The New Universe is a comic book imprint from Marvel Comics that was published in its original incarnation from 1986 to 1989. It was created by Jim Shooter, Archie Goodwin, Eliot R. Brown, John Morelli, Mark Gruenwald, Tom DeFalco and edited by Michael Higgins.
In 1986, in honor of Marvel Comics' 25th anniversary, Editor-In-Chief Jim Shooter launched the New Universe line of comics. This was to be a distinctly separate world, fully divorced from the mainstream continuity of the Marvel Universe, consisting of its own continuing characters and stories in a more realistic setting.
There would be no aliens, hidden races, gods, mythological beings, magic or supertechnology. Superhuman characters and powers would be limited and thus more subdued in their activities, yet their actions would have more realistic consequences. This served to act in direct contrast to the traditional Marvel Universe, which always purported to take place in a mirror of the real world where public knowledge of superheroes, supervillains and their activities had little effect on normal "day-to-day" business.
Adding to the sense of realism, the New Universe titles were designed to operate in "real-time"; roughly a year would lapse in the universe for each year that passed in reality. The limitation of fantasy elements and the low-key nature of the characters' activities in the New Universe gave the imprint verisimilitude, to seem like "the world outside your window".
The New Universe was the first line produced by Marvel Comics utilizing a pre-conceived shared universe concept. The central concept tied all of the titles together, allowing them to serve as one unified crossover. The line could either be read as individual titles or the entire line of titles could tell a much broader story when read together chronologically, following a timeline that appeared in the back of the comics.
The New Universe initially launched with eight monthly titles:
D.P. 7 focuses on a group of seven paranormals on the run from a sinister medical facility created to deal with the blooming paranormal population.
The titular hero Justice is a delusional former-DEA agent named John Tensen who believes himself to be an alien police officer, meting out justice to evildoers everywhere.
Kickers, Inc, are heroes-for-hire, all former pro-football players, led by Jack Magniconte, who gains super-human strength, speed, and invulnerability after the White Event... all at the cost of his brother's life.
Mark Hazzard is a Vietnam veteran turned soldier of fortune whose mercenary lifestyle has cost him the love of his family.
Keith Remsen is a counselor who uses his ability to enter people's dreams to help them recover from trauma and mental illness. A theme utilized by the book is the question of whether dying in a dream causes one to die in actuality.
Psi-Force is a group of paranormals on the run from a government which seeks to control them. Together they can meld their abilities into a powerful psionic being called The Psi-Hawk.
Jenny Swensen steals her father's Man Amplified X-periment (M.A.X.) armor (a construction suit built for use in a variety of capacities) when she believes the man responsible for her father's death intends to use it as a weapon of war.
Ken Connell is given a special brand/tattoo called the Star Brand. It gives the wearer unlimited power, and is highly sought after as the most powerful weapon in the known universe. It has the ability to corrupt even the strongest of beings.
The premise behind the New Universe line of comics was the question "What would happen if normal people became superhuman overnight?". The event that started it all was known as the White Event. It was a strange astronomical phenomenon that occurred on July 22, 1986, 4:22 a.m., EST, and lasted for mere moments. It bathed the Earth in a bright white light and caused genetic anomalies in two out of every one million humans, which led to them developing certain powers. Many looked completely normal, but for others, the anomaly resulted in a physical manifestation which led to horrible disfigurations. Human beings who developed a reaction to the White Event were referred to as "Paranormals".
Eventually, the true nature of the White Event was revealed: it was caused when an immortal being known as The Old Man tried to rid himself of the Star Brand, the most powerful energy source in the known universe, by transferring its power onto an asteroid.
In many ways, the New Universe was the first time concepts of advanced human potential were explored in popular media.
