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Thursday, December 15, 2005

The Return of Marvel's New Universe

Ok, to you non-comics readers, this won't mean much, but in February, Marvel is releasing new stories set in their "New Universe" , created 20 years ago. Only one title from that stable of properties ever interested me, and that was Starbrand. A series of one-shots will be done before the company lets Warren Ellis put his creative "stamp" on the characters. That probably means turning them inside-out, the finished product in no way resembling what was originally done. But, hey, I could be wrong.

In recognition of this event, here's one of the first reviews (with a bit of editing) I ever wrote for Suspended Animation. It is, of course, Starbrand, and, at the time, was mistakenly credited to Michael Vance. If you run right out, you can probably still find every issue in bargain bins!

Marvel's "New Universe" of the mid-‘80s was hardly the most memorable undertaking in comic books. However, one good series did come out of that venture. Nearly forgotten today, Star Brand had a very simple premise.

One day, unsuspecting human Ken Connell happens upon an alien who grants him an object of great power, the Star Brand. The alien dies (or so it seems), and Connell must decide how best to use this "weapon".

The setting was not an alternate "Marvel" Universe, but a universe more like ours, where "superheroes" are works of comic book fiction.

Making Ken Connell's world a more realistic one results in a well-thought out comic. From the complications of attempting the rescue of a child from an old well, to deciding whether to reveal himself to the U.S. President, Connell's attempts to use his power wisely often results in intriguing, and very entertaining, situational reasoning.

Great characterization is a hallmark of this series. Ken, while the series lead and hero, is no bastion of morality, and will occasionally annoy many readers with womanizing and whining about how to live up to his responsibility to use the Star Brand Power correctly.

One of the most pleasing aspects of this comic is how much takes place in each issue. For those accustomed to many of today's first issues that do little more that introduce a main character, and, if the reader is fortunate, establish some motivation, the first issue of Star Brand my leave them thinking they have read material for two or three issues.

Talent for the book is topnotch. Jim Shooter does what my be some of his best writing in issues 1-7, which are dramatically rendered by John Romita, Jr. Issues 8-10 lead into writer/artist John Byrne's and inker Tom Palmer's run in which the story takes a vastly different direction.

For my money, those first seven issues of Star Brand are some very entertaining reading, and well worth searching out.