Written by Jeph Loeb
Pencils by Ed McGuinness
Inks by Dexter Vines
Color by Marte Gracia
Letters by Albert Deschecne
Production by Manny Mederos
Published by Marvel Comics
In celestial terms, a nova appears as the sudden brightening of a star, luminous and at times instantaneous. An apropos name then for a character whose legacy might best be cataloged in bursts.
Richard Rider’s most recent exploits under the guidance of Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning were not so widely enjoyed as they were lauded in modest, critical circles. That all ended some time ago in bleak, sacrificial death when Nova and his longtime pal Star-Lord sealed themselves and the mad Titan Thanos is a realm called the Cancerverse just as it began to implode. There’s a statue in a park somewhere and if you’re a fictional inhabitant of the Marvel Universe, you can visit and pay respects. Whether that’s truly the dot on the end of Richard Rider’s sentence, we’ll call it that for NOW!. Today marks the beginning of a new Nova’s exploits, a striking pulse of light on the surface of an ancient white dwarf.
While he’s already figured prominently (if briefly) in the Avengers vs. X-Men event, Sam Alexander had yet to receive a proper origin story. Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuinness take us back to the beginning in Carefree, Arizona. The next member of the Nova corps has yet to actually don his helmet (call this one a prologue), but he’s no stranger to the far-flung adventures of the galactic police force. Sam’s father Jesse, a high school custodian, has spent the last fifteen years recounting his own experiences in the corps as one of the elite black novas. Though little sister Kaelynn still looks on her father in awe, Sam’s a jaded teenager (I’d say an entirely reasonable teenager if he didn’t live in a world so consistently threatened by cosmic plight). He’s openly frustrated with the smallness of his town and especially with his sad-sack father’s ongoing fantasies.
Sam views his old man as a haggard drunk with increasingly harmful delusions, an embarrassment and profound weight on the family. In reality, the cause and effect are reversed. Of course Jesse really was a Nova those seventeen years ago, and like so many veterans of foreign wars, has seen little success in peace time. He gave up his career as a space cop to join his pregnant wife on Earth, all with the good graces of his unit, who may actually have been doomed by his departure. Jesse’s grief over abandoning his comrades is only softened by sharing those tales with his family, and the Big Fish dynamic between Jesse and Sam lends the book a captivating human element. That extends to Sam’s interactions with his long-suffering mother (a staunch supporter of her troubled husband) and his sister (a wide-eyed innocent whose belief in Jesse both concerns and inspires Sam).
Though the kid’s voice frequently suffers from the hackneyed trope of a spiteful teenager readers know will eventually get over himself, Loeb understands that relationships aren’t always so simple and therefore balances the petulance with some actual tenderness. Tempering an opening flashback to a mission with the Guardians of the Galaxy, Sam interjects his father’s time-tested narration with his own commentary, a perfect introduction to their relationship amidst a colorful extraction operation with a gun-toting raccoon. Sam might resent his father’s stories, but that’s only because he worries how this all looks to outsiders. His jeering of the opening story betrays an actual fondness and relish for a familiar yarn.
Sadly, neither Loeb or McGuinness lend the hamlet of Carefree and her youth as authentic or timely a voice as other recent teen hero adventures. While Loeb’s depiction of the Alexander family feels decidedly timeless and relatable, some interactions at school offer paint-by-numbers characterization. The choice to cast James Tolkan (circa Back to the Future) as bald, stern high school Principal Philbin registers less a winning homage than a jarring, ill-conceived cameo. That Philbin confronts Sam about his father’s lackluster job performance comes across as especially inappropriate. Chalk that up to character choice, but it’s also a heavy-handed contrivance to further compound Sam’s frustration with a cookie-cutter small town and the shame he harbors for his father’s perceived eccentricity.
As for the science-fiction element, Loeb’s Nova Corps reads very much like an all-ages depiction of DC Comics’ Green Lantern Corps, perhaps especially through the burly cat-man Titus, cut from the same cloth as cuddly drill sergeant Kilowog. It’s also unclear whether McGuinness knows quite what to do with Gamora, draping the lethal assassin across the page like an Aspen comic pinup, bloody daggers held demurely. That said, the cosmic material to this point is presented entirely through the lens of Jesse’s nostalgia, likely filtered for his young children. It’s all a bit playful, perhaps lighter in tone than Sam’s more grounded concerns. The tone seems right aside from Gamora’s unnerving girlishness. Whether Sam’s call to adventure will retain the mostly all-ages vibe or take it a little darker remains to be seen, of course.
With a solid foundation on the likable, thoughtfully drawn Alexander family, Nova has the potential for greatness. It’s not likely to offer the same inventive space opera elements as Abnett & Lanning wrought while in command of Marvel Cosmic (in fact, Loeb has openly rejected Marvel Cosmic as a pocket unto itself, preferring to extend those characters amnesty into the larger Marvel Universe). The human element is crucial though, and if Loeb and company can maintain those relationships and build upon them with the growing cast, Nova could generate stories as inviting and compelling as what Bendis has cultivated with Ultimate Comics Spider-Man. In a market inundated with darker material, this is welcoming refreshment.
Keep the light going.
Story: 3.5 / Art: 4 / Overall: 4
(Out of 5 Stars)