Nova 5

Alternating Currents: Nova 5, Drew and Ryan

Today, Drew and Ryan D are discussing Nova 5, originally released March 2nd, 2016. 

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Drew: I developed my love of analysis with music. I studied music at college, where we learned a number of analytical approaches, examining everything from harmony to orchestration to rhythmic saturation. My favorite, though, was always the study of formal structure — the shape a piece of music takes. What’s remarkable about form is that you experience differently in the moment than you can in hindsight. As a piece of music unfolds, you have no idea if this is really a repeat, or some kind of clever fake-out (don’t even get me started on sonata form), but it’s patently obvious after the music ends (or, if you happen to have the score in front of you). I believe narratives — and especially serialized narratives — have a similarly plastic form; it’s easy to break a television season into acts once the whole thing has unfolded, but picking THE inciting incident or THE lowest point might be a bit more difficult in-the-moment. This is even more true for superhero comics, where things can always get worse, often in totally unexpected, physics-defying ways. So it’s with some reservation that I call Nova 5 Sam Alexander’s lowest point (at least as far as this volume is concerned), but all signs point to this issue as the nadir of the pastoral life established in issue 1.

That Sam’s life has changed since the disappearance of his “father” is apparent from the first page. Not only has Sam’s mom had to pick up a second job to make ends meet, but Sam’s extra Nova responsibilities are causing him to drop the ball elsewhere. Gone is the confident, well-prepared Sam we were introduced to in issue 1. Indeed, writer Sean Ryan gives us an almost word-for-word repeat of the “pop quiz” scene from that issue.

Pop Quiz

Only, Sam and Blake’s roles are reversed — where Sam was confident and smug, he’s now underprepared and dejected. Ryan draws this theme out further, eventually alienating Sam from his friends, who are simply concerned about his erratic behavior. Unfortunately, the friends aren’t differentiated enough to give their concerns any emotional heft — it’s telling that not one of them is mentioned by name here, even as someone manages to say “Sam” on basically every page — which leaves Sam’s outburst feeling less like a loss and more like a contrivance of the plot.

That missed opportunity for characterization is all the more lamentable in light of the seeming importance they’ll have going forward. Blake appears again when Sam arrives in costume to battle the Chitauri, apparently drawing the “insane” conclusion that Sam is Nova.

Blake Double-Take

Blake clearly has a key role to play in some future issue, which makes omitting his name here all the more confusing. It’s not like Sam saying his could have been any clunkier than that “I’m sorry, Ms. Jackson” line.

Anyway, Sam’s fake-dad shows up, and explains that he’s a Chitauri-made clone, sent to steal Sam’s Nova helmet, but he kind of fell in love with being Jesse Alexander, so never reported back. It’s still super creepy, but at least he’s on Sam’s side when the Chitauri eventually do come knocking. Unfortunately, they aren’t able to stop another clone from taking Jesse’s helmet, setting us up for a full-on Nova-on-Nova battle next month. That, to me, sounds like a climax of sorts, which brings me back to the assertion that this is Sam’s lowest point — that is, this issue represents the end of the second act of this series.

Then again, this is comics, and things can always get worse. Heck, some superheroes get dragged through the mud for years without any substantive victory — maybe this doesn’t represent a turning point so much as the winter of Sam’s discontent. I suppose, ultimately, knowing the structure isn’t particularly important at this point, and even if the next few issues do conclude this first arc, there are sure to be threads propelling us into the next one (from Jesse’s real whereabouts to Blake’s suspicions of Sam). Still, I find it fun to guess, even if just to be proven wrong.

Ryan, what did you think of this issue? Were you as struck by the way this issue darkly mirrored the first one? Were you as perturbed by Sam’s group of friends being a largely faceless mass? Oh! And what did you think of Cory Smith’s art — I realized I didn’t actually leave any space to mention it!

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Ryan D: Thanks for the Richard III reference, Drew! I admit that seeing Sam having such a crummy day struck me in a way I did not expect for a character that I have only known for five issues. We all have bad days, but I found it difficult watching Sam go through so much guilt over not supporting his struggling mom as much as he could due to his superhero duties. I felt the weight of the world on Sam’s shoulders, and have to agree with Drew that life is testing him now more than ever. It’s important to remember, as well, that even (human) superheroes are still human, and something as banal as failing a pop quiz can really piss in someone’s proverbial bowl of Cheerios. Add on top of that a missing- perhaps dead- father, alien brutes, and clones, and it’s hard not to feel bad for the plucky little guy.

As far as his friends go, I completely agree. I always roll my eyes a bit when artists use suburban middle/high schools to paint a picture of perfect racial diversity, with the protagonist’s friend group looking like a GAP commercial. Anecdotally, the last school at which I taught has a racial breakdown of 79% Latino, 10% White, 10% Black, and 1% Asian, so I always marvel at the kinds of communities which find themselves represented in comics.While I understand that it is a fine line to walk in regards to racial inclusion, I am always wary of the roles of the friends, or the groups itself, to fall into the stereotypical.  Giving the friend group more distinct voices and personalities while developing their relationship with Sam during such a stressful time in his life could help to avoid having the friends dissolve into the miasma of boilerplate characterization.

As far as Cory Smith’s art goes, this issues had its showcases of highs and, surprisingly, a low — or at least a missed opportunity. Firstly, I have loved Smith’s work on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. It’s perfect. His ability to craft some of the best action sequences in the industry carries on here:

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Everything here is kinetic, not only thanks to his bold use of lineation to accentuate the acceleration and force of Nova blasting off, but the page composition itself is punchy and eye-catching. Colorist David Curiel also uses a wonderful gradient of blues on this page, from very faint mixing with clouds to a deep, royal blue for Kid Nova’s energy signature, then drops in a panel of green to counterpoint the blues just slightly offset from the dead center of the page. I also love how Smith draws eyes and mouths in his very stylized, almost anime fashion, perfect for capturing innocence. It is not a criticism to say that Sam, when he is wearing his helmet, reminds me of how Smith renders a character like Michelangelo.

While I am and remain an ardent fan of Smith’s work, my one complaint stands with his take on the Chitauri bruisers who came to wreak havoc:

Nova5-1I delight in Smith’s work when he finds beauty in the ugly or asymmetrical, as seen in his drawing of many members of the TMNT gang, the Mutanimals, or Beebop and Rocksteady. With that in mind, I feel slightly disappointed with how undefined these warriors look, lacking the love and specificity that Smith puts into almost every character he illustrates.

Ultimately, Ryan and Smith craft a delightful story featuring an incredibly charming protagonist.  Nova, at first, mirrored the first arc of Robert Kirkman’s Invincible, but now moves into untrodden narrative territory which promises to feature some beautifully illustrated punch-ups and earnest character moments. Shame on me for ignoring this comic for so long due to my unfamiliarity with the franchise’s history and general distaste for the kind of space story with which I normally associate with a title like Nova. With things looking complicated for Sam, I hope Drew is right and that Sam can scrape himself off of the apogee of his unluckiness. Maybe another high-powered team-up is in order. Either way, I really want this kid, and creative team, to succeed.

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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 Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?

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