Comics Ate My Brain

July 22, 2009

So, does he grow up to be an architect?

Filed under: nova — Tom Bondurant @ 12:47 am
I’m not that far into Essential Nova Vol. 1, but … it’s like it’s trying to be bad.

Naturally I remember Nova from its original run. I bought the issue with Spider-Man on the cover — probably because it had Spider-Man on the cover — and I remember being haunted by the Nova-in-deathtrap cliffhanger which closed out the issue. [Caution: memories may not be accurate to particular issues.] Other than that, though, it didn’t leave much of an impression. I sure didn’t remember Marv Wolfman writing it.

Actually, I’m not sure Marv would have wanted people remembering he wrote Nova. The character might be described as “what if Peter Parker were Green Lantern?” but that’s not really fair to Peter Parker. Richard Rider, the 17-year-old who gets zapped with the powers of the Nova Prime Centurion, is a paragon of mediocrity. He makes average grades, he has a genius younger brother, his nerd friends are each funnier than he is, and — and this is clearly meant to be Marv’s crowning achievement in the field of characterization — the school bully who picks on him is not only the head jock, he’s better off academically too. After a few issues we learn that the bully picks on Richard as an outlet for the pressures of high expectations, so right there our hero’s chief antagonist becomes more interesting, if not more sympathetic. This is not the same Marv Wolfman who wrote Tomb of Dracula, Fantastic Four, or even those goofy late-’60s Teen Titans. He’s trying so hard to craft the ultimate teen superhero — right in Spider-Man’s back yard, mind you — that Richard comes across like George Costanza’s intern.

To be fair, the “Marvel manner” of superheroics centered around characters who were outcasts of one sort or another, and/or whose powers got in the way of their having regular lives. Spider-Man, the Hulk, the Thing, and even more traditionally-positioned heroes like Captain America and Doctor Strange were each alienated from society to a certain degree. Also, when Richard is zipping around as Nova, he’s much easier to take (although his dialogue still makes Marv’s Beast Boy/Changeling sound like Noel Coward). Still, there is an air of frustrated greatness around each of Marvel’s classic characters, like their superheroic careers are making up for … well, probably for the accidents which facilitated their superheroic careers. I’m waiting for the issue which explains in detail why Richard, and not one of his friends or enemies, was zapped with the Nova bolt. As it stands now, Marv seems to be equating “completely average” with “relatable,” and I’m just not seeing it.

Oh well. At least Marv is starting to spell “cannot” as one word. When I was reading Tomb of Dracula, that particular habit got real old real fast….

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