While DC and Marvel are the best known of the different superhero producers, they haven’t been the only ones. In 1993, Malibu Comics attempted a superhero line of its own. Called the “Ultraverse,” the books featured a series of characters called “Ultras” who did the superhero thing. There was a Hollywood Superman type called Hardcase, a kid who grew a giant muscled body in some sort of gooey version of Captain Marvel called Prime, and a superhero team made up of seven strangers who were all riding a San Francisco trolley when a mysterious energy beam gave everybody onboard superpowers. That team was called The Strangers.
The most popular of the bunch was arguably Night Man.
Night Man was Johnny Domino, a San Francisco saxophonist who was also involved in the above-mentioned trolley incident.
Oh, he wasn’t onboard the trolley. He was hit by it after the energy beam. Knocked into a coma, a piece of shrapnel lodged in his brain changed Johnny. His eyes became permanently dilated, and due to where the shrapnel landed, he no longer needed to sleep. Best for him, since he was looking to become a superhero, he could hear other people’s evil thoughts.
There was a catch on that last one, though. The thinker had to know his thoughts were evil. Anyone who couldn’t tell right from wrong was unreadable. Thankfully, Night Man rarely dealt with people like that.
With his eyes changed to allow him better night vision, Johnny dubbed himself Night Man and went out to fight crime at, you guessed it, night. He carried a gun, a rope, a cape for gliding, and tasers built into his gloves.
The Ultraverse was popular enough to get their Justice League/Avengers team, Ultraforce, a short-lived cartoon show, and Night Man himself got a low budget live action syndicated TV show.
Then the worst happened. Marvel bought out Malibu.
Marvel decided, for whatever reason, to integrate the Malibu heroes into the Marvel Universe. Sort of. They were in a separate universe, but all the visits seemed to be one-sided. Marvel heroes were highly influential on Ultraverse heroes, but the reverse was never true. There may be a mini-series showing a team-up, but Marvel heroes only appeared in the Malibu books. Malibu characters never really returned the favor.
By the by, this buyout is the same reason why the Men in Black movies have “Based on the Marvel Comic” in the opening credits. That series was a Malibu comic, but Malibu ceased to exist as a separate entity, so…
Now, having an occasional appearance by Spider-Man or Wolverine isn’t really a bad thing. The bad thing was how much the Ultraverse got messed with. The Infinity Gems got involved somehow, and after some mess called “Black September”, the Ultraverse characters themselves changed.
Some, like Hardcase, ceased to exist.
Others, like Prime, took inspiration from a Marvel hero and changed appearances in radical ways. In Prime’s case, he somehow became a Spider-Man-type figure for a period.
And Night Man? He split into two characters. Both were the same guy, but they behaved in different manners. One, who had the same abilities as the original character concept, was stuck in the Marvel Universe, where he did team-ups with Wolverine and Gambit. The other took up Celtic-based magic to gain different superpowers.
Remember, they’re both the same guy, just split into two different guys.
These radical, Marvel-based changes didn’t really work out, and the Ultraverse eventually died off. A part of me wonders if Marvel did this on purpose, rather than just cancel the line. All I know is a charming little hero line that was a bit of fun if not particularly revolutionary came to a screeching halt, and not even Night Man’s mind reading saw it coming.