Grew up reading comic books in the 90's. Marvel fan at heart. Hulk, the Midnight Sons, and Marvel's cosmic universe are my favorites.
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Sam Alexander rockets into his third ongoing series as Nova from Marvel Comics and this time he’s not alone. Marvel’s original human rocket, Richard Rider, makes his bold return! ComiConverse contributor Mitch Nissen is here with all the high flying details.
Review: Nova #2
In December of 2016 Marvel Comics launched the latest volume of Nova. Sam Alexander has been carrying the mantle of Nova in comic books since November of 2011 when he was brought into the Marvel comics universe from the Ultimate Spider-Man animated series. Now Sam has 44 issues of Nova under his belt stretched across three volumes.
In this most recent issue the new guard (Sam) meets the old guard for the first time.
The original Nova of the Marvel universe.
That’s right. Richard Rider is back.
Sam inherited the powers of Nova from his father, Jesse Alexander, when Sam discovered the Nova helmet. Since then Sam has been learning to harness the powers of the Nova Force. He’s been caught up in the super hero struggles of Earth, gone off to space in search of his father, and has been formerly inducted into the Avengers.
Sam’s life got a whole lot bigger after putting on the Nova helmet.
On occasion he’s been mistaken for someone else. Sam learned that long ago there was another man called Nova on Earth, a man named Richard Rider. And that Richard Rider was dead. While off playing super hero Sam’s helmet senses another Nova signal on Earth. Thinking it’s his father finally come home, Sam races to find the other Nova. There he discovers a strange amorphous monster and a Nova Sam believed to have been long deceased.
This current volume of Nova is penciled by Ramon Perez with colors by Ian Herring. Together these two produce some truly flashy art overflowing with energy and mayhem. The technique Perez employs is rougher and highly stylized compared to previous Nova books. The art style is somewhat reminiscent of a rougher Skottie Young in its cartoony approach (Young also penciled Nova way back in the third volume of New Warriors). Sometimes the book appears to bounce between two grades of art, one, where the characters are out of costume enjoying everyday life. And two, in costume performing super heroics.
The scenes out of costume look good. Perez has a real talent for rendering individual characters. The faces especially stand out. Everyone Perez draws appears unique and real. He imbues the characters with genuine personality, a real strength of his art. The scenes in costume however sometimes appear a bit rushed. Sam in his Nova suit often looks flat and two dimensional at times. In issue one, the battle against Ego the Living Planet, felt unrefined and rather bland. The scenes of everyday life out of costume look the stronger of the two by far.
Towards the end of issue two Perez brings a little more of the detail and care employed in those everyday sequences into the costumed section. It just so happens that the characters are merely hanging out in costume, not engaged in action or heroics. It’s in keeping with the trend the artist is setting for the book. If Perez would bring the level of detail employed in the scenes of everyday life to the entire book it would only enhance the visual appeal.
There’s a meta-moment in this issue where Ms. Marvel calls out all of the Richard Rider fans as “intense.” I think she was being nice and politically correct. Perhaps a harsher adjective is justified for us fans.
A little personal anecdote, I’ve been a fan of Nova for a long time. When I say “Nova” I mean Richard Rider. Having grown up reading comic books in the 90’s I’m well aware of Nova’s presence in the New Warriors. Where the character became a favorite, however, was in the mid to late 2000’s with stories like Annihilation on through The Thanos Imperative. The whole reason I’m writing this review is because of my love for Nova.
I read all 31 issues plus the crossovers of Sam Alexander’s first volume as Nova. While reading that book it felt like writers Jeff Loeb and Gerry Duggan were retreading many of the same themes Marv Wolfman explored in the original Man Called Nova series (Richard’s original run) in the late 1970’s. Although it lacked a compelling villain like the Sphinx, Sam’s journey paralleled Richard’s in many ways.
Sam, as a character himself, hasn’t strayed far from the typical hero formula. It’s the “average teenager receives super powers” setup. Sam has to balance school, family, and super powers he’s learning on the fly. Finding his absentee father is his quest. Beyond this the character has not received a truly defining story separating him from all the rest. It’s merely Spider-Man with space powers. To someone young just discovering super heroes Sam is exciting and identifiable. To someone whose read comics for years Sam feels empty and without substance. But to be fair, Richard Rider began in much the same way. Again, Sam’s story parallel’s Richard’s, sometimes quite closely.
But Sam’s book became frustrating. Or rather Marvel’s handling of Richard Rider’s character after The Thanos Imperative became frustrating. Throughout the 31 issues of Sam’s book readers were given only the slightest mention of the old Nova, always reiterating that the character was dead. Then, in the pages of Guardians of the Galaxy, writer Brian Michael Bendis delivered what felt like a begrudging and halfhearted story explaining what had happened to Richard after The Thanos Imperative.
It was vexing to say the least. And, until recently, I had given up on Nova.
Now Nova is back! Interestingly, what happened with Richard and his subsequent replacement by Sam, is now happening across the board with the rest of Marvel’s old guard. Out with the old and in with the new. Only, now as all the old heroes are being replaced, Richard finally returns.
Jeff Loveness and Ramon Perez are credited with writing this new volume. One of the highlights of the issue is the dialog between the young heroes and Richard. The writers capture the voice of the adolescent characters convincingly as Ms. Marvel, Cyclops, Spider-Man (Morales), and Sam fill Richard in about the current Marvel universe.
The scene cleverly comments on the current state of Marvel comics through the voices of the new heroes (the latest generation of fans and readers) and the older hero (readers from ten years ago and beyond). The scene plays out with Richard learning that the heroes have changed but the situations are the same (During the Annihilation event the whole positive universe was saved unbeknownst to the Earth heroes fighting each other in the first Civil War. And he learns of the recent Civil War repeating the same old thing). Richard has to leave the new generation of heroes to “get some air.”
The scene really captures the clash of comics today and current readers with those readers who’ve devoted much of their lives and funds to Marvel for many years in the past. You can almost hear Richard’s inner monologue in the scene afterwards, “Is there a place for me anymore in this world?” giving voice to many of the long time readers asking, “Is there a place for me anymore in the current Marvel universe?”
The book draws to a close with Richard and Sam traveling to Knowhere where Richard reunites with an old ally, Cosmo. The scene is wonderful (with a slight caveat when Cosmo says words ending in “ing.” He’s Russian. They should end in “ink.” Loveness and Perez, you almost nailed it save for that. Kudos for remembering Richard’s helmet turns clothe-like when he’s not wearing it though!). From there Richard and Sam enter a bar on Knowhere and a scene that’s been six years coming finally plays out. Everyone in the place raises a drink to Richard.
“I think they remember.”
And then the two Novas are blasted in the face.
Shot down by non-other than Death’s Head. Death’s Head’s appearance is interesting for a few reasons. One: Both Nova and Death’s Head were extensively written by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning. Two: Marvel teased Death’s Head as a focus character for last year’s All-New All-Different rebranding, an until recently empty promise. And three: It’s freakin’ Death’s Head! If you don’t know then learn yourself!
In closing, in spite of some inconsistent art the new Nova book is off to a good start (this coming from one of those old fans the book so cleverly calls out). So, if you’re like me and have been waiting a long time to see Richard restored, well here we go. I myself am stoked for the next issue.
The only question remaining is: does anybody care that Richard’s back? Or have the fans of Richard disappeared in the ensuing six years since The Thanos Imperative?
Tell us what you think!
Mitch Nissen is a Contributor to ComiConverse. Follow him on Twitter: @NinjaMitche