In 1993, Malibu Comics launched an ambitious new project called the Ultraverse. This was basically an attempt to hit the ground running with the type of dense, detailed interwoven world that had taken years to evolve at Marvel and DC. As originally set up by a who’s who of comic book writers, along with SF author Larry Niven, the Ultraverse didn’t feel like a shoddy rip-off of an established universe, but actually set its own tone pretty well.
And although the Ultraverse enthusiastically jumped into the worst excesses of the 90’s with both feet–company-wide crossover events, variant covers (including embossed foil covers), zero issues, double-issue flip books, puzzle covers–the books themselves were well written and decently drawn. Ultraverse didn’t have the artistic star power of Marvel or Image, but their books were solid and reasonably successful.
One of those books was Firearm. The main character was Alec Swan, a British former Special Ops soldier turned hard-boiled private eye in Pasadena, California. And as his code name suggests, he didn’t have a superpower. He was just good with guns. He was also good with things like computer keyboards.
In the first issue, he’s hired by a woman named Claire Brody to find her fiancee, who has disappeared. The clues lead him to… well, the clues don’t really lead him anywhere. This is one of those “mysteries” where the detective doesn’t solve shit. He just wanders around asking questions until the bad guys decide to attack him and then explain everything to him, after which he kills them and claims he has “solved” the case.
In this case, it was a group of super-rich, super-arrogant, super-A-holes who like to replay “The Most Dangerous Game” with ex-military guys, because the thrill of the hunt is so much better when the game can fight back. But they also choose really fat ex-military guys, because BTW they’re also cannibals and you don’t want meat that’s too stringy.
So yeah, despite the hard-boiled tone, it was as silly as any comic book story, pretty much, but it was told with flair and I remember enjoying it. The series eventually ran for 18 issues and I have them all.
One thing I remember about the Ultraverse was their early attempts at digital coloring, which I remember being impressed by at the time, although it looks a little cheesier now.
Firearm was also notable for having a zero issue which tied in to a live-action video. I’ve never seen the video, but I have seen the two TV series the Ultraverse would eventually spawn: the animated series Ultraforce and the live-action syndicated series Night Man. A pretty impressive track record for a comic universe that lasted less than two years.
So if it was doing so well, why did the Ultraverse disappear so soon? What happened?
Marvel happened. Marvel bought Malibu, and then completely changed the editorial direction of the comics. There was a really half-assed effort to bring some of the titles into the Marvel universe, then they were just allowed to fade away. Opinions vary on whether Marvel deliberately destroyed a competitor, or whether they just screwed up what could have been a good acquisition. Either way, the Ultraverse was pretty much gone for good.
Next week: another Ultraverse title, one of my favorites and one of the inspirations for Rev. Be here for Prime.