For the second Ultraverse spotlight, we look at one of the line’s false starts and an under-appreciated gem! Writer Gerard Jones describes two of the books that made the Ultraverse unique. Unlike other MMMs, this is more an reminder of great Marvel properties that deserve a new light than it is an examination of who the heroes are.
The Ultraverse was a writers’ playground, where new takes on comic book standards could be tried out. The X-Men were born mutants, but eventually became part of the super-hero elite. What if they never came out of the shadows? The Punisher wages a one-man army on crime, but what if the Kingpin was his father?
With new characters in a new universe, these concepts could be launched in unexpected directions.
“Will Jacobs and I wrote one of Malibu’s first comics, The Trouble with Girls, from 1987 until 1991, and then I’d gone on to do quite a few superhero comics for DC and Marvel, so I was a natural choice for them.”
Initially the line was promoted as a writer-based universe, the other half of the coin to Image’s initial artist-based approach to comics (initially launched by Malibu a few years earlier). It wasn’t long before the young company felt the growing pains of larger universes, especially as the line grew and readership increased.
“I always liked working for them, although I was disappointed that the writers were given a lot less creative control than we’d been promised as time went on. When the market contracted and sales dropped, the editors became much more involved in plotting, feeling they knew better what the market would support. At that point it became a lot less enjoyable.”
One series that could’ve ended better in Jones’ eyes, was the Freex. Intended as a new take on the super-hero outcast, the series was a recognizable Ultraverse quantity, but changed dramatically in its short lifespan.
“Freex may have been the first idea I came up with on my own. I know I came out of the summit with it approved as my first solo-written Ultraverse title. I’ve always loved that sort of oddball team—Doom Patrol, X-Men, the early Fantastic Four. Even the early Legion had some of that quality, the grab bag of weird heroes. Unfortunately it didn’t do as well as any of us had hoped once it saw print, and a lot of second guessing kicked in, by me and by the editors. We tried too many changes of tone and direction, and the series never quite found itself. Toward the end, when Scott Kolins was not only drawing but really involving himself in the plot, I think we had a very intriguing new direction going—but then came the sale to Marvel. I’m glad I did the series, and I think there are a few really good stories in there. But on balance it feels like a disappointment.”
Another comic, Solitaire, had the opposite problem. The focus remained clear, but sales and name recognition weren’t as strong.
“I submitted Solitaire at the first summit but it wasn’t approved right away. After the initial success of the Ultraverse, Malibu decided to add a second wave of new titles, including that one. My original notes were pretty rough, and Jeff Johnson, the artist, contributed a lot to my concept of the character. I had a great time with that series. Its run was too short, but I was glad to be able to stick to my original vision to the end. I hadn’t planned it as a maxiseries, but it worked out pretty well that way.”
Since the complete history of our heroes can be found at The Unofficial Handbook of the Marvel Universe website, brief introductions will be given here.
The story of the Freex may sound familiar at first. Several individuals learn they have strange and unwanted powers at a young age, and band together for mutual support and protection. Unlike the mutations of Marvel or the randomness of the Doom Patrol, the team initially consisted of people who were given “wetware” technology as infants. Since a single group of children were affected, all the founding members shared the same condition: they were sixteen years old with no direction and no home.
Solitaire was a lone gunman, literally. Nicholas Lone was raised a child of privilege paid for in blood. Disgusted by his father Anton Lone’s criminal empire, Nicholas became the violent vigilante Solitaire, dedicated to destroying the criminal element, and stopping his father in particular.
The Freex powers matched their teenage awkwardness. They were blessed with simple flight or heat vision, instead they suffered with skin-covering tentacles, shapeshifting gelatin bodies or rock-like exteriors and crippling rock-like minds.
Solitaire was first and foremost a fighter and weapons master, but a technologically-enhanced healing ability helped him emerge from gunfights few others could stand.
How could the characters be brought back?
Technically these heroes, like all Ultraverse heroes, exist in an alternate reality adjacent to the Marvel Universe, but they could always have counterparts on Earth 616.
With mutants gone after M-Day, the Freex might have a place in Marvel’s hidden alleys and Solitaire could be a much more focused (and slightly less insane) counterpart to the Punisher.
“I’m sure Marvel could make anything work if they wanted to. As for how to do it…I’d leave that up to them. If I thought there was a chance in hell they’d ever do it.”