Do you remember when Marvel launched a new series of books, outside of the “Marvel 616” called The New Universe? In 1986, celebrating Marvel’s 25th Anniversary, The New Universe was launched, where it was based in a “more realistic world.” The idea is would be based on the Earth we all know; with no hidden races, gods, mythological beings, magic, super technology. Adding to the realism, the New Universe operated in “real time” – a month would lapse in the universe for each month that passed in reality.
The premise was that the New Universe was exactly like the Earth we live on, up to July 22nd, 1986, when there was a White Event that changed everything. The mysterious White Event, had somehow granted some people special abilities; labeling them as Paranormals.
I remember these being really fun books. So I thought I’d go back and re-read all of the New Universe books. When I finally came out the other side – having read DP7, Justice, Kickers, Inc., Mark Hazzard: Merc, Nightmask, Psi-Force, Spitfire & the Troubleshooters, Star Brand, The Pitt, The Draft and finally The War – I found that my memory of these books – turns out wasn’t so keen.
I will begin from worse (to get it out of the way) to the best; and then finally cover the graphic novels (The Pitt, The Draft and The War as their own thing).
So the worse book (for me) – begins with…
I don’t even know where I can begin to try and come up with anything nice to say about this series. First of all, for a concept that’s supposed to be more about the “real world” – Justice is an alien. And there’s a really lame story about the Spring Time world and the Winter World – or something like that. It was like a five year old’s fantasy story, mixed with a little gritty, with Justice in our real world, but having these flashbacks. Eventually, Peter David came on the book; and as a huge fan of Peter David’s work on X-Factor and even his original (and current) run of Spider-Man 2099, as I was re-reading this, I thought, “Okay, this is probably where I remember it being good.” The first thing they do is retcon the fact that he’s an alien; and it turns out he was under submission of another paranormal who was forcing him to have these hallucinations. Okay, that seemed like a good move. But after that? The book had no direction. It simply floundered, issue after issue, after issue. It was, literally, mental torture to try and make it through the entire run of Justice. I am at a loss how, of all the books, when they made their initial cut – how Justice was selected to continue to 32 issues. There was plenty of other books that deserved this opportunity. Justice was not one of them. I don’t understand how they didn’t just make him a Paranormal version of Punisher, hunting down evil Paranormals… or something… anything… I can’t even think of a cool or redeeming moment anywhere in this series. This was just painful. If I had to rank this book, without hesitation I would give this book the ranking of an “F.”
Another title that just didn’t seem to ever move forward. We have a divorced mercenary who is the best at what he does, and has a kid with his ex-wife. Sounds like a pretty solid concept so far, right? Well, don’t expect to find much in this title. It feels like it bounces around everywhere, and doesn’t really fit with anything within the New Universe. This felt like a NAM story more than it did with the New Universe. I couldn’t even begin to guess what they were trying to accomplish with this title. It only lasted 11 issues, in which, by the end – spoilers – he ends up killed. Ironically, they did an Annual for the title, after the 11th issue, which perhaps had more depth than the rest of the other 11 issues combined. Because Mark Hazzard never really interacts with any Paranormals, which seemed to be the over all big thing about The New Universe, this title felt very out of place. I would give this one a grade of a D.
This was the Superbowl Pro of the New Universe. So you have this football player who is impacted by the White Event, but he actually believes that it’s his brothers machine, which he allowed himself to be experimented on that gave him his enhanced endurance, speed, strength and skill. So he drags a few members of his football team to make a team called Kickers, Inc. and they go around solving crimes and helping people. Yes, it’s a pretty silly concept; but at least they tied in to DP7 a few times, and showed some interaction with the actual New Universe, something that Mark Hazzard: Merc did not. As this series approached it’s 12th and final issue, you can tell the writers stopped caring. Want to know why the Kickers, Inc. end up breaking up? Because they lost a race to a Canadian Team. I am not even kidding. And that issue was so utterly absurd (not because they lost to a Canadian Team, but how utterly silly and so much disregard to the reader was done in those last few issues, it’s rather insulting, that people like me continued to buy this book, when clearly the writers didn’t give a damn). I would also give this book the rank of a “D”, despite some interaction with other New Universe titles; the book floundered so horribly at the end, that it left a very bad taste in my mouth.
