Spencer: Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: two heroes meet, but a misunderstanding causes them to fight for a while before they inevitably team-up. Wait, why didn’t you stop me? You’ve all heard this one before; TV Tropes calls it “Let’s You and Him Fight”, and it’s easily one of the best-known tropes in comics. Nova 13 is one large “Let’s You and Him Fight” scene between Sam and Beta Ray Bill, and while there’s definitely a lot of fun to be had with the fight, ultimately Gerry Duggan and Paco Medina don’t do anything interesting enough to justify devoting so much time to such a tired concept.
Beta Ray Bill has come to Earth in search of the seemingly rogue Nova who helped free the slave trader Skaarn. Bill tracks down Sam while he’s in the middle of a fight with his bully Moffet, and Bill’s appearance leads Moffet to freak and knock himself out in an attempt to escape. This is enough to put Sam on the offensive, and Nova and Beta Ray Bill fight their way through Carefree until Bill can reveal the truth about Skaarn. Sam’s furious that he allowed himself to be tricked by Skaarn, and after making sure his family duties are taken care of, blasts off into space with Bill to try to fix his mistake.
As I said, there’s a lot of fun to be had in the fight between Sam and Bill, so I do feel a little conflicted about complaining about it. Penciller Paco Medina lays out the fights creatively and in a way that helps convey the energy between the two powerhouses’ actions.
Take a gander at the opening page of the fight, for example. I love the way Sam dynamically breaks out of the panel as he dons his helmet, but what impresses me the most is the way the slant of the panels directs the action. The first panel slants sideways as Sam whacks Bill with the helmet; the third panel seems to follow his punch downwards; the final panel slants upwards to follow Bill’s ascent into the sky. It’s smartly done and focuses attention on the important parts of the action while still making the fight that much more interesting to follow. Likewise, colorist David Curiel gets plenty of chances to shine throughout the scene; there’s a moment where Sam and Bill’s energy blasts clash that looks absolutely gorgeous thanks to Curiel.
There’s certainly a few clever moments throughout the fight as well. When attempting to interrogate Sam, Bill drops his hammer on his chest, pinning Sam to the ground. It’s a move we’ve all seen before — most famously at the climax of the first Thor movie — but Sam’s way of escaping is ingenious — he blasts a crater into the ground beneath him and slips out from under the hammer’s hold before it hits the ground again. It’s by far the smartest thing I’ve ever seen Sam do, and I’m legitimately surprised I haven’t seen it done before; I imagine Duggan might have been holding onto that idea for quite a while.
Still, the “let’s you and me fight” concept has just been done to death, and Duggan doesn’t really do anything new or different enough to justify spending an entire issue on it. Meanwhile, while there are a lot of fun moments throughout the fight, there’s also a lot of banter that goes nowhere — Sam’s baseball joke is a little corny, and he twice tells Bill to get off his planet, which feels like blatant filler — and a couple of moments that just made me go “huh?”
To be honest, I’m not sure exactly what Duggan is trying to say here, but regardless, “ozone” is definitely a word that feels a little advanced for Sam’s vocabulary. Honestly, there’s a couple of moments that come across awkward like this: while I understand the idea behind Sam’s line “Are you kidding, I never want to get hit again,” for example, it doesn’t read very clearly. I get the impression that this issue might have been a tad rushed; it could have benefitted from one more proofreading pass.
Here’s another scene that would have benefitted from one more revision. Although Sam’s talking to his helmet in the second panel, the art makes it look like he’s talking to Bill, and Sam’s frustration in the third panel is undercut by the fact that we get no visual or verbal recognition from his helmet that it can’t track Skaarn, making Sam’s cry feel out of place until he’s forced to elaborately explain himself. The whole scene just reads choppy, not to mention that ending the issue on this beat is rather anti-climatic.
The scenes with Sam’s friends and family work better, but I’m still conflicted about them. While I enjoy that Sam’s issues with his family are mundane and realistic, and while I appreciate that there’s no easy fix for them, we seem to repeat those same beats every issue; I think “Sam’s needed around the house” has become a firmly entrenched part of this series by now, it doesn’t need to be hammered home every single issue.
Ultimately this issue hit a lot of important beats, and it came through when it really counted — Sam’s anger when he discovers that he’s been deceived and his guilt and resolve to fix his mistake are all executed well — but I can’t help but feel like Duggan and Medina could have fit all of this into half an issue and instead given us something a little more substantial.
Scott, what about you? Did this issue work for you, or was it too derivative? Also, how do you feel about that big ol’ “All-New Marvel NOW! #1” on the cover? I gotta say, this seems like a strange issue to advertise as a hopping-on point for the series.
Scott: This issue makes little sense as a hopping-on point, seeing how heavily it references the events of Nova 12. Sam’s encounter with Skaarn propels this story, so anyone looking to get into this series now might want to pick up that issue in order to understand what the heck Beta Ray Bill is talking about. But there is something about this issue that makes it a good candidate for that “All-New Marvel NOW” tag: it takes place on Earth, where it’s easy to re-establish Sam’s “normal” life. The plot is slow and meandering for regular readers, but conveys a lot about Sam through scenes with Moffet (Sam’s an average, bullied high school kid), Carrie (he’s got a little friendship/love-interest situation brewing), and his mother (he’s the de facto man of the house).
It takes some awkward shoehorning by Duggan to fit those beats in, and the story feels pretty thin because, like Spencer pointed out, so much of it is just rehashing things we’ve already seen. The issue forgoes a climax in order to deliver more backstory; anytime two characters are about to embark on an awesome adventure and one of them says “Hang on, I gotta talk to my mom”, it’s not a great sign. I’m guessing the odd structure has more to do with fitting the NOW! mold than with Duggan’s preferences for telling the story. He’s making a compromise — isolating his regular readers a bit to ease the newbies in — so it’s only fair to cut him a little slack. I appreciate that he injects some humor into the story to keep things interesting, like Mrs. Alexander getting starstruck by Thor, only to realize she’s actually looking at Beta Ray Bill.
Bill must think he’s being suave, but with those teeth he just comes off totally smarmy. Medina is just generally great with facial expressions, making it clear that everyone is agitated with Sam to some degree at pretty much all times. Like Spencer, I’m a fan of his layouts as well. He brings his characters to life by having them break out of panels, but he also uses the panels themselves to add energy to the story. Check out how the panels come crashing down with Sam when he’s knocked off his skateboard.
Spencer, I think your complaints are totally valid. When an issue has such a simple plot, it shouldn’t have so many problems with clarity. This probably wasn’t the most exciting issue to write, so maybe Duggan and his editors were phoning it in. I’m not worried about it — this was a predictable “off” issue, considering the sacrifices it needed to make to appeal time first-time readers. With any luck, things should be back to normal next time around.
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