I’m sitting in on the church youth group. The youths are sitting in a circle and the youth minister pulls out an icebreaker: he asks the kids to go around the circle naming their favorite superhero. The kids do this, mostly naming either Spider-man or Superman. Then it’s my turn. I have to name a superhero. What superhero do I name? Star Brand. And what do I get in return? Blank stares. Nobody has heard of Star Brand.
And that’s no surprise. Star Brand was the name of both the flagship title and the flagship character of the New Universe, a new imprint highly hyped and launched by Marvel Comics in the summer of 1986 (which just happens to be right in the middle of my most intense comic book phase). We were told that we were going to be witnesses to the birth of a new Marvel universe (hence the name) that would be on par with the current Marvel universe, that is, that we would experience something similar to what those lucky folks who were around in the 60s to see the first appearances of the Fantastic Four, the Hulk, and Spider-man had experienced. We were told that this new universe would be different because it would be more like the real world, more like the world we were living in. We were also told that we needed to buy all the first issues of this new universe’s titles as they would someday be incredibly valuable. And being too young to distinguish hype from truth, I swallowed hook, line, and sinker; I eagerly awaited the day when the New Universe would explode onto the scene.
Finally, that day came. The New Universe revealed itself in the wire racks of a local convenience store, not the one closest to my house mind you, but the one on the other side of my neighborhood. I made the trek there, pulled out the one New Universe title that looked the most interesting to me, the New Universe title called Star Brand (which, because of the odd title font, I misread as Star Brana), laid my three quarters on the counter, and headed for home. Since it was raining that day, I had to hide the comic in my jacket and so couldn’t look at it on the way home. But I thought about it; I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I wondered the whole way home what the Star Brana was. When I finally got home, I discovered that it was actually Star Brand (or the Star Brand; the actual name is kind of iffy), and that it was a tattoo given to a Pittsburg man named Ken Connell, a tattoo that gave him Superman-like powers (in fact, some have said that Star Brand was yet another of Marvel’s attempts to create their own Superman).
And here’s the thing: I was not disappointed by the Star Brand. I was not disappointed one little bit. The hype was true, true at least as far as this issue was concerned. I loved that first issue of Star Brand, and still do; I still count it as one of the best comic books of all time, as close to a comic book masterpiece as a fellow like me can get. I loved the Star Brand character (not Ken Connell so much, as he is really kind of a jerk, but the Star Brand itself, which really was a silent character). I love the Star Brand powers (if I understand correctly, the Star Brand tattoo is basically a portable nuclear reactor, so its powers are limitless) and I love the Star Brand mythos (the fact that Ken was just given this tattoo by a higher being; I mean, that could happen to me! It really could!!). When I call him my favorite, I am not lying; he is undeniably my favorite superhero of all time.
Unfortunately, the New Universe didn’t fare nearly as well as the Marvel Universe, in large part because it was never funded well (something I would not learn until many years later). With the lack of funding came a lack of art and story; Star Brand #8 was another classic, but the universe and the title (which was changed to The Star Brand with issue #11) soon fell apart and ultimately folded. And though Star Brand would appear in a few Marvel Universe titles (including Quasar), a New Universe one-shot follow-up (Untold Tales of the New Universe), and a modern reboot (newuniversal), he has still faded away into relative obscurity. Except, of course, as far as I’m concerned. I’m still a Star Brand fan; I still have the entire run (all 19 issues, plus the annual) and I still read the first every so often; I’m still Star Branded.