Comics Watch: A Marvel Threat Finally Takes Center Stage

Avengers - Marvel Entertainment - Ed Mcguinness  - Cover - H 2020
Marvel Entertainment/Ed Mcguinness
Star Brand has been built up for years, and will now take on Earth's mightiest heroes in the pages of 'Avengers' in what could be a model for future movies.

Welcome back to The Hollywood Reporter's weekly Comics Watch, a dive into how the latest books from Marvel, DC and beyond could provide fodder for the big (and small) screen.

They’re Earth’s mightiest heroes, but when it comes to acting as a real deterrent to the threats of the galaxy, the Avengers may not be enough. This week's Avengers No. 29 by Jason Aaron and artist Ed McGuinness continues the “Starbrand Reborn” arc that has been growing over the past two issues of the series. For those unfamiliar with Aaron’s run on the title, Avengers is the closest any current Marvel Comics’ book gets to capturing the feel of the Marvel Cinematic Universe with its balance of blockbuster action, huge cast of characters and winking humor. In other words, if you’re an MCU fan wondering where to delve into comics, Aaron’s Avengers is a great place to start. The team roster consisting of Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Black Panther, Captain Marvel, She-Hulk, Ghost Rider (Robbie Reyes) and Blade has given the book an opportunity to explore every corner of the Marvel Universe, from the tombs of Dracula to the stars of the Shi’ar Empire.

This most recent arc sees the team dealing with a new cosmic threat in the form of an obscure character that Marvel has been building up for a few years: Star Brand. We’ve previously discussed the synergy that has formed between Marvel Comics and Marvel Studios, given Kevin Feige’s recent promotion to chief creative officer. While corporate synergy isn’t always a good thing, Marvel seems to have managed well so far in terms of striking a balance between how these characters appear in comics and how they appear in film. Feige has an affinity for lesser-known Marvel properties, and it would seem that the cosmic side is what he’s most interested in branching out for upcoming MCU phases. With Guardians of the Galaxy proving to be a major hit, Captain Marvel seemingly set to become the face of the Avengers, and the Eternals set for introduction later this year, all properties that have made complicated mythologies more accessible, we’ve got our eye on who might be next. So far, Aaron’s run has leaned heavily on the Eternals, the Celestials, and Blade ahead of their upcoming MCU roles, and I can’t help but wonder if there are bigger plans in store for Star Brand.

The history of Star Brand is a rather complicated one because the character’s beginnings exist outside of the Marvel Universe. Created by Jim Shooter in 1986, Star Brand was one of the original titles in Marvel’s New Universe imprint. That imprint was entirely divorced from the Marvel Universe. Not simply another world in the multiverse, but another entity entirely, with no ties to previously established Marvel mythology. Within that series, a man named Kenneth Connell was granted a star-like tattoo of cosmic power by the “Old Man,” later revealed to be Connell himself after an event had flung him 500 years into the past. This Star Brand gave Connell the limitless powers of a god, and abilities limited only by the user’s imagination. More sci-fi saga than superhero book, Star Brand, and the rest of the New Universe titles, lasted only three years before cancellation. But rather than becoming lost, Star Brand and the New Universe characters returned in the pages of Quasar when that character came into possession of the Star Brand and was able to move from the Marvel Universe to New Universe and back again. A separate continuity reboot of New Universe by Warren Ellis, called newuniversal, launched in 2007 and reintroduced Connell as Star Brand. But it wouldn’t be until 2013, under Jonathan Hickman and Dustin Weaver, that the character found a role in the MCU proper and a mythology slightly less complicated than what had come before.

In Avengers #7, Hickman and Weaver introduced Kevin Kale Connor, a college student who was granted cosmic powers by a mishap during a White Event, a massive shift in the energy of the universe that would have made the Earth sentient with power, preparing it for the Infinity War on the horizon. That power, however, found its home within Connor, who became Starbrand, the planet’s defense system, with powers on an unlimited scale. Connor was killed accidentally by Ghost Rider in Aaron’s Avengers run, leading the Star Brand to seek a new body to possess and igniting a conflict between the Avengers, Shi’ar, and the Brood over what this massive power could create in the hands of an unknown entity.

It’s a whopping amount of mythology for an obscure character, but there’s something cinematically intriguing about this idea of Earth needing a sentient force of energy to ensure its survival. After all, the MCU’s Earth has been the central location of galactic threats for the past decade, and that’s unlikely to change, given the mechanizations of the Kree and Skrulls as teased in last year’s Captain Marvel and Spider-Man: Far From Home. So far, the Avengers have been built around this idea of an unlikely group of heroes coming together to protect Earth, but there’s also the fact that they’ve created many of their problems, like Ultron and HYDRA, or exacerbated existing ones, like Thanos. The idea of a unified answer to these threats, and how that could change the dynamic of the Avengers and also prove why they’re still needed, seems like a road worth exploring in the MCU. What are the Avengers next to a human with the powers of a god? While this kind of immense power can be difficult to comprehend and establish rules for, much like the Infinity Stones, it would be interesting to see the Avengers contend with a force that isn’t a threat to Earth’s safety but to their idea of heroism and their purpose in the universe.