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Comic Book / Starbrand & Nightmask

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Starbrand & Nightmask was a 2015 comic book series launched as part of the All-New, All-Different Marvel relaunch, written by Greg Weisman with artwork by Domo Stanton, and lasting for six issues. It featured two characters created by Jonathan Hickman during his Avengers run, that were reimaginings of Star Brand and Nightmask from The New Universe.

In The Avengers, Kevin Conner was a completely ordinary college student who was also friendless, socially awkward, and mostly ignored, before getting accidentally granted the power of the Star Brand Planetary Defense System during a White Event in a way that went horribly wrong and destroyed his college and everyone in it. Adam, meanwhile, was an Artificial Human intended to be the first member of a new human race and given the powers of the Nightmask so he could serve as a herald and mentor to the bearer of the Star Brand. The two went on a variety of cosmic adventures with the Avengers before being seemingly killed while fighting the Beyonders in a futile attempt to postpone the destruction of the multiverse that led to Secret Wars (2015).

Post-Secret Wars the two have somehow ended up as alive again, and have been travelling known space and superheroing for the past eight months. But Adam is growing worried about Kevin, as Kevin's cosmic adventures and experiences with his god-like powers are causing someone who started out having a hard time connecting with humanity to begin with to become even more detached from his fellow beings. Since Kevin is supposed to be a Planetary Defense System for Earth, Adam views this growing detachment from the people he's designated to defend as a serious problem.

Adam's solution to this? Time for Eternity's Children to attend college. But it turns out the cosmos might have other plans for them...

Tropes found in Starbrand & Nightmask:

