NEW YORK — An embittered man, divorced from his parents, wife and children, arms himself to the teeth and becomes a soldier of fortune.
In an attempt to lure those who do not ordinarily read comic books, Marvel Comics Group has introduced a new line that features superheroes trying to cope with the real world.
"We're doing things that they say can't be done," said Jim Shooter, Marvel's editor in chief. The new line of 11 books was introduced in the summer to mark Marvel's 25th anniversary.
"For the people who want it, there'll be action and adventure," he said. "But there will also be an emphasis on character that fantasy doesn't allow."
The New Universe series "will read like the best science fiction novel," he said.
In "Merc," there's a "mercenary with a conscience." In "DP7," seven people suffer from physical and emotional problems because of their enhanced powers, such as Mastodon, a huge man with a hairy and grotesque body that causes him pain.
In "Star Brand," a ordinary man finds the most powerful weapon in the universe and gets caught up in extraordinary circumstances. In one issue, he is torn between helping a child trapped in a well or keeping his new-found secret. He is afraid that American intelligence will conspire against him and that hostile foreign powers will try to steal the weapon.
Response to the new books is better than expected, Shooter said, with direct sales in the first month of about 200,000 books each for "Merc" and "Star Brand." The top-selling comic, "The X-Men," sells nearly 500,000 each month.
In September, Marvel put out "Nam," about the adventures of a young man during the Vietnam War. It is written by a Vietnam vet, and the action is based on true incidents.
Shooter said Marvel hopes to change the comic industry, just as Stan Lee, former editor in chief and now head of Marvel Productions, the animation studio, did in 1961, when he and illustrator Jack Kirby created the Fantastic Four: Reed Richards, the elastic Mr. Fantastic; Sue Storm, the Invisible Girl; Johnny Storm, the Human Torch, and Ben Grimm, the orange Thing.
Before then, superbeings jumped into costumes with the single desire to fight crime and had no financial or mental worries. The Fantastic Four bickered among themselves while trying to keep a lid on the danger and violence that stopped them from leading normal lives.
"We are opening a broader market, but that doesn't mean the end of fantasy books," Shooter said.