultraverse in 1993.

As to scratching that “superhero univesre” itch, OneWordLong, you’ve probably gleaned already that I can’t speak too much to that. I mean, it all looks fine, and given its relatively short existence, it probably wouldn’t be too much of a burden to find them all. I liked Dinosaurs for Hire, but that’s a later added-value insert into the Malibu-Verse, and probably not what you were thinking about. But at the very least, get your mitts on the one with the die-cut hole through the entirety of the book (kinda the more precise version of this cover enhancement).

Now Ultraverse…honestly, I thought this was what you were referring to, OneWordLong, and given the breadth and depth of the line compared to its predecessor, surely you can understand why one would stick in one’s memory over the other. This was a much more ambitious project than the Malibu-Verse, with Big Creators and hologram covers and all sorts of those 1990s comics publishing shenanigans. It was a lot closer in style, I think, to the Marvel and DC comics that readers were more accustomed to, so even just beyond the number of releases it was bound to gain a little more traction in the marketplace.

Like Malibu-Verse, I didn’t sample a lot of it, but I did read a couple of series. There was Prime, a take on the Captain Marvel/Shazam dynamic where a boy is able to turn into an adult superhero (which had some nice art by Norm Breyfogle) but in retrospect perhaps reads a little differently now that we know of the extracurricular activities of one of the writers. It actually was a pretty good book, I thought at the time, about childhood conceptions of adulthood and heroism, but…yeah, it’s hard to revisit now. There were later issues not involving that writer, however.

I also enjoyed Sludge, of course, given it was another take on the Swamp Thing/Man-Thing type of character, with the bonus that my favorite Man-Thing scripter Steve Gerber was the writer. Again, been a while since I’ve read these (but they’re still there in the collection, waiting for that far-off day when I’ll have free time), but I remember enjoying them. One quirk about the character that I remember is that, due to his injured mental state, he’d mix up words in his head…like thinking “I gotta smash that doily” instead of “I gotta smash that door” — you know, like that, only better written because I’m no Steve Gerber.

Oh, and then there was Rune, featuring one of the Big Bads of the Ultraverse. The series primarily grabbed attention due to the work of Barry Windsor-Smith, but interest wore thin once he was off the book (which is a terrible thing to say given that the follow-up team did fine work, but the people wanted BWS, who’s a tough act to follow).

There was a lot of interesting stuff under this imprint, and if you’re looking for a weird short-run superhero universe to get into, OneWordLong, this might be a little more what you’re wanting versus the previous Malibu-Verse. Unfortunately, with Marvel’s buyout of Malibu, the end of the Ultraverse gets tangled up in the Marvel Universe, which likely causes the thread to be lost, or at least diluted in relation to whatever shared universe the U-books were putting together. (And given that current owners, Marvel, seem unlikely to bring any of the Ultraverse properties back*, there’s at least a definite end to its existence.)

Some of the titles had followings, at least for a while, after the imprint’s demise. Still had people looking for Mantra (about an ancient male warrior trapped in a modern woman’s body…given our modern increased sensitivity toward transgender issues, not sure if that’s aged well or if it even relates), Firearm (written by James Robinson), and Lord Pumpkin (a more horror-edged comic). Exiles was interesting, a team book that had been solicited for further issues, but surprisingly killed off in issue #4 to, I guess, show how new and unpredictable the Ultraverse was (a publishing trick that was equally annoying many years later when The Walking Dead pulled that same nonsense).

Oh, and there was the team book Ultraforce, where (good news) early issues had George Perez art, but (bad news) were written by that writer I didn’t name who also worked on Prime. So, you know, up to you if you want to deal with that.

And there you are, OneWordLong, simultaneously more and less information than what you were looking for. I don’t know which briefly-existing superhero universe you would prefer, but you can either pick the one with the cover die-cut into the shape of the hero’s head, or you can pick the one where a version of the #0 of one of their titles came with a VHS copy of an original movie based on the series. I ENVY YOU NOT THE CHOICE, MY FRIEND.

* Unless Disney finds out about them, of course.

23 Responses to “Bringing out notably entertaining retired series.”

  • Robcat says:

    There is absolutely nothing about that Protectors cover that would induce me to pick it up and look inside, let alone buy it. A blue yelling head, not particularly well drawn. It does not tempt me with story, character, or art. Just sayin’.

  • Steven R says:

    Robcat: the dialogue on the cover might get me to flip open the Protectors comic – if it wasn’t wrapped in protection (taped comic bag with board), and I even noticed it under the blue yelling head.

  • Chris Gumprich says:

    I have every issue of THE PROTECTORS and a at least three issues of all the spinoffs, which were the perfect example of diminishing returns. It can be best described as a bizarre mix of “modern age” storyline with transplanted silver age concepts. (I realize the heroes are technically from the Golden Age, but there’s nothing GA about them.)

