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The announcement of a Starbrand and Nightmask ongoing series is new proof that no concept in comic books is beyond salvation.

The emergence of Starbrand and Nightmask as compelling characters was one of the bigger surprises from Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers run. Hickman found a way to take a premise that had never seemed like anyone’s favorite and breathe creative life into it.

Starbrand and Nightmask originally appeared as part of Marvel’s New Universe. That family of titles was introduced in 1986, to celebrate Marvel’s 25th anniversary by crafting a new line featuring original characters in its own, separate universe. Starbrand and Nightmask each headlined his own solo title. In spite of some strong creative talent and a lot of interesting ideas, the New Universe never really caught on with fans and the line folded in less than three years.

Image provided by Amazon/Marvel

The New Universe would go dormant for years at a time. Mark Gruenwald revived some of the characters, including Starbrand, for an arc in his Quasar series that was part of an event called Starblast that established the New Universe as part of Marvel’s multiverse.

Starbrand and Nightmask later turned up among other New Universe characters in an Exiles story. The New Universe character Justice appeared in a Spider-Man 2099 arc.

As part of an attempt to revive the New Universe for its 20th anniversary in 2006, Marvel featured “untold” tales of many of the characters, including Starbrand and Nightmask, as bonus features in several Marvel books. Those tales paved the way for acclaimed writer Warren Ellis transforming the concept in the series newuniversal, putting a fresh spin on the characters. That series lasted only six issues and then faded away.

Image provided by Amazon/Marvel

Hickman found an interesting angle on the New Universe concept in Avengers, positing that the various characters were created by a universal force as a “planetary defense system” in advances of an extinction level event. Only Starbrand and Nightmask were used, but those characters proved rather memorable. After a few months as supporting characters, Hickman made Starbrand & Nightmask full-fledged Avengers and they played key roles in the Infinity cross-over and the run-up to Secret Wars.

Hickman’s new spin on Starbrand and Nightmask appealed to readers. The heroes are both college-aged and, in their new series (from writer Greg Weisman and artist Dominike Stanton), will be balancing student life with being heroes. That’s certainly not new ground for a comic book, but with the leads having developed into surprisingly sympathetic and interesting characters, it’s a book that’s worth watching.

If nothing else, it proves that the value of any concept can be unlocked by creators with a good idea.

Originally published at on September 2, 2015.

Author (Grievous Angels) and pop culture gadabout #amwriting

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