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1986 was the 25th anniversary of Marvel Comics. That is, the company itself had existed since 1939, but it started calling itself Marvel in 1961; similarly, the comic that launched the Marvel Universe, Fantastic Four, had started publishing in November of that year. The Powers That Were decided that it was time for something new.
Thus, The New Universe was launched. It was a new imprint with new heroes operating in a new world. It aimed to be more realistic, with harder science and lower power levels than the regular Marvel Universe. The slogan of The New Universe was "The World Outside Your Window".
Problems set in almost immediately. Some writers apparently didn't get the memo that The New Universe was supposed to be just like the real world up until a single occurrence, "The White Event", introduced superpowers; they created comics with pre-existing magic realms, aliens, and powered armor suits as their premises. The line's budget was cut unexpectedly by Marvel Comics higher-ups. After the first year, four titles were canceled. Those in charge tried to salvage the line by having big shake-ups, such as "The Black Event", in which one of the paranormals accidentally destroys Pittsburgh, plunging America into war. Unfortunately, it was no longer "The World Outside Your Window", and readers continued to hemorrhage.
In 1989, all The New Universe titles were cancelled.
In more recent years, the whole thing has been looked on with a kind of fondness, despite its Dork Age status in the eyes of readers. In fact, Dork Age status -- in comics -- can be an artistic asset, since the talent can make drastic experimental changes to such a property and there will be few complaints.
The New Universe was revisited in the pages of Quasar and Exiles. In February and March of 2006, Marvel published several Untold Tales of The New Universe, featuring new stories set before the Black Event. In December of 2006, a new series premiered, written by Warren Ellis and titled newuniversal. While based on The New Universe, it takes place in a fresh continuity, as well as a Parallel Universe where the differences include China being the dominant power in space exploration. Most of the characters are re-imagined to focus on the original's strengths. Sadly, the series lasted only ten issues before Ellis lost most of his scripts due to hard drive failure. After Marvel moved Ellis to new projects, the series' future was hanging in limbo for several years before its' inevitable official cancellation
Jim Shooter, editor-in-chief of Marvel at the time and creator of the New Universe, went on to found another comics universe at Valiant Comics, which can be seen as having similarities to the concept.
In recent years, the TV series Heroes has done well with its similar concept of ordinary people in a realistic world gaining superpowers. Also, "The New U" concept is vaguely similar to the Wild Cards novels, which were launched at around the same time.
Titles in The New Universe include:
- Spitfire and the Troubleshooters/Codename: Spitfire - Jennifer "Jenny" Swensen, a Hollywood Nerd girl inventor and professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, develops a Powered Armor. She goes on to have adventures with a team consisting of her five prodigy engineering students. Less awesome in execution then the premise makes it sound. The title changed marks when the Troubleshooters dissolved. One was killed in battle, one permanently crippled, and the other three went into retirement. Under both formats the title lasted for 13 issues, from October, 1986 to October, 1987. Spitfire continued appearing in other books as a member of an ensemble cast. But was eventually mutated to a Chrome Champion.
- Star Brand - Kenneth Connell, a mechanic from Pittsburgh, is given vast cosmic powers by the titular Artifact of Doom. He initially attempts to use them as a genuine superhero, but that doesn't work in this kind of world. He eventually decides to get rid of his powers and lead a normal life. However, his attempt to do so results in the aforementioned destruction of Pittsburgh. It's later revealed that due to a Stable Time Loop, the White Event was caused by Connell's older self making an earlier attempt to get rid of the Star Brand. storylines eventually explored other wielders of the Star Brand. the series lasted for 19 issues, from October, 1986 to May, 1989.
- DP 7 - A group of patients at a clinic for newly-mutated superhumans. The series lasted for 32 issues from November, 1986 to June, 1989. There was also an Annual published.
- Justice - John Tensen is a Knight Templar who thinks he's from a Magical Land. In later issues, a Retcon reveals that he's actually a DEA agent who's been under the influence of a delusion induced by one of his enemies. He takes it upon himself to judge his fellow paranormals: "If they are [using their powers properly], he leaves them in peace. If they are not, he leaves them in pieces." With his right hand ("sword hand") able to generate energy blasts of high intensity and heat and his left hand ("shield hand") generating Deflector Shields, Tensen is typically able to best his opponents. His series lasted 32 issues, from November, 1986 to June, 1989. Through a dimension-traveling adventure, Justice was later added to the world of Marvel 2099.
- Kickers, Inc. - Pro football players form a superhero team. Seriously. To be fair, only the quarterback had actual superpowers. The title was not overly successful, and did not particularly fit with the premise of the New Universe. It lasted for 12 issues, from November, 1986 to October, 1987.
- Mark Hazzard: Merc - A normal mercenary with a conscience in a world of superhumans. Hazzard is a veteran of The Vietnam War, and had trouble finding work in areas not related to combat. Part of his series reflects how his mercenary career negatively reflected his marriage and had storylines involving his divorce. His self-contained story ended with his death, though the final issue was an epilogue focusing on the supporting cast. The series consisted of an Annual and 12 regular issues, running from November, 1985 to October, 1987.
