In 1986, which was hailed as the 25th anniversary of Marvel Comics, Marvel decided to mark the occasion by launching a new, very different, line of superhero comics.
The New Universe was launched as a new imprint, with its new heroes operating in a new shared world. It aimed to be more realistic than (and completely separate to) the Marvel Universe, with harder science and lower power levels. The premise, summarised by the line's slogan, was "The World Outside Your Window" - the New Universe was just like the real world until a single Point of Divergence, a Mass Empowering Event called "The White Event", gave extraordinary powers to ordinary people scattered across the planet.
However, not every creative team followed this approach, so some early New Universe comics also contained things such as pre-existing magic realms, aliens, and suits of powered armor. This led to a range of retcons to bring those storylines back into line with the setting's established rules.
After the first year, four of the initial eight titles were cancelled and the New Universe started to pivot from "The World Outside Your Window" to a new approach, showing how the presence of superhuman 'paranormals' had changed the normal world. This led to big shake-ups in the setting, such as "The Black Event", in which a paranormal destroys Pittsburgh, plunging America into war.
Sales continued to drop, the remaining titles switched to a new 'direct market only' format that was only sold in specialist comic shops (which also allowed the titles to run short back-up stories in each issue) and, eventually, in 1989, all New Universe titles were cancelled. The line (and the New Universe imprint itself) ended with The War, a miniseries in which tensions over the destruction of Pittsburgh lead to World War III.
Although The New Universe no longer existed as an imprint, the setting and characters were eventually connected to the Marvel Universe and revisited in the pages of Quasar and Exiles. In early 2006, Marvel also published several Untold Tales of the New Universe, one-offs and back-up stories, telling new tales set before the Black Event.
In December 2006 Warren Ellis and Salvador Larroca launched a single-title reboot of the New Universe concepts, newuniversal. It kept the concept of the White Event empowering people in a seemingly mundane world but was also set in an Alternate History rather than "The world outside your window".
Concepts from newuniversal and the original New Universe were later also reused in The Avengers (Jonathan Hickman) with a Nightmask and a Starbrand appearing in that title as part of the 2013 storyline Infinity, where a new White Event happens on Earth-616note . They eventually got their own title, Starbrand & Nightmask. Several reimagined New Universe characters also appeared as supporting case and antagonists in Al Ewing's The Ultimates (2015).
Titles that lasted until the end of the New Universe imprintAll of these titles were launched (and cancelled) at approximately the same time.
- D.P. 7: Seven newly empowered paranormals seek help from the Clinic for Paranormal Research, but flee after discovering that the management have their own sinister agenda.
- Justice: Tensen is a superhuman vigilante from a magic realm... or so he thinks. He's actually a powerful paranormal who's been telepathically brainwashed. Once he recovers his memories, he becomes judge, jury and executioner for paranormals who are misusing their gifts.
- Psi-Force: Five teenagers with psychic powers are brought together by a rogue CIA agent with telepathic powers of his own. After their mentor dies, the teens find that they can combine their abilities to summon a hugely powerful psychic being - the Psi-Hawk - that seems to contain part of his spirit.
- Star Brand: Ken Connell, a Pittsburgh mechanic, is given vast cosmic powers and attempts to become a superhero, finding that it's more complicated than he expected. A later attempt to rid himself of the powers has horrible consequences for the wider world, after which the series pivots to focus on his successors.
Titles cancelled prior to the Black EventAll four titles were cancelled at approximately the same time.
- Kickers, Inc.: Professional football player Jack Magniconte gains increased strength and speed after the White Event (although he doesn't initially link the two things) and no longer feels he can compete fairly, so bands together with some teammates to help those in need.
- Mark Hazzard: Merc: Hazzard's not a paranormal, he's just a highly-skilled mercenary with a conscience. His series doesn't actually contain any references to paranormal characters or hi-tech gadgets, so purely tells 'real world' war and action stories.
- Nightmask: The White Event wakes Keith Remsen from a coma, completely healing him and granting him the paranormal power to enter other people's dreams.
- Spitfire and the Troubleshooters: When her father is murdered, Jenny "Spitfire" Swensen steals the experimental powered armor he'd developed and tries to avenge his death. She's assisted by five engineering students, the titular Troubleshooters. The series later changed direction and became Codename: Spitfire, with Jenny joining the CIA.
