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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:

Marvel Buys Malibu

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.

Marvel Buys Malibu

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!

Marvel Buys Malibu

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!

Ultraverse

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Top Five Ultraverse Comic Book Movie Properties

Longbox Graveyard #112

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.

Ultraverse!

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!

Mantra

Mantra, Adam Hughes

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.

Firearm

Firearm

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.

Prime

Prime, Boris Vallejo

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.

Rune

Rune, Barry Windsor-Smith

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.

The Strangers

The Strangers, Rick Hoberg

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

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

LONGBOX GRAVEYARD TOP TEN LISTS

The Sun Shines On Malibu

The Sun Shines On Malibu

Thanks to all who participated in or attended my Malibu Comics Retrospective panel at San Diego Comic-Con 2012!

The event was even more dynamic than the above image would indicate!

Our far-ranging look back at Malibu Comics concentrated on the origins of the company, Malibu’s willingness to try something new, the company’s legacy of creator rights, and Dave Olbrich’s infamous “squirrel story” (which he had forgotten, until Tom Mason filled him in).

Tom Mason, Chris Ulm, Dave Olbrich, and Scott Rosenberg, courtesy of the Longbox Graveyard Instagram feed

I was a little too ambitious with my agenda and the later days of Malibu — including the launch of Image Comics and the Ultraverse, and Malibu’s sale to Marvel — got short shrift. We continued the talk in the hallway outside the meeting room, but it’s safe to say we had more to say than we had time to say it in. Maybe we’ll reconvene for another presentation at a future show.

We didn’t get a chance to show it at the panel … but here are the television commercials used to launch the Ultraverse twenty years ago!

You can view the slides assembled by Chris Ulm for the panel over at Slideshare. Plenty of Malibu goodness there (and you can find most of those images at my Malibu Comics Pinterest gallery, too!)

You can also read about the panel over at Comic Collector Live and Bleeding Cool.

And a couple videos have turned up, first from YouTube, Part 1

Here is Part 2

There is also this video on Facebook.

Thanks again to all who attended or participated in the panel, and thanks to San Diego Comic-Con for hosting our retrospective!

Longbox Graveyard author Paul O’Connor flanked by Horace Austin (left) and Keith Callbeck (right) — thanks for attending the panel, guys!

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