By Marv Wolfman, Len Wein, John Buscema, Sal Buscema, Ross Andru, Carmine Infantino Joe Sinnott & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-6028-1 (TPB)
By 1975 the first wave of fans-turned-writers were well ensconced at all the major American comic-book companies. Two fanzine graduates, Len Wein and Marv Wolfman, had achieved stellar successes early on, and then risen to the ranks of writer/editors at Marvel, a company in trouble both creatively and in terms of sales.
After a meteoric rise and a virtual root-&-branch overhaul of the industry in the 1960s, the House of Ideas – and every other comics publisher except Archie – were suffering from a mass desertion of fans who had simply found other uses for their mad-money.
Whereas Charlton and Gold Key dwindled and eventually died and DC vigorously explored new genres to bolster their flagging sales, Marvel chose to exploit their record with superheroes: fostering new titles within a universe it was increasingly impossible to buy only a portion of…
As seen in this no-nonsense compilation collecting the first dozen issues plus a crossover with Amazing Spider-Man #171 (September 1976-August 1977), The Man Called Nova was in fact a boy named Richard Rider. The new kid was a working-class teen nebbish in the tradition of Peter Parker – except he was good at sports and bad at learning – who attended Harry S. Truman High School, where his strict dad was the principal.
His mom worked as a police dispatcher and he had a younger brother, Robert, who was a bit of a genius. Other superficial differences to the Spider-Man canon included girlfriend Ginger and best friends Bernie and Caps, but he did have his own school bully, Mike Burley…
An earlier version, “Black Nova” had apparently appeared in the Wolfman/Wein fan mag Super Adventures in 1966, but with a few revisions and an artistic make-over by the legendary John Romita (Senior), the “Human Rocket” was launched into the Marvel Universe in his own title, beginning in September 1976, ably supported by the illustration A-Team of John Buscema & Joe Sinnott.
‘Nova’ – which borrowed as heavily from Green Lantern as the wallcrawler’s origin – was structured like a classic four-chapter Lee/Kirby early Fantastic Four tale, and rapidly introduced its large cast before quickly zipping to the life-changing moment in Rider’s life when a colossal star-ship with a dying alien aboard transfers to the lad all the mighty powers of an extraterrestrial peacekeeper and warrior.
Centurion Rhomann Dey was tracking a deadly marauder to Earth. Zorr had already destroyed the warior’s idyllic homeworld Xandar, but the severely wounded, vengeance-seeking Nova Prime was too near death and could not avenge the genocide.
Trusting to fate, Dey beams his powers and abilities towards the planet below where Rich is struck by an energy bolt and plunged into a coma. On awakening, the boy realises he has gained awesome powers… and the responsibilities of the last Nova Centurion.
The tale is standard origin fare beautifully rendered by Buscema & Sinnott, but the story really begins – after text feature Nova Newsline! – with #2’s ‘The First Night of… The Condor!’ as Wolfman, playing to his own strengths, introduces an extended storyline featuring a host of new villains whilst concentrating on filling out the lives of the supporting cast.
There’s still plenty of action as the neophyte hero learns to use his new powers (one thing the energy transfer didn’t provide was an instruction manual) but battles against winged criminal mastermind Condor and his enigmatic, reluctant pawn Powerhouse only lead the green hero into a trap…
Nova #3 debuts another brutal super-thug in ‘…The Deadly Diamondhead is Ready to Strike!’ (illustrated by new art-team Sal Buscema & Tom Palmer), but the battles are clearly not as important as laying plot-threads for a big event to come. The next issue
features the first of many guest-star appearances – and the first of three covers by the inimitable Jack Kirby.
‘Nova Against the Mighty Thor’ introduces The Corruptor: a bestial being who transforms the Thunder God – with one magic touch – into a raging berserker whom only the new kid on the block can stop, before ‘Evil is the Earth-Shaker!’ pits the lad against subterranean despot Tyrannus and his latest engine of destruction, although a slick sub-plot concerning the Human Rocket’s attempt to become a comicbook star still delivers some tongue-in-cheek chuckles to this day…
Issue #6 saw those long-laid evil mastermind plans begin to mature as Condor, Diamondhead and Powerhouse return to capture Nova, whilst their hidden foe is revealed in the Frank Giacoia inked ‘And So… The Sphinx!’
The Egyptian-themed bad guy is another world-class, immortal impatiently awaiting his turn to conquer the world…
Meanwhile, young Caps has been abducted by another new nasty who would eventually make big waves for the Human Rocket….
‘War in Space!’ sees Nova a brainwashed ally of his former foes in an invasion of Rhomann Dey’s still orbiting star-ship. The awesome craft will be an invaluable weapon in the encroaching war with the Sphinx, but the boarding raid results in Nova being marooned in deep space once his mind clears.
On narrowly escaping, Rider finds himself initially outmatched and outfought by Caps’ kidnapper in ‘When Megaman Comes Calling… Don’t Answer!’: a tumultuous, time-bending epic that concludes in #9’s ‘Fear in the Funhouse!’
Nova #10 began the final (yeah, right) battle in ‘Four Against the Sphinx!’ with Condor, Diamondhead and Powerhouse in all-out battle against the immortal mage whilst the hapless Human Rocket is caught in the crossfire, after which ‘Nova No More’ focuses on the hero’s short-term memories being removed to take him out of the game. The tactic only partially works since he’s back for the next issue’s classy crossover with the Spectacular Spider-Man.
Closing out this collection ‘Who is the Man Called Photon?’ is by Wolfman, Sal Buscema & Giacoia: teaming the neophyte hero with the much more experienced webslinger in a fair-play murder mystery, after Rich Rider’s uncle is killed by a costumed thief.
However, there are ploys within ploys occurring and after the mandatory hero head-butting session, the kids join forces and the mystery is dramatically resolved in Amazing Spider-Man #171’s ‘Photon is Another Name For…?’ courtesy of Len Wein, Ross Andru & Mike Esposito.
Enthusiastic and action packed, this tome offers lots of competent, solid entertainment and beautiful superhero art and Nova has proved his intrinsic value by returning again and again. If simple, uncomplicated Fights ‘n’ Tights fiction is what you want, look no further.
© 1976, 1977, 2013 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.