The New Universe (1986) Mar 18, 2015 23:39:41 GMT -6
Post by BlackScorpionIII on Mar 18, 2015 23:39:41 GMT -6
Marvel's New Universe
The New Universe line broke in 1986 and it didn't last long. Although 8 titles were launched, none of them existed after 3 years. Wikipedia says it was the brainchild of Jim Shooter, likely in an effort to relaunch the Marvel U. In reality, there were a dozen writers working on these titles.
So let me tell you about it more generally. What if the Marvel U was one that didn't have thousands of mutants/inhumans/whatever or superteams? What if the Marvel U was not superpowered at all? That was the backdrop for the New Universe. Marvel was going to make a universe where the heroes, the villains, and the fantastic really stood out again. So they invented a new universe where nothing super happened until a "white event" occurred and some people just got inundated with powers and such.
What's so bad about that?
Well first, the new heroes and villains were...lame. Just lame. DP7 was a roaming team of outcasts with super powers. Not bad, right? It had a speedster, a strongman, etc. How could it go wrong? Well, the team just looked more average than we're used to. A team with a chubby dude and a granny? That's not what the X-Men looked like. So what about armored heroes like Iron Man? Well, New Universe gave us Spitfire. Was it a charismatic millionaire playboy using his ingenuity to fight the Ruskies? Nope. It was Spitfire and the Troubleshooters. No millionaire playboy. Instead a female researcher developed a suit that could pretty much function on its own. Then a class of teens accompanied Spitfire in missions to take down some terrorists.
And then there's Kickers. Sorry- Kickers, INC. This was a team of fast/invulnerable heroes for hire...That were pro football players. Their new powers were nothing special. Their stories weren't special either. They went through 7 writers in the first 10 issues.
New Universe is an easy target. Just point to how dumpy their mutant superteam looked in comparison to X-Men/Factor. Grab any issue of Justice and stare in awe at the mullet. Go to any shop's 25 cent bin and New Universe has been reppin' for almost 30 years. That's really the only place it's been reppin, because I think even the Warren Ellis couldn't garner interest in it. "New Universe" is synonymous with "failure" in comics. And everybody even knew it then. As evidence, check out this spoof comic, "Failed Universe" that came out in 1986: starlogged.blogspot.com/2014/10/1986-failed-universe-blackthorne.html
...But I'm going to bat for it. Not all of it. But I'm going to bat for it.
Why it's worth defending: Sell us on why your defending this crap!
The easiest response is that you're not going to overpay for these issues. But honestly, there's gold in them hills.
I'm not going to get any credibility in recounting these comics until you at least invest in some of the talent that made this stuff. Gerry Conway, Archie Goodwin, Peter David, Steve Englehart, Cary Bates, and Fabian Nicieza. I think that's an oddball assortment of writers. Some of these guys did their best work more than a decade before New Universe, and others were about to become rising stars. I like a lot of those guys. But the guy that really does it for me in the Bronze Age has always been Mark Gruenwald. He started writing for the New U right as Squadron Supreme was ending and right as he was picking up his decade-long run on Captain America. What I'm saying is that the New U may have had some bad premises, terrible marketing, and bad design, but there were some very capable people that could produce.
But let's revisit one of Gruenwald's titles, DP7. If you think about people with powers being feared, captured, and threatened by government operatives, that's kind of the narrative of mutants in the X-Men universe. But until Morrison's run, the X-Men were always...well, hot. These were peak athletes with unbelievable bodies. They were all about the same age and race. Morrison got praise for having chubby characters or people with powers that were gross or useless. And that's the same stuff that Gruenwald brought. Following the white event that gave people powers, Gruenwald wrote about a therapy group that left a compound. Their powers were painful, counterproductive, and a real burden. The guy with superspeed couldn't turn it off. And he had all those old Wally West drawbacks of having to eat constantly. The guy with superstrength was in incredible pain from the surge in his muscle development. This was a mutant story that did more to humanize its outcast characters than X-Men had. Gruenwald was way ahead of his time.
Then there's the creative stuff that happened that ya just wouldn't see in the regular Marvel U. Take Justice, for instance. The guy's backstory reads like Punisher's. He was a cop and he lost his wife/fiance/something to some mob guys. He ends out getting powers and doling out punishment with extreme prejudice. One of his powers is being able to spot whether or not someone is a good guy or bad guy. And this leads to some ruthless decisions to execute people that haven't really done anything. The creative stuff here is that...Well, he's crazy. The guy has this impression of being a space cop from another universe and it's just not true. Peter David started writing Justice and David did something even more daring: David wrote things so that even Justice's powers were some kind of delusion the whole time. When people read Punisher in the 80s/90s, they were enjoying that Dirty Harry element and getting titillated by these revenge stories. Watching this guy dole out punishment was a little uncomfortable though. It's just an unstable dude with all kinds of power and no remorse.
Let's look at the big picture with the New U, though. I'm not a fan of huge retcons and crossovers, so just having a different universe is an appealing way of launching something big and..."new". The vision of introducing powers and the incredible to a real world is something that writers have been doing decades afterwards because it makes the special stuff special. In a world overwhelmed by super stuff, it's the human stuff that's special (See: Astro City). But in a world with only mundane humans, the super stuff is truly amazing. New Universe was way ahead of its time in addressing the real world and putting a handful of supers in it. I think it's a great device that worked well when writers actually cared.
My recommendation is to leave Kickers and Spitfire alone, but sparing $1 for some of the other titles can deliver something solid. Yes, there are mullets. Yes, there were all kinds of production issues that were a nightmare. Yes, everything just looks kinda scuzzy. But take a look back at the Bronze Age and tell me what the good stuff is that you remember. Once you take out milestone crossovers and the Golden Age-worshipping stuff (-I loooooooove All Star Squadron), the New U is probably the best representation of what the Bronze Age was. If you liked the Bronze Age, this is for you.