Current Reviews


Sunday Slugfest - Nova #1

Posted: Sunday, April 15, 2007
By: Keith Dallas

“What’s Next”

Writers: Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning
Artists: Sean Chen (p), Scott Hanna (i)

Publisher: Marvel Comics

Average Rating:

Michael Aronson:
Kelvin Green:
Luke Handley:
Ray Tate:
Thom Young:

Michael Aronson

Beware his power: Nova’s blazing nipples and navel!

Sorry, had to bring it up first.

Nova’s always sported a spiffy costume and the recent update via Annihilati on has been pretty slick while retaining most of the core features of the original. And now we have Sean Chen finally penciling a book that suits his strengths – he did his strongest work a decade ago on twenty-five or so issues of Iron Man. It makes perfect sense to transition Chen from Shell Head to Bucket Head (that would be Nova), and Nova looks just as spiffy as I’d hoped. Except for those blazing nipples and navel. You’ll see. They’re not just goofy and distracting, but they don’t make any sense as far as his propulsion powers would function.

It’s been a long time coming for writers DnA to land a prominent regular gig, and launching Marvel’s only ongoing series featuring a space-faring hero is quite an honor. Aside from some terribly clumsy exposition in the opening, “I’m all that’s left of the corps these days. Me. Solo. Alone,” their characterization of Nova and his plucky disembodied Worldmind companion (and by plucky, I mean not the least bit so) makes for decent dialogue. You’ve got the brash, overachieving hothead with the tightwad, surly collective Xandarian ego barking orders. Hardly the most original of pairings, but it suffices.

My biggest problem is that DnA try their best to bring Richard Rider down to Earth, and I really wish they hadn’t chosen to do it so literally. Of course, that premise is all set up for the next few issues it seems, as most of this issue still takes place on various interstellar worlds, but the ending and appearance of a certain Civil War participant couldn’t have been more telegraphed if it had been written in upcoming solicitations (well, it does happen to be written in those too, but it’s pretty obvious in the course of this one issue). Where’s the wisdom in removing Marvel’s only featured ongoing space-faring hero from space?

The rest of the issue’s nothing to write home about. Nova bops around a couple planets and saves them from disasters. I like the dialogue technique used for the first planet’s alien race, though it gets old quickly enough that I hope they don’t use it any further. The art’s quite powerful in rendering Nova’s skirmishes and his method of space travel, and I think it’s a shame that Chen will have to subdue his inventiveness for the next couple issues when things get more terrestrial.

I don’t really know how to endorse this series based on the first issue, as the next few will take place on Earth and the following four will crossover with the next Annihilation event, though I suppose most people buying this issue will be fans of Annihilation. It’s one issue of Rich Rider in space doing not-particularly-original-but-perfectly-competent space hero things. Just be prepared for some blazing nipple action.

Kelvin Green

We’ve had Moon Knight, we’ve had Iron Fist and we’ve had Warbird; next up in the parade of D-list Marvel heroes to get their own series is Nova. To be fair though, there’s actually some reason for this book to exist; Nova’s been thrust into a role of prominence during Annihilation, and Civil War spun out of one of his super-team’s misadventures, so there’s plenty of potential for exploring Nova’s place in a “new” Marvel Universe shaped by those events.

Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning grab that opportunity and dive right into an examination of Nova’s current situation and how he’s adjusting to it. The pressures on Nova are somewhat reminiscent of the Captain Marvel plot line circa “U-Decide,” when he too was mentally and physically overwhelmed by his new responsibilities. Even so, it's not too bad to see similar concepts used here, as Nova has been promoted too quickly to his current position, and it makes sense given the character’s history and origins, that he’d find the pressures of the new job overwhelming. After all, he was originally conceived to fill a Spider-Man-like niche, and this kind of scale is well beyond him; but like Spider-Man, Nova is one of those people who’ll give it a try anyway. It certainly makes for an interesting starting point for a series, and it’s good to see the writers making characterisation the focus, rather than hammering personalities to fit some half-arsed plot.

The plotting is suitably fast-paced, conveying well the frantic nature of Nova’s current life as he flits from one crisis to another, and Abnett and Lanning deliver a solid script with some witty moments (I particularly enjoyed Nova’s universal translator chucking out stuff like “guttural shriek of abject terror!”). Sean Chen and Scott Hanna turn in clean, precise linework with a good sense of storytelling and a strong portrayal of cosmic environments and events. The art is perhaps a bit too measured and precise in places, and it lacks a certain flair, but it’s good strong work nonetheless, especially for the backwaters of a Nova series; Marvel don’t have an art team this good on some of their flagship titles.

My only real concern is that exploring Nova’s reaction to events in the Marvel Universe may not provide enough substance to carry an ongoing series (and I’m certainly less than enthused by the suggestion that we’ll be mired in Iron Man/Registration Act nonsense next issue). That said, this is a good start, and if Abnett and Lanning have some good plot ideas in mind for the future, there’s no reason why this title can’t be a success.

