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Sweet Dreams Are Made of These: Van Lente talks “Untold Tales of the New Universe: Nightmask”

by  in Comic News Comment
Sweet Dreams Are Made of These: Van Lente talks “Untold Tales of the New Universe: Nightmask”
Cover To “NightMask #1”

Keith Remsen gives his enemies nightmares, literally. Remsen AKA Nightmask has the ability to enter and manipulate the dreams of other people. Nightmask was one of the stars of Marvel Comics‘ “New Universe” line, an imprint launched in 1986 that was set in a more science fiction than superhero oriented universe. This March, old fans and new readers will get a chance to explore mysterious dream worlds when Nightmask returns as part of the “Untold Tales of the New Universe” event, in a one-shot special by writer Fred Van Lente and artist Arnold Pander. CBR News spoke with Van Lente about the book.

The “New Universe” was familiar territory for Van Lente who had read and enjoyed many of the titles in the short-lived imprint. “I actually had all but one or two issues of ‘Nightmask’ in my original collection,” Van Lente told CBR News. “I’ve always been the kind of fan on the lookout for new and different titles to read, and while the original N.U. comics were pretty hit or miss, one of them was one of my favorite comics of all time – ‘DP7’, which was such a terrific, solid comic from start to finish — and, not coincidentally, the only one that had the same creative team for its entire 32-issue run. I also had PAD’s [Peter David] entire run of ‘Justice’. Good stuff.”

So, when Mark Paniccia called Van Lente and offered him a chance to craft his own “New Universe” story he replied with an enthusiastic “Hell Yes!” Van Lente was offered a number of different characters but he really wanted to play around with “Nightmask”, a character who he thought had the most untapped potential.

“A lot of the N.U. ideas were lame or watered-down versions of more effective super hero archetypes, but some of them were pretty cool — I would put Nightmask in that category. I mean, I seem to recall a character that lived in dreams selling a comic or two over at DC/Vertigo,” Van Lente joked. “Nevertheless, with the exception of ‘DP7’, I think the execution was not the greatest in the N.U. And I’m saying that as much as a fan as a creator. For the first ten issues, I believe Nightmask had ten different pencillers. Some of those artists were or became legends — Ernie Colon, Tony de Zuniga, Keith Giffen, and Mark Bagley — but inconsistency is death for building a loyal fan base. (There were at least four writers in those ten issues too.)”

The plot for Van Lente’s story was inspired by the inconsistency of “Nightmask’s” creative teams. “My story takes place in between ‘Nightmask’ #4 and #5,” Van Lente said. “The series had been created by the legendary Archie Goodwin, and from the first issue the story had been building toward a final showdown between Keith Remsen, Nightmask, and the maniac who had killed his parents — deranged dream researcher Horst ‘The Gnome’ Kleinmann. At the end of #4, Goodwin set up a cliffhanger in which Kleinmann had gotten his grubby psychic claws into Keith’s sister, Teddy, and the next issue blurb cried “NEXT: THE KINGDOM OF THE GNOME!”

“Then, the next month came around, Nightmask #5 hit the stands, and the legions of Nightmask fans stampeded to the comics ship and/or drug store (I was buying my comics in a drug store as a kid, I bet that dates me), cracked open the cover… And… Nothing. Nada! No Gnome! No Teddy in jeopardy! No big showdown!” Van Lente continued. “The entire storyline was unceremoniously dumped, and the book went in a completely different direction with a completely different creative team and story. The Gnome, his sexy psychic vampire assassin Mistress Midnight, and the other main Nightmask villains aren’t even mentioned for the remainder of the title’s original 12-issue run. I mean what the hell? Can you imagine? An entire cliffhanger and story arc just abandoned, left unfinished? Major villains shuffled off to the continuity dustbin without comment? That would be unthinkable today. In our Internet age the Marvel-haters would have gone completely apeshit! It’s like an ‘Anti-Retcon’ or something.”

So, “Untold Tales of the New Universe: Nightmask” will chronicle the character’s lost journey into the “Kingdom of the Gnome.” “The credits for my book will say, ‘Based on an idea by Archie Goodwin,'” Van Lente said. “Dr. Horst “The Gnome” Kleinmann has captured Teddy, Keith’s sister, to lure Nightmask into one final cataclysmic dream-duel to the death!” Van Lente stated. “And it is one doozy of a REM-sleep smackdown, let me tell you. It’s beautifully rendered by Arnold Pander (of the Pander Bros). I’m extremely proud with how it’s turning out.”

Nightmask, his sister Teddy and the Gnome aren’t the only characters featured in Van Lente’s story. “Dr. Lucian Ballad and Lita Mercado, Keith’s main allies, appear; as do the villainous Udo and Gian, Kleinmann’s henchmen. And Mistress Midnight. It’s a real Nightmask love fest,” Van Lente said. “For all twelve Nightmask fans out there (I’m the thirteenth).”

Van Lente’s story will appeal to long time “Nightmask” fans but readers don’t have to be familiar with the character or the “New Universe” to enjoy the special. The story is designed to tie up a dangling “Nightmask” plot thread and introduce new readers to the teenaged dream walking hero. “Nightmask was eighteen years old when the White Event happened, a kid really — so he was earnest and idealistic, but also naïve,” Van Lente explained. “He did want to help people, but at the same time he was also filled with a more-than-average amount of adolescent angst due to the bombing that killed is parents and crippled his sister”.

Van Lente has had a blast writing “Untold Tales of the New Universe: Nightmask”, a tale that should entertain anyone whose enjoyed a Marvel comic. “This is an old-fashioned Hero-Versus-Arch nemesis cataclysmic showdown in classic Marvel fashion, with a loved one’s life hanging in the balance,” Van Lente said. “And the fact it takes place in the malleable and surreal realm of dreams makes it all the cooler and more exciting.”

And now you can discuss this on the CBR Marvel Forum.

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