Today, Patrick and Spencer are discussing Nova 1, originally released December 7, 2016. As always, this article contains SPOILERS.
Patrick: Marvel has been particularly bold with its legacy heroes lately. Iron Man isn’t Tony Stark, Hulk isn’t Bruce Banner, Thor isn’t… Thor… Even when the originators do carry the mantle, their proteges are filling the role at the same time (like Sam Wilson and Miles Morales). That’s a powerful transfer of status because those originals are so beloved and so iconic. But what happens when the hero being replaced doesn’t have decades of history to lean on? Hell, what happens when he’s being replaced by an even more senior member of his legacy-line? Jeff Loveness and Ramón Pérez aren’t quite ready to bring their titular Novas in contact with each other, probably because they’re too busy making the case for how great a character Sam Alexander is. Just as Richard Rider is coming back into the fold, Sam is at is high-flying, awkward-flirting, Avenger-defying best.
We’re introduced to both of these characters in ways that suggest how we’re supposed to view them going forward. Richie is at home, catching up with his mother, and learning that his father died. It’s dark and resigned, horrifyingly stuck in an ugly past. Pérez isn’t subtle about it – the imagery of the Cancerverse explicitly injects itself into the very first page of the story, rapidly ratcheting up to a living nightmare.
Zombie mom creepily assuring you that everything’s going to be fine? That’s some macabre shit, right there. That’s why Sam’s introduction is a comparative breath of fresh air. Sam isn’t anchored to the planet or his family. Instead, he’s zipping around the universe having bizarre adventures. Loveness and Pérez tap one of the odder phenomenons in the Marvel Universe: Ego the Living Planet. Ego’s got a parasitic infestation, so Sam triggers an extinction-level event to wipe out the threat, quipping like Spider-Man all the while. It’s an amazing sequence, and firmly establishes Sam as the “fun” version of Nova.
And actually, that comparison to Spider-Man caries over to how Sam caries himself in his personal life. Sam has the same natural inclination to embarrass himself. He plays out the ubiquitous “go to school in only your underwear” nightmare. Sam’s friends even point out how much of a cliche Sam is being, and it’d feel tired if only Pérez didn’t execute all of it with such joy and enthusiasm.
Actually, I wanted to take a look at the punchline to the reveal that Sam’s not wearing any clothes, because it legitimately made me laugh out loud. There’s a page turn in the middle of it, but it’s interesting to note that Pérez broadcasts the reveal before the turn. Here’s the set-up:
Pérez is using one of my favorite basics-of-sequential-storytelling tactics with the final panel of the page extending down off the side of the gutter, in this case down. This implies that there’s more that we’re not seeing, and naturally drives the reader’s brain to expect more. If comedy is all about timing, this is Pérez taking control of that time. The next page starts with panel that extends upward through the gutter, making the connection between these moments explicit.
It helps that Sam’s posture is hilarious in that first panel. It’s such a wonderful mix of surprise and pacing, and demonstrates the control Loveness and Pérez have over the page.
By the time we loop back around to Richie, he’s finally ready to try to have some space adventures. With an oddly sinister smile on his face, Richie summons his helmet and zips into the stratosphere. But instead of getting up to the same kinds of Adventures of Sam, Richie is struck with… some kind of malady… and comes crashing back down to Earth, leaving traces of the Cancerverse in his wake. We can assume that Richie suiting up is the “Nova Signal” that Sam detects at the end of the issue, but I think it’s important that Loveness and Pérez keep these two heroes’ stories as separate as possible in this issue. Remember that Sam is from a town cared “Carefree” (and there’s a “Have a Carefree Christmas” banner in the background to remind of this fact), so that kind of whimsy is built right into his goddamn character. Richie is anything but carefree. I can’t wait to see how these two will play off each other.
Spencer, did you enjoy this issue as much as I did? This is maybe the first time I’ve bought Sam as a teenager – Loveness has a better handle on that than Loeb, Duggan, or Waid ever did. And how about Sam’s cartoony fantasy action sequence? Maybe that’s a hint that his carefree-heroics are more escapism than they are functional. Either way, I can’t say no to a drawing of Venom leafing through a diary.
Spencer: If nothing else, it gives Pérez a chance to show off the same artistic versatility that made his work on All-New Hawkeye such a delight. Pérez and colorist Ian Herring are already working in an entirely different style when it comes to Nova (I probably wouldn’t have recognized Pérez’s work if not for his name in the credits), but Sam’s daydream sequence gives them a chance to switch things up even further.
