Way back in 1986, Marvel’s then Editor in Chief Jim Shooter had a bold, expensive idea: For 25 years, Marvel had been relying on characters largely created by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee (and, to a lesser extent, Steve Ditko and Joe Simon) as their bread-and-butter. Shooter believed that because Marvel employed some of the most creative people in comics, there was no reason they couldn’t launch a slew of new books–create a New Universe.
It officially began on July 15, 1986, when Star Brand #1 went on sale.
It was supposed to cost $1.2 million, but was a complete failure when Marvel’s parent company, Cadence Publishing, slashed the budget and Shooter’s relationships with many of the creators became increasingly frayed. Books like Strikforce: Morituri, Star Brand, DP7, and Kickers Inc. failed to resonate with fans beyond their issue #1s, and the universe quickly went away. Three years later, Marvel had created a lot of intellectual property that it wouldn’t use again for another 25 years.
Then, in 1993, Peter David revived one of the characters (Justice) in the pages of his Marvel 2099 comics and a 12-issue miniseries called “Starblast.” You can’t find that series anywhere. I mean anywhere. It’s just gone.
There were a few other attempts to use some of the characters (and you can even find Starbrand in the current arc of Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers), but really one guy ever made it work: Warren Ellis.
In a four-issue miniseries, he told an updated, sort-of “Ultimates” version of The White Event that spawned Shooter’s vision.
Ellis’ New Universe, illustrated brilliantly by Salvador Larroca, had a true, organic vision–one that has a lot in common with many of Ellis’ oft-explored themes. The “super flow,” for example, is just like the space occupied by the Wildstorm heroes’ base of operations in The Authority, and is also similar to the vision of time and space Ellis described in Planetary. And like Planetary, New Universal was told in widescreen format.
Also like Planetary, Ellis used the book to explore several genres from horror (where he showed the New Universe’ vigilante character, Justice, in a much gorier, neorealistic light)…
…and sci fi, showing the effect of the White Event in the form of crop circles…
And speaking of Planetary and The Authority, he also used his common theme of government control/conspiracy and even had a character named Jenny! (Was she a conscious nod to Jenny Sparks?)
Marvel had promised Ellis they would gradually roll out his vision of the New Universe in a series of miniseries, but sales were bad and Marvel bailed. Two minis followed New Universal, but neither were as good–and, once again, the New Universe failed.