Galaxy's Mightiest Heroes: Nova
"(The Human) Rocket man":
Prime time for Rider
(Editor’s note: With the released promo image for Thanos Imperative #3 featuring an assemblage of cosmic heroes, Cosmic Book News’ own Bill Meneese takes a look at one of the Galaxy's Mightiest Heroes, the man called Nova!)
By Bill Meneese
It was the late summer of 1976. The bicentennial-mania that had gripped the nation for most of the year was waning. I was in high school with no real responsibilities and no idea how great it really was to have no responsibilities. The hot summer days in my small Midwestern home town were spent hanging out with friends and recovering from those wild 1976 summer nights (if you don’t know what I mean, watch the movie Dazed and Confused). Comic book prices had risen to 30 cents back then, and I had to curtail my buying habits – cutting back to only my few very favorites of that era: Thor, Dr. Strange, Captain America, Magnus Robot Fighter, The Eternals and Iron Man.
In contrast to today’s boutique-like local comics shops where new comics come bagged and boarded on shelves to keep them in mint condition; back then, in my tiny rural home town, comics were sold in a small, family-owned drug store. Comics were displayed on a tall, rotating wire rack (the so-called “spinner rack”), so you had to get to the store within a few days of the arrival of the comics to get crisp copies of your favorite titles before they became creased and dog-eared with their spines bent from having been flipped through by numerous other customers.
I can remember looking through the new arrivals one afternoon and coming upon a brand new title – The Man Called Nova. The cover really caught my eye. It depicted a starship and a guy wearing the coolest-looking costume I had ever seen drop-kicking a large alien. The cover promised me an adventure “in the marvelous tradition of Spider-Man.” Needless to say, I bought that comic book. Upon arriving home, The Man Called Nova was the first of my purchases that I read. It captured my imagination like no other comic had to that point by combining elements of classic science-fiction with super-heroic fantasy. It was Marvel’s obvious attempt to capture Spider-Man lightening in a bottle once again – and was replete with allusions to classic Spider-Man themes (just as promised by the cover splash), but it was different enough to avoid feeling repetitive. Nova’s creator and writer for the entire original series, Marv Wolfman, deserves great credit for not letting Nova simply be a pale derivative of Spider-Man when it would have been so easy to do just that.
In issue #1 of The Man Called Nova, we are introduced to Richard Rider, an average 16-year-old high school student. Richard is a C student, a mediocre athlete, is picked on by the school bully, and is frequently bested academically by his younger brother. He has a sympathetic girlfriend named Ginger Jaye. One day while out on a date with Ginger, he is sitting in an ice cream shop being harassed by the school bully when he is struck by a bolt of light, rendering him unconscious. Of course, we readers know the bolt of light was sent by dying Xandarian super-soldier, Rhomann Dey, orbiting high above Earth in his starship.
Centurion Nova Prime Rhomann Dey deputized Richard Rider into the Nova Corps in order to carry on the fight against genocidal criminal, Zorr, who has destroyed the planet Xandar and mortally injured Dey himself. Rider’s powers are activated and he fights Zorr to a standstill before Zorr mysteriously disappears. What Rider doesn’t know is that Dey is responsible for Zorr’s disappearance. Dey teleports Zorr to the Xandarian starship where he kills Zorr. Unfortunately, Dey loses his life in the process. Richard Rider is left with the Nova powers and little knowledge of how to use them; but he has a determination to use his powers for good – just like the superheroes he has admired his entire life. I read issue #1 several times and couldn’t wait to get the next issue. I was intrigued by the science-fiction aspects of the character and hoped the series would focus on the cosmic aspects of the character.
Issues #2-4 gave us a glimpse of how Nova’s uniform worked and introduced us to Nova’s pantheon of super-villains and arch-enemies including the Condor, Powerhouse, Diamondhead and the Corruptor. Thor being a favorite of mine from the mid-70’s era, I especially enjoyed #4 where he guest-starred. The scene where Thor puts Rich through a wall by hitting him with a fully loaded barbell is a classic “hit scene” in my mind as is the follow-up scene where Rich hits Thor hard enough to send Thor flying. It was in #4 that we learned that Rich’s accoutrements were not a costume so much as they were a space suit; when Thor tried to drown Rich, the uniform supplied Rich with air.