Now we’re starting to move into the good stuff – almost. So when the book was called Spitfire & The Troubleshooters (not the best name, with the whole Troubleshooters thing, I admit) – but this is when the book was fun. It was a little campy at times, and in many respects reminded me of Marvel’s Comic that they did Team America (not to be confused with the movie – two, very unrelated things). Each of the Troubleshooters developed a piece of armor, through the series that helped give them an edge (whether it was leg piece for speed, arm piece for strength, head piece for hacking) – and Jenny had the main Spitfire armor. During this time; like I said, it was a pleasant read. Then they came in and shifting things around; removed the Troubleshooters entirely, and the title simply became Spitfire. Now you’d think that might be a good idea, right? But no. It’s not even Jenny’s armor, but now it’s taking place in a war in the Middle East (if memory serves me correctly). As soon as the title simply became Spitfire it tanked horribly for me. I would give this book a “D+” – it would have been a solid “C” had it not done just the horrible Spitfire title change and stories.
Star Brand was certainly the New Universe’s “flag ship title.” He was essentially the “Superman” of the New Universe. Ken is greeted by an alien (again, here we are, in a world that’s supposed to be exactly like ours, and there’s an alien in it) – and given the power of the Star Brand, because the alien is dying. (Anyone else having flash backs of Green Lantern here?) The power of Star Brand gives Ken the ability to fly, super strength, super endurance, he even survives a bomb going off right next to him, and only his clothes take damage. Star Brand was actually a very fun read, because it dealt with this person, granted this immense power and set of abilities; and he wonders what he should do with it. He struggles back and forth with if he should go out and try to do good deeds; or just live with the fact. The issue begins to get a little cloudy, when the alien who died, returns, and wants the Star Brand back; and it turns out, he’s been lying this entire time. But struggling through it, the title does all right. Then John Byrne comes on the book. Now, don’t get me wrong; I am a huge John Byrne fan. His work on Uncanny X-Men, Alpha Flight, Fantastic Four were some of my favorites (although, I admit, I strongly disliked his work on West Coast Avengers, over all). Anyway – so when I was re-reading this and saw he was coming on the title; much like when I saw Peter David on Justice; I had thought, “Well he’s going to make it good.” I was wrong. I feel like John Byrne’s writing, single-handedly put the stake through the heart of not just Star Brand, but the New Universe in general. Now hear me out. What he did in the Star Brand book was rancid and stupid and – just bad story telling. The floating energy baby thing. The time displaced Ken. It was bad. And then the whole thing that triggered The Pitt – now I will talk about The Pitt one shot later (which I enjoyed) – but all the things that followed, just seemed to be stepping stones to the grave of the New Universe. I would give this book a “D+” – it would have probably been a “B” if I disregard all the stories John Byrne brought into it.
Psi-Force was a pretty solid book. Up until the end. It was one of the titles that ran 32 issues in The New Universe, but I feel like should have probably stopped at 12. (With the exception of DP7, I think most of these should have stopped at 12). Psi-Force starts off as a pretty strong and fun read. There’s some quirks to the book; for example, the extremes of some of the characters; for example Wayne is over the top, kind of a pushy punk; while Kathy is an over the top “Valley Girl.” The other three characters (Michael Crawley, who would later end up as a part of DP7’s title; Anastasia, who is Russian, I feel like she was written way too Americanized, there was no Russian dialogue, like we see Colossus of the X-Men use amidst his English speaking; and Tyrone, who I think was probably the best written in the series). Like Star Brand and Justice, Psi-Force even got Fabian to write for the book (who I am an avid fan of – everything from his work on Nomad to his run of New Warriors, Thunderbolts, etc!) However, Fabian didn’t seem to find his footing while writing the issues he did for Psi-Force, and as the book rotated through creative teams, the book floundered for final bit; especially once the events of the Pitt were forced on all the books. However, I did like the concept of the book and how the characters were linked to create Psi-Hawk. So, despite some floundering and bad issues near the end, I’d land this book with a “C” for a grade – because at least everything before The Pitt is an entertaining read.
