New Universe was a short-lived experiment in the late ’80s by then Editor-In-Chief Jim Shooter. The goal of the imprint was to have a more grounded and less outlandish version of a superhero world where heroes’ powers were more subdued and focused more on their feats in a less external universe-ending-event kind of way. It’s an interesting concept, but it never saw the success Shooter would have liked, and reading this collection, I can’t say it necessarily deserved it.
Nightmask is a teenager named Keith Remsen whose parents were doing research and experiments on dreams and how to enter them. After a bombing at an airport, Keith goes into a coma, and when he wakes up, he finds out his parents died and his sister, Teddy, is wheelchair bound. Throughout the first issue, he realizes he’s able to enter people’s dreams and affect what happens within them. As cool as this premise sounds, it’s not executed very well. Throughout the 12 issues of Nightmask’s solo, the dream sequences are strange and disjointed, which I think might have been trying to replicate the actual feeling of dreaming but was done very poorly. It made things hard to follow and muddied up the already incredibly hard to follow dialogue and plot.
The supporting cast tries to have a bigger part of the series, but it comes at the detriment of the main story. Teddy desperately wants to help Keith in his adventures, their new legal guardian who is also their doctor has to juggle taking care of them and making sure they get the therapy they need from their traumatizing event, and then there’s the siblings’ physical therapist who must mention she’s Latina every other panel. The characters suffer from the classic “a lot of personality and not much to do.”
Some of the art is nice, and I think it might just be a product of the time, but for a book about entering dreams, the art isn’t dreamy enough for its premise. It’s very flat and house style. If Shooter had wanted this to work then the trippy dream world aspect of it should have been pushed harder. I know that it was hard for Shooter to get top artists for this imprint, but damn, I was really underwhelmed by the showing of dreamlike art in this collection. The backup issues were better about this, but not by much.
Speaking of the issues that were included in this collection, they were so weird that I had trouble getting through them. I know it’s hard for collections like this to find stuff to include, especially for such a short-lived universe, but all of them were so disconnected from each other that they did nothing to make me want to read more New Universe content.
Overall, this collection has little to offer anyone who’s not a die-hard New Universe fan. (Do those even exist?) I enjoyed Marvel’s attempt to do Starbrand and Nightmask in the main universe a few years ago, so I thought I was going to like this more, but altogether, it wasn’t much to sneeze at and could easily be passed on by like…everyone ever.