Issues #6-8 introduced us to Nova’s arch-nemesis, the Sphinx and features Nova’s first adventure in space as he visits Dey’s starship still in orbit around Earth. These issues were favorites of mine from the first series as it was with this story arc that I first glimpsed Nova’s potential to be a space-based hero. Alas, Nova in space was not meant to be at that time as by the middle of #8, Nova had abandoned the starship and returned to Earth to fight the second lamest super-villain of the first series, Megaman. After the weak Megaman story arc ended in #9, I was pleased to find that #10 and #11 would feature the return of Condor, Powerhouse, Diamondhead and the Sphinx for major throw downs. Number 11 featured Nova’s first major throw down with the Sphinx; it remains among my favorite classic Nova battles. Number 11 also contained what are probably Rich Rider’s first major defining scenes as a superhero – ending with him earning the Sphinx’s respect.
I anxiously waited for the series to explore Nova’s cosmic potential, but alas – it was not meant to be until issues #22-#25 began my favorite arc of the entire first series as it was in this arc that Nova finally got to go into space once again and stay there for awhile. I was excited. Finally, the series was going to explore the science-fiction aspects of its heritage and it did not disappoint. In this final arc of the series, we learn that Nova has untapped powers we have not seen yet, that Powerhouse is in fact a Xandarian Syphon Warrior and that Xandar still exists.
Nova and his allies (Comet, Crimebuster, Powerhouse) team with super-villains the Sphinx, Dr. Sun and Diamondhead, board the Nova Prime Starship and head for Xandar. Along the way, they learn that Xandar is at war with the Skrulls and they become embroiled unwittingly in a skirmish with a Skrull patrol. The series ended in 1979 on a cliffhanger with the Sphinx vowing to let nothing interfere with his quest to find the Living Computers of Xandar (what we now call the Worldmind). I was miffed at Marvel for canceling the series just as it was starting to explore the most interesting part of its potential – that being cosmic, of course. However, the last page of #25 promised that the story would be continued in Fantastic Four #204-214, so I remained patient and began buying those issues to see how the story ended.
The denouement of The Man Called Nova appeared in FF #206, #208 and #209; where Rich first shows his potential as a leader of men by forming the “Champions of Xandar” superhero team to defend Xandar, and deciding to stay on Xandar to aid the Xandarians in their war against the Skrulls. It was in these issues of Fantastic Four published in 1979 that we learned quite a bit about the Romanesque culture of Xandar and got our first glimpse of the Nova Corps in action. I truly enjoyed this entire story arc, but was again frustrated as after #209, Nova seemed to drop out of the Marvel Universe and I always wondered how his story on Xandar ended.
I had to wait two years to find out, but the story was finally finished in the year 1981 within the pages of Rom #24. Basically, Nova heroically ends Xandar’s war with the Skrulls and Rich decides he wants to return to Earth even though the price of returning to Earth is giving up his powers. Not the ending I would have preferred, but by then I was busy with college and I had pretty much quit buying comics anyway once The Man Called Nova ended.
Nevertheless, I always kept tabs on Marvel Comics. So, some eight years later in 1989 I saw the cover of Avengers #301 advertising the “Super-Nova Saga.” Inside was a giant version of my all-time favorite superhero -- but alas, it was not Rich Rider; it was Garthan Saal, last survivor of recently re-destroyed Xandar. It was fun seeing Xandar again after all the years having passed since Rom #24, but I was disappointed that Rich Rider was nowhere to be seen and that Xandar was misused once again – its destruction serving only as a cliched plot device.
