Four for a Dollar – New Universe Pt 1 of 4: The World Outside Your Window

250px-Star_Brand_1July 22, 1986: a light from space lit our earth in a mysterious and sudden flash. It was called The White Event. It gave a small percentage of regular people amazing and sometimes horrifying abilities. They were called paranormals. This was a universe meant to be ours up to the moment it wasn’t.

I love the New Universe. I was only 13 when it began and it was the first comics universe I was truly on the ground floor of. Though it would last less than three years and fewer than 200 comics, it remains one of my treasured comic book memories.

I am rereading the New Universe start, to finish, to the nostalgia pieces that followed. This first post is the initial launch and four of the eight titles.

To celebrate Marvel Comics 25th anniversary, Jim Shooter and friends set out to create a whole new world of characters. Long before Ultimate, but not much before Shooter was shown the door and headed up another fresh universe – Valiant Comics. A world with no aliens, no gods, no super technology, no history of super powers, and comics that were primarily done-in-one stories with one publishing year equaling one story year.

Wikipedia and New U fansites can fill you in on the ups, and mostly downs, of the business side of the New Universe. I want to talk about the comics. The first is Shooter’s own book, Star Brand. The story of a weapon given to an underachieving mechanic named Ken Connell, Star Brand appeared at first to be breaking Shooter’s rules immediately in the only book he himself was writing. The Brand is given to Connell by a mysterious alien and then a very different alien attacks him trying to seize the weapon. With parallels to Green Lantern, Connell has to learn how to use the Brand, a weapon of nearly infinite power which manifests as a tattoo on his hand. The quick exit of Shooter and five artists in the first ten issues makes the book a bit uneven, but it is easily the most dynamic book of the whole New U with the 19 issues plus an annual showing a dramatic evolution of Connell as the series goes on. Star Brand would develop as the core of the New Universe.

Collector Note: For lovers of the New 52 Omac, check out Keith Giffen’s Kirby-tribute art on #9.

If Star Brand was Green Lantern, then Spitfire & the Troubleshooters was Iron Man. Jenny Swensen climbed inside the giant Spitfire armor to battle … whoever were the villains in the New U. A quick aside, one of the challenges of the New U was that there weren’t as many super villains. Later on they built a few recurring enemies in various titles, but on the large there were just regular people who abused their powers or didn’t. Spitfire was one of the titles meant to balance the New U as not an entirely power-based world (the other being Mark Hazzard: Merc) but neither lasted past the first year cull that I will get to in part 3.

Collector Note: Spitfire is that #4 is one of the first Marvel works by Todd MacFarlane. Unfortunately that still doesn’t add any value to this clearance bin gem.

In Psi-Force, a group of teens with powers joined together to form the Psi-Hawk, the embodiment of their dead CIA protector. Reading last year’s Flashpoint cross-over, I was struck the passing similarity of that version of Captain Marvel to Psi-Force. On the run from the CIA and the KGB, the team hid out in San Francisco trying to fit in and free themselves of the psychic hold the Psi-Hawk had on them. When one team member died, they discovered that the Psi-Hawk could be created by other paranormals as well.

Collector Note: Before Ghost Rider, Mark Texiera was the artist on seven issues of Psi-Force. Later artists would include Mark Bagley and Ron Lim (who left the book to go to Silver Surfer).

The last title of this installment is Nightmask. My co-host Chris brought this book up in a recent podcast. A sometimes erratic book, it followed the life of Keith Remsen, a teen who had the power to enter people’s dreams and help them fight their internal demons. Keith and his sister survived a terrorist attack at an airport and Keith was awoken from a coma by the White Event. The series suffered an unstable creative team. Eleven artists for 12 issues – but what an 11! Giffen, Bagley, Ernie Colon, Kyle Baker, Ron Wager and more. The myriad of art styles was well suited to the book which had Keith entering different dream worlds in each issue.

Collector Note: Be sure to grab the 2006 Untold Tales of the New Universe: Nightmask special for the completion of Archie Goodwin’s story line from #4. 20 years later to wrap up a tale? JMS had lots of time to spare on The Twelve. 

Next time: I continue a look at the first year of the New Universe and the other four titles from the launch.

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