This sequence reminds me of Chris Eliopoulos’ cartooning (which will be familiar to many Marvel fans); it’s almost hard to believe it’s done by the same person who draws the rest of this issue, and I absolutely mean that as a compliment.
As much as Sam’s fantasy works as a zany, Easter-egg filled interjection to the issue’s main story, it also has a lot to say about Sam Alexander as a character. Patrick’s probably right that being Nova is a kind of escapism for Sam; as he says himself, “beating up bad guys is so much easier than talking to girls.” Like Richie, of course Sam loves the thrill of being Nova, but it also might just be the only thing he’s truly good at. Schoolwork is a challenge, and girls are impossible, but being Nova makes Sam feel important and confident.
Sam’s fantasy also showcases his naivety, though. On the previous page, Sam’s smart enough to know that superheroes don’t just give out their secret identities, but he can’t quite pinpoint why. His fantasy shows that he knows more than he’s able to articulate — he knows that giving out his secret identity could make his friends and family targets — but Sam still doesn’t grasp the full gravity of the situation. In his fantasy the villains just hit on Lina; they’re only a threat to Sam’s masculinity and ego, but in reality, they’d be a very real threat to the lives of everyone Sam knows. Sam’s gotten better at being Nova, but he still doesn’t fully understand how dangerous his job actually is.
Patrick, I agree with you that Loveness and Pérez have an excellent handle on Sam, both as a teenager and just in general. I’ve always thought Sam was a character with a lot of depth, but he’s rarely been given stories that allow him to live up to his potential. Nova 1 doesn’t necessarily tap into all the qualities I enjoyed about Sam back when I was first introduced to the character, but it tackles his insecurities from such a relatable, specific angle, and with such humor, that I can’t help but to fall in love with Sam all over again.
Sam showing up to school naked taps into every kid’s (literal) worst nightmares, but moments like these are ones we’ve probably all lived through at one point or another. Maybe I’m projecting a bit, but I can’t help but to wonder if some of Sam’s more awkward moments are autobiographical — I don’t know Loveness, obviously, but they certainly jive with the self-deprecating persona he employs on social media. Regardless, Loveness and Pérez manage to play up these moments in a way that feels tailored to Sam’s specific flaws (his insecurity, his impulsiveness, his obliviousness), yet also familiar to just about any reader who’s ever been a teenager. That’s just good writing.
I’m less sure what’s going on with Richie, but for now, I’m assuming that’s by design. Patrick’s not wrong that Richie’s smile as he dons his helmet is surprisingly sinister, as is his statement that he’s never been able to help himself, “even when it hurt.” Considering his Cancerverse visions, Richie probably thinks the only person he’s hurting by taking off is potentially himself, but I’d bet he’s wrong. Check out the last panels of the issue’s closing pages.
Earlier in the issue the Cancerverse visions seemed limited to Richie, seen only from his perspective, but here we see them in a more neutral setting, emanating from Richie himself. I wonder if, by returning alive from his supposed-death in the Cancerverse, Richie’s brought a piece of it back with him?
Meanwhile, I posted the entire spread above (as opposed to just the final panel) because I think it’s just dazzling. If Sam’s fantasy is a testament to Pérez’s versatility, than this spread is a testament to Herring’s. There’s just so much going on in this spread color-wise. There’s the gorgeous, realistic hues of the sunset and of outer space, which are in stark contrast both to the trippier palette of the Cancerverse and the more stark, simple outline surrounding Richie. It looks great, and just as importantly, all these disparate colors work together on the page.
While we’re on the subject of the art, I want to focus a bit on the action scenes as well.
First of all, I love the way Pérez distorts Sam when he’s in motion — just look at him in the second panel, moving so fast he stretches out a bit. Then there’s the sense of scale and perspective Pérez brings to the first panel — the Sidri looms over Sam, overwhelming the panel and reducing our hero to a tiny figure crammed into the bottom of the panel. The sound effects are killer too — the contrast of Sam’s blue “zoom” and the Sidri’s red “zrap” in panel two is a lot of fun, and the pathetic little “ploik” in the third panel continues to show how outclassed Sam is here (in fact, if the beam Sam’s shooting in panel three is a little less dynamic than everything else I just listed here, I think it’s because it’s ultimately such a meaningless, ineffective attack).
Overall, Nova 1 is just an extremely fun, well-observed, great looking issue. I can only hope Loveness and Pérez can keep up this momentum once the two Novas lead, but based on this issue, I’m pretty confident they will.
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?