Marvel's New Universe (1986)

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Gabriel

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I started derailing my own topic about superhero RPGs by going off on a tangent about Marvel's New Universe. I figured I'd start a topic and see if anyone else wanted to wax nostalgic over it.

When it launched, I think I picked up all the #1 issues. There was a mix of good and bad. Kickers Inc was clearly going nowhere. Nightmask, Merc, Justice, Psi-Force, and Spitfire all had potential, but needed a wait and see attitude. Star Brand and DP7 were the clear standouts. That was my view and how I recall people reacting, anyway.

I gave up on all of them other than Star Brand and DP7 pretty quick. When money got tight, DP7 got dropped as well, because I needed to keep up with Star Trek (DC), Star Brand, and the X-titles. But I didn't really want to drop DP7. Soon after that, my local place to buy comics quit carrying comics, and I didn't get to the comic shop across town regularly enough to follow anything.

Star Brand 1-7 are some of my favorite 80s comics. I had no idea of the parallels between Star Brand and Green Lantern, so to me his origin was all original. I loved the saga of The Old Man.

While I was typing this, I decided to order a collection book of DP7 1-9. Time to revisit that one.
 

Tulpa Girl

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Interested to see your take on those issues, looking at them a third of a century later. Ken is an interesting protagonist in that, while he's not a villain, there are plenty of times he's not very heroic. If nothing else, he's a jerk for the way he's two-timing his girlfriend. He kinda wants to do the right thing, but he's not exceptionally clever in using his abilities to their utmost, tries to profit and benefit from his powers in ways that might not be completely ethical, and because he is so powerful is sometimes inclined to take the easy way out.
 

David Johansen

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I couldn't afford all of them but I did follow Psi Force, DP 7, and Star Brand. I dropped Star Brand after a couple issues, Psi Force after the DP7 crossover, and DP7 after they returned to the institute. I recall being really put out near the end of the line, after The Pitt when they started retconning characters right and left. All told it was an interesting experience. I suspect the exercise was really helpful to Jim Shooter when he started Valiant.

Some of the names and concepts got used in Ultimates^2 as an adversarial group headed by Philip Nelson Voight who got handed the job by the government who then promptly forgot he existed. Really, it was an interesting take and I'd have liked to see it taken farther. Everything I love gets cancelled.
 

E-Rocker

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The only New Universe comic I had as a kid was one random issue of Psi Force, but I really liked that issue. I remember writing a letter to a friend (back when people still wrote letters) and telling him Psi Force was my new favorite comic. I apparently didn't like it enough to seek out any other issues, though...
 

Silverlion

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I loved some of them, disliked others; and they did mostly falter toward the end. I think my favorite was Justice until they retconned his backstory, and made him crazy (or rather it's all a dream). After that, it was DP7 and Psi Force.
 

Voros

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I liked them at the time but can't recall them very clearly now but would like to revisit them.

Star Brand was my fav for the Romita art.

escanear0001.jpg
 

Stumpydave

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I started reading Starbrand as the back-up strip in Spiderman and Zoids and I fell in love. It was the realistic take, the whole 'World outside your window', and Ken's complicated relationships and behaviour was a big part of that.
At that point I was unaware of things like comic shops or even the rest of the titles but a friend did know about that stuff and through him I got to read DP7 and was similarly blown away.
A couple of years later I was able to get the whole run of Nightmask, most of Kickers inc and Merc plus a few assorted Justice and Spitfires from a bargain bin at a comic shop but my crowning moment was buying the entire run of DP7.

I spent my comic collecting trying to pick up everything else, I managed to get the Draft and some Starbrands. I also looked for anymention of them elsewhere so when the story continued ion Quasar I was all over that shit. I picked up the psi force and Starbrand trades when they were rereleased a while back and started collecting Newuniversal as well till that went kaplooie.

One of the things thats stopped me subscribing to Marvel unlimited is not knowing if the New Universe titles are on there (well, them and Marvel UKs early 90s stuff).
 

Gabriel

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Interested to see your take on those issues, looking at them a third of a century later. Ken is an interesting protagonist in that, while he's not a villain, there are plenty of times he's not very heroic. If nothing else, he's a jerk for the way he's two-timing his girlfriend. He kinda wants to do the right thing, but he's not exceptionally clever in using his abilities to their utmost, tries to profit and benefit from his powers in ways that might not be completely ethical, and because he is so powerful is sometimes inclined to take the easy way out.

