By: Jeph Loeb (Writer), Ed McGuinness (Artist), Dexter Vines (Inker), Marte Gracia (Colorist), Albert Deschesne (Letterer)
The Review: I was bracing myself to maul this book. Even the physical act of purchasing it elicited a heavy sigh; there is simply no fun in handing over hard-earned money for something you feel in your gut you’re going to hate. Sadly, this is the main response my nervous system has developed to anything with the name ‘Jeph Loeb’ attached to it over the last few years. I’ve read things of his I’ve enjoyed, sure – you can’t really deny the quality of most of his Batman work or his Marvel ‘Colour’ titles – but most of his recent output has been, in my eyes, unabashedly poor. In some cases, like Hulk or X-Sanction, I actually felt like he was trying to see how far he could push his audience, using them as a test group in a heinous experiment to seek out that magic ‘so bad it’s good’ sweet spot. Problem is, when you fall short of that target, you just get ‘bad’. Yet Marvel continues to put their faith in him, and perhaps no more so than with Nova, being as it is an integral part of the company’s Cosmic restructuring.
Sidestepping any mention of the most recent Nova (Richard Rider) Loeb has instead opted for a near complete re-launch of the brand. Its opening issue acts as an origin for not only the series’ new Nova – a young kid by the name of Sam Alexander – but also a whole new set of Corpsmen whose adventures have preceded his. As such, it’s a great jumping on point for new readers, a near perfect #1. If you’ve never picked up a Nova title before here’s the gist : our hero is a member of an intergalactic police force comprised of volunteers from various alien words who all draw their power from a central ‘Nova Force’. The most obvious comparison to make would be to DC’s Green Lantern series, and I’m sure that Marvel are hoping that any parallels in concept will soon be matched by similar critical and commercial successes.
Still, while Geoff Johns’ GL: Rebirth series sought to rejuvenate the Green Lantern mythos with a repackaging of its Silver Age figurehead, Nova attempts to lead its relaunch with an entirely new lead character. Sam Alexander is a likeable kid, stuck in a small town with dreams of bigger things. His father Jesse often regales Sam and his sister with tales of his swashbuckling exploits in deep space with the Nova Corps fifteen years hence (illustrated here as a series of bombastic flashbacks) though for Sam, who’s forced to look after his Dad more often that not, it’s hard to think of his stories as anything but the ramblings of an overly-imaginative drunk. “Sam…if they call for me someday…I’ll have to go back out there,” says Jesse as his son helps him stagger home. “I’m sure you will, Dad. I’m sure you will…”
When his father later seemingly pulls a disappearing act, Sam hastily sets off to find him – though he soon meets with an unfortunate skateboard accident that immediately lands him in Hospital. When he wakes up he comes face-to-face with a couple of the unlikely characters from his Dad’s stories, and thus the scene is set for Sam to take his first steps into Superheroics.
As a lead, Sam manages to balance a volatile mix of character traits with reassuring aplomb; he’s cocky without being gratingly arrogant, just cool enough to admire but not so much that his treatment at the hands of a High School bully seems unlikely. In fact, despite coming off like a complete douchebag in his early A vs X appearances, he’s a far more relatable character than I ever expected him to be. During my review of last year’s Marvel Now! Point One anthology I wondered if Marvel might be “positioning Sam Alexander as a cosmic Miles Morales”; while it may be too early to tell for sure, there may be something to that. They’re both kids who bear up admirably under pressure, they place the needs and safety of their family first, and – most enjoyably for us – both display an authentic sense of wonder towards the more fantastical elements of the Marvel Universe. When pretty much every other hero on the racks is permanently stuck in a 25-30-years-of-age fugue state the fact that the new Nova is so young definitely works in the books’ favour.
Ed McGuinness (a frequent Jeph Loeb collaborator) really pulls out all the stops to give the book an undeniably prestige sheen. With a major assist from Dexter Vines on inks and the terrific Marte Gracia on colors the book has a bold, youthful look which perfectly compliments its teenage hero. In fact, as this is easily one of the best scripts Loeb has provided for his regular artist in a long time, the results are some of the most pleasing I’ve seen produced from McGuinness. There’s an impressively cinematic feel at play with every panel composed to elicit maximum drama from its constituent parts and when the splash pages hit they don’t fail to impress. A lot of this book was terra firma-bound, but there’s enough evidence to convince that in future instalments the cosmic stuff will be winningly handled. It’s taken long enough, but I finally feel like the Loeb/McGuinness partnership is paying dividends.
Indeed, the strongly cinematic style McGuinness deploys alongside Loeb’s impressive script gives the series the feel of the ‘Young Adult Sci-Fi’ genre of 80’s movies – Teen Wolf, Flight Of The Navigator and, most pertinently, The Last Star fighter. It’s a winning combination and one that’s pitch perfect for this book. It feels unashamedly all-ages in its execution (which is rare indeed for a mainstream Marvel book) though the alluring sense of drama and fun on display seem to suggest that it may be able to contend with more ‘mature’ competition.
Conclusion: Nova is easily the best thing Jeph Loeb’s produced for Marvel in a long, long time. You may not think that’s saying much, but its accomplishments go further. It’s a confident start for a newly created teenaged hero and a resuscitative breath of fresh air for the franchise. What I originally had pegged as an also-ran to Guardians of the Galaxy may well prove to be an essential companion piece and, with Iron Man bringing up the rear, a solid foundation to Marvel’s Cosmic ambitions.
Filed under: Marvel Comics, Reviews Tagged: | Albert Deschesne, Cosmic, Dexter Vines, Ed McGuinness, Guardians of the Galaxy, Jeph Loeb, Marte Gracia, Marvel, Marvel Comics, Marvel Cosmic, Marvel NOW, Marvel Reviews, Nova, Richard Rider, Sam Alexander