Thursday, December 27, 2007

My Ten Favorite Comics of 2007: Nova

"Everything changed while I was far, far away."

With the possible exception of Doctor Thirteen, Nova is probably the book on this list that most succeeds on the back of its creators' talents, as opposed to the character. I mean, let's be honest, Nova was not exactly burning up the charts or cutting a swath through the iconography of superheroes before Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning got ahold of him. He was one of Marvel's several second-rate Spideys, attempts to re-bottle the lightning Lee and Ditko tapped into. He was also the most successful, I suppose, but even that only translated to a token appearance in the annual crossover and a guaranteed team gig anytime they decided to dust off the New Warriors again.

Then Annihilation happened. Brainchild of editor Andy Schmidt, the big damn cosmic crossover threw together a bunch of space-faring super-types and pitted them against the awe-inspiring threat of the Annihilation Wave, an invasion force from the Negative Zone that swept over countless planets leaving endless destruction in its wake. It was Star Wars meets Night of the Living Dead, and it gave Marvel a chance to really cut loose with its cosmic characters and concepts.

Like, for example, Nova. Used to be, Rich Ryder was one member of the interstellar Xandarian Star Corps, devoted to keeping the peace in his particular sector of space. (Yeah, I know.) Then the Annihilation Wave wiped out Xandar and the entire Corps, with Rich as the only survivor. Suddenly, he's the wielder of the entire Nova Force, and has the Xandarian Worldmind in his head giving him orders. And once the Annihilation Wave is beaten, he's the only one able to handle the numerous day-to-day cosmic threats and leftover weapons of war that, ordinarily, the Corps would divvy up among its numerous members.

And that's where Rich's new series begins, with him on the verge of a nervous collapse. Things aren't improved by a brief visit to post-Civil War Earth, and then another damn war breaks out. It's a lot for one guy to take on all by his lonesome, and that's where we hit the center of things, at least as the book stands now. It's about the isolating effects of duty and responsibility and war, and the psychic toll it takes on a person. When Rich gets "selected" by the Phalanx (like the Borg, but groatier), it's not hard to see why part of him welcomes it: This guy is lonely and shaken and just not doing well. Which isn't to say he doesn't make a good hero.

Emerson said that a hero isn't any braver than an ordinary person, just braver for five minutes longer. And that sums up the heroics of Nova very well: Rich Rider doesn't possess heroic qualities in any particularly great amount (a fact the Worldmind laments often), but he refuses to quit while there are lives on the line and duty to fulfill. Sometimes that's a plus, and sometimes it's not, but it's a quality that Abnett and Lanning have used to re-center the character and, through skilled application of crisis after crisis, turn Nova into a very cool space opera book. It can't last, of course, but they can get a lot of mileage out of it, especially with the way they handle the continually shifting supporting cast. After finishing the first trade, I was very psyched to see what was next.

None of this would work as well, of course, without the art of Sean Chen, who was born to draw big damn superhero action. I've followed his career since Iron Man, and it's good to see that solid, dependable, kick-ass art is still valued in this industry.

Overall, I'd classify Nova as the beginning of a promising cosmic bildungsroman with killer robots, green alien chicks, and collapsing dwarf stars used as galactic bobsled runs. If that doesn't sell you on it, I can't help you.

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