Transmission Date: Oct. 5 2012
In a comics landscape where entire universes and years of continuity are being shredded in the name of “Easy access” to create a whole New universe that is accessible to the new reader. Accessible to those who do not want to trudge through years of back history to be able to truly understand a book.
Dc comics, with years of relaunches and reboots under its belt last year took the proverbial plunge and did a complete “big bang” on their universe. This is not their first try at restarting their history. There was Crisis, there was Zero Hour, then there was 52 and then..well you get the point.
Marvel Comics, who shunned DC for the reboot is on the verge of their own universe exploding event Marvel Now.
Even Valiant Comics after three straight relaunches, is back with another reboot.
We are doomed to repeat history…or so the saying goes.
Transmission reset: 1986
1986 Marvel is celebrating their 25th anniversary made a decision to step outside of their years of continuity, years of conflicting story lines and characters, years of far reaching credibility destroying arcs that were bogging down creative efforts at Marvel. It would be Marvels editor In Chief Jim Shooter who would come up with the idea of creating a brand new world, complete with its own set of heroes, teams, villain’s and concepts. It would be 100% divorced from the Marvel Universe and more based in reality. There would be no Gods like Thor, there would be no aliens like the Skrulls or even ROM, There would be no fantastic magic like Dr. Strange could produce. These heroes would be born out of an major cataclysmic happening. The White Event.
With the tagline “What would happen if normal people became superhuman overnight” thus was born Marvels ill fated…
Like all launches, relaunches, and reboots they were born out of the best of intentions. The heavy marketing campaign behind the New Universe promised the start of the next big thing in comics. This was the 80s version of the birth of their own superhero universe. The readers of the 80s were getting their own version of Lee and Kirbys Marvel launch in the 60s.
Creators including Jim Shooter, Archie Goodwin, Eliot R. Brown, John Morelli, Mark Gruenwald, Tom DeFalco and Michael Higgins jumped on board to create such titles as Star Brand, PSI Force, Spitfire and the Troubleshooters, Nightmask, Kickers Inc., DP7, Justice and Merc.
The initial launch did reasonably well sales wise with Star Brand leading the charge and there was some hope at Marvel that they had something, but it was a short lived celebration as creatively the New Universe would implode. Shooter who had hoped to entice industry leading talents to join his books suddenly was handed a big budget cut and vision was suddenly cut short.
Titles began to have talent quickly swap out or leave the books entirely and story lines began to lose focus and the overall quality and vision of the project began to suffer early on. Shooter was formally replaced as Editor in Chief by Tom Defalco who attempted a last minute hail mary to save the project. It would be too late.
Even with franchise savers like John Byrne taking creative reigns on one of the flagship titles, in 1989 the New Universe project ended. DP7, Justice, and Psi Force were the only remaining titles at that point that manager to reach 32 issues.
The majority of the other books last only to issue 12, the exception being Star Brand who life span was increased by the injection of John Byrne’s artwork but ended at issue 19.
Though the New Universe has been seen from time to time in two one shots graphic novels (The WAR and The Draft), scattered appearances in Marvel titles such as Quasar, Namor and some 2099 titles and a 2000s revisit called the New Universal, the original concept of the New Universe for all intents and purposes was dead.
On a personal note I was a fan of the New Universe and collected some of these titles late into their runs. I bought Kickers Inc., Spitfire, and Justice at the time of their launch. I managed to grab back issues of all titles after the fact and now own the complete set of the original run digitally. It was sad to watch titles suffer with poor artwork on late issues of Merc, and Justice to name a few notable series. I would love to see someone take a serious stab at bringing back the original New Universe separated from the Marvel continuity with a solid creative team this time.
So what do we take away from the New Universe. It was an attempt to create something new, which ran into a creative black hole, slashed budgets and broken promises. It became what it was trying to replace. DC and Marvel face the same risk. Complete relaunches like the New 52 are already showing signs of losing steam. Many launch titles were cancelled, creative teams have publicly exited titles on bad terms citing editorial and creative challenges. The core titles such as Batman and Superman and their spin offs will always be around in some form however when do we call an experiment a failure or when do we recognize the warning signs and repair before the ship goes down. Today’s Marvel and Dc can take a big history lesson from the New Universe project. Fans can smell trouble especially when it pours over into the product on our shelves or computers.
Its sad I did not ever get to buy a Star Brand T-shirt or a Justice action figure but a little light in the world will go out when projects like the New Universe stop being made.
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