This post previously appeared at CBR.com.
Marvel’s New Universe line of comics debuted in 1986 to mark the company’s 25th anniversary. The brainchild of then-Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter, the eight original New Universe titles each occupied the same world, which was much more realistic than the main Marvel Universe. As such, these comics demonstrated the true horror of superpowers — especially with D.P. 7.
In the New Universe, there were no gods, no advanced technology and no magic. Until the White Event that defined the beginning of the New Universe, there were also no superpowers. After the White Event — an astronomical flash that was later explained to be connected to the Starbrand — one out of every 500 thousand people developed paranormal abilities.
D.P. 7 — short for “Displaced Paranormals” — was one of the initial New Universe titles. It was one of the only titles to last the duration of the initiative and the only New Universe book to maintain a consistent creative team: Writer Mark Gruenwald, colorist Becton and penciller Paul Ryan worked on the book’s entire run.
Among the New Universe titles, D.P. 7 most strongly adhered to its principles. The series provided a realistic look at how the sudden development of paranormal abilities would affect someone’s life and the role suddenly-powered people had in society.
Aside from Ben Grimm, aka Thing of the Fantastic Four, few superheroes in Marvel Comics of the late ’80s ever expressed dismay about having mutations or powers. Pretty people got powers and generally stayed pretty. That was not so in the New Universe, where paranormal abilities were shown to dramatically interfere with people’s lives. These changes also attracted negative attention from people who alternatively saw these new abilities as God’s work, or Satan’s work.
Perhaps the best examples of this are two of the founding members of the group, Lenore Frenzl and Stephanie Harrington.
Lenore Frenzl is introduced in D.P. 7 #1 as a polite, quaint old lady, a retired Latin teacher whose body constantly produces a light that drains people of their energy and vitality. Though it’s a useful ability to have when encountering people who aim to do harm, it requires that Frenzl remain constantly covered up or risk killing the people around her.
It’s a terrible existence made even worse when she realizes that draining others’ life force imbues her with youth and vitality. She becomes addicted to the effects of her powers. Watching someone with her moral and social standards fight against her addiction is difficult to watch, but a fair treatment of the conflict with which addicts are familiar.
Another character who appears in the book’s first issue, Stephanie Harrington loses her husband as a result of her powers. Though he’s shown to be hardly worth anyone’s time, the dissolution of her relationship with her husband — and the distance it puts between her and her kids — causes Harrington tremendous grief.
It’s important to note, too, that Harrington’s ability is overwhelmingly positive: Harrington’s glittering can heal and “supercharge” people, granting them increased strength or speed. Her arc in the series is the most well-developed, as she comes to rely on herself more, shedding the “housewife” identity and becoming a more fully realized individual. Unfortunately, that growth is accompanied by significant pain.
Several characters in the New Universe, including D.P. 7, got entangled in their world’s military and political engagements. One of the hallmarks of Gruenwald’s writing is his incorporation of social and political commentary. With full control of the entire world, here, Gruenwald uses D.P. 7 to spotlight Cold War maneuvering and gamesmanship. It’s a cynical, but perhaps realistic, view of the way the world’s governments would exploit superpowered people.
Finally, D.P. 7 tried to show what would happen when normal people suddenly became supernormal. The series showed what could happen to people of all ages whose lives were suddenly turned upside-down as a result of their powers. The main thesis of the series was that it wouldn’t be pretty and the losses would almost always outweigh the gains.
Even today, it’s much more common to see superpowers depicted without negative consequences. When those consequences become life-changing — especially when they impact just “regular” people who happen to gain fantastic abilities, or when the physical and psychological trauma of being “different” is brought to the fore — it’s a reminder of just how forward-looking D.P. 7 was for its time.
Considering we live in a world of peak television, this might be the perfect opportunity for a comic book like D.P. 7 to make the leap to Netflix, where it would fit right in with The Umbrella Academy, or the severely-missed Marvel Comics series. Given the low-budget nature of the team’s powers and the character-driven nature of their stories, it seems like a potential hit in the making.