When it last launched in 1986, the New Universe was designed to be separate from the existing Marvel Universe. It would be a setting in which superheroes were nonexistent and events moved in an approximation of real time. Marvel’s Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter was the driving forces behind the effort, along with creators Archie Goodwin, Eliot R. Brown, Mark Gruenwald, John Morelli, Tom DeFalco, and Michael Higgins.
The only superpowered beings in this world would spring from a single precipitating event, and the technology would only rarely be beyond what our world then had.
Shooter described the universe as “Simply deciding to use a universe hitherto unused in comics. Our own. No repulsors. No unstable molecules. In fact, no fantasy or fantastic elements at all except for the very few we introduce. Carefully. Does it make sense? You bet!”
The entire universe began with a bang, coalescing into the New Universe following an event known as the White Event which took place on July 22, 1986. Star Brand was the flagship title, launched in October 1986. Created by Jim Shooter, the series set in motion events that led to the creation of humans with paranormal abilities. The Star Brand is a black, star-shaped tattoo-like mark that provides infinite, god-like powers to the person branded with the mark. In this case, Ken Connell of Pittsburgh. The original wielder of the Star Brand, known as the Old Man, transferred the power to Ken Connell. Originally, the old man attempted to remove the Star Brand before transferring the power.
The series ran until May 1989 and featured the artistic talents of John Romita, Jr. and Al Williamson. Shooter wrote the title though issue 7, and following his departure from Marvel, he was replaced by various writers including Roy Thomas, Cary Bates, and George Cargonne before John Byrne took over the writing and art chores with issue 11. Byrne stayed on the series through to the end with issue 19. Bobbie Chase and Geof Isherwood were responsible for the only Star Brand Annual. Romita and Williamson also left the book after issue 7 and the book was demoted to bimonthly status.
D.P. 7, or Displaced Paranormals ran a total of 32 issues, plus one annual. D.P. 7 was the only New Universe series that maintained a high quality of consistency with a stable creative team of writer Mark Gruenwald, penciler Paul Ryan, and colors by Paul Becton. The team produced the first year of the title. Danny Bulanadi inked issues 10-32 adding to the stability of the look of the book. The title featured seven main characters that received paranormal abilities thanks to the White Event.
Main characters and their abilities included Randy O’Brien, or Antibody, a medical resident who can project a dark image of himself that is intangible and can fly. He can transfer memories from one person to another with contact. David Landers, nicknamed Mastodon, gained incredible strength and was able to lift over 15 tons. Jeff Walters, known as Blur, vibrates so fast that he appears as a blur. He consumes vast amounts of food to maintain his accelerated metabolism and can move at superhuman speed. Charlotte Beck, a dance student, acquired the power to make herself, or anything she touched, to become friction-free. Nicknamed Friction, she also learned to increase an object’s friction. Dennis “Scuzz” Cuzinski is a troubled teenager that can create a corrosive substance from his skin. He can increase his skin’s production of the chemical and can burn through just about any object. Stephanie Harrington, referred to as Glitter, is a housewife that has the ability to heal and energize others by physical contact. The use of her power produces the appearance of twinkling stars. Lenore Fenzl, or Twilight, produces a bioluminescence that, when exposed to it, can paralyze, or render individuals unconscious. While the characters were compelling, later issues rarely focused on the original seven paranormals and time didn’t seem to pass in real time as was promised when the New Universe was launched.
Originally titled Mr. Magnificent and his Team Supreme, creators Tom DeFalco and Ron Frenz streamlined the title to Kickers, Inc. The sports book revolved around Jack Magniconte, the quarterback for the New York Smashers. The series highlighted the team’s adventures, specifically players that received superhuman strength from the White Event. The comic ran 12 issues before being cancelled due to poor sales. Many of the New Universe titles at this point were suffering from lack of interest and poor sales and two other titles, Nightmask and Mark Hazzard: Merc suffered a similar fate, both ending with issue 12. The New Universe was heading for a crash of epic proportions.
Perhaps hoping to capitalize on the success of the Punisher, Mark Hazzard: Merc premiered in the New Universe. One of four New Universe titles created by Archie Goodwin, the series kicked off with writer Peter David, followed by Doug Murray after issue 4. Gray Morrow became the dominant artist on the series. Surviving 12 issues plus one annual, this book was a bit of an anomaly in the New Universe. First off, the book seemed to have very little if anything to do with the White Event. The series had several focal points, focusing on family life and military career before shifting gears and taking on a strictly mercenary viewpoint. Another interesting point was that Murray killed of the main character, Mark Hazard, in the Mark Hazzard: Merc Annual #1. The issue was released before issue 12, the final issue of the run, which was simply titled, Merc, featuring other mercenaries.
