Twenty Years Ago Today: Marvel Buys Malibu Comics
If you were on the staff of Malibu Comics, twenty years ago today you would have found this memo in your mailbox:
That memo from Malibu Comics President Scott Rosenberg was supposed to mark the end of the beginning for Malibu, but it ended up being the beginning of the end. Founded in 1986, Malibu had made their mark for a wide-ranging black & white comics publishing slate, before launching Image Comics and later publishing the Ultraverse, but by 1994 the handwriting was on the wall: Malibu needed to sell. Narrowly surviving the comics crash of 1993, Malibu was on borrowed time, and had for months been in secret negotiations to sell to DC Comics, before Marvel got wind of the deal and swept in to grab Malibu from their rivals, a largely-defensive purchase intended to protect Marvel’s comic book market share.
Few of the optimistic predictions of the “Employee Fact Sheet” would come to pass. Marvel would file for bankruptcy in 1996, and after a brief attempt to meld the Ultraverse with the Marvel Universe, Malibu Comics would shutter in 1997.
At its height, Malibu Comics employed approximately 150 full-time employees, including a film division, an interactive division, and offices in both California and England. They also provided work for hundreds of freelance writers and artists (including your humble narrator!). Malibu’s vast library of superhero properties — including the Ultraverse — passed on to Disney when they acquired Marvel in 2009. Disney has been mum on any plans to develop Malibu’s properties for film, but that didn’t stop us from identifying “Prime” Ultraverse candidates for the big screen!
It is interesting to speculate what might have become of Malibu had their sale to DC Comics gone through. DC’s purchase of Wildstorm in 1999 shows the company was able to support an autonomous west coast publishing studio, and many of Wildstorm’s people and properties remain a vital part of DC Comics to this day.
Malibu, on the other hand, has vanished into the halls of Disney, vaulted away like something from the last shot of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Is there hope for the Ultraverse in an era when unknown properties like the Guardians of the Galaxy are a box office smash?
Keep the faith, Ultraverse fans! Wilder things have happened!
With all the reviews and other goofball features I run here at Longbox Graveyard, it’s easy to lose track of this blog’s original purpose — to keep me on track in reducing and organizing my comic book Accumulation. Early entries in this blog concerned themselves with sorting my books and trying to appraise their condition, but aside from incidental mention in my Man Cave Monday series, I haven’t blogged a lot about the state of my collection recently.
But I have been busy.
why is Mole Man smiling?
From the two-dozen longboxes that made up my Accumulation when I started this project, I have settled on the dozen longboxes that I will keep, most of which are Bronze and Silver Age Marvel and DC books.
organizing the last of the Accumulation — guess where I was sitting?
I’ve sold off a couple longboxes worth of comics, both individually, and in lots (and plenty more are still available for sale — click HERE for individual books, and HERE for bulk deals). I’ve even separated out two full longboxes containing only (multiple) copies of comics I wrote, back in the day.
organizing books I wrote
But for all this diligent organizing, selling, and shipping, I still had four or five longboxes worth of books that I just couldn’t move.
So I did the unthinkable.
I threw them out.
Hey, at least I recycled them!
The longer I shuffled around the rump end of my Accumulation, the more it became obvious that no one was going to take these books off my hands. I tried every channel — selling here on Longbox Graveyard and on eBay … sometimes at a loss, and infrequently at anything approaching a profit. After factoring in the time it took to pack and post the orders, speaking strictly from a profit perspective, I would have been better off throwing many of my books in the street.
I resisted this last measure for a long time … partially out of respect for the comics themselves, but mostly because I just wasn’t ready to do it. For one thing, I wasn’t certain how much of everything I had, and it would have been reckless to start tossing things before I knew the full extent of what I was doing. But mostly it was a process of settling in with the stuff I had elected to keep, and deciding I was comfortable just tossing the stuff that was taking up space.
Interestingly enough, most of the books I threw away were books I wrote.
they evaded the bin (barely!)
A full five longboxes of the old Accumulation were comp copies of my own books from decades ago. By cutting myself down to five or ten copies of each book, I was able to reduce everything down to two longboxes. That meant throwing away hundreds of my own books, but I found it an easy process. They were my own books, to keep or to toss — I found it easier than tossing books that I didn’t write (and there were a few of those that went to the curb, too). There was no urge to self-annihilation here! I was just ready to let them go.
