Review: NOVA #1

Nova_1

Nova #1, cover by Ed McGuinness

Nova #1

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.

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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.

prv14945_pg3Sadly, 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)


 

Comments

  1. Maybeland says:

    Anybody else noticing an Immonen esque house style emerging at Marvel.

    • Paul Montgomery Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

      There’s something to that. I wouldn’t say a house style though. There’s certainly something mutual to Immonen and McGuinness here, but there are a number of books at Marvel that look nothing like this. Prominent things like Avengers and Thor: God of Thunder. Also important to note that Immonen is a bit of a chameleon. He’s done things that look wildly different from his Marvel work. Maybe it’s Immonen who’s adopted a Marvel style as opposed to the other way ’round.

    • thehangman thehangman says:

      if you look at his old work on superman, it’s somewhat atrocious.
      (maybe it’s just dated)
      and now, he’s one of the best around.

    • IthoSapien IthoSapien says:

      @thehangman, Immonen or Mcguinness? Because I thought Mcguinness’ work on Superman was pretty hard to look at. Its fine for an exegerrated style but I don’t care for it. I was surprised at different the art looks from his usual stuff (in a good way). But to the main topic, I was reading some X-Men Legacy books not long ago and they sort of resemble the art here, so maybe more Marvel books are adopting whatever kind of style you want to call this. I’m not reading much Marvel books these days tho so I’m not 100%.

    • USPUNX USPUNX says:

      Yeah I haven’t really noticed a “Marvel style” either but the only Marvel books I’m reading are Hawkeye, Avengers, and New Avengers so I might not be the best qualified.

    • KenOchalek KenOchalek says:

      If the house style begins and ends with “really good” I’m on board, otherwise… I just don’t see it.

      I think you could make a case for something like “room” styles on individual books — Rivera/Martin/Samnee on Daredevil, or Aja/Pulido/Lieber on Hawkeye, or even Immonen/Marquez on All New X-Men.

      But from book to book, I don’t think there are too many parallels. Jamie McKelvie, Jerome Opeña, John Romita Junior, Mark Bagley, Mike Allred and Chris Bachalo have pretty disimilar styles.

    • Conor Kilpatrick Conor Kilpatrick (@cskilpatrick) says:

      @KenOchalek: Yeah, I don’t see it either.

    • markish markish says:

      Considering Uncanny X-Men will be following Chris Bachalo with Frazer Irving – two VERY different artists – I think I’d agree that they are just going for high quality, regardless of whether it fits a style. Even on the same book.

    • JSAkid JSAkid says:

      Yeah there’s no “Marvel Style” …DD, Hawkeye, New Avengers, Thor, Nova to McNiven on upcoming Guardians all look nothing alike.

  2. stevetwo stevetwo says:

    I’m willing to give the series a shot only because I love the character and the idea of a Nova Corp since the very first series, and I’m interested in seeing the kid develop in his one-horse town – all that open space. However, I’m disappointed that, from this review, the story seems textbook “Back to the Future/misunderstood teen” theme, down to the principal look-alike. So if this is his background, we’ve seen this story play out in books and movies a zillion times. Get away from it. Show us a different side of this person and his surroundings that we WOULDN’T normally see. Loeb has done great character work in that respect in the past. I just hope I see more of it before I tune out.

  3. dennisnahas says:

    So Starlord and Thanos are confirmed as escaping the Cancerverse, where is Rich Rider?

    • RobotZombie RobotZombie says:

      In the Scarlet Witch’s closet?

    • JSAkid JSAkid says:

      Scarlett Witches closet, I love it!! Why not, she changed the landscape of the entire Marvel U on both the Avengers and mutants side for years, why not cosmic too? That’s funny. I would like to know where Richard Rider is since Thanos and StarLord are out but think it will be a sweet return when he pops up in one of these cosmic books outta nowhere like a wtf moment!

  4. So is it more of a ripoff of Blue Beetle or Invincible?

    • JSAkid JSAkid says:

      Neither, a bunch of characters have the dad to son hero inheritance, the teen angst to coming into his own thing and reluctant carry the torch factor. Could compare this to Spidey in many ways too and James Robinsons Starman in said aspects and say Blue Beetle and Invincible ripped them off cause they came after them. The Black Elite Nova Corps gives this a new concept for Nova lore I’m interested in though.

  5. workingdead workingdead says:

    that’s the principal from Back to the Future, right?

  6. cosmo cosmo says:

    Well, I’m glad that they respected Richard Rider’s death, and let him rest for now. I’m still waiting for an explanation for how Starlord and Thanos slipped out of the Cancerverse (through Hawkeye’s closet?)

    That said, nothing I’ve read about this new Nova series has me interested in it. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for Guardians to have some of the spark of great Marvel cosmic stories . . .

  7. JSAkid JSAkid says:

    Good article Paul, well rounded and have to agree with everything you said except Loeb against the Marvel Cosmic being in its own pocket probably because that’s part of what I loved about it, they didn’t get wrapped up in the main Marvel U event fatigue, during The Initiative it was as simple as IronMan requesting Nova to join and Nova just basically said shove it, I got bigger problems in space on a COSMIC level and flew away. However it does open doors and is good for sales, I just hope they handle it right. I don’t think they’ll fill DNA’s shoes but hope they do in they’re own way that’s refreshing, what was great doesn’t need to be repeated so new directions the apt choice. What is with Gamora, did they borrow J. Scott Cambell for a minute? ;)

    • Paul Montgomery Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

      I agree with you with regard to Marvel Cosmic. I think Loeb sees that distinction as a ghettoization of those characters. Perhaps he took issue with the idea of Nova and Guardians being excluded from the larger Marvel U and simply wants to present them as first class citizens. For Cosmic fans though, the distinction meant there was a country unto itself, free from the usual bullshit as you mentioned. The good kind of niche.

    • JSAkid JSAkid says:

      Exactly Paul and I see Loeb’s perspective like cosmic isn’t on par w the rest of the players, well they got the spotlight now as they’re implementing cosmic into everything and I do have a feeling it’s gonna be better than most expect. Nova, Guardians, Thanos:Birth then Infinity after what happened in New Avengers #3 w the time gem might all lead to some great stories for some time to come. No matter what stories come out following great runs, those runs will always be there.