Nova 4

Today, Spencer and Taylor are discussing Nova 14, originally released March 8, 2016. As always, this article contains SPOILERS.

Spencer: Love is never easy, no matter what your age. Still, as you grow and your relationships develop, the problems you face tend to change. The issues you deal with on a first date in high school are usually far different from those you’d deal with as an adult. In Nova 4, Jeff Loveness, Ramón Pérez, and Ian Herring chronicle both those romantic phases, and the results are just as genuine and heartwarming — and instructive! — as I’ve come to expect from this creative team.

Nova 4‘s narrative is split right down the middle, focusing equally between Sam’s first date with Lina and Richie’s reunion with Gamora. While the Richie/Gamora stuff is picking up on story threads from previous runs with these characters, the Sam/Lina relationship is one Loveness, Pérez, and Herring have been building since their run’s first issue. Nova 3 ended with Richie helping Sam find the nerve to ask Lina out, and thus this month’s installment smartly skips over the actual question and opens on Lina’s reply: “Sure.” That’s the creative team showing Sam’s progress — he’s already gotten up the nerve to ask Lina on a date, now he’s gotta deal with actually going on the date.

Both those situations tap into the same insecurities, though. Sam’s afraid he isn’t good enough for Lina, which he tries to cover through posturing (like pretending to read War and Peace or trying to do fancy “date stuff” at the mall). The date doesn’t actually start to go well until Sam takes Lina’s advice to “just be a person,” which in this case means simply being himself. What wins Lina over aren’t Sam’s attempts to come across as smarter, older, or more sophisticated than he actually is, but the time he takes to listen to Lina’s thoughts and give some genuine advice in response, and the courage he shows in standing up for what he believes in.

Without his Nova helmet, Sam doesn’t score a true “victory” here; he successfully defends the homeless man, but takes a few hits and lets the attackers get away in the process. The “loss” doesn’t matter to Lina, though: she’s impressed that Sam would rush to defend someone getting attacked like that. Even more importantly, Sam did so, not in an attempt to impress her, but because he’s the kind of person who can’t let injustice go, the kind of person who stands up to bullies. He’s simply being himself.

So Sam comes to learn one of the most important lessons of romance — be yourself! — but a huge reason why that advice works for him is because he’s already the kind of person who genuinely cares about others. Being yourself is important, but also hinges upon being someone worth giving time and attention to in the first place. That’s not to say that people don’t intrinsically deserve love, but simply that being a caring, empathetic person will always be better for relationships in the long run than trying to seem “cool.”

Sam’s journey here is at least partially about defining and embracing who he is, but Richie doesn’t have that problem. He’s been through this already, and he knows who he is. At the moment, he’s more worried about what he is, and while, in the context of the above image, Rich’s speaking more about his mysterious tie to the Cancerverse, this also applies to his relationship with Gamora. Rich and Gamora are past their first date phase and already know they like each other; their issues are more about defining what, exactly, they are to each other and finding a way to make that relationship work.

That difference in relationships here is apparent. While Sam and Lina are swept up in the enthusiasm of new, young love, Rich and Gamora have a more subtle and affectionate rapport already established. Yet, that familiarity means that they’re aware of their problems as well. Rich himself admits that he and Gamora have never been “that good at talking,” and it means that it’s easy for the two to distract themselves with the things they are good at (such as beating up muggers in the street) rather than admit and hash through their issues (such as Rich’s tie to the Cancerverse).

Their problems are more adult than Sam’s, but no less familiar — hiding and running from your problems and isolating yourself rather than asking for help are, if not universal, then certainly incredibly common, both in and out of relationships. The difference here may be that, while Sam’s problems are mostly constrained to his relationships for the time being, Rich’s are putting other people in danger. As much as we may want to see him and Gamora work out, Rich has got to own up to the problems he’s caused for Sam and his family and help save Kaelynn from the Cancerverse before he’ll have the freedom to be there for Gamora.

Honestly, I think that’s an appropriate — and underutilized — moral: as wonderful as relationships can be, and as much as they can help you grow, you ultimately have to put effort into growing and developing yourself as an individual before you can really be there for somebody else. Working on yourself doesn’t mean you need to do it alone, though, and Richie doesn’t just have Gamora who cares about him: he’s got Sam too. I look forward seeing how they work together to solve this problem.

