Deciding how to read a Dead Universe informs the best way to collect a Dead Universe. Do you read it series-by-series, as it came out when originally published, or in some sort of chronological order? Knowing this will help determine how to invest in Dead Universes.
Chronological Reading Order
Reading a Universe in chronological order is tempting, especially if the publisher had taken time to plot out a rough skeleton of the timeline. This is easiest with Defiant due to less than 60 issues being published thanks to Marvel’s company killing lawsuit. The website ShooterWorks.com has posted notes from the never published universe-wide crossover event, Schism, which helps establish a solid reading order. Using those notes and my own reading of the titles I’ve built a preferred Defiant Comics chronology.
The original Valiant Universe (VH1), on the other hand, had a long and healthy life before greed drove the universe into the ground. Due to that long publishing life putting the whole thing into a chronological reading order would be a bit of a bear. Thankfully, Joshua Eves at ValiantFans.com enjoys wrestling bears and did the heavy lifting to establish a timeline. While it would definitely be interesting to read the universe in this order it would require waiting until all of the relevant issues have been collected. Putting that collection together will take time and money because it isn’t very often someone puts up for sale an entire lot of all published Valiant issues.
Series-by-Series Reading Order
Steve Englehart, one of the founding fathers of the Ultraverse, has said the intention was “from the outset to share the playground and join in each other’s games,” so there’s a great deal more crossover in the Ultraverse than some of the other Dead Universes. That makes a chronological reading enticing. However, if you include everything published, including after the accursed Marvel buyout, there are nearly 800 single issues in the Ultraverse. Subtracting the issues after the Marvel takeover you’re still looking at more than 500 single issues. It isn’t as many as the Valiant Universe, but it would still take a great deal of work to figure out the rough chronology. Of course, there’s far less time jumping in the Ultraverse than in Valiant, so arguably someone could read the issues as they initially hit the market and probably come close to a chronology.
I’ve decided to read Malibu’s Ultraverse series-by-series based on when that series started. As an example, Prime, Hardcase, and The Strangers were first to market in June 1993, so I’ll read those all the way through starting with The Strangers which is considered the launch title of the universe. Next would be Freex and Mantra which both came out in July 1993. Those would be followed by Exiles and Prototype (August 1993), The Solution (September 1993), Sludge and Night Man (October 1993), so on and so forth. It’ll be interesting to first see the Ultraverse evolve entirely through the eyes of Prime and then see how it all connects through the perspective of Night Man.
One important benefit of reading series-by-series comes when a reader wants to get started but doesn’t have the budget to buy everything up at once. If a reader’s lucky enough to find a complete run of Solar, Man of the Atom that’s a great place to start. Solar has 60 issues, so devouring the entire run isn’t going to happen overnight.
By Release Date
Not every Dead Universe has a clear chronological order, because not every Dead Universe was plotted with that intention (especially Dead Universes pre-90s). If there’s a loose chronological order to the Universe it’s most likely no one’s taken on the task, as with VH1, to map it out and post it online. In forum discussions, the suggestion usually comes to simply reading the universe as the issues were originally released. Not all companies choose to put the release month on the cover, but I’ve found Comic Vine to be a great resource for figuring out the original start date of a title. Figuring out the week of release is a bit more difficult, but not as necessary as with the Big Two Universes which could see, for example, X-Men, Uncanny X-Men, X-Force, X-Factor, etc. all crossing over in a single month.
In many cases reading the trades isn’t a viable option because the trade is out-of-print or doesn’t exist. Many of the trades that were published at the time the Universes were alive can be found used on eBay or Amazon, but in my opinion, tend to be overpriced. For example, there’s currently a complete run of Dark Horse’s Ghost Vol. 1 on eBay for $30, but to buy all four omnibus collections used on Amazon it’ll cost close to $100. The argument to be made for collecting some of the trades is they’ll occasionally reprint the ashcans or other one-shots. The Ghost omnibus collections collect all of the Dark Horse Presents… appearances and one-shots. The Warriors of Plasm trade is handy because it collects the issue zero trading card set in a proper comic book format. So it’s worth weighing the value of what’s in the trade versus the cost. Collecting the trade also saves space and reduces the clutter of hundreds of floppies.
Thankfully, the new Valiant Entertainment has been kindly collecting the original Valiant in shiny new trade paperbacks. I don’t know if the intention is to eventually put out trades of entire runs or only the first few issues, but it’s an affordable start to a VH1 collection. Maybe Marvel will see the potential of doing the same with the Ultraverse, but I’m not holding my breath.
Next up in this series I’ll share my suggested Defiant reading order.