I think I found it easy to purge my own stuff because I’ve come to be more at peace with my past as a comic book writer. This blog project has helped me place that part of my life in perspective — increasingly, I have come to view that era with nostalgia, rather than regret over a career that never quite took off. I’ve come to accept that my work had merit, and that the reasons I never went further in the field had more to do with my poor networking skills and freelancer naiveté then they did with my ability as a writer. I’ve come to recognize my comics failure was a business issue, rather than a creative one — and I can live with that.
letting go has been a relief!
I can also live with considerably fewer copies of my work! Five longboxes of those old books was an anchor. Two longboxes are a treasure.
There remains a bit to do. I still need to sell off about three longboxes worth of books (though the clock is ticking on whether they will follow their fellows into that blue recycling bin). I want to buy clean, new longboxes, and get everything filed and catalogued, once-and-for-all. There may be one more small round of purging.
But the end is in sight!
And what will become of Longbox Graveyard, when my comics project is at last complete? I’ll tell you next month, in my winter Longbox Soapbox editorial column!
In the meantime, thanks for reading this blog, and acting as my virtual support group while I’ve transformed my comics Accumulation into a beloved Collection. It has been every inch worth the long, long journey.
UPDATE: In the social media conversation about this article I’ve been asked why I didn’t donate my comics instead of throwing them away, with the idea being that libraries, hospitals, or some other charity might benefit from my books.
In this specific case, I chose not to donate my books largely because I did not think them appropriate for kids or even your random “Hey Kids Comics” thrift store audience. Almost everything I threw out was a book that I wrote, and nearly every book I wrote was an obscure black & white comics of little interest to anyone (even if free) and/or laden with inappropriate violence, sex, language, or other content that would cause the Library Lady to dial 9-1-1.
However, if you are contemplating a similar terminal step with your collection, please consider donation if appropriate. Here is one source I may use in the future, offered without endorsement or special insight as I haven’t yet used them myself: Comics For Heroes.
NEXT WEEK: #116 The Day They Walked Away: Captain America!
- I’d part with my childhood but no one wants it (infinitefreetime.wordpress.com)
- Comics Buying Guide (walmart.com)
- Mars Attacks Gallery (longboxgraveyard.com)
- Guardians of the Galaxy Gallery (longboxgraveyard.com)
- Ben Urich: A Role Model in a Sea of Superheroes (longboxgraveyard.com)
- Hulk Gallery (longboxgraveyard.com)
- Back Issue Speculation Avengers 158 (comicsheatingup.net)
- Comic Book Legends Revealed #441 (goodcomics.comicbookresources.com)
Top Five Ultraverse Comic Book Movie Properties
Editor’s Note: This week’s guest blog is a special treat — a look at the buried treasure that is the Ultraverse from two men who were there at the start! Along with a host of high-powered comics creators, Chris Ulm and Tom Mason played critical roles in the foundation of the Ultraverse, which might just be the greatest comic book universe you’ve never heard of! In an age where Marvel is bringing Ant Man and the Guardians of the Galaxy to the movie screen, the time may be right for the Ultraverse’s return!
Take it away, Chris & Tom!
Hey, Disney executives and producers with a Disney deal in your hand or a desk on the lot — have we got some ideas for you! As you know, your Marvel Comics properties are all locked up and tied together to create a Marvel Movie Universe that mirrors the founding comic books.
But, if you look on the fringes of Marvel’s super-hero properties, you’ll find a few gems in the Ultraverse, a universe of comic books that Marvel purchased from Malibu Comics back in 1994. There are several titles that could be pulled out to start their own tentpoles separate from the Marvel Universe.
Here (in no particular order) are our top five!
Creator: Mike W. Barr, debut issue pencils by Terry Dodson
High Concept: Ancient Warrior Knight Reincarnated In The Body Of A Soccer Mom!
There’s nothing you guys love more than a body-switching movie. It’s been a reliable box-office performer ever since Freaky Friday. Sometimes, you have such a switch-crush that you’ll make two of them in the same year. In Mantra, an eternal warrior named Lukasz is killed but reincarnated into the body of a woman, Eden Blake. Now, you’ve got a manly-man warrior with the attitudes of a guy from centuries before stuck in the body of a single mom with two kids and an ex-husband. However you pitch it, it’s Highlander meets Switch and that’s either comedy gold or high drama.
