Out of the Vault – Star Brand

In 1985, DC Comics, worried that new fans were being put off by the convoluted continuity of the company’s universe, decided to hold a company-wide event, the Crisis on Infinite Earths, as a way to reboot, and therefore simplify, their continuity. Sales were huge, and several declining titles were revitalized.

Marvel Comics had much the same problem: their comics had run like soap operas for 25 years, and the history had become insanely complex. But they decided to try a different approach to snagging new readers who might feel lost amid the jungle of Marvel continuity. Instead of rebooting the existing Marvel Universe, they simply started a new one while keeping all the old books in place.

The “New Universe” was posited to be exactly like ours, until one world-changing day, the “White Event,” that caused their paths to diverge. So New Universe titles would be more grounded, more concerned with modern problems and issues than regular Marvel titles.

And if the New Universe could be said to have a central book, a linchpin that held the universe together, that book would probably be Star Brand, written by Jim Shooter and illustrated by John Romita, Jr. and Al Williamson. Star Brand was Ken Connell, a normal guy who was bequeathed immense power by a dying alien crashlanded on our Earth, who first appeared to him as a mysterious old man.

Yes, the origin is completely derivative of Green Lantern, but the book itself had a more unique flavor. Ken’s powers were a sort of mix between Superman–super-strength, flight, invulnerability–and Green Lantern, as shown by the energy blast he generates during his first battle with another alien who has chased the Star Brand (the mystic tattoo that gives Ken his powers) to Earth.

But for all his powers, Ken was no Superman or Green Lantern. He had to deal with the real-world complications of superpowers, such as getting lost while trying to fly to a crisis.

I really like the idea that he doesn’t instantly know how to navigate in the air. But most interestingly from a character point of view, and what perhaps distinguished Star Brand the most from the normal run of Marvel books, was that Ken was kind of a douche.

He was working a dead end job reconditioning used cars, because he was afraid to go back to school and face bigger responsibilities and the possibility of failure. He was dating an older woman with kids, whom he was afraid to commit to. And on the side, he was always hanging out with Debbie, the hot girl next door who clearly had the hots for him. He never did anything sexual with her (that we saw), but he clearly got off on the attention and exploited her crush on him to get her to do stuff for him.

So it was potentially really interesting to see this irresponsible wad deal with this huge responsibility that had been forced upon his shoulders and maybe become a better person because of it. In the hands of a good writer, this could have been a great book.

Unfortunately, it was being written by Shooter. So, for instance, Debbie, who had such great potential as a character, turned out not only to be a kind-hearted girl with a crush, but also kinda retarded.

Yeah, that quacking? Not a one-time thing. She called herself Debbie the Duck and quacked in every scene she was in, usually more than once.

And then came the third issue, which had hardly anything interesting to the plot, included the basic Marvel bait-and-switch of substituting a crappy art team (Alex Saviuk and Vince Colletta, again) after the good guys had suckered you into following the title, and failed to offset these problems with any reduction in quacking. I gave up on Star Brand and the entire New Universe concept after that.

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2 Responses to Out of the Vault – Star Brand

  1. Sargon says:

    I stuck with Star Brand for the first dozen issues or so. I really dug the basic concept and I though Ken’s deeply flawed character was much more interesting than the usual stuff. He was a douche, but he was aware he was, and felt bad about it and kept trying to do better, even if he never really could straighten things out. I remember really anticipating how they would play out his personal issues along with this big, ancient space opera that was implied to have led up to this point in time.

    Then, of course, Marvel shit all over that and had him blow up Pittsburgh after siring a space baby or something. Then they retconned the aliens away and said he was basically hallucinating. Man, they fucked that whole concept up.

  2. Tony Frazier says:

    Yeah, I didn’t stick with it as long, because Shooter was already on my bad side from Secret Wars II. And apparently, the writers Marvel brought on after Shooter left hated him so much, they decided to throw out everything he did, good and bad. Reading the summaries of what happened after I quit reading makes me think I avoided a huuuuuuggge train wreck.

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