Ken is definitely not heroic. He occasionally does heroic things, but he isn't a hero. He's just a guy.

Marvel was known for heroes with "real problems and real lives" back around this time. It was a signature of the brand. When New Universe worked, it dialed this aspect up even more.

Ken has a lot of negative qualities. He's narcissistic. He's neurotic. He is flat out abusive to women and sees them only as objects of convenience. I think it's interesting that Ken always tries to do right, but when he does his bad shit, it just comes naturally to him. He doesn't set out to be an ass, he just sort of is one.

I think in the Shooter run on Star Brand, we never see thought balloons from other characters. Only Ken gets thought balloons. I may be wrong about that, but Ken is definitely the only character in the title we really get into the head of. I found that incredibly interesting. I was into RPGs and I was playing superheroes, so that shouldn't be surprising that I really wanted to examine what a superhero might be thinking.

It was easy to sympathize with Ken. It was easy to sympathize as a teen because Ken was "cool" and got the chicks. It's still easy to sympathize as an adult because Ken is just interesting despite his negative qualities.

Some time back, I posted the page in the hospital where Ken confronts The Old Man over Duck's hospital bed. As a kid, I just thought that was a cool monologue before Ken handed The Old Man his ass. As an adult, I see how it's absolutely dripping with Ken's flaws. He doesn't even see Duck as her own person. He fills in her answers for her in this moment of life and death, because he views himself as the absolute center of the world.

I dunno. That was probably directionless rambling.
 

Ralph Dula

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I remember being angry at Byrne for a long time after reading in Comics Scene his plan for how the New Universe should end. His “great idea” was for the last issue of each series to be the first part of a story, leaving everything as a cliffhanger. He seemed genuinely upset editorial had a problem with this, nevermind he was only writing Star Brand...sorry, The Star-Brand, as it was renamed when he took over.
 

spittingimage

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I remember being angry at Byrne for a long time after reading in Comics Scene his plan for how the New Universe should end. His “great idea” was for the last issue of each series to be the first part of a story, leaving everything as a cliffhanger. He seemed genuinely upset editorial had a problem with this, nevermind he was only writing Star Brand...sorry, The Star-Brand, as it was renamed when he took over.
Every great plan needs a moment where you stop and do a sanity check.

I had a campaign concept once that hinged on time travelling stoners kidnapping Hitler as a young man, introducing him to LSD and peyote and forcing him to live a hippy lifestyle in San Francisco for ten years, after which he swore to defeat his evil time-clone and erase him from the timeline with the players' help.

"But is it a good idea?" No. Very no.
 

Gabriel

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I got and read a collection of DP7 which contained issues 1-9. I think back in the day that I had managed to pick up and read issues 1-4, as those stories seemed familiar, but the others did not. It's easy to see both why I liked DP7 and never sought it out again after I wasn't able to immediately find it.

DP7 is the most X-title like of the New Universe titles. More than any of the other titles under the imprint, it's about the characters acquiring powers out of nowhere and then having to deal with both the advantages and disadvantages of those powers. Most of the characters see the powers as being a curse, and they are seen as freaks because of their gifts.

Sometimes this element of feeling like a freak makes sense. Lenore projects fatigue causing bio-luminescence from her entire body. She has to keep herself completely covered, wearing a long coat, gloves, mask, and even a wig at all times. At points, some of the art even implies that she has to keep her eyes covered with sunglasses or something, because even showing her eyes to someone lets her bioluminescence out. Lenore has every reason to want her paranormality to go away. She has every right to feel like she's a freak and for others to think she's strange and dangerous.

But then there's Stephanie. Stephanie sparkles. When she touches someone, it CAN, but doesn't have to, increase their metabolism. In other words, beyond the sparkles, Stephanie has control over her abililites. She has gained the ability to heal others. She can also heal herself, perform feats of super strength, and has fantastic endurance. Maybe it's just me, but can you imagine how absolutely AWESOME this would be? The only drawback is that she sparkles. She freakin' sparkles. Whoop di doo. And for that, she is regarded by her husband as an absolute monster and people react to her sparkles (which seem pretty damn mild) with total shock and horror. WTF? Even her damn kids are scared of her sparkles instead of what I'd feel would be a more genuine child reaction of wonder.