- Nightmask - Keith Remsen is a therapist who can enter dreams. Further applications and disturbing implications concerning his powers were explored through his appearances. His series lasted 12 issues, from November, 1986 to October, 1987. But his storyline continued in other books, with Nighmask as part of an ensemble cast.
- Psi-Force - Teens with Psychic Powers, brought together by a Native American CIA agent who also has Psychic Powers. The teens can combine their mental energy to create a powerful "gestalt entity" called Psi-Hawk. There were several changes in line-up and complex storylines. The series included an Annual and 32 regular issues, lasting from November, 1986 to June, 1989.
As noted, disappointing sales resulted in the cancellation of four titles (Kickers, Inc., Marc Hazzard: Merc, Nightmask and Code Name: Spitfire). The other titles continued, and Marvel also published some one-shots and mini-series set in the New U, post-Black Event:
- The Pitt (March, 1988)- A one shot detailing the destruction of Pittsburgh and its aftermath.
- The Draft (November, 1988) - Another one shot, in which the American military responds to the Black Event by creating an all-paranormal fighting force. There are efforts to have all available paranormals registered, accounted for, and used for military purposes. The one-shot mostly reveals the fate of some familiar faces and introduces new protagonists. Repercussions were explored in the still ongoing series.
- The War (October, 1989-March, 1990)- A mini-series in which the New Universe goes to war. Will this lead to The End of the World as We Know It? Blaming the destruction of Pittsburgh on a known group of Soviet paranormals, the United States prepare for war against the Soviet Union. The first battle of World War III takes place in Africa. American paranormals are sent to assist South Africa against Cuba, in a conflict based on the historical South African Border War (1966-1989).
The New Universe titles provide examples of:
- Acrofatic: Blur from DP 7 started this way.
- Adults Are Useless: In Psi-Force, the protagonists' adult mentor is killed in the first issue. Other adult characters in the book are inept or evil.
- All Your Powers Combined: How Psi-Force summons the Psi-Hawk.
- Alternate Company Equivalent: Star Brand's more-than-passing resemblance to Green Lantern was noted almost immediately, and became the topic of several parodies and critiques of the New Universe. After its cancellation, Jim Shooter admitted in an interview that the earliest concept behind the New Universe was to do the DC universe "Marvel-style", but it mutated along the way; by the time the books reached the stands only Star Brand -- the Green Lantern Expy -- remained from that original idea.
- Artifact of Doom: The Star Brand.
- Author Appeal: Writer Mark Gruenwald apparently loved his home state Wisconsin -- which was the setting for much of DP 7.
- Ax Crazy: John Tensen, whether you're talking about the one in Justice or in newuniversal.
- The Baby Trap: In Star Brand, Ken clearly wrongly accuses his girlfriend Debbie of this.
- The Beatles: In newuniversal, one of the first indications the series takes place in a Parallel Universe is a news report saying that John Lennon is celebrating his 66th birthday--and Paul McCartney was the Beatle assassinated by a deranged fan.
- Betty and Veronica: Star Brand had this, with Jerkass Ken Connell mainly concerned with who he was attracted to more; Hot Mom Barbara and The Ditz Debbie "Duck" Fix. He eventually goes with the Duck, because she seems to be blindly devoted to him due to apparent self-esteem issues whereas Barbara and her kids would be in danger from the Star Brand (one of which seems to already have been altered by a Star-Brand powered Mind Screw). To be fair, Connell cements his Jerkass status by being temporarily attracted to Barbara's 15-year-old babysitter and sleeping with Anything That Moves.
- Cold War: A factor in some of the stories.
- Comes Great Insanity: The newuniversal one-shots Conqueror and 1959 strongly suggest that whoever has the power of Justice will end up Ax Crazy. In Psi-Force, both Rodstvow and Shivowtnoeh are driven insane by their powers.
- Cool Old Lady: Lenore "Twilight" Fenzl in DP 7.
- Deus Ex Machina: The War plays this trope pretty straight--The Star Child stops the fighting by disabling every weapon on Earth.
- Faking the Dead: Justice does it in his Untold Tales issue.
- Five-Man Band: The Troubleshooters, until most of them were either crippled or killed.
- Forbidden Zone: "The Pitt", the huge crater which is all that's left of Pittsburgh after The Black Event.
- Freak-Out: Dennis in DP 7 had at least one of these, most notably after realizing that his acidic skin secretions meant he could not safely touch another person, much less have sex with them.
- Genre Savvy: Demonstrated by a comic book writer attending a convention along with Star Brand (who was at the time attempting to be a masked hero in the traditional mold). The writer methodically dismantled all the comic book tropes that Connell was depending on to demonstrate why comic book-style heroes were unrealistic and unworkable. In particular, he showed just how much identifying information he could get from physically seeing the cowled Star Brand (height, build, eye color, skin color, and the approximate size and shape of Connell's nose, among other details), which he pointed out could then be used to significantly narrow down a search of, say, driver's license records.
