Friday, August 1, 2008

The Best Books You Aren't Reading: NewUniversal

"One live superhuman, and we commence surveillance and defense preparations. Two superhumans, and we put troubleshooters in the field. Three superhumans and the mathematical model predicts an intolerable probability they will meet. Then we have to kill them."

Marvel Comics is rather famous for the grim 'n gritty take on things, a world where everyone hates the hero and you can't trust anyone. Unfortunately, Marvel's 'mission statement' here is hampered by the fact that, when it comes right down to it, the heroes have been serving the public for decades, now, and have saved the entire world countless times. Furthermore, it there are metahumans of every stripe all over the place - not that it matters, because mundane scientists are more than a match for them when it comes to creating bizarre super-tech.

Last year, Warren Ellis decided to launch NewUniversal, a retake on a failed 80's project to start a new universe of heroes and villains. Ellis' launch, NewUniversal: Everything Went White, was an excellent recreation. The ideas are novel, and the advent of superhumanity is done in such a creative way that I can't help but fanboy over it a little bit.

However great NewUniversal's launch was, though, it ended after six issues. I wasn't sure how it did, financially, so I wasn't sure if we'd ever see it again. However, a few months back, I noticed that Marvel's solicits page had NewUniversal: Shockfront, a new mini by Ellis, scheduled. Soon after that, I saw NewUniversal: 1959, a one-shot, also up. It seems that NewUniversal did well enough to warrant another series - and a few supporting one-shots.

Comparisons to Marvel's other new Universe, the Ultimate Universe, is inevitable. But where the Ultimate line exists solely to cash in on the Big Names of the Marvel Universe (but, of course, far more EXTREME!!!), NewUniversal is building it's universe slowly. It has no big names - though 1959 gives us the first recognizable character from the Marvel Universe in a brief, sad cameo. It just has great setting-building and story-telling.

NewUniversal shares some big similarities with the Marvel Universe. Super-humanity is treated with fear and loathing - and super-humanity is far from perfect. But so far, it has a purpose. They're here for a reason, but humanity doesn't know that. All they know is that there's something bigger and better, and no longer entirely human. What happens if they start to breed? Do they experience the same emotions as us? Do they think the same? How does this happen?

NewUniversal: Everything Went White introduces you to Project Spitfire, as well as the current batch of superhumans that emerged during the White Event. You meet Philip Voight, the man in charge of Project Spitfire. You find out why the super-humans are being created, who has been chosen, and what obstacles stand in their way.

NewUniversal: Shockfront deals with the emergence of other superhumans. Scarily enough, the emergence of superhumans that aren't part of any Plan, that seem to have no explanation. Meanwhile, we see the story of the original four superhumans (Justice, Cipher, Nightmask, and Starbrand) continue as Project Spitfire finally moves against them.

NewUniversal: 1959 shows you the origins of Project Spitfire, and Philip Voight's first terrible task as it's agent and champion. This single-issue is a great starting point and an examination of the mythology of the NewUniversal setting. It's a little sad, but it's an excellent first issue by relatively unknown writer Kieron Gillen.

NewUniversal: Conqueror delves further into the past of the NewUniversal setting, going back thousands of years to perhaps the first super-humans ever to exist. They built and defended a mythic city in the far past, the technological capital of the world for centuries yet to come, defended by Starr. I don't know how this one will turn out, but it's set to release on August 20th, and based on the quality of the rest of the series, I'll be looking forward to it.

"This is a paradigm shift. The universe sends a Justice, to maintain order. A Cipher, for the technological leap. A Nightmask, for the consciousness shift. And a Starbrand, for defense."

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