Another title from the mind of Archie Goodwin, Justice, was perhaps the shining example of a title that contradicted the whole premise of this New Universe. John Tensen, aka Justice, was a visitor from another dimension, contradicting the premise that there were no superhumans before the White Event, breaking the rules of this universe being based in realism. While the first issue was written by Goodwin, the first regular creative team on Justice consisted of writer Steve Englehart, penciler Geoff Isherwood, and inker Vincent Colletta. Gerry Conway and Keith Giffen were also involved in the series. Peter David and Lee Weeks did the bulk of the work on this title that ran for 32 issues, taking over with issue 15. It was this creative team that worked on a do-over of Justice’s origin, revealing that the bulk of the first 14 issues were a hallucination created by a comatose paranormal. They surmised that Justice was indeed a normal human, not from another dimension. With issue 16, David introduced an entirely new cast, along with a new costume for Justice. He did retain his sword and shield powers. In issue 22 the book takes on a team book feel as John Tensen joins the National Security Council.
The third New Universe title developed by Goodwin, Nightmask, was published in November 1986. The title features the story of Keith Remsen, an 18-year-old sent to study with Doctor Horst Kleinmann, an expert on dreams. When a bomb explodes killing Remsen’s parents and paralyzing his little sister Theodora, Keith is left in a coma. He awakens during the White Event and gains the ability to enter and manipulate the dreams of others. He can also project illusions directly into another person’s mind. This series also only lasted 12 issues.
Psi-Force was one of the more popular of the New Universe titles with favorable reviews making comparisons to the X-Men. The comic focused on a group of adolescents who had developed psionic powers following the White Event. These teens, mentored by federal agent Emmett Proudhawk, could collect and direct their powers into a psychic construct called the Psi-Hawk. Created by Archie Goodwin and Walter Simonson, the book ran for 32 issues and one annual. The title features the early work of two popular creators: writer Fabian Nicieza (issues 9, 13, 16-32) and artist Ron Lim (issues 16-22). Danny Fingeroth was the writer for issues 3-15. Mark Texeira and Bob Hall also contributed a major portion of the art for the series giving it a stylistic look that added to the dynamics of the book’s success.
Original members of the Psi-Force team included: Wayne Tucker/Network, a telepath with the ability to nudge people into following his mental commands; Michael Crawley/Dynamite possesses the ability to cause explosions with his mind; Tyrone Jessup/Voyager has the ability to form an astral projection; Kathy Ling/Shockwave is a very powerful telekinetic; and finally, Anastasia (Stasi) Inyushin is a Russian national with the ability to heal.
Perhaps the New Universe title most in search of an identity was Spitfire and The Troubleshooters. This book had three different titles during the 13-issue run. The aforementioned title ran seven issues before changing to, simply, Spitfire. Three issues later the book changed names again to Code Name: Spitfire for its final four issues. The book followed the exploits of the main character, Professor Jenny Swensen, “Spitfire,” and a group of brilliant college students as they used high-tech powered exoskeletons to combat the mysterious terrorist organization known only as The Club. Created by Eliot R. Brown and Jack Morelli, the idea was that the Spitfire technology would be a more reality-based version of Iron Man’s armor. Once again, this series was plagued with a number of creative teams over the book’s short run of 13 issues. Once the series was cancelled, Professor Swensen became the armor-skinned paranormal Chrome, and was a regular character in D.P.7.
After Codename: Spitfire, Kickers, Inc., Mark Hazzard: Merc, and Nightmask were canceled at the one-year mark, the May 1988 cover-dated issues of the remaining four New Universe titles underwent a change. Star Brand #13, D.P. 7 #19, PSI-Force #19, and Justice #19 were increased from 75¢ to $1.25 with the page count increasing from 22 to 28 editorial pages. Also, the books went direct market only, i.e., no more newsstand sales. Only house ads were included, logos were redesigned, recap pages added, paper quality and coloring were also upgraded. By the end of their runs, the books suffered another price increase to $1.50. The books did look better with full bleed pages and brighter colors, but in a case of maybe too little too late, the clock was ticking, and time was running out for the New Universe.
In an effort to relieve himself of the most powerful sigil in the universe, Ken Connell attempted to transfer the Star Brand to an inanimate object: a bent dumbbell. Taking place in Star Brand #12, Connell’s effort resulted in a tremendous release of energy, obliterating the city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and most of the surrounding area. This event became known as the Black Event.
The event was documented in The Pitt, a square bound, comic-sized, 48-page graphic novel published in 1987 and priced at $3.25. Produced by John Byrne, Mark Gruenwald, Sal Buscema, and Stan Drake, the story covered events leading up to the Black Event as told by Nelson Kohler, a human possessing no physical form following the White Event. Because of his ethereal form, he is unable to stop the events of that day. The remainder of the issue deals with the ramifications of the event and leads directly into the next one-shot graphic novel, The Draft.
The Draft, published in 1988, leads up to the reinstatement of the draft in the United States. This one-shot story deals primarily with the recruitment of paranormals into the military to be used for special missions and the coming war with the Soviet Union, believed by the government to be the cause of the Black Event. Written by Mark Gruenwald and Fabian Nicieza, the art was illustrated by Herb Trimpe with a number of various inkers. Coinciding with the conclusion of the four remaining New Universe titles, The War was introduced as a four-issue series of graphic novels designed to wrap up the events in the New Universe. With the world on the brink of total annihilation, all weapons are rendered inert by the Star Child, the offspring of Ken Connell and Madelyne Felix. The Star Child issued a warning to all humankind – to live in peace – or else! And thus, ended the run of Marvel’s New Universe.
– Charles S. Novinskie
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