Monday, May 25, 2009

1986 - The New Universe

From the Bullpen Bulletins (May 1986):

"It's 1986. Marvel's 25th Anniversary! Happy New Year! Way back in August of 1961, when popsicles where six cents, Tossin' and Turnin' by Bobby Lewis was the number one hit single, and nobody had ever heard of Viet Nam, Fantastic Four #1 appeared on the newsstands. That historic issue marked the beginning of the Marvel Universe, and the launching of the Marvel Comics Group. We were one of the smallest comics companies the, but we took off like a starship and quickly few into one of the biggies. Now, as we approach our twenty-fifth birthday, we're the largest comics publisher in the Western World - and we did it the old-fashioned way. We earned it.

All this year we'll be celebrating our anniversary with special issues and events -- watch the checklist for details -- but the big even is coming up in the summer. And what is that?
Drum roll, please ...


It will be the comics event of the century. Yes, the century. Watch for it.
Jim Shooter Editor in Chief"

In 1986, as Marvel approached its twenty-fifth anniversary, Jim Shooter wanted to do something special. Shooter proposed the creation of a new line of comics that would exist in a different universe than the Marvel Universe. His two focal points were a back to basics approach and an adherence to realism.

The New Universe hit the ground running with eight monthly titles: - D.P. 7 (Displaced Paranormals 7) - Justice - Kickers, Inc. - Mark Hazzard: Merc - Nightmask - Psi-Force - Spitfire and the Troubleshooters - Star Brand

Well, Star Brand by Jim Shooter, John Romita Jr., and Al Williamson was the most successful of the comic line and Mark Gruenwald and Paul Ryan had put in a valiant effort with D.P. 7, but the other six titles suffered due to lackluster creative teams.

Shooter's New Universe would ultimately fail. By 1989, the entire line of comics was cancelled despite an attempt by fan favorite John Byrne to breath some live back into the New Universe.

Why did it fail? It failed for many reasons:

- Fans read Marvel Comics because of the established characters and the rich history of the Marvel Universe. Fans were reluctant to follow titles that played no part in the Marvel Universe and had no involvement with any Marvel Universe characters.

- The New Universe ultimately competed against the Marvel Universe. Comics Fans usually have a limited budget and given the choice between Spider-Man and Star Brand, Spider-Man will win every time.

- Couldn't possibly live up to the hype. "The New Universe from Marvel Comics marks a revolution in comics equal to the birth of the Marvel Age in 1961." - Bullpen Bulletins October 1986. While Jim Shooter, Archie Goodwin, Tom DeFalco, and John Romita Jr. are talented individuals, they aren't Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko!

- Comic books fans had already expressed their displeasure with multiple universes. DC Comics had multiple Earths each with their own distinct set of super-heroes, but it was too complicated for the average reader to follow. In 1985, DC Comics put out a twelve issue series called Crisis on Infinite Earths and merge all of their multiple Earths into one.

Jim Shooter in an interview with Kuljit Mithra ( in 1998 provided some insight:
"The New Universe was dead long before it saw the light of day. Two years before the Marvel 25th Anniversary, when pressed by the president and executive staff for a "publishing event" for the anniversary, I suggested that we might want to commemorate the birth of one universe with the birth of another. Everybody liked the idea. I was given a substantial budget and told to proceed.

My assistant, Tom DeFalco asked to be given responsibility for the project. He saw it as a career opportunity -- to have a second Marvel line that he could be editor in chief of. I let him take a try at it. After almost a year, he hadn't come up with much - - no general concept, and only a few lame characters like "Speedball". Because time was getting critical, I got involved, and came up with the science fiction/super hero idea. (...)

This was about the time that the corporate raiders' attacks on Marvel were reaching a peak. Money was tight because of the millions being spent to defend against hostile takeover. My New Universe budget was cut to nothing. Notice that aside from Al Williamson and John Romita Jr., who worked on it as a personal favor to me, the New Universe creators were staff people, mostly assistant editors, who were working volunteer, creators who were new, or creators who could get no other work. Why? Because we couldn't afford to pay anybody hot or established. (...)

Now, of course, no one, not Stan, who isn't one to swim against the tide, will admit to ever having thought it was a good idea. "


  1. Is it just me, or does Shooter come across as a huge jerk in everything he says? (In addition to the above, numerous examples can be found in his comments in various articles in Back Issue magazine.)

    Even IF his account of things is true, there's really no need to be such a jerk about it.

  2. There is definitely a lot of bitterness in his commentary. I wonder how he feels about it now and if time has healed any of those wounds.

    1. He's INCREDIBLY bitter - the reason why is because he got screwed badly by his partners at Valiant - they (according to his accounts on his blog) forged his signature and practically stole the company from under his nose. It's amazing that people whine about Jack Kirby getting shafted (when Jack actually SIGNED agreements conceding that he had no rights to his artwork) when bigger, more blatant crimes take place.

      The reason he started Valiant in the first place is because he was blackballed by the industry; nobody would hire him. Marvel wouldn't take him back, and a lot of the people he fired at Marvel were at DC - he was screwed. Then Valiant becomes a success and he gets robbed. The best part? Valiant crashes a few years after because they fired all the 'creative' guys like Shooter who could come up with good concepts! When Valiant was under Shooter, there were parties willing to fork over 250 million to buy the company. After he left, Valiant was sold to Acclaim Entertainment for 65 million. Shows the acumen of the people working there.

      The best part is this: People (like that idiot John Byrne) love to rag on Shooter for being a jerk but get this: Shooter was fired for standing upto his bosses at Cadence (who owned Marvel - and looked at Marvel as a cash cow as they had run up huge losses in other investments and wanted to churn out sub-standard comics while paying Marvel staff less so as to pay off their debts! ) as they wanted to cut pay and benefits for Marvel staff and Shooter would have none of it - amazing how Byrne will dump on Shooter but say nothing about the REAL villains of the piece, eh?

  3. I never got into New Universe. i also think the 12 issue Crisis on Infinite Earths was one of the biggest let downs in comic book history. aside from George Perez it really had nothing going for it as far as i was concerned. a way too convoluted story line. to me Crisis always came of at being DC's pathetic attempt and trying to do what Marvel did with Secret Wars.

  4. How was he being a jerk about things? He was telling the truth, and of course the whole idea wasn't going to work; as was already pointed out, a lack of budget support and general unfamiliarity and a reluctance to embrace anything new or original that wasn't attached to the "big two" was doomed to fail. But if no one tries to do anything new or original, then the market and product both suffer from becoming dangerously stale and trite.

    How about keeping those things in mind before blasting a person's attempt to try new things.

  5. DP7 wasn't a bad book, I kinda enjoyed it.

  6. I prefer the New Universe. It was a lot of fun, not boring or pointless as you claim. Possibly too mature for fans of X-Men.

  7. If you found something of particular value from the New Universe, Anonymous, that is certainly valid, yet very subjective. I felt they dropped the ball with that whole concept. It should have been set in a Sci-fi universe, or a fantasy universe, where they all share a world ala Tolkien.

  8. It's nigh impossible to see a paragraph referencing Shooter that does not also contain the word "jerk". I confess to having a slew of New Universe titles around here somewhere but the impression– if any– they made on me way back then is the faintest imaginable.

  9. I wouldn't say he was a jerk as much as lacking tact and grace. Slagging your staff as incompetent hacks is bad form and that, more than anything else, is the real reason he ceased being a power player in spite of his strengths.

    Being successful in business isn't just about making money.



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