newuniversal: 1959 #1
Writer: Kieron Gillen
Artists: Greg Scott & Kody Chamberlain
Colors: Val Staples
Letters: Ed Dukeshire
Cover artist: Brandon Peterson
Editor: John Barber
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Price: $3.99 US/$4.05 CAN
Kieron Gillen impressed those of us who read his Phonogram from Image Comics, but his assignment on this one-shot from Marvel Comics really served as his introduction to a much wider North American comics-reading audience. So how did he do? Well, not only did he offer an intense period piece set on the fringes of a burgeoning super-hero continuity, thereby proving his mettle to readers unfamiliar with his work, he’s provided a great boost for Marvel’s newuniversal brand. If this story of paranoia, fear and the unfortunate ethics of evolution doesn’t make you want to immerse yourself in Warren Ellis’s retooled vision of the “New Universe,” nothing will. Gillen provides a story that does more than follow in step with Ellis’s work; it exceeds it. It’s too bad that this will likely only appeal to existing newuniversal readers. It’s a shame Marvel didn’t offer this book at a lower price point, even as a loss leader, as it would no doubt have ignited a great deal of interest in Ellis’s first newuniversal limited series, the new newuniversal: shockfront title and the further spinoffs set for release in the months ahead.
Federal agents tasked with a long-forgotten NSA mission of monitoring and policing superhumans on the rare occasions they appear in America have their hands full today, but the protocols they follow have their roots in the 1950s. After a dazzling visual phenomenon known as the Fireworks in 1953, NSA agents become aware of a trio of individuals who seem to be able to achieve the impossible. As agents endeavor to track their movements and watch their everyday routines, they soon discover that when these superhuman individuals come into contact with one another, disaster is soon to follow. Fearing a new stage in human evolution that could lead to the eradication of the current incarnation of the race, a dark, ugly priority is adopted by men willing to make difficult decisions.
Though I’m a fan of newuniversal, I didn’t relish the notion of buying more than one series at a time. So I was relieved to discover that this was just a one-shot. This could have just as easily served as a fill-in issue of the regular series, but newuniversal isn’t a regular series, is it? Now that it’s being presented as a series of limited series, this one-shot approach makes a little more sense.
Kody Chamberlain provides three pages of art in this issue, though without the credits indicating as much, one might never notice. Chamberlain’s work blends almost seamlessly with Greg Scott’s style, and I applaud the visual consistency. The greatest strength of the artwork on this book is Scott’s ability to capture the period. The clothes and hairstyles look like something out of a 50-year-old newsreel. Scott’s darker style also suits the paranoia and ugly acts that are vital to the story’s success.
The one-page splash depicting the 1959 version of the White Event (dubbed “the Fireworks”) is stunning; colorist Val Staples did an outstanding job, creating an all-encompassing, cosmic effect that seemed otherworldly yet benign all at once. Brandon Peterson’s cover is also in keeping with the era, but it doesn’t capture the spirit of this story. Instead, it looks more like a tribute to film-noir private-eye films and pulp fiction.
The choice to include Tony Stark into the world of newuniversal is an interesting one; I don’t know if it’s Gillen’s idea or a suggestion that perhaps Warren Ellis (who picked Gillen to pen this story) passed along. Ultimately, I think it’s a smart move for this one-shot, both creatively and from a marketing standpoint. What happens to Tony Stark has a greater impact because it happens to such a recognizable, popular figure from the medium. Furthermore, by providing this link, minor though it may be, to the Marvel Universe creates the possibility that it will draw the attention of a wider reader base without sacrificing the intensity and harshness that are integral to the property.
Gillen sets up some clear parallels between the characters in this flashback book and the superhumans in the main title, but one needn’t have read the previous newuniversal comics in order to appreciate this dark story. What’s really fascinating is that there are no heroes in this tale, only villains. Nevertheless, it’s easy to see the NSA agents view in the story. There’s a logical reason for their actions, especially when one considers the strong Darwinian viewpoint that the central character holds. Even so, there’s no overcoming the fact that the story ultimately brings the main protagonist in conflict with pure innocence. Gillen offers a riveting script built on a foundation of an ages-old ethical debate. This was easily the best comic book I read this past week, and it’s got me excited about Marvel’s other newuniversal titles again. 9/10