    The GENESIS crossover was not good. I remember talking with Roland Mann back in the rec.arts.comics days, and he told me then that it was an attempt to save themselves from the Ultraverse wave. It failed and the line died out after PROTECTORS #20.

    Might be due for a reread, but the main title and THE FERRET (!) were the only ones that I have a complete run of, and this was in 1993 when I bought everything.

    (I also have that VHS #0 issue you mention, Mike…)

  • Gumprich, Chris says:

    And I can’t believe you didn’t mention the first issue of THE FERRET ongoing, which had a completely die-cut comic that made it resemble a children’s book…

  • Turan, Emissary of the Fly World says:

    Mention of the Ferret reminds me of an interview (run, I think, in the “Starlog” spin-off “Comics Scene”) with one of the bosses of Malibu. He talked about how he expected the Ferret to be their most popular character, and said (with what I can only assume must have been a touch of smugness) “He’s our Wolverine.” Not “This is a character in the tradition of Wolverine,” or “If you like Wolverine, we think you’ll like this new character.” Only “He’s our Wolverine.” Meaning, “We’ve done our utmost to copy another publisher’s popular character, and we expect you to buy it because you’re all a bunch of blind sheep.” Oddly, this did not create in me any urge to read the series.

  • Turan, Emissary of the Fly World says:

    So, is no one going to mention the Ultraforce TV series?

  • Turan, Emissary of the Fly World says:

    I belatedly realize that I should have written “flock of blind sheep” and not “bunch.”

  • Randal says:

    Don’t forget the Night Man tv show that brought back Manimal!

  • Mikester says:

    Robcat – Admittedly I picked that Protectors cover specifically because it was so goofy!

    Chris – I did mention that cover of The Ferrete, right at the end! Even linked to the pic I posted which kicked off this whole post in the first place!

    Turan – Believe it or not, the cartoon did cross my mind as I was writing this! To be honest, though, I don’t think I’ve ever seen it.

  • Brad says:

    I remember those cartoons, especially that they dropped one of the characters from the comics — Lady Killer.

  • Scott Rowland says:

    The Ultraverse was a personal favorite because they lined up Steve Englehart and Steve Gerber among their other talents. I feel like the Strangers and Night Man went the furthest in making things really feel like a shared universe, due in part to both being written by Steve Englehart. There were other writers who had more than one book, but I don’t think they were as successful in making the books as complementary.

    One thing Malibu did that I really thought was a great touch was the Ultra Monthly series they did. It was kind of an in-universe magazine that served as both advertising and easter eggs for the whole line. I think they did three free issues, then a few more low-priced issues.

  • Jim Kosmicki says:

    for a relatively small shared super universe, Eclipse is a good choice. Most of the titles other than Airboy didn’t last too long, and they were very well done. Strike and The Prowler were connected directly into the Airboy setting as I recall.

  • Jim Kosmicki says:

    There’s also Jim Shooter’s post Valiant attempts. I never cared much for the Defiant line, but the Broadway Comics has Star Seed that I remember liking quite a bit.

  • Garrie says:

    Need to give these a re-read… loved the Englehart books, The Strangers and Night Man. (Wasn’t Night Man a re-do of Valiant’s Shadowman, which Englehart started off, then abruptly left?)

    Firearm was another favorite, coming out right before Robinson’s better-known Starman. Sludge came out very slowly, never had more than two or three books, no?

    The oddest book of the launch was Mike Barr’s Mantra: male barbarian warrior trapped in the body of a woman. One of those cheesecake books that -also- tried being a “sensitive” commentary on the objectification of women. I don’t recall that working very well. Typing that description now, it sounds like Kanigher’s proposal for DC’s first black superhero.

    The Ultraverse tried to come out with way too much material at the same time. Didn’t help them that Dark Horse tried launching their Comics’ Greatest World line at the same time, either…

  • Chris V says:

    Sludge had twelve issues and a Christmas special. I don’t remember if there was an actual ending for the series though.

    Sludge was my favourite of the Malibu line. Steve Gerber doing prime Gerber. Not one of his best series, but definitely a Gerber series that is very much worth collecting.
    You can’t go wrong with Gerber in top form.

  • Garrie says:

    Thanks, Chris V! I’ve moved Sludge out of the longboxes and into the reading queue! And it’s another sign of the ongoing deterioration of my memory as it I have all 12 issues, plus the Xmas special. Not sure how I thought otherwise! The first issue was even autographed by Gerber, as he visited our shop the week it came out! Now that I know my brain has turned to sludge, I’ll turn my eyes to Sludge…

  • Thanks Mike! My muddy memory had the two Universes mixed up. At least, I thought PRIME was part of the same world as Protectors somehow. I didn’t know they were based on a defunct companies properties either, and that too makes it more interesting to me.

