The New Universe Did NOT Suck.

Last Monday, I did a giant post on the classic Wild Cards books, which brought comic book superheroes and real world events and science together in literary form. Today, we’re looking at what was essentially the comic book version of that: Marvel’s The New Universe, which promised “the world outside your window”.

Both the New Universe and Wild Cards got going at around the same time (New Universe first started coming out in 1986, and the first Wild Cards book was published in 1987), but while Wild Cards is still going, the New Universe crashed and burned: of the 8 series that started it, only 3 made it past a 12th issue (tho StarBrand did become bi-monthly and made it to 19), and the line itself died in 1989. The best comic in the series, Mark Gruenwald’s D.P.7, actually shared a ton of traits with the Wild Cards series.

Both series had a clinic for the super powered as a major location, both tried to incorporate scientific based explanations and reactions to powers (both had speedster characters whose powers required them to eat constantly because of the increase in their metabolic rate, for example, something that was later taken from D.P.7 and used in the Flash), both had secretly powered characters using their ability to become politically powerful, etc. The only other book that I thought was as good as D.P.7 was the slightly similar Psi-Force (one of the characters even ended up in D.P.7), which was a sort of X-men riff, with 5 super powered on the run teenagers brought together by a telepath. Only in Psi-Force the telepath gets killed immediately, and the 5 kids can psionically create a psychic super version of him that has all their abilities. Sort of like a mutant Voltron. While it shared the “powers on the run” aspect of D.P.7, Psi-Force took more of an espionage path, with the teens constantly tangling with the KGB, and the series is also notable as being one of the earliest comic runs by artist Mark Texeira.

Of the shorter lived series, I was also a fan of Nightmask, where a coma patient was granted the power to walk through people’s dreams. It was an interesting series, in that the main character used his powers more as a sort of super psychiatrist. But that’s probably part of why the series didn’t really succeed, and Nightmask ended up resigned to back up features and a supporting role when the New Universe went to war…

Basically, when the decision was made to axe half the titles and rehaul the series to bring it more in line with the “world outside your window”/superpowers in the real world would have consequences concept, Mark Gruenwald was given the opportunity to go to town on the New Universe status quo by destroying a city: Pittsburgh was obliterated at the end of an issue of StarBrand, when the main character tried to relieve himself of his powers by transferring them to a barbell. No, seriously.

This would spill over into the remaining New Universe titles, as the US Army, believing foreign terrorists to be responsible for turning Pittsburgh into a pit, would start drafting super powers into the Army and CIA. This would be a huge part of the latter half of D.P.7’s run.

After the series died, this plot was used to create a 4 issue mini series intended to give the New U closure. Alas, I’ve actually never read this one, so I can’t speak to quality. But I think the fact that Gruenwald didn’t have anything to do with it is telling.

Two decades later, no less a talent than Warren Ellis would try to pick the series up and revamp it under the title of NewUniversal. Ellis was never a fan of the original New Universe though, and so he pretty much completely abandoned any similarities to the original series in favor of a universe that was different from ours from the beginning, and then there was some weird stuff where every one’s powers basically came from having a tattoo or glyph a la the original Star Brand and whatever. I dunno, I could never get into it, and in the end Ellis’ computer ate his notes and he had to abandon the series before ever finishing it. Might have been for the best, honestly.

The actual New Universe has seldom been seen since the line folded in 1989. Mark Gruenwald often snuck New Universe characters into his run on Quasar in the 90s, and brought the New U into the Marvel multi-verse (tho he did “quarantine” them), and several of the characters would appear in Exiles, when a rampaging Proteus would take over the body of New Universe character Justice. Marvel also put out some Tales Of The New Universe one shots to promote NewUniversal, but none of them were worth speaking of; the D.P.7 issue was especially horrid, with artwork that made a giant character like Mammoth the same size as everybody else. Other than that, we don’t get to see any of these guys very much. That kind of bums me out. Because despite the rep as a failure, the New Universe definitely did not suck.

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