The New Universe was heavily marketed, but faced substantial problems. Jim Shooter had planned to recruit top creators, but this became unfeasible when Marvel's corporate owners unexpectedly reduced his available budget. As a result, many of the pitches were handled by others and certain books lacked focus as creative teams were swapped. Shooter was also involved with complex politics at Marvel Comics (which eventually led to him resigning his position), and thus could not give the line as much attention as he would have liked. After the first year, four of the titles, Kickers, Inc., Merc, Nightmask and Spitfire, were cancelled.
In an effort to save the line, then Editor-In-Chief Tom DeFalco and Editor Howard Mackie ended up removing some of the more fantastic elements from it and in a few cases doing radical revamps - John Byrne was enlisted to write and do breakdowns on Star Brand, altering the title so that it focused less on Ken Connell and more on the power of the Star Brand itself. This began initially with the idea of having Ken Connell go public with his identity as Star Brand. Similarly, the premise of Justice was revealed to be a hallucination which had been artificially induced in the title's protagonist by another Paranormal. From this point on, Justice becomes judge, jury, and executioner of Paranormals who abuse their powers.
The writers also allowed for major catastrophic events which could not have occurred in the Marvel Universe. One of the founding ideas of the New Universe was that the existence of paranormals would have real and lasting consequences, but so far these had been few and on the personal level. This changed in an issue of Star Brand when Ken Connell decided that he was tired of the power which he wielded. Having learned that it was theoretically possible to transfer the Star Brand into another object (the White Event being the result of the failed attempt to transfer it into an asteroid), Connell flew above his home town of Pittsburgh Pennsylvania and tried to transfer the brand into a barbell. Unfortunately, this effort resulted in a tremendous release of energy which scooped out a massive crater, obliterating the city of Pittsburgh. The destruction of Pittsburgh, which became known as the Black Event was detailed in the one shot The Pitt, named after the nickname for the huge crater which existed where Pittsburgh had once been. This event marked a turn into a generally grimmer tone for the line, with a more militarized international political scene, and some themes of post-apocalyptic fiction being explored. The increasingly unstable political scene would have effects such as the forcible military recruitment of paranormals as portrayed in The Draft (one-shot) and a war with South Africa which was detailed in The War (four-issue limited series).
Despite all of this, sales were poor and the imprint was abruptly discontinued in late 1989 after a total of 174 comics had been published.
Writer Peter David introduced an amnesiac character known as the Net Prophet into Spider-Man 2099. He eventually revealed that Net Prophet was actually the New Universe character Justice, who slowly regained his memories during the course of the storyline.
Following the dissolution of the New Universe imprint, Mark Gruenwald, the writer of the New Universe title DP7, decided to bring the Star Brand and other New Universe characters into the Marvel Universe proper some years later, when he was the writer for Quasar. He later incorporated them into the Marvel Multiverse, allowing crossovers with other Marvel titles, in the Starblast limited series and crossover:
In addition, Namor the Sub-Mariner #46, Quasar #31-53, and Quasar #57-60 were unnumbered tie-ins to the crossover.
In this crossover, Kayla Ballantine is Quasar's secretary at the time that she receives the Star Brand. Once her powers began to manifest, she became the target of numerous alien individuals and groups. These include the Dance, the Chief Examiner, and a group of interplanetary marauders known as the Starblasters. Quasar recruited some of Earth's most powerful heroes to stop them, when the Starblasters tried to push the moon away from Earth’s orbit.
The Imperial Guard were informed about a hijacked Shi'ar craft and later joined Quasar. When it became clear that the Starblasters were working for the Stranger, Guard members Solar Wind, Voyager and Moondancer opted to help Quasar's team against the Stranger, even though it would mean they had to resign from active Guard duty. These three Guardsmen were once captured and caged by the Stranger some years before. After helping Quasar, these three 'former' Guardsmen were never seen again serving the Shi'ar Imperial Guard, and their whereabouts are unknown.