Creator: James Robinson, debut issue pencils by Cully Hamner
High Concept: Film Noire Detective Hunts Super-Heroes
Too many super-heroes? That’s what the so-called pop culture critics say. Somehow four super-hero movies in one year is too much for them and they need more idiotic rom-coms or weepy historical dramas instead. If you’re one of “those” people, then Firearm is your antidote: he hunts super-heroes. He’s no angry vigilante, though. He used to be in a British secret agency called The Lodge, but he “retired” and moved to California to set up shop as a private eye. But his cases are far from normal and usually involve crossing paths with both good and bad super-heroes, including the super-hero serial killer called Rafferty.
Creator: Gerard Jones and Len Strazewski, debut issue pencils by Norm Breyfogle
High Concept: Boy Living In A Man’s Body
The big man of the Ultraverse, he’s Superman and Captain Marvel all in one. A boy named Kevin Green transforms himself into a super-hero by “building” a super-strong hero shell around himself. The shell is built from organic liquid skin that ejects from his body. And when he transforms back, the body withers and spits him out. But that’s not the best part — he’s super strong and has basically all the powers of Superman, but he’s controlled by Kevin, a 14-year-old boy, with a boy’s experiences and emotions. So the world’s most powerful super-hero is an inexperienced, hormonally-charged teenager. The teenager never goes away — he’s always trying to masquerade as an adult. Once again, that’s either comedy gold or high drama.
Creator: Chris Ulm and Barry Windsor-Smith, debut issue pencils by Barry Windsor-Smith
High Concept: Twisted Twilight
Rune was a walk on the dark side. Rune, an ancient energy vampire, had many guises through the history of mankind: alien, sorcerer, beast, god, devil. Now he is dying of cancer and only the blood and energy of super-humans can stave off imminent death. Rune has it all: secret societies, government conspiracies, teenage romance and a story that spans the history of humanity.
Creator: Steve Englehart, debut issue pencils by Rick Hoberg
High Concept: Passengers Assemble!
Random passengers on a cable car get struck by energy and find themselves changed beyond recognition, with strange powers. Who becomes a hero? Who tries to hide? Who uses their newfound powers for evil? These are the questions that drive the strangest collection of super-heroes ever assembled. While suited to film, this property seems tailor-made for episodic television in the tradition of Lost or Under The Dome, with seemingly random characters thrown together, and then tested in the crucible of paranormal circumstances!
Malibu Comics Co-Founders Tom Mason, Chris Ulm, Dave Olbrich, and Scott Rosenberg at their 2012 Comic-Con Reunion
Drawing from classic super-hero comics, hard science fiction, horror and epic fantasy, the Ultraverse was known for its epic premises and imaginative takes on classic tropes. Many of the best concepts could not have been realized as movies because the state of the art for CG was not up to the task in 1993, and the audience was not sufficiently literate in all things comics. Now, that’s all changed — comic books drive box office world wide and it’s about time the strange and wonderful corridors of the Ultraverse were explored on the silver screen!
Are you listening Disney?
About The Authors:
Chris Ulm was a co-founder of Malibu Comics and the Editor-In-Chief of the Ultraverse, which was based on his original development. He co-created the Ultraverse title Rune with artist Barry Windsor-Smith. Chris Ulm is now CEO and co-founder of Appy Entertainment, a leading mobile games development studio.
Tom Mason was a co-founder of Malibu Comics and the company’s Creative Director. He co-created the Ultraverse title Prototype with writer Len Strazewski. Mason is currently an Emmy-winning writer-producer in the big, wide world of television.
Thanks, Tom and Chris, for making your case why the Ultraverse is ready for its close-up! What do you think of their list? Did they forget your favorite Ultraverse character? Should Marvel go with their own C-list characters rather than develop these Ultraverse properties? Does the loyal devotion of Facebook’s Ultraverse group indicate the Ultraverse still has the capacity for mass appeal? Sound off in comments, below!
IN TWO WEEKS: #113 Ben Urich: Role Model in a Sea of Heroes
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