  • Above Good and Evil: The cosmic forces and Libra only care about the balance between life and death and between existence and oblivion and view everything they deal with as tools towards that purpose.
  • Ambiguously Bi: During a gym excursion in issue 5, both a girl and a guy end up draping themselves over Adam and gushing their attraction to him at the same time. Adam's response is to ask, "Are the three of us flirting? If so, I believe I enjoy flirting."
  • Big Bad: Libra's boss, The In-Betweener.
  • Big Eater: The Running Gag of Kevin always being hungry/eating yet still skinny and tiny from Hickman's Avengers shows up here too, thanks to Kevin's "cosmic metabolism" from his Star Brand powers.
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality: The cosmic forces are natural forces which simply exist to bring about the natural birth/life/death cycle of the universe. And their desire to kill Kevin and destroy the Earth seems to stem from needing to keep the Earth from somehow blocking that natural cycle, rather than any particular malice.
  • The Bus Came Back: In issue #5, Imani is doing some physio exercises watched on by Sha Shan Nguyen. Who is she, one asks? Why, Flash Thompson's former girlfriend in the 1970s and 1980s, and former member of Spider-Man's cast of characters.
  • Canon Immigrant: Kenny Kong. Much like back in Ultimate Spider-man, Kenny quickly discovers Adam and Kevin are superheroes too, but keeps it a secret.
  • Cain and Abel: Sort of. The Kree Starbrand kills her brother, the Kree Nightmask, as well as the Kree Justice, leaving only the Kree Cipher. Her reasoning is that she doesn't need a liaison or a conscience; she just needs her intelligence person to provide her with list of potential threats to the Kree race to be pointed at.
  • Chekhov's Skill: In the first issue it's established that Kevin has gone from previously relying heavily on energy discharge to having mastered the ability to transmute matter with his powers by transmuting Blizzard's ice into rock. In issue 2 he uses it to encase Nitro, Graviton, and Blizzard in amber, and in issue 4 he uses it to repair his body after being stabbed through the chest.
  • Continuity Nod: The series is chock full of references to details even slightly related to Kevin and Adam's personalities and powers from Hickman's Avengers and The New Universe, as well as to other unrelated lesser-known things like S.P.E.A.R. from Avengers World and secondary recurring characters from Weisman's own previous Marvel stories.
  • Contrast Montage: Issue 4 opens with this, with Kevin and Adam's situations paralleling each other. They both have five seconds to figure out their situation or it "won't be fixed/accomplished at all". Kevin uses his powers to fix his body after being stabbed, while Adam uses his powers to fix the mental control the cosmic entities have over the possessed villains. Kevin's powers come back down to controlled level as he heals himself, as the villains' powers come back down to normal as their control is removed.
  • Cosmic Entity: "Eternity's Children", consisting of the Anthropomorphic Personifications of Explosion/the Big Bang, Gravitation/the Big Crunch, and Entropy/the Big Freeze. There's also Adam's "grandfather", Eternity.
  • Cosmic Keystone: Apparently the entire Earth itself is one since it is somehow preventing the eventual natural death of the universe by existing. Which means the primal cosmic forces want to destroy it, which means having to kill its Planetary Defender—namely, Kevin—first.
  • Crush Blush: Kevin and Imani both get this while bonding in issue 3 over being survivors of tragedy.
  • Distracted by the Sexy: Played with.
    • Kevin is distracted by a vision of Imani during a fight but his reaction makes it clear that it's his cosmic senses malfunctioning somehow rather than because he actually wanted to be thinking of her at that moment. And it proves to be life-threatening for him.
    • And it's brought up several times in general that Imani seems to mess with/take over Kevin's cosmic senses frequently. Kevin thinks it's because he's in love, but Adam is convinced there's something else going on.
    • Revealed in issue 6 that Imani was supposed to be Earth's Starbrand before Kevin got the powers by accident instead. There is a cosmic fail safe feature where if two Starbrands are in close proximity to each other, they develop an immediate infatuation with each other, preventing them from fighting.
  • Earth Is the Center of the Universe: Desconstructed; apparently after the multiversal reconstruction Earth has become the heart of Eternity. Unfortunately Earth was never meant for such a position and this is why it has the aforementioned Cosmic Keystone status since this disrupts the balance of the cosmos.
  • Earth-Shattering Kaboom: What Libra wants to happen to Earth to allow the eventual death of the universe, billions of years from now. What actually happens to the Skrull world Tarnax VII courtesy of the Kree Starbrand.
  • Expressive Shirt: The duo can magically change their clothes to whatever they wish, and Kevin seems to be fond of t-shirts with logos and slogans based on his former superhero teammates.
    • In issues 1-3, he wears a Spider-Man t-shirt with "Hero or Menace" as the slogan, paralleling Kevin's own "loser/everyman hero" status, as well as struggling with the great responsibility his great powers come with, and worrying about his powers being a "menace" to his new school the way they were his old one.
    • In issue 4 he switches to a Captain America shirt with "We are all my Captain America" after he starts to feel more accepted by his peers and more in control of his powers. Also an allusion to how he and Steve Rogers are both skinny, blond Irish-Americans who were granted great power to be the chosen defenders of something.
    • In issue 5 he has a shirt with Mjolnir on the front and "Be worthy" on the back. Of course, one of the themes of the first story arc is Kevin being judged by cosmic forces as to whether or not he's worthy of being a Starbrand.
  • Female Gaze:
    • In issue 4, Imani's gal pals try to encourage Kevin and Adam to hold a wet t-shirt contest after they get doused with ice water. Kevin's more than willing, but Adam drags him away.
    • Then Kevin later overhears them talking about what a "perfect specimen" Adam is, and generally gushing about the fellas' looks in general.
  • Foe Romance Subtext: Enforced in universe as a cosmic fail safe. If 2, or more, Starbrands are in close proximity to each other, they instantly develop a sexual infatuation with each other. This is to prevent fighting between the Starbrands.
  • Genre Shift: Started out as a sort of Coming of Age Slice of Life story that just happened to feature youngsters with cosmic-level superpowers. Then midway it brings a whole lot of Cosmic Horror Story elements into sharp focus. Eventually also adds on elements of being a deconstruction of various superhero plot and characterization tropes.
  • Giving the Sword to a Noob: The fact that Kevin got his powers on accident versus them going to a proper hero vexes Adam, who thus needs to spend extra effort to train him to be a proper Defense Mechanism.
  • Gratuitous German: The strange blue suit-clad cosmic watcher/messenger that's been keeping tabs on Kevin and Adam peppers his speech with German at various points. This is because he's the German supervillain Libra AKA Gustav Brandt.
  • High-Tech Hexagons: The Kree Nightmask has hexagonal Tron Lines instead of circular ones like Adam's.