    I was a bit of A Dinosaurs for Hire fan in the day, and I am intrigued how they would have worked linked into a bigger world.

    (Side note, a certain writer wrote my fav’ Green Lantern series of all time, MOSAIC, and I get mad/sad about not being able to recommend it as a hidden gem.)

  • Allen Mozek says:

    I personally can still enjoy things like early Ultraforce or Prime or esp. Green Lantern Mosaic bc. I recognize it’s the work of many people. I’m also ok reading the back issues bc the money spent now goes to cool independent comic store owner & not that person. I understand ppl have different sensitivities. I understand if those issues are unreadable to ppl. I saw online that that person was attempting to reform themselves and go through the necessary therapy. I applaud that, I support rehabilitation, and tho I think some actions and choices closed the door on any future creative work, I hope they come to some peace. On a lighter note, I love Rune & Sludge. Firearm is ok too but I think robinsons writing ages poorly, like a lot of big ‘cutting edge’ names of the era…(looking at you ennis!) at least Gerber is forever!

  • Chris Wuchte says:

    “If death had a name… it would be Monday!” may be the most anti-climatic cover blurb I’ve seen.

    It sounds like something a slightly edgy receptionist might say in an office at the beginning of a work week.

  • Snark Shark says:

    Garrie: “Typing that description now, it sounds like Kanigher’s proposal for DC’s first black superhero.”

    WELL, I have to ask, what WAS this proposal?

    “Defiant” “Broadway Comics”

    Warriors of Plasm was interesting- but WEIRD. Trying TWO different companies after he was ousted from the first- I guess it was a… VALIANT ATTEMPT!

    I liked Prime, and ultraforce a bit. I don’t recall any of the Ultra booking being bad, but, when it comes down to it, they were Super-Hero books, similar to what Marvel & DC did, but at TWICE the price.

  • Scott says:

    I had this same itch about 10 years ago. I was able to buy/trade for all of the Malibu/Ultraforce, Valiant/Acclaim, Tekno Comics and Crossgen. I thought I’d eventually want to read through them all and try to find series I liked.

    Malibu/Ultraforce, really just terrible overall. Lord Pumpkin looked like a cool idea but the art/writing is just bad. Reading and looking at it today, it just screams 90’s comics. Your best artists/writers were with other companies and these were the leftovers. They paid well to get some artists but that didn’t cover the story to make it worth it.

    Tekno Comics – just stay away. The art and stories are beyond bad.

    Valiant – The majority of books were drawn by people that had to draw small to cover how bad the art was. It felt like they were coloring and drawing right out of art school and shocker, most of them were. X-O Manowar 1 through around issue 20 and then around 40 until the end and the start of Ninjak are great. Turok also started out strong.

    Crossgen – they actually had a lot of really well-done books and creators. Out of all of them, I’d tell you to pick these up as they are usually in quarter bins.

  • Snark Shark says:

    “Tekno Comics”

    i can’t remember if I ever READ any of these!


    They actually had several series that were decent to really good! And only a little bit of utter crap. It sucks that they went under!

  • Garrie says:

    Finally sat down for a decades-delayed re-read of Sludge! In case anyone is still reading this thread, here’s what I got:

    Looks like my memory of there being less of it was due to Gerber not doing full scripting at times. Issue 4 was a Lopresti plot, issue 5 was entirely Lopresti, and that’s pretty early in a new series for such a breakdown in momentum. Felt a bit like those fill-in issues for Omega the Unknown. Gerber made it through the rest, except for issue 12 which was another Lopresti art & script job.

    Lots to love about the series, though I didn’t get a strong clear focus on the main character. And although most folks seem to fondly remember Sludge’s sometimes-humorous malapropisms of speech, they didn’t really work for me this time around.

    Thought perhaps at first his lines in issue 1 about it being “Hard to think” and “Hard to speak” were going to be ongoing themes, about folks finding it easier to mindlessly fight each other instead of talking and trying to understand what goes on, but only the recurring villain, Bloodstorm — think Edmond-Winshed-returns-and-this-time-he’s-got-a-gun — ever got close at all to that.

    Frankly, I took most to the character for a couple of issues towards the end, when he became less Sludgey and more-coherent.

    Those two issues also featured a couple of my favorite supporting characters from the series, Vinaigrette, Organism 0.9B, The Bash Brothers, and Ma. Also liked The Kid, and from his appearance in the final issue, the Christmas special, there appeared to be a lot more to go with his subplot.

    Lopresti’s art was dynamic and leaned into the horror scheme of things pretty well. Rob Phipps also did a good job for his couple of issues, albeit with a more super-heroic style. The holiday special was a return for Mike Ploog to draw a Gerber story, but I got the feeling it would’ve looked better on a less-shiny stock of paper?

    Could’ve been a contender, for sure. Glad I re-read them, and rather than sell them off I’ll now return them to their place in my longboxes…