To take full advantage of the fact that Marvel Unlimited is only 99 cents for the first month if you sign up by March 14 — which, sadly, is now in the past — Nick is trying to see how much use of the service he can get for just under a dollar. Every day, he’ll share what he read. See the previous day here.
Even though I’m failing miserably at making this a daily post, my month of Marvel Unlimited for 99 cents continues. Feeling the desire to delve into something a little more obscure, I thought to myself, “Surely the app doesn’t have any New Universe issues in its library, right?”
Au contraire! While I would have preferred Kickers, Inc. (because super-powered football player!) or Spitfire and the Troubleshooters (because I love me some armored super heroes), I settled for whatever I could find.
For those of you who missed out on the New Universe for reasons of not being born yet in 1986, it was a separate line of comics published by Marvel but existing within its own self-contained universe. The series were supposed to reflect the “world outside your window,” in the sense that super powers were just starting to appear for the first time — thanks primarily to something called the White Event — and the cosmic and more high fantasy elements of regular Marvel comics weren’t present. That meant no Galactus, no super high technology and no pantheons of gods.
For various reasons, the line never really panned out, with four books getting canceled after a year or so and the other four managing to hang on for almost three years. I don’t remember that, as I was too young at the time to pick up comics regularly, but I do remember the New Universe being pushed heavily in ads in Marvel’s standard super hero comics back then. I’m sure I picked up an issue or two. I definitely remember Pittsburgh getting destroyed later on as Marvel attempted to shake things up.
Because of the fascination almost all comics fans and writers have with these slices of the past, some of the New Universe concepts have popped up under the watch of some well-known writers over the past 25 years: Peter David, Mark Gruenwald and Warren Ellis, to name a few. Most recently, Jonathan Hickman has introduced both a Star Brand and Nightmask into the mainstream Marvel Universe, where they’ve both been serving on the super-sized team of Avengers.
And hey, if Marvel ever wants to explore a new Kickers, Inc. pitch, I’m up for the challenge!
Here’s what I found from the New Universe on Marvel Unlimited:
Star Brand #1-7
Why I read it: According to my recollections, this was the flagship New Universe title. Certainly, the titular tattoo/mark/object has been the one thing from New Universe history that has been explored most often since its demise.
What I thought: Definitely not horrible. Main character Ken Connell is a car mechanic who suddenly finds himself in possession of an extremely powerful, seemingly alien mark on his body that grants him unbelievable powers. They aren’t very well-defined, but they reminded me a bit of the Sentry’s powers. In keeping with the original New Universe premise, Connell doesn’t take on a code name, come up with a costume (he does have a suit given to him by the Old Man who gave him the Star Brand, but he doesn’t always wear it), and he barely fights any other super-powered beings in seven issues.
Instead, Connell grapples with the right way to use his powers and struggles with the effects they’re having on his personal life. Those parts are probably overdone just a bit by writer Jim Shooter, but I did like seeing his concern for normal people. For instance, he stumbles across some hijackers and realizes he’s really going to have to pull his punches to avoid killing them. And he defeats a terrorist cell by simply leading the police to them at a time when they’re caught off-guard, preventing a showy confrontation that likely would have led to the public finding out about his powers.
What’s less satisfying is anything involving the Old Man, who shows up later demanding that Connell leave with him to fight in an interstellar war far from Earth. Shooter got the heave-ho from Marvel at the end of issue 7, and it would be interesting to know what his plans for the characters were. As it stands, it almost seems like a riff on Green Lantern, but if Hal Jordan decided to use the ring on Earth and never serve in the Green Lantern Corps. It does seem a little dumb that after new writers took over, they decide to blow up Pittsburgh by having Connell transfer part of the Star Brand’s power to an inanimate object, which is the one thing he was specifically told not to do and doesn’t mesh with how he’s characterized in these issues.
I’ve already expressed my appreciation for John Romita Jr.’s art in other editions of this column, and I honestly didn’t know he did the majority of the art on this run. Like much of what I’m exploring on Marvel Unlimited, I wouldn’t call this essential reading, but it was worth my time.
D.P. 7 #1-9
Why I read it: Quite simply, it was the only other New Universe series I could find on Marvel Unlimited (after the fact, I found out Psi-Force is in the app’s library as well).
What I thought: I wasn’t as familiar with this series as Star Brand, but it too has an interesting premise. The title characters are seven people from different walks of life that all end up with powers they are struggling to control as the result of the White Event — or at least that’s what seems the most likely explanation. This series felt ahead of its time in the diversity of the group, both in terms of age (ranging from a teenager to a woman in her 60s) and race.
The group starts out at a clinic that is supposed to be helping super-powered individuals but is revealed to be brainwashing them for a purpose we don’t discover in these nine issues. That part felt a little clichéd, but the chase that ensues once the characters escape the clinic is a tense one, especially since they can’t all agree on where they should go or what they should do. Plus the clinic has its own super-powered operatives, all of whom seem much more experienced with their own abilities.
There are everyday concerns sprinkled throughout. The super-speedy guy needs to eat constantly because of his accelerated metabolism, and the group doesn’t have much money. Is stealing food okay under the circumstances? Another woman has kids she would like to see again, but her husband doesn’t want her back until she is “cured” of her powers, and the group’s efforts to reunite her with her children against her husband’s will quickly turn into a complete debacle.
I’m not sure any of the story beats on their own struck me as unique, but they’re assembled in a way that made me want to keep reading, so kudos to Gruenwald and artists Paul Ryan and Romeo Tanghal for that. Though these nine issues end on a cliffhanger of sorts, the general consensus is that the series spiraled downhill later on, so maybe stopping with these is okay.
Day 15 issues read: 16
Total issues read to date: 167