Wednesday, 22 July 2015

The other New Universe titles

Five other New Universe titles were launched in 1986 but they have yet to receive modern collected editions. But as it was a group launch it would be wrong to ignore them completely so here's a quick rundown of the books in order of first issues, looking at the initial premises and the creative teams who handled the first nine issues.


Spitfire and the Troubleshooters

Created by Eliot R. Brown and Jack Morelli who co-plot issue #1. Otherwise issues #1 to #9 are written by Gerry Conway and Cary Bates, and drawn by Herb Trimpe, Ron Wagner, Todd McFarlane, Vince Giarrano and Alan Kupperberg.

"Spitfire" is the nickname of lead character Jenny Swensen, a university lecturer who utilised her late father's robotic suit "M.A.X. 2" and travelled around with a bunch of her students, the "Troubleshooters". All six came from MIT and the students repeatedly demonstrated extraordinary technological abilities in deal with equipment and constructing exo-skeletons and armour. The earliest issues focused on Jenny's father's death and her determination to keep his legacy out of the hands of a corrupt businessman with links to the military.

This is a clear case of a New Universe series not starting from the premise that this was the ordinary world without all the fantastic technology of the regular Marvel universe. And the characters involved aren't so much ordinary as extraordinary. This series could easily have been set in the Marvel universe with only a small amount of fudging to reflect the fact that the advanced technology is more widespread there.


Nightmask

Created by Archie Goodwin. Issues #1 to #9 are written by Goodwin, Cary Bates, Roy & Dann Thomas and Sandy Plunkett, and drawn by Tony Salmons, Ernie Colon, Alex Saviuk, Ron Wagner, Arvell Jones, Javier Saltares, Michael Bair, Keith Giffen and Mark Bagley.

Keith Remsen and his sister Teddy are severely injured in a terrorist bombing. The White Event wakes Keith from his coma with the ability to enter other people's dreams whilst sleeping, with Teddy as his anchor to reality. In the dreamscape he adopts a distinctive costumed form to conceal his identity.

Although on the face of it this is a title that conforms to the "reality until the White Event" approach, Keith's father and another researcher have both been working on technology to project into dreams and this super technology underpins the origin. Otherwise this is an interesting way to create a fantasy environment out of reality, bending the rules somewhat.


Kickers, Inc.

Created by Tom DeFalco and Ron Frenz. Issues #1 to #9 are written by DeFalco, Terry Kavanagh and Dwight Jon Zimmerman, and drawn by Frenz, Howard Bender, Paul Ryan, Rod Whigham, Larry Alexander and Alan Kupperberg.

American Football player Jake Magniconte adopts the name "Mr. Magnificent" after receiving enhanced strength, reactions and endurance when he tries his brother's "Intensifier" machine to bombard the body with energy to slowly develop that way but the White Event impacts on Jake's body chemistry. Together with his wife Darlene and three other players from the Smashers they form "Kickers, Inc", a team of heroes for hire to operate off season and after they retire from the game.

I'll state up front that American Football is a sport I have absolutely no clue about. This is also an awkward hybrid of a concept that seems designed to be almost a parody of the superhero tropes combined with the requirements of the New Universe. The whole Intensifier concept is yet again the sort of fantastic technology the New Universe was supposed to start without. It would not have been impossible to rewrite the origin to supply all Mr. Magnificent's powers from the White Event but otherwise this is a somewhat traditional take.


Mark Hazzard: Merc

Created by Archie Goodwin. Issues #1 to #9 are written by Peter David and Doug Murray, and drawn by Gray Morrow, Alan Kupperberg, Mark Beachum, Vince Giarrano, Val Mayerik and Andy Kubert.

Mark Hazzard is a Vietnam veteran turned mercenary who takes contracts across the world but isn't always happy with his employers or their regular forces. At the same time he keeps disappointing all those around him, including his son and ex wife.

Although it actually predated The 'Nam's launch by one month, this is another series from much the same vein. The A-Team influence is obvious as is the more general trend of rehabilitating Vietnam vets in American culture that was taking place in the 1980s. One could make for a strong case that this series would benefit from being in its own self-contained world without either the Marvel universe heroes or the New Universe paranormals to complicate things. But though it's got the realism it lacks the big "what if" moment to transform the world from reality.


Justice

Created by Archie Goodwin. Issues #1 to #9 are written by Goodwin, Steve Englehart, Geof Isherwood and Gerry Conway, and drawn by Isherwood, Joe Staton, Tony Salmons and Keith Giffen.

A warrior arrives in this world from another with a traditional set of values and sets about dispensing justice using his alien powers to scan people's auras to determine their veracity then destroys the bad with an energy blast he calls his "sword", whilst protecting himself with another that he calls his "shield". It's established early on that he is a Knight Templar.

This is another case of a title not fitting into the basic premise at all and instead bringing humanoid aliens into it. It's also featuring a man in a costume, albeit with a trench coat over it (one of the earlier examples of trench coated heroes), that again goes against the original intentions. The low scale means it is easy to envisage this as having been set in a corner of the regular Marvel universe.


As should be clear from many of these descriptions a lot of the titles at the start just don't fit the criteria of a reality based universe without all the fantasy and super technology and with a single unexplained "White Event" as the catalyst for great changes. Both Nightmask and Kickers, Inc. use the White Event to empower their lead characters but the origins are based around super technology. Spitfire and the Troubleshooters doesn't even bother with the White Event and instead is based solely in super technology. Justice is about aliens and other dimensions. Only Mark Hazzard: Merc seems to fit a reality based universe completely and this is a series that is launched ignoring the White Event, powers and science fiction completely.

Note also the high turnover of writers and artists with every one of these five titles experiencing multiples of both on their first nine issues and in some cases the creators barely contribute. It's hard to escape the idea that these titles were almost thrown together in a hurry and individual issues were assigned to whoever happened to be around at a particular moment. That's not an encouraging sign in itself and it can only but wreak havoc with attempts to co-ordinate continuity.

In summary these concepts don't really stand out and it's unsurprising that four of these five titles were cancelled after a year whilst Justice was heavily retooled for the remainder of the New Universe's time. But was the line's problems solely down to the content? I'll look at this more in my concluding post.

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