Ballantine would eventually pass the Star Brand onto the Stranger in order to prevent Skeletron (the leader of the Starblasters) from forcibly taking the Star Brand. The Stranger used the Star Brand to move the Earth of the New Universe into orbit around his Labworld. The Living Tribunal then judges the Star Brand to be a threat to the hierarchy of the greater powers of the Marvel Multiverse. The New Universe's Earth is quarantined, surrounded by an impenetrable energy barrier so that no one can enter or leave it, and none of the greater powers are ever allowed to observe it again. After the threat posed by the Starblasters was over, the Star Brand was returned to Ballantine. She remained on the New Universe earth after it was moved into the Marvel Universe and cut off from the rest of that universe.
Cameo appearances by New Universe characters or concepts that took place between 1990 and 2000 included:
In early 2005, writer Brian K. Vaughan and artist Jim Mahfood created a three-page story entitled "What If Galactus Got Food Poisoning?" for inclusion in Marvel's Wha...Huh? comedy one-shot. It explains, in a very fun but gross way, the origins of the New Universe.
The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe: Alternate Universes 2005 features a two-page entry on the New Universe wherein New Universe Earth is designated Earth-148611.
In late 2005, the Exiles find a Proteus-possessed Mimic in an approximation of New Universe era Pittsburgh. After observing this world, Proteus becomes determined to retrieve the most powerful weapon in the known universe, the Star Brand, by attempting to take the body of Ken Connell. He also encounters Justice, D.P. 7, and Nightmask. This arc runs through Exiles #72–74 and is the second of six stops on the "World Tour" storyline.
This alternate universe has the Marvel Multiverse designation Earth-15731 and exists circa 1986, shortly after the White Event. Because of the results of Proteus' actions, including the premature death of Justice, it is completely divorced from the original New Universe continuity. Other notable differences include Connell, Nightmask and Lenore Fenzl of the D.P. 7 becoming aware of each other's existence and abilities long before the characters did so in the "original" continuity (due to the Exiles gathering them to combat Proteus), and Connell beginning to develop a greater sense of responsibility towards the Star Brand after Proteus threatens his life and the lives of people he cares for.
In 2006, Editor-In-Chief Joe Quesada and Editor Mark Paniccia set in motion events to celebrate Marvel Comics' 20th Anniversary of the New Universe. In late February and early March, Marvel launched the Untold Tales of the New Universe, a five week comic event that takes place in a pre-Pitt timeframe in the original continuity.These were released as a lead-in to Warren Ellis' forthcoming ongoing title, newuniversal, which would re-introduce the New Universe Saga to the world. The line of Untold Tales of the New Universe titles included:
New Universe reference material is given in the All New Official Handbook Of The Marvel Universe A - Z series. Issue #6 of this series features a biography of John Tensen (Justice). Issue #10 features a biography of the Starblasters, who were instrumental in Quasar : Prelude to Starblast (1992–1994) and Starblast (1994). The Starblasters had frequent interactions with many of the New Universe characters throughout these storylines. This was followed by a 2007 update series, All-New Official Handbook Of The Marvel Universe A - Z: Update, the first issue of which (January 2007) features an updated biography of , Quasar, and Spider-Man 2099. Issue #2 (March 2007) features an updated biography of Jack Magniconte, the All-American (see Kickers, Inc.). Issue #3 (July 2007) features an updated biography of Chrome (see Spitfire and the Troubleshooters).
In November 2006, Marvel released a 1980s version of The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe. The profiles within cover everything published by Marvel Comics in that decade and feature D.P. 7, Nightmask, and Psi-Force.
In 2007, to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the New Universe, Marvel launched newuniversal - a single title re-imagining of the New Universe concepts by writer Warren Ellis, artist Salvador Larroca and color artist Jason Keith. As with the original New Universe, newuniversal is set in a world where a number of people suddenly develop superhuman abilities. However, where the New Universe began with the 'real' world as its starting point, the world of newuniversal is already markedly different.
The one-shot Exiles: Days of Then and Now one-shot (January 2008) celebrates 100 issues of The Exiles and featuring an appearance by Jenny Swenson (Spitfire and the Troubleshooters) in "Chapter 4: World Tour".