Today, Shelby and Drew are discussing Nova 4, originally released May 15th, 2013.
Shelby: In the pilot episode of Firefly, we meet the ship’s pilot Wash as he is playing with some toy dinosaurs. As the T-Rex and his veggie-saurus friend survey their new home, the Rex turns on his friend, prompting the delightful line, “Curse your sudden, but inevitable betrayal!” In last month’s look at issues 1-3 of Nova, Patrick and Drew discussed Jeff Loeb’s penchant for cliches; they assumed Young Sam would be betrayed by Rocket and Gamorra, but because it seemed so obvious, they also assumed it was a fake-out. They weren’t totally wrong; Loeb gives us our inevitable betrayal this issue, but it comes from a completely unexpected direction.
Turns out, Sam was totally faking getting knocked out by that blast. He busts into the lead Chitauri ship, only to get blasted by none other than Titus, tiger-guy and former Nova collegue of Sam’s dad. Titus tells a different tale of Jesse Alexander; instead of being forced from his post by his teammates to play dutiful husband, Jesse abandoned his team in their time of need. Titus was badly injured, but made a bargain with the attacking Chitauri; spare his life, and in exchange he would give them the Rigellian recorder the Novas had taken, and help them figure out what was on it. Apparently, the recorder was a zip-drive of instructions how to make an Ultimate Nullifer; not only was Titus going to lead the Chitauri charge against Earth, he was going to defeat Sam just as he had his father. With that, Sam bails, grabs the Nullifier, and heads back home. He tries to get a hold of Rocket and Gamorra for some help, but Titus finds him first and threatens to wipe Carefree off the map if Sam doesn’t give him back what he stole.
Betrayal seems to be the key theme running through this title so far. Jesse betrayed the Nova Corps to be with his family; whether he did so against the wishes of his team or had to forced to do so, he still abandoned his duties. He also betrayed his duties to his family, with the drinking and not working and drinking at work. For Sam, his whole life he’s seen his father’s stories as the manifestation of that betrayal. His dad can barely hold down a job as a janitor to help support his family, but he’ll claim to have been a member of an elite, covert space force? Every tale must have been a slap in the face. To find out the stories were true and have some faith restored in his father, only to find out his father may not have been the hero he made himself out to be? That’s what we in the biz like to call the ol’ re-betrayal. On top of all that, we still don’t know Rocket and Gamorra’s role in all this. They sent an untrained 15-year-old to do some simple scouting, no big deal, and then completely bailed when he needed them. Did they just have enough faith in him to know he’d be fine? Or are they in cahoots somehow with the giant, cyber, space-tiger?
I love Ed McGuinness’ art in this title, especially the panel and layout work he’s doing. It’s like the situation Sam finds himself in is so much bigger-than-life, the panel can’t even contain it. The image spills out of the frame. It’s impressive that McGuinness can convey a character as bad-ass as Titus, and then turn around and just as convincingly deliver the story of a kid trying to deal with something he doesn’t totally understand. He’s got the scope needed to draw an epic space battle, but can handle more intimate, emotional moments as well.
As great as the art in this book is, I’m not so sure about the voice Loeb has developed for Sam. He spends a lot of time alone, which means he spends a lot of time talking to himself, and the effect can come off as needless exposition. Having Sam talk to the Nova helmet, trying to get in touch with his dad is nice; it’s smart and very touching. It’s an easy and effective way for Loeb to get Sam to talk about what’s going on when he doesn’t have anyone to talk to. I’m less interested, though, in Sam explaining to the reader why this mission is turning into such a cakewalk for him.
On the one hand, I don’t need to read Sam’s explanation about how he knows what to do here. On the other hand, without Sam’s explanation, it wouldn’t make any sense how his few hours training with Rocket and Gamorra at all prepared him for this. As a character, even 4 issues in, Sam is somewhat walled off for me. I don’t feel connected to him, I can only really read him superficially.
I think that’s what this book boils down to for me; despite it’s layers of intrigue, betrayal, and epic space drama, it’s very superficial. Loeb has over-wielded his cliches, resulting in a book that is a fun enough read, but doesn’t really grab me. I could keep reading it, and like it well enough, or drop it and probably never think about it again. What do you think, Drew? Is this title nothing more than a superficial space adventure story? Is that a problem, or a boon for the book?Drew: That’s really the question, isn’t it? It embraces so many cliches so whole-heartedly, that it feels incredibly generic, but on some level, those cliches are comforting. Moreover, those cliches have become codified for a reason — they work, time after time. After seeing Sam so ably smash through anything and everything as Nova, it was downright necessary that he be somehow de-powered for the next fight, which is exactly what Loeb gives us. It’s one of the biggest cliches in comicdom, but it also has me excited as hell to see how Sam gets out of this one.
For all of the cliche’s there were some welcome surprises — especially involving Titus’s story. Everyone looked better in Jesse’s version of the story, including Titus. In fact, Titus’s embrace of his own version paints him as a complete hypocrite. While mocking Jesse’s explanation of events, he asks Sam, “Is that the lie you have embraced? How a live coward is better than a dead hero.” But here’s the thing: Titus didn’t die, either. At least Jesse abandoned a hopeless cause to be with his family, while Titus made a desperate deal with his enemies in exchange for his life. He’s the MUCH bigger coward in his account, but he doesn’t see it that way. He’s given up on all of his ideals to carry out a vendetta against Jesse (and now Sam). That’s a clear enough motive, but it’s not really clear why the Chitauri are willing to entertain his flights of fancy. By his own account, these are space pirates — what do they have to gain from some kind of huge WMD (especially if Titus is more interested in revenge than holding the Earth for ransom)?
Sam’s logic isn’t always clear, either. After stealing something from a huge space armada, he goes to the single place in the universe he doesn’t want a huge space armada to go. Basically, using the logic that he should try spinning because it’s a neat trick. That can maybe be forgiven, since he was hoping to find Rocket and Gamora there, but I have no idea why he would just give up trying to do anything when he couldn’t find them. Like, I get why Loeb wouldn’t want him to think of running to the Avengers, but counting on the security of his garbage can doesn’t seem like the best plan. Hell, he doesn’t even keep his Nova helmet with him. The result is a character whose intelligence isn’t being respected, which is a surefire way to write a terrible character.
You can also sense Loeb straining to make Sam talk like a kid, with varying degrees of success. I was particularly distracted by Sam’s misuse of the word “badassery“:
“Badassery” refers specifically to the behavior or quality of a badass. Also, it’s a noun, which means it makes no fucking sense in the sentence as constructed. I’m pretty sure Loeb wanted the adjectival form of “badass,” which as we all know, is simply “badass.” As in, “Drew’s grammar lessons are so badass.” I suppose, if Loeb wanted to make Sam sound young, I might accept “badass-y” as a cute variant on badass, but the use of “badassery” here simply belies a misunderstanding of how the kids are talking these days. Also, what the word means, and how it should be used, which seems like the kind of thing that should have been caught by an editor. As someone who uses the word “badassery” a lot (what can I say? I like to talk about myself), this jumped right off the page as awkward and incorrect.
Anyway, I’m actually still enjoying this series quite a bit. Yes, it fits very comfortably in the “unwitting kid pulled into a space opera” box, but it’s a box I like enough to just kind of hang out in. We all like being shown something new, but as Wash points out, sometimes the inevitabilities can be fun, too.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to DC’s website and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?