The Ultraverse

Ultraverse charactersThe Ultraverse was a line of comics introduced in 1993 and published by Malibu Comics. The "founding fathers" of the Ultraverse were a group of respected creative talent who enjoyed a tremendous degree of creative control over their creations, and introduced us to to a new breed of heroes including Prime, Hardcase, the Night Man, the Strangers, Firearm, Rune, Sludge, the Solution, and (of course) Mantra.

What was unique about the Ultraverse is that it not only introduced a host of new characters, it also introduced a brand-new universe to go along with them. At companies like Marvel or DC, characters need to tie into an existing universe...the Ultraverse, on the other hand, was collectively built from the ground up by the creators of the books before the series were written. Since the authors had a hand in laying out the background and "rules" for the universe, it gave the books a sense that they were part of a greater whole, which indeed they were.

The first couple of years generated what in my opinion were some of the finest superhero comics published. Although not all of them were winners, they all had an element of fun that had been long lacking from the genre. In reading these older books, you get a sense that fun was the guiding directive...when a character crossed over into another book, you get the feeling that it was due more to a creator saying, "wouldn't it be fun if..." rather than, "let's find a way to boost sales." Even universe-wide crossovers like Break-Thru and Godwheel were interesting, because they revealed things about the Ultraverse that you had only seen glimpses of in the regular books.

Ad-"Marvel Read the Ultraverse--Look What Happened"Events started to take a turn for the worse in 1995 after Malibu was bought out by Marvel Comics. Perhaps the most troubling early indicator was that the door was opened between the Ultraverse and the Marvel universe, as Thor and Loki made appearances in the Godwheel crossover. As time passed, more incursions were made from the Marvel books into the Ultraverse, usually to the detriment of the books. (The image to the left is an actual ad that ran in 1995. Marvel was referring to the fact that they had just purchased Malibu, but this statement would soon go on to have a very different and bitterly ironic meaning.)

Things came to a head in September 1995 when the Ultraverse was forced to endure "Black September." The Ultraverse creators had been butting heads with the brass at Marvel for some time, and Black September gave Marvel a gimmick to rewrite the books in a manner more suitable to their taste. Several Ultraverse books were canceled, and others were completely reworked. Mantra, for instance, was no longer the 1500-year-old male warrior trapped in a woman's body; she was now a teenage girl who had been handed the powers. Many of the remaining Ultraverse creators left soon thereafter. Mantra #4 credits with writer credit removed(Mike Barr, the writer for Mantra, apparently quit around issue #4 of the new series, and evidently not under the best of looks like his writing credit was actually removed from the issue after the fact. Based on the direction the book was taking, I'm guessing that that he probably requested that his name be removed from the book. Perhaps mercifully, the comic was canceled just three months later.)

The Ultraverse itself continued on as a pale imitation of its former self for a while, existing as a few books that played host to a number of Marvel heroes and villains, but eventually faded away. The ownership of the characters was been handed over to the courts to decide (since the creators were originally supposed to have full ownership of their creations), and the Ultraverse currently exists as a little more than a footnote in Marvel history. However, fans of the characters have worked to keep the spirit alive through fan fiction and artwork. (Some of them have even been known to put up the occasional web site devoted to their favorite character. <grin>)

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