One-shots and miniseriesListed in chronological order:
- The Pitt: A one shot special detailing the destruction of Pittsburgh and its immediate aftermath.
- The Draft: A one shot special in which the American military responds to the destruction of Pittsburgh by reintroducing the draft for paranormals.
- The War: The final story published under the New Universe imprint, a miniseries released after the cancellation of the other titles. Blaming the destruction of Pittsburgh on a known group of Soviet paranormals, the United States and the USSR spiral into World War III.
"The tropes outside your window":
- Canon Immigrant:
- Peter David evidently liked using Justice so much he brought him through to Marvel's later 2099 range via time-travel.
- Blur of D.P. 7 got brought into the Marvel universe proper in Squadron Supreme, after the events of Jonathan Hickman's Avengers.
- Canon Welding: The New Universe was originally intended to be entirely separate from the continuity of the main Marvel Universe and its alternates. Eventually, after the New Universe ceased publication with The War, it was connected to the Marvel Universe after all (initially via Quasar and Spider-Man 2099), then entirely absorbed into the Marvel multiverse via newuniversal and a story arc in Exiles,
- Capepunk: One of Marvel Comics' other attempts to do realistic superheroes, which was intended to be more grounded in reality than the mainstream Marvel Universe. The setting was explicitly stated to be the real world until a Mass Empowering Event provided a Point of Divergence. Several of the super-powered "paranormals", instead of fighting criminals, were on the run from people who wanted to exploit their abilities. A few of the protagonists were Jerkasses who didn't want to help anybody. Star Brand briefly tried to be a traditional superhero, but it didn't work; in one memorable scene, he met an Author Avatar of writer John Byrne, who explained to him that it would be easy for someone to learn his Secret Identity.
- Comes Great Insanity: The newuniversal one-shots Conqueror and 1959 strongly suggest that whoever has the power of Justice will end up Ax-Crazy.
- Comic-Book Time: Intended to be averted but it ended up Zig-Zagged. Each issue was supposed to occur in "real time" in that a month passes between issues. However, Mark Gruenwald ignored the memo. He decided that the chase story of D.P. 7 was important, so all 12 issues of the first year took place over the course of a few weeks, followed by a Time Skip to the next year as of issue 13.
- Irony: In Newuniversal, Jenny Swann is the engineer of the Spitfire armor, designed to hunt and kill superhumans... which she happens to be. And she's only able to complete it because of said superpowers.
- Mass Super-Empowering Event: The White Event, the source of all the super powers. Although in the original books the Star Brand is the cause of that event, not a consequence.
- Mythology Gag: A number of characters large and small from the main Marvel universe are shown to have counterparts in newuniversal. To name a couple, a General Thaddeus Ross goes after the first confirmed superhuman sighting with General Ripper tendencies that equal the main universe version going after the Hulk. One of the NYPD officers looking into another superhuman incident is named Manolis. NYPD Lieutenant Nick Manolis was a significant character in Daredevil: Born Again.
- No Celebrities Were Harmed:
- Averted with New Universe. Two of the people given powers by the White Event are Ronald Reagan and Ayatollah Khomeini. Several other real celebrities appear (Madonna performs at a "Pitt Aid" charity concert) or are mentioned (John Tensen tells someone that Justice is his actual first name, "like Judge Reinhold"; a character in a Nightmask story notes that someone is "deader than The Bee Gees' career!").
- The unnamed President of the United States newuniversal is a woman who looks a lot like Hillary Rodham Clinton.
- Another newuniversal example zig zags this trope. One of the first indications the series takes place in a Parallel Universe is a news report saying that John Lennon is celebrating his 66th birthday — and Paul McCartney was the Beatle assassinated by a Loony Fan.
- Papa Wolf: Ken Connell's problems in Newuniversal start when the White Event kills his girlfriend, whose father already hates him and assumes Ken did it. Did we mention said father is the local sheriff, and tries to murder a traumatized Ken in his cell?
- The Newuniversal version as well. In that version, the Star Brand is a planetary defense system, meaning if Ken got upset he could do a tremendous amount of damage.
- Power Tattoo:
- The Star Brand, literally.
