The White Event

by Alan Rapp on September 5, 2007

in Comics

A world without heroes, until now.  newuniversal takes us into a world very much like our own, with some important differences, where an unexplained celestial event would cause the birth of a handful of super-humans with the abilities to change human history forever and a world not yet ready for gods to walk the Earth.

20 years after Marvel’s New Universe Warren Ellis and Salvador Larroca re-imagine a world facing the birth of heroes.  Think NBC’s Heroes, but more consistent, better thought out and, you know, good.

newuniversal Vol. 1: Everything Went White
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20 years ago Marvel Comics launched a new brand of comics set in a distinctly different, and more realistic, world.  The New Universe experiment, though ultimately a failure due to creative issues and Marvel’s budgetary problems at the time, intrigued many and was years ahead of its time.  Last year Warren Ellis and Salvador Larroca were tapped to re-imagine New Universe for its 20th Anniversary.  The result became newuniversal.

An ordinary world, not that different from our own, is visited by an unexpected celestial event.  All at once, all over the globe, everything goes white.  At first it appears the event had no effect, but then a handful of people begin developing unusual powers and abilities.

We learn that this “White Event” was caused by the world’s contact with the “newuniverse structure,” an artificial structure created eons ago by a now long dead and forgotten race.  Its purpose is to alter a small group of sentient beings for specific roles.

The trouble however lies not with these newly super-enhanced beings, but for a world unready and unwilling to allow such fundamental changes in the world’s balance of power to occur.  Led by a secret NSA program known as Project Spitfire, the US Government has strict rules for dealing with super-humans, and even killing them when necessary.  The appearance of one living super-human commences surveillence and defense preparations.  Two super-humans means putting agents into the field ready to act.  The appearance of three super-humans, which leads to a mathematical probability that they will meet, means death.  Presided over by Philip L. Voight, Spitfire has taken necessary action in the past and is willing to take deadly action again if necessary.

The four transformed characters include John Tensen, a NYPD detective near death after a gunshot wound to the head who miraculously reawakens completely healed and with the ability to see though a person’s lifetime and judge them on their actions in the name of Justice.  Kenneth Connell was a small town hick who awakes to find his girlfriend burnt alive and a strange glowing image of the Star Brand on his right hand.  Dr. Jennifer Swan, a scientist working on a weapons system for Spitfire becomes aware of an uncanny ability to understand and talk to machines.  Izanami Randall awakes inside an alien communication station inside the Superflow, a transuniversal space where dreams and ideas interact with the physical world, and is given the information about what has happened and told a “paradigm shift” has occurred.  She is to be the Nightmask herald and is given the task to find the others and help the world understand and cope with the changes that are to come.

Also part of the narrative are Dr. Leonard Carson, Dr. Hannah Ballad, and Jim Braddock and their team of archaeologists who discover the ruins of the shining city of Zardach, a city of amazing technological achievement which was destroyed before written history began, uncovered by the White Event, and Dr. Emmet Proudhawk, a Native American CIA consultant contacted by the Superflow during a vision quest.

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This hardcover volume collects the first six issues of the series which is set to start back up again for “season two” in 2008.  Sadly it doesn’t contain an introduction from Ellis, but does contain cover art, including variant covers, and some early sketches of the main characters.  Movie watchers may also enjoy Larroca’s artwork which models many of the characters off Hollywood actors and actresses including Bruce Willis, Josh Holloway, Angelina Jolie, and James Cromwell.

In terms of storytelling newuniversal is first-rate.  Fans of Ellis’ work on Stormwatch, The Authority, and Planetary will recognize similar ideas of multiple realities and dimensions and a region (here the Superflow, similar though different to the Bleed) outside of them.  Also of interest are the variations of this alternate reality.  Hillary Rodham Clinton is the President, the Twin Towers still stand, and Paul McCartney (not John Lennon, who still lives in this reality) was shot all those years ago.  All these little details give a well formed and well developed world into which these characters exist.  Unlike NBC Heroes which plays with some of the same themes, here the events and the boundaries of the world are understood, well thought out, and explained.  There are still mysteries to solve, but the readers understand the basic rules of the game (instead of just redefining them every week as fits the writer’s fancy).  For fans of the show, and others, like me, who have been disappointed by its lack of foresight, I would recommend you take a look at newuniversal and see how good writing can make all the difference.

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