Stephanie doesn't seem "cursed" to me at all. She has a mild little sparkly problem but otherwise an ability that would be awesome. And hers is one of the main ones that the story really tries to drive home as a horrible thing that she had this befall her.

The character Scuzz is a 15 year old boy whose power is that he uncontrollably exudes acid at all times from every pore of his body. He can't ever touch anyone again without burning them, especially if he's excited. He's constantly wearing out clothes within the span of a day or two because his acid eats through them. His power has an odor which causes people to constantly complain about how he stinks. Nah, he's just a dickweed acording to the story. The REAL victim is sparkly Stephanie because her sparkles make her such an alienated monster.

I had intended to just type a really quick overview of DP7, but I ended up rambling a bit on just that one point. I'll just stop there, and if anyone else wants to talk about DP7 I might post some more about what I thought about it later.

The short version was that I liked it, but not sure if I'll bother reading any more of it.
 

Tulpa Girl

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As I recall, Stephanie was pretty religious, and presumably her family may have been as well, so that may influenced how they saw even a minot bit of weirdness. Also, this was a world that didn't have any superpowers up until this point, so *any* freaky shit is going to stand out. Finally, in Stephanie's case, I think there may have been an aspect of 'keeping the dutiful housewife in her place'.
 

Stumpydave

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I loved how Mastodon described getting his powers was incredibly painful - up till then I'd never considered superpowers as anything other than a benefit so having the downsides of them pointed out blew my 13 year old mind.
 

Gabriel

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As I recall, Stephanie was pretty religious, and presumably her family may have been as well, so that may influenced how they saw even a minot bit of weirdness. Also, this was a world that didn't have any superpowers up until this point, so *any* freaky shit is going to stand out. Finally, in Stephanie's case, I think there may have been an aspect of 'keeping the dutiful housewife in her place'.

Oh, there's definitely a bit of 'keeping the dutiful housewife in her place' implied. However, I didn't get that Stephanie was deeply religious. Her religiousity seems to spontaneously appear in the religious issue, and it definitely reeks of desperation and bargaining more than any genuine sentiment. I don't recall her home being drawn with any particular religious iconography, but I'm not sure if I should attach significance to that or not. IMO, she wasn't ordinarily religious. She was only religious because she found herself in a foxhole, so to speak.

But I had another thought about Stephanie, and this may be a sign of subtle writing that suffers due to being in a comic for teens and therefore has to be written heavy handedly. The other characters may focus on Stephanie because of the entire crew she is the one whose problems seem most solvable. For several others in a far worse situation, there's nothing any of them can do. But Stephanie's problems seem surmountable. Just help her quit sparkling, which she has shown herself to already be capable of, and reunite her with her children. Easy peasy and a potential first victory they could score in their quest. None of the characters ever state the issue like that, but it would certainly make sense.
 

Gabriel

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Another thing about DP7... I don't think it was a New Universe title.

Oh, sure, it had New Universe branding. There were references to the white event. I'm told The Pitt screwed up the title beyond redemption the same as all the others. What I'm saying is that this title is very disconnected from the New Universe, as if it were an idea the author had been kicking around independently that the New Universe imprint simply allowed him to run with. Does anyone know if that's an accurate assessment?

DP7 eschews New Universe time. The idea with New Universe titles is that time would pass in the comics at roughly the same rate as in the real world. But DP7 starts some time after the White Event, placing it further ahead in time in relation to the other New Universe #1s. Then, once it's going, most stories happen very shortly after each other, meaning not much time is passing between issues. By the time issue #9 rolls around, the title is now in the past in relation to other New Universe titles.

There is very little mention of other New Universe elements. The White Event is mentioned in an extremely throwaway manner several issues in. The only crossover in the 9 issue span is with ... Kickers Inc... ugh. Even that is glossed over as an event that the writer is trying to pretend never happened. I don't even think any other New Universe characters are mentioned at all. The characters never pass TVs alluding to the exploits of Spitfire or Star Brand or Justice, or anything of that nature.

One other funny detail. The character Jeff is the speedster. In the first or second issue, it's explicitly stated that he was a manager of a Burger King. In a later issue his former franchise employer is quite noticeably scrubbed of that branding. I think the later issue says he was "manager of a convenience food business." I wonder if that change was actually for a legal reason? I also wonder if it was because Jeff had no issues with eagerly consuming large amounts of McDonalds?
 