- Applies to all the superpowers in Newuniversal, with each character (Star Brand, Justice, Nightmask and Cipher) getting a unique glyph.
- Precursors: The source of the superpowers in Newuniversal, later retconned to be the source of all similar such powers. They straddle the line between Benevolent Precursors and Neglectful Precursors. The glyphs are meant to help mankind in periods of transition... but they never give anyone an instruction manual, and oftentimes their choices aren't terribly thought out, such as giving the Justice glyph to a man in a coma, who comes to the conclusion he's now in Hell, or giving the Star Brand to a drunken redneck, causing it to incinerate the guy's girlfriend.
- Real Time: At least originally intended to run in this, but the end result varies. Notably when the Exiles visit New Universe, it's still 1987 in there.
- The Exiles visited a counterpart to the New Universe (along with a range of other settings), one that existed in the actual Marvel Multiverse (New Universe was canonically set outside the normal multiverse).
- Teleportation: In Newuniversal, the Nightmask can use the superflow to travel across vast distances easily.
- Another character, Blow Out, has a different version of this power.
- And nastily subverted in The Draft and The War. Sometimes the therapist makes mistakes...
- This Is My Name on Foreign: Used in newuniversal and subsequent Marvel Universe stories. The glyph names for key paranormals are translations from an alien language and there are multiple alternatives used in some conversations. The Nightmask of Earth-616 is initially named as Blackveil, for example.
- Transhuman Treachery: A major topic of Newuniversal, where that universe's version of Phil Voigt thinks this applies instantly, and will take any method necessary to avert it, either not noticing or not caring that the people he's hunting are all too human. For added irony, the person he outlining this to is one of those post-humans.
- Ultimate Universe: newuniversal.
- All Deaths Final: Played with. It's the default rule for the setting, but the Star Brand (and, seemingly, only the Star Brand) can break it in some circumstances.
- Even then, the exceptions are limited to reviving the Star Brand's own wielders and bringing back someone who's recently died and still has a body that can be repaired.
- The Star Brand does have much, much greater scope to stop death claiming people in the first place, if used in time, but that's not quite the same thing.
- Author Appeal: Writer Mark Gruenwald apparently loved his home state Wisconsin — which was the setting for much of D.P. 7.
- Deus ex Machina: The War plays this trope pretty straight—The Star Child stops the fighting by disabling every weapon on Earth.
- Five-Man Band: The Troubleshooters, until most of them were either crippled or killed.
- Forbidden Zone: "The Pitt", the huge crater which is all that's left of Pittsburgh after The Black Event.
- Fully Absorbed Finale: Two of them — The War, intended to be the Grand Finale and, later, the Quasar storyline Starblast.
- I Just Want to Be Normal: Ken "Star Brand" Connell, Kathy Ling of Psi-Force and Stephanie Harrington of D.P. 7 , among others.
- Jerkass: Kenneth Connell in Star Brand, Dennis "Scuzz" Cuzinski in D.P. 7, Wayne Tucker in Psi-Force.
- President Evil: Philip Nolan Voigt, a sociopath hungry for power of any kind, uses his ability to absorb other paranormals' powers to become President.
- President Superhero: An attempt to assassinate Ronald Reagan fails because the White Event has given him regenerative powers.
- Retcon: Used to explain away the Magical Land in Justice and the aliens in Star Brand, both of which were originally intended to be taken at face value.
- Self-Referential Humor: When the last four New Universe titles were cancelled (D.P.7, Justice, Psi-Force and The Star Brand), a banner across final issues' covers joked that they'd been a limited series all along. A very long limited series.
- Suddenly Significant City: After the battle between Psi-Hawk and Rodstvow trashes Washington, D.C. in Psi-Force, Denver becomes the American capital. Possibly a Shout-Out to a similar plot point in Robert A. Heinlein's The Door into Summer.
- Super Strength: Several paranormals had some form of it, most notably David "Mastodon" Landers from D.P. 7.
- Take That!: Marvel Comics's "Whu-huh?!", a more comical version of their "What If...?" line. Apparently, the New Universe was created when Galactus ate a bad planet and promptly shat it out.
- The Watcher: The Witness, a character who dies as a result of the White Event, but continues to exist as an intangible ghost. He is drawn to places where people are manifesting paranormal powers, but can only watch what happens, unable to intervene in any way.