Starbrand & Nightmask. It sounds like a two-stage rejuvenating skincare treatment, but it's actually the title of Marvel's newly announced ongoing series from writer Greg Weisman and artist Dominike 'Domo' Stanton, starring former Avengers writer Jonathan Hickman's young Marvel Universe versions of two New Universe concepts. These are characters who used to spend their time wiping out alien armadas with a blink of an eye, now they'll be enrolling on university courses and going on adventures.

It's all a little unexpected. Settle in, and I'll try to explain.

The New Universe was Marvel's late 80s attempt to create a secondary comics universe without the baggage of continuity, featuring characters who received their powers from a mysterious flash of light in the sky dubbed "the White Event." The actual cause of the event was the Star Brand, a tattoo that grants its bearer infinite power limited only by their imagination. The Star Brand series centered on Kenneth Connell, the newest and current bearer of the brand.

During his time on Avengers and New Avengers, writer Jonathan Hickman and artist Dustin Weaver introduced the Marvel Universe's own version of the Star Brand, now presented as a planetary self-defense mechanism that kicks in to cope with universal threats. A glitch in the universe caused the brand to settle on college student Kevin Connor, who proceeded to accidentally slaughter everyone in his immediate vicinity with his near limitless power.

Kevin was recruited into the Avengers to help them fight the same universal threat that triggered his brand. His chief companion was Adam, an artificial human with vague energy manipulation powers, created by Hickman and Jerome Opeña. Nightmask shares a name with another New Universe character, and a crescent moon mark on his forehead, but otherwise has little in common with his eponymous predecessor.

Nightmask and Star Brand both died trying to prevent the end of the multiverse, but then the multiverse actually ended, so all bets are off; they're probably alive again just because reality un-collapsed or something.

 

Domo Stanton

 

You may not need to know any of this to enjoy the new series from Weisman and Stanton. In fact, hopefully you won't. The grand scale of Hickman's stories left Star Brand and Nightmask as rather remote and tragic figures, and the charming Yasmine Putri cover art and Stanton's bright and breezy interior art, along with Weisman's announcement interview over at CBR, suggest a very different tone for the new series (plus a star-rebrand; Star Brand is now Starbrand).

Weisman, best known for his animation work on series including Gargoyles, Spectacular Spider-Man, and Young Justice, and his recent Marvel work on Kanan the Last Padawan, has relocated Adam and Kevin to Peter Parker's alma mater, Empire State University, where Doreen Green (Squirrel Girl) is also a student. Yet despite a more grounded setting than "a dying multiverse", Weisman says his story will still pick up on ideas seeded by Hickman:

"Our first arc is called 'Eternity's Children (Attend University).' It's about a handful of cosmic entities who have decided that the Universe is out of balance --- and that the stumbling block to correcting the problem is Earth's Planetary Defense Mechanism, a.k.a. Starbrand/Kevin.

"Meanwhile, things are brewing on multiple fronts. There are issues with the Superflow, with Starbrand's powers (in fact, with the entire Starbrand Creation System) and with the origin of the very name 'Nightmask.' We're going to be picking at loose threads left dangling by Hickman's Avengers run and following those threads to their logical ends. All this, while our two leads try to settle into their new lives at Empire State University."

Starbrand and Nightmask aren't beloved characters, and the New Universe connection, plus their extraordinary power levels, plus a past that involves mass-slaughter, makes them a tricky proposition for a cheerful coming-of-age tale! Hopefully Weisman and Stanton can rise to the challenge, because this looks like it could be a quirky and interesting title if it can extract itself from its own tangled roots!

 

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