Ralph Dula

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Another thing about DP7... I don't think it was a New Universe title.

Oh, sure, it had New Universe branding. There were references to the white event. I'm told The Pitt screwed up the title beyond redemption the same as all the others. What I'm saying is that this title is very disconnected from the New Universe, as if it were an idea the author had been kicking around independently that the New Universe imprint simply allowed him to run with. Does anyone know if that's an accurate assessment?
Originally, by all accounts everything was created at the same time, with the idea of them being integrated from the start, rather than creators bringing in a mismash of ideas that were hammered together to form a whole.



That said, Jim Shooter wrote about the New Universe a few years ago online. In it he made a comment to the effect that he’d laid out strict rules for “The World Outside Your Window,” only to have Justice’s concept laid out as it was pre-Peter David with no regard to said rules. This was followed by a budget slash by the powers that be, as well as demands for results, forcing him to roll with it. That’s a contradiction to the cohesive universe idea I heard for decades.



I’m afraid the facts may be lost to time.
 

David Johansen

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The Blur in the post Hickman universe squashing Avengers Squadron Supreme story-line was Jeff from D.P.7. When the team breaks up he ends up working for SHIELD with the original Human Torch. Really, that was the team from a lot of universes. You had original Squadron's Hyperion, Supreme Power's Night Hawk, Doctor Spectrum from a gender swapped Squadron Supreme parallel, Zarda from the original Squadron Supreme and Zarda from Supreme Power, and of course, The Blur from DP 7. Hickman's Avengers run also had a Star Brand (not Ken Connel) and a NIght Mask.

I'd actually be really interested to see a multi book, world outside your window from scratch comic line, just not one using previously existing characters.

What books would it have? I really liked D.P.7 and PSI Force. So maybe a Friends style ensemble show about people living in an apartment building when chemicals get into the water. I think I like chemicals as a unified origin. I'd rule out extraterrestrial and extra dimensional characters for the first year and start introducing that stuff slowly in the second year.

I don't think there'd be a supernatural element because it would need to be pre-existing and that undermines the world outside your window aspect.
 

Tulpa Girl

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Another thing about DP7... I don't think it was a New Universe title.

Oh, sure, it had New Universe branding. There were references to the white event. I'm told The Pitt screwed up the title beyond redemption the same as all the others. What I'm saying is that this title is very disconnected from the New Universe, as if it were an idea the author had been kicking around independently that the New Universe imprint simply allowed him to run with. Does anyone know if that's an accurate assessment?

DP7 eschews New Universe time. The idea with New Universe titles is that time would pass in the comics at roughly the same rate as in the real world. But DP7 starts some time after the White Event, placing it further ahead in time in relation to the other New Universe #1s. Then, once it's going, most stories happen very shortly after each other, meaning not much time is passing between issues. By the time issue #9 rolls around, the title is now in the past in relation to other New Universe titles.

There is very little mention of other New Universe elements. The White Event is mentioned in an extremely throwaway manner several issues in. The only crossover in the 9 issue span is with ... Kickers Inc... ugh. Even that is glossed over as an event that the writer is trying to pretend never happened. I don't even think any other New Universe characters are mentioned at all. The characters never pass TVs alluding to the exploits of Spitfire or Star Brand or Justice, or anything of that nature.

One other funny detail. The character Jeff is the speedster. In the first or second issue, it's explicitly stated that he was a manager of a Burger King. In a later issue his former franchise employer is quite noticeably scrubbed of that branding. I think the later issue says he was "manager of a convenience food business." I wonder if that change was actually for a legal reason? I also wonder if it was because Jeff had no issues with eagerly consuming large amounts of McDonalds?
Now, see, this is why I like seeing other people's perspective on things.

To me, D.P. 7 was in many ways the most 'pure' New Universe title, other than Star Brand, which functions at a more high-end level of things. Most of the other books deviated from the core concept of things springing from the White Event to at least some degree. Justice started so far off the rails you couldn't ever even see or hear the train. Merc just ignored the concept entirely. Both Spitfire and Kickers had some super-tech at the beginning. Psi-Force had people with measurable psychic potential before the White Event. Nightmask has a separate 'dreamscape' dimension. But D.P. 7 was just normal people changed by the White Event. To me, it's the only non-Star Brand book to really 'play fair' with the concept of 'the world outside your window' and the one big catalyst change that kicks things off.