  • Hypercompetent Sidekick: While Kevin is far better at using his powers than he used to be, it's clear Adam is still the more knowledgeable, practical, and adept one of the two.
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: Happens to Kevin in issue 3 thanks to an ice shard from Blizzard.
  • Interscene Diegetic: In issue 3, there's a scene where the students at Kevin & Adam's new college are singing a school spirit song during convocation... which Kevin can somehow hear miles away with lyrics that make it Suspiciously Apropos Music, during a major fight he's embroiled in (that kept him from the convocation).
  • Jedi Mind Trick: Libra pulls the classic "you don't need to see my identification" one on a security guard so he can get into the student gym.
  • Knight Templar: The Starbrand of Kree-Pama. She even kills her world's Nightmask and destroys the Skrull world of Tarnax VII.
  • Legacy Character: They're alternative versions of the New Universe characters of the same names, from Nightmask and Star Brand.
  • Love at First Sight: Played with. Kevin thinks this might be what he's feeling when he first sees their R.A. Imani Greene. But his Star Brand glowing and Adam saying he senses something unusual about her suggests there might (also) be more going on.
  • Madness Mantra: Nitro and Graviton while they're mind-controlled. "Bang. Crunch. Bang. Crunch." They are soon joined by Blizzard who just repeats "End." with them in chorus.
  • Mathematician's Answer: Adam asks if Explosion, Gravitation and Entropy are competing or cooperating. Libra's answer is a blunt yes.
  • Mood Whiplash:
    • The issue solicits often take the general form of "Stay tuned as our heroes have to deal with [some weird/creepy/apocalyptic/cosmic/horrifically life-threatening] event! And [some really funny/cute/mundane college event] also happens!"
    • And the issues themselves generally have it where on one page some adorable slice of life college situation happens, and then two pages later things are knee-deep in freaky cosmic weirdness.
  • Morality Chain: It's Adam's specific job to serve as this to Kevin, as the "conscience" of the wielder of the Star Brand. Adam's problem as of late is that it hasn't been working, as Kevin has actually regressed in some ways from their Avengers days.
  • Mr. Fanservice: Adam's Heroic Build attracts a lot of positive attention from people, to the point of Even the Guys Want Him.
  • Music for Courage: In issue 3 hearing the college school spirit song inspires Kevin to be able to mentally regroup and go from being flustered and getting his butt kicked in a fight to being more successfully strategic.
  • My Greatest Failure: It's clear Kevin is still deeply troubled by and blames himself for what happened to his old school.
  • Mythology Gag: Kevin's old college he accidentally blew up is finally identified here as Pittsburgh Allegheny Technical College, a nod to the fact that Kenneth Connell accidentally blew up the entire city of Pittsburgh with his Star Brand in The New Universe.
  • Neologizer: When Kevin comes up in issue 4 with a more humane way to deal with Nitro, Graviton, and Blizzard again, he notes that he's "reconnecting with my humane-ity", which Adam notes is "not a word". Later on, Adam refers to Kevin as a "strutterer", which Kevin takes the chance to snark back is "not a word".
  • No Social Skills: Adam's entire goal is to figure out how to get both him and Kevin (mostly Kevin) to develop these.
  • Once an Episode: Sunspot always ends up having his camera drones get destroyed somehow once a issue. They're even sequentially numbered.
    • Up to issue 6 when Adam confronts Sunspot over the observations.
  • Once Done, Never Forgotten: Invoked by Kevin, who views his previous college experiences as the number one reason he shouldn't be trying to go back to college. Granted, accidentally blowing up your previous college is a pretty hard thing to live down.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: In the first issue Nitro and Graviton are acting more like crazy homeless people than supervillains, which Kevin lampshades while confronting them. Turns out it's because they're being controlled by cosmic forces.
  • Pay Evil unto Evil: Discussed. Kevin views his encasing Graviton, Blizzard, and Nitro in amber as this and reasons that he shouldn't have to care that they might be dead because they were going to blow up innocent people. Adam disagrees and sees this as further evidence Kevin is losing his humanity.
  • Really Was Born Yesterday: Adam notes in the first issue that he's technically only three years old, so he snarks that it was either he attend college or attend preschool.
  • Reveal Shot: The scene in issue 4 where we find out that Sunspot is the one who's been watching Kevin and Adam all this time with the camera drones, and that Maria Hill wants to know why.
  • Sensitive Guy and Manly Man:
    • Downplayed example. While not exactly "macho", Kevin does act and dress pretty much like a typical teenage boy, while in contrast Adam's superhero uniform is a skirt and he loves shopping, stylish clothes, and worrying about Kevin's social relationships. Though when it comes to their physical builds it's the other way around: Kevin is petite and slim, while Adam has a much more stereotypical Heroic Build.
    • This gets played up even more when it's revealed in issue 5 that Kevin was studying to be an engineer at his old college, and is aghast when Adam wants them to both major in liberal arts instead. Further, Adam chooses to study poetry while Kevin reluctantly goes for history because "at least that's about facts".
  • Sharp-Dressed Man:
    • The mysterious cosmic watcher/messenger, Libra, walks around in a blue fedora, a snappy blue business suit, a cane, and Sinister Shades.
    • And the other mysterious watcher, Sunspot, also sports a very nice business suit.
  • Similar Squad: The Kree homeworld is undergoing its own White Event, which is resulting in the Kree having their own Starbrand and Nightmask, as well as the Justice and Cipher that Earth's broken system never produced.
  • Speaks in Shout-Outs: Adam frequently does this because of his fascination with learning Earth culture, which Kevin complains just as frequently about.
  • Special Person, Normal Name: Kevin Conner and Adam. Though Kevin actually was a completely ordinary person before getting his powers.
  • Spell My Name With An S:
    • Kevin notes in his narration in the first issue that Starbrand is one word (as it was in the short lived New Universe reboot newuniversal, while in the original New Universe it was spelled as two words, and fans tend to use both versions interchangably.
    • In Hickman's Avengers Kevin's last name was Connor, while here it's spelled Conner instead.
  • Survivor Guilt: Kevin obviously suffers from this, and in issue 3 Imani suggests that she suffers from this as well, due to a different catastrophic event that killed everyone she knew.
  • Time Stands Still: Kevin and Adam both have the ability to stretch out their own perception of time to give themselves more time to react to/do things.
  • Took a Level in Jerkass: Kevin's going from being a socially awkward but well-meaning and sweet kid to getting increasingly callous about his powers and how they affect people.
  • Wake Up, Go to School, Save the World: The entire premise of the series is that Adam thinks he and Kevin should attend college to reconnect with humanity, while Kevin was eager to accept Sunspot's proposal to join his New Avengers, and would rather continue being a superhero in general.