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The Ultraverse Network proudly presents the inaugural episode of … ULTRAVERSE PODCAST: PRIME OF YOUR LIFE!
In this episode, co-hosts the Irredeemable Shag and David provide a brief publishing history of Malibu’s Ultraverse, and review these #1 issues: Prime, Hardcase, The Strangers, Freex, Exiles, and Mantra!
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Thanks for listening! Next week, the first episode of The Night Man Podcast!
Well Shag, you’ve got me listening to an Ultraverse podcast. I hope you’re proud of yourself.
Truth to tell, I had very little interest in the Ultraverse. After I felt run off by Marvel in their relentless pursuit of quarterly returns for their shareholders in the early ’90s, I shifted loyalties to DC through their Titans books, but also followed the Image creators in their exodus. I bought virtually all of the early Image titles, and felt terribly burned as a result of their crappiness. My brother got into Valiant from the ground floor, so I read and enjoyed his copies, but didn’t buy my own until after Jim Shooter was thrown out of the company. I didn’t stick around long, Shadowman excepted. I also fell for the bait and switch of Dark Horse Comics’ Greatest World, buying 16 economically priced first issues/four mini-series that promised big name creators in a true shared universe, but delivered half-baked RPG modules by lesser lights.
By the time Malibu took their Image royalties and founded the Ultraverse, I was gunshy. The association with Image alone tainted the line for me. I bought most of the first issues, but didn’t give the titles any more rope than that. Ultraverse was a writers’ universe, so they needed more time to unfurl than I gave them. Also, the bloom was off the rose for most of those guys, which distracted from the vital writers in the stable. I appreciated that the creators had more of a stake at Ultraverse, but at the same time saw it as a half-measure, and that stake ultimately was driven through the heart of these properties in perpetuity. I don’t think Disney yet knows what the endgame of this failed experiment will be (Rights reversions? Buy-outs?) I do have sympathy for the fans though, who’ve lived to see an Atlas/Seaboard revival, but Ultraverse will likely elude them forevermore.
I want to say there were pogs.
I’m sure you’re already on this, but Longbox Graveyard would be an ideal Malibu hook-up on the twitters. He’s good friends with the Malibu muckity-mucks.
I thought minimum wage was $4.75, because that’s what I was earning back then, but maybe I was just a baller.
Today, I can see Prime as a satire of the entire super-hero genre, and look forward to hearing more about his development. In 1993, I was looking for totally tubular wish fulfillment super-dudes, and couldn’t get off on grim n’ gritty Shazam. I also had to grow to appreciate Norm Breyfogle, who I was not fond of back then.
I hated Hardcase on sight, but bought the debut issue anyway. “Wonder Man Analogue” is perhaps the saddest phrase in the English language. Hated that costume. Never cared much for Jim Hudnall before I knew his politics, and now find him distasteful in the EXTREME!!!
Perhaps carrying over from Jack Kirby’s influence over Marvel, but it often seemed like these prefab ’90s universe all had a point man on art who either designed most the the characters (Denys Cowan/Milestone) or who’s look set the style guide for the initial line (Barry Windsor-Smith/Valiant, though a stronger case could be made for Bob Layton after the first year.)
Ultraverse sold out rather than burned out, but The Strangers were a fine example of why I think the line would have failed given time. It positively reeked of Bronze Age Marvel turned sour in the fridge. Say what you will about Image, but they were setting trends in character design & execution, while others gave a thin veneer of Image to their more dated retreads. Rick Hoberg made Jim Valentino look like Jim Lee. As a kid, I was keenly aware of how out of sync with his time Steve Englehart was scripting these fauX-Men, and it was a major turn-off. The set-up of powers acquired from a bolt out of the blue was straight out of the New Universe, which Valiant was already doing a much better job swiping.
Free-Ex would have been a sensational polybagged-in bonus to move units. I’d have totally dropped free X. I wasn’t at all confident about having read Freex #1 before you guys synopsized it, but then I was brought to my knees, overwhelmed by a crushing sense of having of vague recollection of maybe probably having read this once a long time ago and not being impressed.
If I recall correctly, and in a predictable move for a prefab U, the first big crossover event was already planned out before the first Ultraverse book hit the stands. To attract attention to “Breakthru” and show what a bold, original line they had, Exiles was born to die as a prequel and stakes-setter. I recall retailers being pretty miffed about tying up their budgets with books that Malibu knew they were never going to ship (complete with fabricated descriptions of the non-issues,) but they were probably relieved before long to not be stuck with any more inventory. So “stunt” might have been a better choice of words than “gag,” though with Steve Gerber in the mix, there might have been some parody that eluded me in ’93. I can’t recall if this came out before or after the Malibu relaunch of Ex-Mutants, but one of those books was my introduction to Paul Pelletier, who I liked fine for a (then-)Byrne clone. Shag spoke somewhat disparagingly of Ghoul, who ended up by default being my favorite Ultra with his morbid humor and derivative-of-even-more-obscure-characters powers.
I stuck with Mantra for a few issues because the premise was interesting and I really liked the art. Al Vey is one of the best inkers in comics, and I rediscovered that I hated the neophyte Terry Dodson without his influence (he’d already sucked on Team Titans.) It took a few years for Dodson to progress to his more appealing familiar style. That cover tho’? Blech.
You reminded me that I gave Tekno Comics more of a try than Ultraverse. I think I went nine issues deep into Mr. Hero thanks to the checks Neil Gaiman cashed. I had 6+ of Mike Danger, probably the best of that sorry lot. Gee, George Perez was a bit of a prostitute in these years, huh?
Suffice to say, I’m on board this podcast for the education and the personalities. David and Shag’s voices are distinct and complementary, and make for a lively pair. You both seem very knowledgable with good chemistry. I’m not sure I would venture beyond this end of the network, but I will give you guys more time to grow than I ever did your subject. Youse guys on iTunes?
Any podcast that opens their first ever show with Courtney Love deserves at least a moment’s consideration for huevos alone. I really don’t think you put enough effort into uncovering a Billboard Hot 100 single that had the word “Ultraverse” in the lyrics, though.
Thanks, Frank! Hope you stick around and check out the other shows debuting.
“Distinct and complimentary,” eh? Shag’s got a better tenor than I do. He’s the grizzled, old vet and the rookie, doe-eyed partner who doesn’t get shot. Wait’ll you hear that Ben Avery. He’s our Tom Jones.
And if you like Tekno Comix, I think Prof. Alan Middleton has dedicated a couple of episodes of his relatively geeky/quarterbin podcasts to Primortals and something else…
Just discovered your podcast, blog, etc. today and I am so freakishly excited that I’m not the only person on Earth who remembers the Ultraverse so fondly. I loved the whole world of the Ultraverse.
Yeah, some of it was kind of cheesy, for sure – all comics worlds have a little bit of that stuff: the formulaic nature of things like the second half of The Strangers, as your pointed out; the blatant rip-off of H.R. Giger with NM-E; and more. But the work that all the creators did to tie the books together and make a cohesive, continuity-rich world was outstanding.
I loved your commentary on The Exiles in particular. I’m going to take your idea that it was designed to make fun of the X-Men and go one further: it was designed to make fun of the X-Men AND all the Image books (Youngblood, CyberForce, WildCATS, etc.) coming out at the time. It was all at once the “look what we’re willing to do in a book” mindset that you mentioned, plus a “look, this is what we as a group think of the current work of Rob Liefeld and company.”
Thoughts? Looking forward to catching up with all your stuff!