The New Universe was billed as a more realistic comics world and described as ‘the world outside your window.’
This issue is the point where they chuck that concept OUT the window… Your Major Spoilers (Retro) Review of The Star Brand #12 awaits!
THE STAR BRAND #12
Writer: John Byrne
Penciler: John Byrne
Finishes: Tom Palmer
Colorist: Andy Yanchus
Letterer: Joe Rosen
Editor: Howard Mackie
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Cover Price: 75 Cents
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $1.00
Previously in The Star Brand: Launching in 1986, the New Universe was part of Marvel Comics 25th Anniversary celebration, back when they counted honestly. A whole new universe of comics stories, featuring a more down-to-Earth approach to characters and storytelling, the entire affair was hamstrung by Marvel’s budget woes, meaning that the eight New U titles were staffed mostly by Marvel editorial (EIC Jim Shooter, Mark Gruenwald, Archie Goodwin, Eliot R. Brown) and complete newcomers to the industry. Several later-to-be-noteworthy creators got in early career experience on New Universe books (Peter David, Fabian Nicieza and Paul Ryan come to mind) but the line was never as successful as Shooter had hoped, with half the titles cancelled and Shooter himself getting the axe at the end of the first year. Around that same time, this ad began appearing in New Universe titles…
As a teenager, I remember seeing this ad and wondering exactly what the selling point was, but I was at least interested enough to buy New Universe titles and find out which, what and why. The previous issue of Star Brand featured an important title change, rebranding the book as “The Star Brand” (making it about the eponymous power emblem rather than the bearer thereof) under the pen of John Byrne, recently returned to Marvel after relaunching Superman in his post-Crisis incarnation. This issue opens with some recap, thanks to Maddie Felix, the main character’s girlfriend…
That story comes courtesy of issue #1 of Star Brand, detailing how young cad Ken Connell received ultimate power from a mysterious alien creature. Connell had always been perceived as a thinly veiled insert character for creator Jim Shooter, but Byrne clearly had less love for the character’s more… unpleasant tendencies. Taking the “real world” aspects of the New Universe at face value, Ken Connell decided to go public with his abilities, in the hopes of fame and fortune and such…
The flashback also shows Ken reacting incredibly badly to his girlfriend revealing that she is pregnant, showing himself to be a pretty terrible person in so doing. Having made a splash as the world’s first superhero, Ken lets her drive off out of his life, instead making his first public appearance at the Pittsburgh Comicon…
On the way, he encounters a Marvel Comics creator’s table (not coincidentally featuring the creative team of this very book, writer/penciler John Byrne and editor Howard Mackie) who proceed to call “Star Brand” out for not being particularly bright or particularly genre-savvy.
Thirty years later, I still can’t decide if this moment is genius or cheese sandwich. On the one hand, they’re making more strides to embrace realism, but they’re also undermining years of comic stories, including the one they’re actually in. Of course, the reader doesn’t get much time to consider that idea, as they’re interrupted by the obligatory fight sequence…
‘The Old Man’, Ken’s first villainous opponent has returned, and their battle quickly wrecks the convention floor. AS the second issue of a new direction, this story also has some housecleaning to do of the book’s previous supporting cast, including a man named Bobby who knows who Ken Connell is, and intends to blackmail him into doing Bobby’s bidding.
It does not go well for him…
For that matter, it goes poorly for the entire convention, including Mackie and Byrne, all of whom are blown to proverbial smithereens by the conflict. Of course, Ken himself doesn’t get out unscathed, barely making his way to his friend Myron’s home (while looking like a mutated monster thingy) and collapsing.
Of course, the monster form he takes is another callback, explaining a previous issue’s antagonist as a sort of larval form taken by Brand-bearers after they are killed. Due to the explosion of power, Connell also learns the true story behind The Old Man: He’s not an alien, as Ken had assumed, but a human who got the Brand some five hundred years ago. (Remember: REALISM!) This issue also explains the greatest mystery of the New Universe: The origins of the ‘White Event’ that triggered the creation of paranormals throughout the other titles of the New U.
Clearly, trying to put the power of The Star Brand into an inanimate object is a really BAD idea, one that led to catastrophic worldwide consequences for The Old Man.
Naturally, Ken and Myron decide this is Ken’s obvious next step… Morons.
Myron advises Connell to get far away, perhaps the far side of the moon, but Ken is an uncommonly dull-witted man, and flies about ten miles up from Myron’s Pittsburgh home, even though he has clear memories of The White Event being visible around the world.
Before he can even finish stupidly tempting fate, Kenneth Connell follows through on yet another of a series of incredibly stupid decisions…
…and proceeds to atomize his home city, friends, family and, of course, himself, in a massive conflagration.
This explosion creates a massive ten-mile-deep crater known as ‘The Pitt’, which becomes the center of the second year of New Universe books, bringing the world to the edge of Armageddon. It also triggers the best stories of the entire New Universe catalogue, though not good enough to save the line from cancellation in 1989. Worst of all, Ken Connell’s story doesn’t even end here, which might actually have made the nihilism a little more palatable. The Star Brand #12 proves the rule that alternate universe always get the shaft (See also: Earth-2, The Ultimate Universe, the various futures of the Legion and any issue of ‘What If?’) and does so in a confrontational and destructive manner, earning a mostly okay 2.5 out of 5 stars overall. If nothing else, this issue sets the stage for some other interesting Cold War tales in the pages of D.P. 7, Justice and especially Psi-Force, so at least all this wanton destruction gave us some good stories after the fact…