The 'White Event'.

THE NEW UNIVERSE

Original Medium: Comic books
Published by: Marvel Comics
First Appeared: 1986
Creator: Jim Shooter
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The Marvel Comics line has always been characterized by frequent crossovers, creating a strong illusion that they all lived in the same world, and were liable to run into each other at the supermarket or on the sidewalk. That tradition was always there, but the frequency of such encounters shifted into high gear with the 1961 debut of The Fantastic Four, which is when fans started getting the …

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… "all in one world" impression. There were crossovers before that, such as when Millie the Model met Sherry the Showgirl or Sun Girl became The Human Torch's partner, but that was when The Marvel Universe is generally held to have begun.

Accordingly, the 25th anniversary of The Fantastic Four was also the anniversary of The Marvel Universe itself. Naturally, such a momentous occasion had to be celebrated by something equally momentous. Editor-in-chief Jim Shooter, who got his start in the comics industry by writing DC's Legion of Super Heroes, came up with the idea that nothing would do, short of creating an entirely new Marvel Universe, from scratch — even better than the first, in that it would be carefully designed by experts, rather than accreting haphazardly according to the whims of writers who cared about nothing beyond the needs of the current story.

Shooter enlisted the aid of many fellow Marvel editors and writers, including Archie Goodwin (Manhunter), Mark Gruenwald (Squadron Supreme) and Tom DeFalco (Dazzler), to design a story backdrop. Unlike the Marvel Universe they'd been working with, this one would be carefully thought-out from the get-go, and would contain no redundancies or internal contradictions.

The New Universe (the name under which the project was promoted) would be distinguishable from the old at a glance. It would contain no mythological gods, no magical artifacts, and most telling of all, no traditional superheroes, with costumes, secret identies and stuff like that. It would, in short, be (as a phrase used in its promotion had it) "the world outside your window".

The New Universe debuted with a cover date of October, 1986, with the introduction of two titles: Star Brand and Spitfire & the Troubleshooters. The following month, four more were added: Justice, Kickers Inc., Merc and Psi Force; and the month after that, two more: D.P. 7 and Nightmask. These eight monthlies contained the entire basic premise of The New Universe.

In many ways Star Brand was the publishing venture's flagship title. It opened with The White Event, which set in motion many of the universe's defining characteristics. It was caused by the current wielder of the immensely powerful Star Brand (which manifest itself as a mark on the user's hand) attempting to pass the power on to an asteroid, leading to a huge energy discharge, affecting the whole planet. The Star Brand was then passed on to series star Ken Connell in a near-reprise of Green Lantern's origin story, with similar results — Ken became something closely resembling a superhero (tho sometimes a plainclothes one). Nor was he the only one. Nightmask, Psi-Force and other New Universe titles displayed strong superhero overtones.

The failure of The New Universe has been blamed on company politics, which led to instability in the line's creative teams. But it's just as likely to have been an inevitable result of attempting to create a framework for stories, in advance of the stories themselves. Over the following decade, First Comics, Dark Horse and other companies found there was much to be said for haphazard accretion, as their top-down approaches to universe-creation repeatedly failed. Before long, The New Universe was in serious need of overhaul.

Within a year, half the line had been canceled, and a couple of the remaining titles had been extensively revamped. Finally, a decision was made that what was needed was a spectacular event, one that could never be allowed to happen in the mainstream Marvel Universe, something even more shocking than Lex Luthor later becoming U.S. president over at DC. In The Pitt, a 1989 graphic novel that ended the Star Brand series, Ken Connell got tired of wielding his power, and attempted to transfer it to an inanimate object. The resulting energy discharge took out Pittsburg, Pa., leaving nothing but an empty crater where it had been.

Since Pittsburg had been Shooter's home town, since the political machinations had eventually resulted in his forced resignation, and since he'd become spectacularly unpopular among Marvel's personnel, this move was characterized by some staff members as a way of shouting "… and the horse you rode in on!" at him on the way out.

This did shake things up. Naturally, the U.S. government responded by clamping down on liberty and privacy and eventually going to war with the "terrorists" who had supposedly perpetrated what was called "The Black Event". But it wasn't enough to save the line, which limped along for a few months before abruptly ending in the latter part of 1989.

A few years later, editor Mark Gruenwald (who is also known for Captain America) brought the Star Brand into mainstream Marvel comics, and got it involved with several series he was editing. It was introduced in Starblast #1 (January, 1994). At roughly the same time, writer Peter David (Aquaman) introduced a character in the "2099" sub-universe, who turned out to be the New Universe's Justice. Since then, there have been numerous minor crossovers, as The New Universe became just another parallel world Marvel characters could visit.

For its 20th anniversary, The New Universe received a minor relaunch. Only one title, New Universal, was involved in the relaunch. Writer Warren Ellis (Transmetropolitan) opined that would have been a better way to introduce The New Universe in the first place, with ancillary series possibly being spun off from that.

So far, there haven't been any spin-offs. But Marvel's record of never letting an old series be forgotten remains intact.

— DDM

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Text ©2010 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Marvel Comics.