Luke Handley:

Richard Rider, the man called Nova and now bearer of the combined powers of the defunct Nova Corps, rockets around the galaxy answering a large back-log of distress calls. The Corps’ Worldmind, which has taken up residence in Rider’s head and serves as his interstellar map and councillor, realises that the Earthling is pushing himself way too much and advises him to take a vacation. So it’s back to Iron Man’s Registration crazy U.S.

Though I didn’t follow Annihilation, something I intend to remedy by picking up the hardcover collected editions, I’ve always had a special interest in the cosmic element of the Marvel Universe and those characters that come with it. The grandeur of scale and the backdrop on which their adventures take place is simply fascinating. When looking at the ramifications of the Annihilation Wave, Marvel’s Civil War pales into insignificance.

As a result of Annihilus’ assault on all of reality, Richard Rider, the human rocket from Queens, is the only remaining Nova Centurion in the galaxy. He now has the power of the entire Corps at his disposal, putting him at nearly unprecedented power levels. Unfortunately, it also means he has to do the job of the entire Corps. This issue has him rushing from one emergency to the next without a moment’s rest and from his conversations with the Worldmind it appears he hasn’t slackened the pace for a while. Rider was my favourite New Warrior back in the day, and most of my interest in the character comes from his flaws. Even more so than Peter Parker, he was a teenager who was accidentally bestowed with great powers beyond his understanding. Unlike many of his Marvel contemporaries, he wasn’t all that smart, continuously struggling in class and with no scientific background. In many ways this made him more likeable and though he’s long since grown up to be his own man, he’s always been plagued by his own insecurities and angered when powerless to change things for the better. This aspect of his personality is carried through nicely by Abnett and Lanning, as Nova refuses to take a break from his schedule and wears himself into the ground trying to help as many people as possible.

This issue delivers what the first issue of a new series should. We get an introduction to the title character; see what he does and how he operates. The writers waste no time, having Richard go from one emergency to another and the confrontation with remnants of Annihilus’ forces gives an idea of how much the war has cost him. There’s one clear message to take from these encounters: don’t mess with Nova, he’s super powerful, short tempered and can kick your butt if he wants to! Though it makes sense for him to return to Earth for a break, it’s a bit of a shame it had to happen so soon in the series. I would have liked to see him deal with more cosmic threats in the first arc or so before bringing him home to confront Tony Stark. With so many titles already tied up in “The Initiative,” it’s a shame that Marvel’s first ongoing cosmic title in a while has to head down the same path. Still, this encounter does offer some promise as Rider is of American nationality, but his powers and duties surpass one simple planet. If Stark tries to put a collar around Nova’s neck, things are not going to go well for the new director of S.H.I.E.L.D. The majority of the most vocal anti-Registration heroes thus far have been rather “street” level. Hercules proved to be too much for Stark’s goons, and Dr. Strange is definitely going to cause problems in New Avengers, but whilst the good doctor is the model of self control, Nova’s explosive nature coupled with his insane new powers could throw a rather large spanner in the works. Flagging this title with the “Initiative” banner will also no doubt increase sales on the first couple of issues, which is fine by me as I have a feeling this title will need all the help it can get publicity-wise.

Sean Chen delivers the goods on the art front. He’s always been a good choice for serious action sequences, and he handles the whole cosmic setting element rather well. I really like the visuals associated with Nova’s gravimetric tunnel travelling and the smoke / energy emitted from the discs on his chest during flight. He also includes Nova’s second most distinguishable visual feature after his bucket shaped helmet: his perpetual stubble. Though he won’t take a break to sleep, eat or even drink, he still finds time to trim his beard.

This is an enjoyable issue but lacks a certain je ne sais quoi to make it a great one. The title character shows promise, and it will be interesting to see what direction Abnett and Lanning take him in. Right now I find myself eagerly awaiting the next instalment to hopefully see Nova give Iron Man a much deserved smack-down.

Ray Tate:

Nova hits the stands, but the premiere issue of the character’s third volume strikes with the impact of a padded pillow rather than a rocket. I’m no massive fan of Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning, but they can usually cobble together a decent read. Despite having Sean Chen and Scott Hanna aboard, who offer the reader fine illustrations that should be exciting, Nova is kind of a bore.

Nova consists of a series of set pieces connected through the theme of Richard Ryder’s fatigue, caused by being the last Nova Centurion in a lawless cosmos. The awesome responsibility of defending the universe weighs heavily on his shoulders. This clearly isn’t a job for only one man, but the Annihilation mini-series has apparently forced this situation.

The set pieces work on a similar formula. Nova gets a call for help. He rockets to the rescue. The Worldmind of Xander, which now has fused with Richard, bickers with him. He takes out the threat. He rockets to the next SOS.

Very little seems to faze Nova, who has become quite the powerhouse, and as a result the conflicts are, at best, pedestrian. Perhaps he’s now too powerful, especially with the Worldmind at his disposal.

Nova’s burnt-out state of mind gives the reader little in the way of wit. The situations are grim. The hero’s utterly serious, and frankly, I was looking forward to a little fun from this title, not necessarily a robot Sherlock Holmes, but something that alluded to the original series, which I occasionally pull out of the box to reread.

