Today, Patrick and Drew are discussing Nova 5, originally released June 27th, 2013.
Beru: Owen, he can’t stay here forever. Most of his friends have gone. It means so much to him.
Owen: I’ll make it up to him next year, I promise.
Beru: Luke’s just not a farmer, Owen. He has too much of his father in him.
Owen: That’s what I’m afraid of.
-Star Wars, Episode IV: A New Hope
Patrick: It’s not uncommon for our space heroes to have impossible family legacies to live up to. Luke Skywalker would come to define himself by how he chose to respond his father’s every action. Darth Vader isn’t evil — he’s over zealous, he gets in over his head and uses his considerable powers to get what he wants. He’s an old man in need of redemption, and Luke’s the only person to see that — because they’re so much alike. This conversation between Luke’s adopted aunt and uncle holds the perfect amount of mystery and specificity to tease some meaningful depth about the character. In Nova, Sam’s father’s reputation looms similarly large, but no one has anything nearly so interesting to say about him.Cornered and out of the Nova suit for all of a page, it looks — for sure — like Sam’s fucked. Titus has the helmet and there’s nothing he can do… until Sam uses his punk-kid skateboarder skills to knock the helmet out of Titus’ hands and into his own. Now, they have a fight on their hands! Sorta. Actually, it seems like Titus is no match for Sam, so the Tiger Man takes the fight to a skate park where Sam’s skate punk friends are in danger of becoming collateral damage. So, because he’s got all the power all the time anyway, Sam takes the fight into deep-space, amid the Chitauri war fleet. Now the aliens are potential collateral damage because Sam’s got the Ultimate Nullifier. And Nullify it does. The weapon creates a black hole that swallows the fleet — and Titus. Sam decides this kind of power can’t fall into the wrong hands — even if / especially if those hands belong to Rocket Raccoon and Gamora. No, the mega doomsday device is safer in the hands of The Watcher.
This issue suffers from a lot of the same fundamental problems that plague the rest of the series. Last month, I argued in the comments that Jeph Loeb’s writing isn’t bad, so much as it isn’t accurate. He writes Sam and his friends the way you might expect a 55-year old man to write high school students. I get it: that’s hard. Teenagers have their own vocabulary and their own syntax and their priorities seem strange. Loeb ends up cobbling together a bunch of cliches and generically quirky dialogue, and ends up expressing a total void of personality in the process.
I poured through this issue a few times, collecting all the lines that made Sam sound like some un-understandable alien creature — as ammunition for this argument — but there’s so little joy in that. Drew and I once thought that Loeb might have been affecting these cliches as a method of telling an emotionally resonant story. I think the emotional drive of this story is: the role of Nova gives Sam the confidence he lacks in his day to day life. But Sam approaches every decision with a smart-ass “hem” and an artificial “haw.” His move to destroy everything is remarkably unearned. Weirdly he talks a good game in front of Titus, but then begs for help the second he activates the weapon. He’s a character of circumstance, and even his heroics are matters of serendipity. His decision to give the Nullifier to the benevolent omniscient Watcher on the moon speaks to this same lack of utility: he doesn’t do it because he thinks it’s right, he just hands it off to what he recognizes as an authority figure.
The one thing this series so badly needs is a strong character at the center. But I’d be damned if I could tell you anything about who Sam is or what he values. Does he like the science fiction action he’s engaged in or does he think it’s silly? Scary? Does he have any reaction to it at all? If there’s one thing in his character that does seem interesting, it’s the constant comparison to his father. Everyone does it at one point in this issue: Rocket, Titus, Sam, his mother. Unfortunately, none of this is as tantalizing as it could be, and the comparisons are either too specific or two broad to really mean anything. Titus tells Sam “your father liked to talk as well,” which is especially strange, as Titus is actually doing more talking in their conversation than Sam is. Not only isn’t this a behavior Sam is exhibiting, it ignores what’s interesting about Nova Sr.’s penchant for storytelling. Even if Sam had continued his speechifying, all he was doing was threatening Titus: not exactly what his dear old daddy used to do.
I know I said there’s no joy in pointing out shitty dialogue, but I wanted to at least bring up one.
You’d think a C in biology would be at least good enough so that Sam would have learned that biology isn’t “math.” Drew, you’ve been grumbling about this one for a while — I think I may finally be with you. Maybe we’re supposed to think that Sam is a dumb kid without a lot of personality, but I ask: what would be the fun in reading that? More importantly, what’s the fun in reading a series that dumb and doesn’t have a personality?Drew: Oof. That’s a good question. I know you and I wanted to like this series — Loeb’s The Long Halloween was a formative book for both of us — but there were plenty of naysayers all along who can now happily dust off their favorite “I told you so.” The combination of dumbness and lack of personality makes this series entirely predictable. I was willing to forgive that predictability when I thought Loeb was lulling us into a false sense of security. It turns out he was just lulling us.
Loeb piled cliche upon cliche throughout this series, invoking everything from Back to the Future to Star Wars (which, coincidentally, are both kind of about sons helping their fathers find the right path), creating a chaotic mishmash of tropes that crumbles under its own weight. A threat to the hero’s friends is a classic way to goose the action — only, we don’t really know these kids as Sam’s friends. In fact, we only know them as bullies. I suppose I can still abstractly care about the continuation of their underdeveloped existence, but they’re only threatened here because they happened to be in the skate park Titus happened to land in after Sam blasted him. Piling that boneheaded coincidence on top of my general apathy towards these nameless characters (look, I’m sure they have names, but anyone who wants to fight about this should be prepared to know those off the top of their head) makes it damn hard to be invested in this action, which is already too dumb and generic to care about, anyway.
In referencing so many sci-fi classics, Loeb is inviting comparisons to Star Wars, which are particularly unflattering, given George Lucas’s fealty to the Hero’s Journey. We don’t need to get into a blow-by-blow of the Hero’s Journey to understand that much of it is about the hero’s struggle in attaining their goal. One of my chief problems with this series is that Sam never struggles. His Nova powers are handed to him, his training is thrust upon him, he fells his enemies with their own weapon, and gets rid of the weapon by giving it to someone else. He never has any agency, so there’s no time for his personality to matter — he just falls ass backwards into victory. Actually, that invites even less flattering comparisons to Phantom Menace, which also finds a stupid kid accidentally winning a giant space battle (which, I’m sure we can all agree, is a “neat trick”).
The weird thing is, I think I could have forgiven either of these problems — the dumbness or the lack of personality — if it weren’t for the other. A compelling character can make up for a dumb story, and a good story can make up for boring characters, but there’s nothing really carrying the weight here. Sam is basically a helmet rack, and I think it’s telling that the solution for getting rid of the ultimate nullifier is a character so passive, he’s actually known as the Watcher (and whose design description must have boiled down to “I don’t know…like an alien or something”). This shit is as dumb and faceless as the graffiti in your high school bathroom.
By the time we get to the epilogue — which settles once and for all that Sam’s dad is still alive — I just couldn’t bring myself to care.
Great, he’s lost “somewhere in the Universe.” That should only take infinite time to sift through. Also, what’s with specifying that this happened “yesterday”? I can understand the desire to specify that this isn’t in the distant past or anything, but making it any time other than “now” seems to muck with the parallel to Sam’s “…Dad…” on the previous page. I appreciate Loeb’s attempt to finally give us some unique specifics, but this is too little (and too weird), too late.
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?