As for the timeline thing, my guess is that was mainly going to be an artifact of the first year, at which point it would probably (even without the Pitt) have settled into something closer to being in real time with the other books. By the nature of the premise, it had to start a few months after the White Event, giving the Clinic time to become something that people could seek out and go to, and then once they were on the road and on the run, that also lent itself to having a more compressed, tighter time frame for things to work out.

Also, I don't think there was a whole lot of 'public' activities from the other titles for them to react to? Most of the stuff going on in Year One was 'in the shadows', so to speak.

(finally, I think Greunwald wrote the Kickers Inc issue that had DP7 in it, making it by far easily the best issue of that run)
 

Gabriel

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To me, D.P. 7 was in many ways the most 'pure' New Universe title, other than Star Brand, which functions at a more high-end level of things.

I guess I can see it both ways on that point. Admittedly, it has been a very long time since I read any of the other books in the line. I do have a trade paperback of Psi-Force but it has sat unread. Hmmm.

And maybe it's a false memory, but I recall little references sprinkled through the other books. Stuff like the nuclear bomb thing from Star Brand being referenced as a news story in one or more of the other titles. Maybe I'm grossly misremembering timing, but I had thought Nightmask crossed over with one of the other titles before they even got to issue #4. I think Spitfire appears in Star Brand fairly early on, and the encounter is referenced in Spitfire as well. I guess even of the references I think I'm recollecting, most were pretty throwaway and not explicit at all, mostly just background lines.

I guess one last note about my trip down memory lane with the DP7 collection. When I originally read the title back in the day, all but one character was older than me. The only character younger was Scuzz. Now that I've read it again, all the characters are younger than me, save one. The only character still older than me is Lenore. The pattern recognition part of my brain is misfiring, but I find an interesting if inconsequential symmetry in that.
 

Tulpa Girl

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Well, it was literally last century when I read all of those books, and all over the span of a two-week period to boot, so the fact that I'm probably misremembering at least some things is pretty much a given.
 

hawkeyefan

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My familiarity with the New Universe stuff at the time was minimal. I was a little kid, so I wasn't about to spend any money on a bunch of unknown concepts when there was X-Men, Teen Titans, and Avengers to buy. It didn't help that they had some real shit in there like Kickers, Inc.

The few issues I read later on were pretty uneven. Some of the concepts were cool, but the execution was not always there.

I really liked the reboot of it all in Warren Ellis's newuniversal from the mid 2000s, and was always sad that series ended earlier than it was supposed to. I thought it was really cool when some of the concepts showed up in Hickman's Avengers run a few years ago.
 

hawkeyefan

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And now I'm contemplating a readthrough of the various NU titles. Damnit.

Can you even find them easily these days? I mean, are they collected in trades or do you have to go rummaging through dollar boxes?

Or do they come up a lot on ebay or similar sites?
 

David Johansen

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I think there was a reprint a few years ago when, Bendis maybe, did a reboot.

I think there's some fun characters there, it's a shame they don't get much traction.
 

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I think there was a reprint a few years ago when, Bendis maybe, did a reboot.

I think there's some fun characters there, it's a shame they don't get much traction.
Warren Ellis, Newuniversal only one "collection" never finished.
 

Tulpa Girl

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Can you even find them easily these days? I mean, are they collected in trades or do you have to go rummaging through dollar boxes?

Or do they come up a lot on ebay or similar sites?
Some of it has been collected in trades, and cheap, remaindered copies are not especially difficult to come by. For the stuff that hasn't been collected, I've seen some of the runs bundled together as lots on eBay for 'please take this off my hands' prices. Finally, a phone call to a local comic book shop has elicited a promise from the owner to get me anything I can't otherwise acquire at reasonable prices... because apparently he finds the self-harm and masochism inherit in knowingly hunting down issues of Kickers Inc to be fuckin' hilarious.
Are they available on Marvel unlimited?
Not as far as I can tell. But then, MU is notoriously difficult to navigate to find stuff sometimes.
 

Stumpydave

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I've got full runs of Dp7 and night mask. I got the first volume of Starbrand and psi force they put out when they launched newuniversal and a handful of the other stories. I've also got The Draft. I'm always on the lookout for original NU stuff.
 
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