Of course, a few months later in 1989 while walking through a convenience store near my apartment, I glanced at the comics display and to my surprise, saw my all-time favorite superhero gracing the cover of Thor #411 as part of a new super-team called The New Warriors. His uniform was disappointingly different and, irritatingly, he was called “Kid Nova” (don’t get me started on how much I hated that dumb-fark moniker), but I was just happy that Rich Rider was back. I sent my money to Marvel for a subscription to The New Warriors and it started me buying comics again.
The New Warriors breathed new life into the Nova character and 1993’s The Starlost arc of that series really re-introduced us to the cosmic side of Nova in a big way featuring the resurrection of Xandar. I couldn’t have been happier with this turn of events. Unfortunately, the cosmic side was once again largely ignored after that story arc.
In 1994, with Nova being the most popular of The New Warriors, Marvel decided to take a chance and a new Nova series was born. Once again the cosmic aspects of the character were only rarely touched upon with a couple of major exceptions being “Deathstorm,” an arc where Nova and the Nova Corps battle Zorr’s brother, Kraa, and the final arc of the series (finished in The New Warriors after the Nova ongoing was cancelled) where Rich, depowered for insubordination, regains his powers from a dying Garthaan Saal in a battle with Dire Wraiths.
In 1999 and 2000, we were treated to Nova starring in the short-lived Volume II of The New Warriors and the short-lived Volume III of Nova’s adventures called Nova: The Human Rocket. In 2005, there was a New Warriors mini-series featuring Nova. With the exception of issue #6 of Nova: The Human Rocket, featuring a throw down with the Sphinx, the cosmic aspects of Nova were given short shrift in all of these series.
In 2006, the Nova renaissance began. Everything about Nova changed when Annihilation hit the stands. Marvel finally did Nova right – and it only took them 30 years. Annihilation writer Keith Giffen admitted that he never understood the appeal of the character until he went back and re-read all the past issues and teased out the really interesting element of the character – the COSMIC element that all us fans had understood beginning in 1976. Writers Abnett and Lanning, understanding the cosmic appeal of the character, began the Nova reformation in their Nova mini-series prequel to Annihilation – and by the time Giffen’s Annihilation event wrapped, Nova was at the pinnacle of his power and popularity, having been transformed into a major cosmic player with a bad-ass attitude.
A new ongoing series, Nova (Volume IV), was launched in 2007 under the able care of writers DnA and has been the centerpiece of Marvel Cosmic to the present day. Volume IV has been a cornerstone for Marvel Cosmic in general and Nova in particular with its focus on Nova as a space-based character. We’ve learned more about him as a character and the nature of his powers than in all previous incarnations combined thanks to DnA’s love for the character and the lore. More cosmic events (Conquest, War of Kings, and Realm of Kings) followed with Nova being a featured character to a greater or lesser extent – many of us believing that his lack of presence in many of these events weakened sales for the Volume IV ongoing series leading to its being placed on hiatus in 2010.
At present, we’re in the midst of the universe-changing event, The Thanos Imperative, a best seller with Nova once again at center stage. Nova is also appearing in the best selling Secret Avengers series, the “younger audience” series called Marvel Adventures Superheroes, and is beginning to appear in toy lines, video games, and animated series such as Superhero Squad. There’s even a rumor that he might have a cameo in the upcoming live action Avengers movie. Will all of these things bring Nova’s ongoing series back from hiatus Hel? I suppose only Hela and Joe Q. know.
Over the years, I’ve bought comics and stopped buying comics numerous times; since 1976, my history of comics buying has always been tied to Nova. When Nova had a regular series, I bought comics. When Nova’s series ended, I quit buying. The Nova Prime Page online site has been a wonderful Nova resource since it became active in 1999. I checked the Novaprimepage frequently during the entire sometimes lengthy Nova publishing hiatus periods since 1999, but personally remained on hiatus from actual comic buying from the end of Volume II of The New Warriors series in the year 2000 until 2006 when Annihilation began and Nova was back in a major way. Nova’s return to print got me buying comics again; I must say that I am glad it did. This current era of comics in general and Nova in particular is quite simply the best ever in terms of art and writing.
The Thanos Imperative #3 hits stores Wednesday!