Graphic Lit: "newuniversal" and "Nextwave"
Way back in 1986, Marvel Comics tried a little experiment.
In honor of the company’s 25th anniversary, then-editor Jim Shooter launched a series of books collectively known as “The New Universe.” This imprint would feature superhero stories, but in a more realistic setting — no mythological beings or magic powers — and the heroes’ actions would have realistic consequences.
Of course, the whole thing tanked miserably. It didn’t help that the books were by and large poorly written and drawn, and lacking in any real focus. Most of the comics were canceled after only a few issues, and the whole line limped along until it was discontinued in 1989, marking it as one of Marvel’s biggest failures.
Of course, memories are short and comics are riding high in the public sphere now, so why not revamp the whole thing for a new audience? That’s the thinking behind “newuniversal,” an ongoing, monthly series from Marvel.
This time, the talent behind the books is a little more accomplished, as acclaimed writer Warren Ellis and artist Salvador Larroca attempt to overhaul the imprint for a modern audience.
The basic premise stays the same: In an alternate world much like our own, a strange phenomenon known as the “White Event” gives a handful of people across the globe super powers, though Ellis changes characters’ motivations, identities and even genders around enough that the whole thing feels fresh.
And if that plot sounds a little like the new hit TV show “Heroes,” well, remember that it predates that show by a good 20 years.
Only two issues of “newuniversal” have come out so far, so it’s early to tell how good the series ultimately will be. It’s off to a good start, however, with some nice pacing and setup by Ellis and Larroca. My only gripe lies with Larroca’s need to model various characters after famous actors. (Why does the archaeologist look like Gene Hackman?)
Though it occasionally dabbles in cliche, “newuniversal” is strong enough for me to recommend it to those looking for a good monthly sci-fi series to chew on.
One of Ellis’ other ongoing series for Marvel will be winding down soon: “Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E.”
That’s a real shame, as in many ways it’s a lot more goofy and fun than I suspect “newuniversal” will ever be.
“Nextwave” follows the adventures of five third-banana superheroes who discover the anti-terrorist agency they’ve been working for is actually funded by terrorists and decide to go after them. Explosions ensue.
The series is loud, over the top and gloriously ridiculous. A capes-and-cowls comic pared down to its barest elements but with the volume turned up to 11.
Ellis’ writing crackles with smart-aleck dialogue and bizarre scenarios. He’s ably complemented by artist Stuart Immonen, whose clean, angular drawings show a real pop sensibility and add to the overall sense of absurdity.
There will be more “Nextwave” comics in the future, but the series as it currently stands will end after the 12th issue. Thankfully, back issues are relatively easy to find, and the recent, “Nextwave Vol. 1: This is What They Want,” ($14.99) collects the first six issues in one handy volume.
As the comic’s tagline says, “If you like anything, you’ll love Nextwave!”
Copyright The Patriot-News, 2006