- Healing Hands: Anastasia Inyushin in Psi-Force.
- Heel Face Turn: Thomas Boyd in Psi-Force.
- Hollywood Autism: Johnny Do from Psi-Force is severely autistic. He also has Playing with Fire powers. This is not a good combination.
- I Just Want to Be Normal: Kathy Ling of Psi-Force and Stephanie Harrington of DP 7 , among others.
- Intrepid Reporter: Andrew Chaser, who befriends Tyrone Jessup of Psi-Force and eventually writes a book about the team, Power for the Preying. He also has a memorable run-in with President Evil Philip Nolan Voigt.
- Jerkass: Kenneth Connell in Star Brand, Dennis "Scuzz" Cuzinski in DP 7 , Wayne Tucker in Psi-Force.
- Killed Off for Real: Happens to the main character in the last issue of Marc Hazzard: Merc.
- Knight Templar: John Tensen, aka "Justice".
- Laser-Guided Amnesia: Wayne Tucker, Psi-Force's telepath, uses this a lot. Usually to make people forget they saw him and his friends, but occasionally for more drastic purposes.
- Magical Native American: Emmett Proudhawk, the CIA agent who bring the members of Psi-Force together.
- Mass Super-Empowering Event: The White Event, the source of all the super powers.
- No Celebrities Were Harmed: Two of the people given powers by the White Event were Ronald Reagan and Ayatollah Khomeini.
- Parental Abandonment: Happened--violently--to the main character and his sister at the start of Nightmask.
- Person of Mass Destruction: Ken Connell in Star Brand. He accidentally vaporizes Pittsburgh.
- Power Incontinence: About half the cast in DP 7 had problems controlling their abilities.
- Power Tattoo: The Star Brand, literally.
- President Evil: Philip Nolan Voigt, a sociopath hungry for power of any kind, uses his ability to absorb other paranormals' powers to become President.
- Psychic Powers: All the major characters in Psi-Force had them. Also, Justice could tell whether other paranormals were good or evil by reading their auras.
- Real Time: At least originally intended to run in this, but the end result varies. Notably when the Exiles visit New Universe, it's still 1987 in there.
- Retcon: Used to explain away the Magical Land in Justice and the aliens in Star Brand, both of which were originally intended to be taken at face value.
- Secret Identity: Attempted briefly by Ken Connell as Star Brand, until a comic book writer he met at an SF convention demonstrated how unrealistic the standard comic book version was.
- She Fu: In DP 7 , housewife Stephanie Harrington only knew cheerleader moves from her high school days, but her power gave her a degree of protection, so she was able to use these in combat.
- Self-Made Orphan: Sedara Bakut of Psi-Force kills her father when he betrays her people.
- Sphere of Destruction: What Ken Connell made when he tried to get rid of the Star Brand. It was The SOD That Ate Pittsburgh.
- Super Empowering: Anyone that the possessor of the Star Brand touches can get the Brand, too.
- Super Mode: Scuzz from DP 7 found that he had this when he learned that he could make his body erupt in acidic flames by getting mad. He called himself "Scorcher".
- Superpower Meltdown: One of the Star Brands depowers Philip Nolan Voight by overloading him with all the paranormal abilities on Earth.
- Super Speed: The power of Jeff "Blur" Walters from DP 7.
- Super Strength: Several paranormals had some form of it, most notably David "Mastodon" Landers from DP 7.
- Teleporters and Transporters: Sedara Bakut, a character from later issues of Psi-Force, can create door-like portals in space.
- Another character, Blow Out, has a different version of this power.
- There Are No Therapists
- Averted in Nightmask as the main character IS a therapist.
- Also averted in Star Brand because the Jerkass is friends with a therapist, but constantly ignores or runs away from his sound advice.
- Averted ridiculously in DP 7 since it takes place at a clinic for paranormal research. While there are a few bad apples (mostly in the upper echelons), a large chunk of the staff seem to be on the level.
- And nastily subverted in The Draft and The War. Sometimes the therapist makes mistakes...
- Ultimate Universe: newuniversal.
- Up to Eleven: Philip Nolan Voight of DP 7 can duplicate any paranormal's powers, but amplified. One of the Star Brands eventually depowers him by overloading him and causing a Superpower Meltdown.
- Vetinari Job Security: In Spitfire and the Troubleshooters #5, the heroine's engineer buddies try to operate the robot without her. Not only do they fail miserably, but they overheat the robot's power pack, and only the intervention of Ken "Star Brand" Connell prevents the resulting explosion from taking out downtown Boston.
- Funny Aneurysm Moment: After he saves their butts, Connell gives the engineers a stern lecture on using their power responsibly. A few months later, Connell's attempt to get rid of his power results in the destruction of Pittsburgh. It's almost Foreshadowing, except that "The Black Event" probably hadn't been planned by the writers yet.
- Vigilante Man: Justice.