Nova ends on what should have been a moment promising an alleviation to the melancholy of our formerly “Blue Blazes” spouting hero. The Worldmind convinces Nova what he needs is a little rest and relaxation on his home planet. What Nova doesn’t know is that Iron Man is waiting for him on the very last page, and the fascist architect of The Civil War isn’t going to be happy to see him. I suppose some readers will be thrilled to pieces about the impending slug-fest. It just depresses me.

I was hoping Nova would be a good comic book for space-spanning, swashbuckling adventures. I had also hoped Nova would be free from the shenanigans of Marvel’s Big Stupid Event. I guess I should have known better.

Thom Young:

I don’t know a lot about the character, but I half remember reading a few Nova comic books when I was a kid. I also recall that he was Marvel’s version of Green Lantern--which was one of my favorite DC characters when I was a youngster--so this new series intrigued me.

Initially, I was also pleased to see that this first issue of Nova was written by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning. I enjoyed their Legion Lost and Resurrection Man books that they did for DC several years ago. Thus, I went into this Nova story optimistically.

As I started reading this new Nova comic, I instantly saw that my half-remembered Green Lantern parallel was correct. The Nova Corps are (or were) an interstellar police force, and each Nova Centurion has (or had) his sector of the galaxy to patrol--and I was glad to see that Abnett and Lanning seem to understand the differences between a solar system, a galaxy, and a universe (unlike the current writer working on Green Lantern).

In the DC universe, the Green Lanterns are able to communicate through their power rings with the unfortunately misnamed “Guardians of the Universe.” (Note: Back in 1969, longtime DC writer, Arnold Drake, was working for Marvel and corrected John Broome’s egregious error by creating the “Guardians of the Galaxy” for Marvel--who were essentially Marvel’s first version of DC’s Legion of Super-Heroes.)

I should also point out that I went into this series with no knowledge of recent events in the Marvel universe that might have affected Nova. I knew I was going to have to pick things up as I went along—through exposition and focused reading.

In the opening of Nova #1, one of the Nova Centurions (an Earth man named Richard Rider) is dispatched to a planet to deal with a “continental-level threat” called “Planetfall.” Nova was dispatched by something called “Worldmind,” and he is in communication with this entity. Obviously, Worldmind is somehow analogous to the Guardians, but I wasn’t quite sure what this Worldmind is.

However, just as I was wondering if there shouldn’t be some exposition to explain concepts to readers who are new to Nova, Abnett and Lanning came through with the needed exposition on page four. Unfortunately, it’s very clunky exposition that involves Worldmind explaining to Nova who he (Worldmind) is. Shouldn’t Nova already know?

What’s worse, is that it apparently isn’t the first time Worldmind has had to provide this exposition to Nova, for he (it?) says:
. . . do not force us to have this conversation again. You are willfully endangering the legacy of the Xandarian Worldmind. I am the sum total of all Xandarian art, science and knowledge, and you are carrying me inside your obstinate human head!
I would like to know why Nova seems to keep forgetting who this entity is that he is in constant communication with. (Note: I’m being facetious.)

Nothing irks me more than poor storytelling mechanics--and the poor handling of exposition is near the top of my list. Yes, exposition was needed here. However, having a character provide that exposition by telling another character something that the second character should already know is either a sign of a writer who doesn’t know better or a sign of lazy writing by a writer who does know better but doesn’t care. I’m assuming that Abnett and Lanning do know better, thus they would seem not to care about the quality of their writing.

The rest of the first issue is mostly about Nova demanding (loudly) that Worldmind tell him where the next crisis is that he must address. Meanwhile, Worldmind continues to nag Nova that he’s pushing himself too much. Nova needs to eat and rest--which he apparently hasn’t done in days.

However, Nova explains that he can’t afford to eat and rest because he’s the only Nova left, and he has to do the work that used to be covered by the entire Nova Corps.

In the DC universe of my childhood, Nova’s task would be the equivalent of one Green Lantern patrolling the entire Milky Way Galaxy that should be patrolled by 3,600 Green Lanterns.

The action involved in the various crises that Nova must address is largely just a series of professional wrestling matches between Nova and a menace that he is able to quickly dispose of in two or three pages--with corny, professional wrestling-styled dialog mixed into the action, of course.

The worst lines are when Nova battles some large insects on a planet and he decides to provide some exposition to the bugs before he kills them all, “Okay, let’s review. Your ride is toast. I’m Nova. You’re dead. Allow me to demonstrate.”

I have more problems with the story that I initially wanted to address. However, I’m now asking myself why I should bother. I’m getting the distinct impression that I’m putting more effort into writing this review of Nova #1 than Abnett and Lanning put into writing the issue. So I’ll just end by noting that this story is an example of the type of superhero stories I hate.

However, I’m sure there are people who will thoroughly enjoy this tale of clunky exposition, corny dialog, and mindless fight scenes. After all, I understand professional wrestling is one of the SciFi Channels most-watched shows. All I can say is, “de gustibus non est disputant.”

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