Taylor, I found myself digging into specifics and morals here way more than I thought I would, but ultimately I thought this was a tremendously sweet and natural story; how about you? I also didn’t have room to address Pérez and Herring’s always terrific art and colors; any observations you wanna share? Do you think Sam will be good at driving a car just because he can fly through space, as he seems to believe?

Taylor: Flying through space and driving a car are two totally different things! In space, at any given moment you have thousands of miles to maneuver between objects whereas in a car you have feet or maybe even inches. Just because Sam can fly to Jupiter and back in a heartbeat doesn’t mean he’ll be able to parallel park.

It’s hard to knock Sam for his go-getter attitude though. He’s young after all, and has yet to learn that a lot of the things adults do that look easy, aren’t. One great example of this is how Sam views talking to a girl he likes. While it’s not necessarily easy for an adult to go up and talk to someone they’re interested in, few would panic the way Sam does minutes before picking Lina up for his date.

This is a wonderful moment of self doubt and one that any person who has gone through puberty will recognize. One time in middle school I called a girl I liked on the phone and the entire time my heart was like a jackhammer in my chest. Afterward, I felt like an idiot and was sure I sounded like one too. With that memory in mind, I sympathize with Sam even if now I know talking to to your crush shouldn’t be a huge deal. While the scene itself is charming, what really sells it for me is Ramón Pérez’s artwork. When the narrative cuts to Sam’s inner monologue of self-doubt Pérez switches styles to make the change in perspective both clear and humorous. Digging deeper, I’m tickled by Pérez’s choice to draw everyone in this perspective as derpy superhero. It matches perfectly with the feeling of awkwardness that Sam is experiencing and makes for a good chuckle. Even more, it’s hard not to see the parallel’s between Pérez’s art here and manga. A huge sub-genre in manga deals with adolescent and awkward love, so his use of the style here is a sly acknowledgment of that genre and also an effective use of its art-form.

Pérez’s artwork is in fine form elsewhere in this issue as well. Spencer, you talked about the parallels and differences between Rich and Sam’s romantic relationships in this issue and I’m in total agreement that that is at the heart of this issue. In fact, it’s hard not to understand that when Pérez illustrates it so clearly.

In mirrored panels, Pérez shows us how both Rich and Sam’s dates finish up with Gamora and Lina respectively. In a not so subtle way, Pérez is telling the reader that we should be comparing what our heroes are doing. What makes this page rewarding though isn’t its clarity, but rather its subtle details. It’s interesting to look at the small differences between Rich’s date and Sam’s. Whereas the adults drink alcohol, the kids drink slurpies. While the kids play DDR, the adults prance around on the sidewalk. And what counts as a sign of deep affection for Sam differs greatly for Rich. All of these differences in the panels effectively illustrate the differences between an adult romance and a teen romance. The beauty of this page is that it doesn’t show either as being more important or more meaningful than the other.

Overall the art of this is fantastic and generally the story fares well too. However, there is one quibble I have with how Rich’s narrative plays out. When Rich goes back to his safe house and is first reunited with Gamora, she expresses her displeasure with him for not calling her even though he’s recently come back from the dead.

Her reason for being angry is that Thanos and Peter Quill were gone for ages but didn’t take much time getting back into the swing of things. This anger that Gamora harbors for Rich is bizarre and quite hard to fathom. Undoubtedly, Gamora is a demanding woman in many ways, but would she really be all that upset that Rich hadn’t gotten back to her right away after returning from the dead? This isn’t the worst thing, and again, it is in line with Gamora’s character, but it feels like a forced conflict that isn’t exactly needed. Really, what does Gamora’s anger add to this issue? There are other ways to show that her and Rich’s relationship isn’t perfect without incomprehensible anger.

Honestly though, that’s a small fault and the rest of the issue is so solid that it’s hard to fault Loveness for it that much. Overall this is another strong issue in this series and my love affair with it will only continue based on what I’ve read this month.

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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