I don’t understand how this book wasn’t selected to go for 32 issues (or at least more than the 12 it was granted), when a book like Justice was. Nightmask was an interesting character, interesting power; and the potential for telling stories with this character were pretty limitless; because he essentially entered people’s dreams and interacted with them while they were in their dreamstate. So you could throw out all the rules of reality when he was in the dream state, and have stories about dragons, or space ships, or anything in between. My sole comfort is that Nightmask got a lot of great use later, during The Pitt and The Draft. However, his ultimate fate, after the events of The War, were that he could physically manifest his own nightmares, which drove him to the point of insanity. So kudos for making an excellent character and rendering him completely useless by the end of The New Universe. Ruling all the other stuff outside of his own series here, I’d give this book a pretty solid “B.”
This is where it was at. I was glad to see my memory of this book remained correct. DP7 is so perfectly written; and the art is so freaking great. And the best thing? The creative team of Mark Gruenwald and Paul Ryan remained for the entire 32 issue run of the book. These guys were in it, and they cared about these characters and it showed. DP7 was not afraid to interact with the rest of the New Universe, having guest appearances from Kickers, Inc. when the clinic hires them to track down DP7, to fighting against Psi-Force. The story really focused on what I think the entire New Universe should have done; and that is the characters themselves. DP7 delivers non stop character development, while putting these Paranormals on some pretty fantastic adventures, as they seek to escape the Clinic. Even during the events of The Pitt and The Draft, while these were definitely the weaker moments of the book (I can’t help but feel that Mark had other plans, and was forced to adjust all of his plans to fall in line with the events of the Pitt and The Draft) – even during those weaker moments, this book shined above all the other New Universe titles. It dealt with the oddity of powers, the consequence of having them, not fitting in, racism, addiction; you name it this book covered it. This book definitely lands a solid “A+” – even despite those few issues where Mark was clearly forced to shove the Pitt/Draft stories as a part of his story.
So Star Brand, wanting to get rid of his power and pass his power on to something inanimate, flies up into the sky and slams his symbol onto some dumb bells; the result (inexplicably, I might add) a massive explosion that essentially disintegrates Pittsburgh, creating a massive crater where the city once was. Thousands of people die. The story features, mostly The Witness, who is a man who died, and upon death, discovered his paranormal ability was to “live on” as a spirit; a Witness if you will. He first appeared in the DP7 annual (having died there in a car accident, then went on to witness the origins of all the members of DP7 essentially). Well, he is drawn to Ken just seconds before he imparts his Star Brand on the dumb bell that causes the explosion. The events from Star Brand and The Pitt begins a cross over across all of the titles; impacting most of the titles still going, for the worse. However, if you take out the fact the consequences of The Pitt, the story is actually told fairly well, and has some cool character moments for The Witness. I would give The Pitt a “B” for a score.
The events of The Pitt trigger The Draft as the United States believes that the attack on Pittsburgh was a foreign nation declaring war. The Draft is automatically implemented for anyone 18 years or older. The US, having now become familiar with Star Brand and others, began a Paranormal Division of their army. The issue features quite a bit of Nightmask as he works with various characters with some of the things they’ve dealt with (like Dave’s problems when he had fallen into the Pitt while looking for his friend, Jeffry Walters and believed he was going to die; also, Nightmask helped Jeffrey Walters deal with the death of his family, who had been visiting Pittsburgh when the explosion of The Pitt happened). Over all, The Draft is an entertaining story, and I’d give it a “B+” because of some of the cool character developments that happened.
Now, you’d think since I was scoring The Pitt and The Draft pretty high, that Marvel was at least taking care of The New Universe when it came to graphic novels, right? Wrong. The War is a four issue graphic novel, that over all, I felt fell flat. They introduced some new cool and fun Paranormal characters in the series. That was definitely a high light to the series. However, by the end, as it turns out – the “baby Star Brand energy thing” – creates an event called “The Black Event” – as opposed to the White Event – in which it dismantles all forms of weapons to cease functioning; including guns, tanks, bombs, etc, and basically delivers a speech about the world must learn to live with one another peacefully. One moment I did like was when Nightmask takes it in his own hands and takes out Blowout (Harlan Mook) by shooting him in the head, after Blowout had gone around, teleporting and exploding and thus murdering hundreds of innocent people because of his anti-government beliefs. However, the end result of this action, was that Nightmask became consumed with guilt of killing someone and discovered that he suddenly could physically manifest his own nightmares and make them real; all of them dealing with Harlan’s head with a bullet hole in them. Over all, the series was pretty flat. It had it’s moments, but nothing really stands out. I’d give this 4 issue graphic novel a “C-.”
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