Sunday, November 14, 2010

'Nova' is mediocre 1970s sci-fi/superhero comics

Essential Nova (Marvel Comics, 2006)
Writers: Marv Wolfman and Len Wein
Artists: John Buscema, Sal Buscema, Carmine Infantino, Frank Giacoia, Tom Palmer,
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

Some comic book series start start out strong and die whimpering. The majority start in mediocrity and end in mediocrity, and that is the case with the series "A Man Called Nova", which is presented in its entirely, along with Nova's guest appearances in "Amazing Spider-Man" and "Marvel Two-in-One", in this entry in Marvel's massive, low-cost reprint book series "Essential Marvel."

Created and written by Marv Wolfman, "A Man Called Nova" centers of Richard Rider, a perfectly average high-schooler who is chosen by a dying alien soldier to be the inheritor of his mantle and his powers. Rider's first excursion as a superhero pits him against the destroyer of the distant alien world of Xandar, where his benefactor originated, and he later battles against the enigmatic Sphinx, the high-flying Condor, the bizarre Corruptor, the mad Blacklight, and many other colorful foes. Eventually, Rider is drawn into outer space, a war with the Skrull, and a race between the Sphinx and the insane machine-man Dr. Sun to control the living computers of far away Xandar.

For most of 500+ pages of comics that are presented in the book, Richard Rider/Nova place a distant, boring second to the villains he faces. Rider is simply TOO average to be interesting, and the same is true of his super-hero identity: He can fly really fast, he's super-strong, he can take a punch like nobody else... and his helmet folds like cloth when he takes it off. And that about sums it up.

The villains he fights would almost all make better stars of a comic book than he does with the Condor--a would-be kingpin of crime whose main shtick is super-science--and the Sphinx--who is questing for the secrets of the universe so he might end his immortal existence--making Nova look particularly boring when they squared off against him.

It isn't until the series is about to be cancelled that it started getting interesting, and even mildly at that. Although, like so many superhero titles, "The Man Called Nova" flirted with science fiction, the last 1/8th of the book starts moving completely in that direction. A few of the earlier stories in the book--and the best ones, by the way--had drawn heavily on sci-fi, but the majority of them were tepid super-hero stories "the Marvel Way." I suspect that if Wolfman had gone with the sci-fi angle consistently from the outset, and moved more quickly toward the Sphinx/Xandar/Skrull War storyline (which seems to have been planned from the outset), I think the original series may have been able to find an audience.

Trivia: Nova became the object of a copyright suit filed by Marv Wolfman against Marvel Comics. He wanted the rights back to the character, because he had originally created one that was very similar while a fan. He lost his case. (Let that be a lesson to all you creative out there: If you think you love a character well enough that you want to keep it yours forever, DON'T use it or some close approximation of it to fill obligations you enter into under work-for-hire agreements.)

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