Monday, July 13, 2015

We Have All Been Here Before - Nova 2

Nova #2 (October 1976)
"First Night of the Condor!"
Marv Wolfman-John Buscema/Joe Sinnott

Doug: I was in on The Man Called Nova from the first issue. What a great inaugural cover, and this one's certainly no slouch, either. Yeah, it might be busied-up a bit, but a new hero and two new baddies... and some Kirby Krackle? Take the money right out of my 10-year old paw, please! I chose to review this issue rather than the first because I felt that most of you have either a) read that ish or b) at least know that if someone put the origin stories of Green Lantern and Spider-Man into a blender and mixed them up, you'd get Nova. So the second issue seemed like it might be more interesting for a revisiting. And honestly, I've not read this since I bought it almost 40 years ago. But this time 'round I'm reading and scanning from the Nova Classic tpb.

Doug: We open at a bank robbery in progress. Who draws thugs better the Big John Buscema? I say to thee -- no one! Nova blasts through the huge plate glass window and makes very short work of the goons, using his "Nova speed" to weave in between the bullets until he can pummel each and every one of them. But young Richard Rider, the teen beneath the helmet, is a bit miffed that all the bank manager can worry about seems to be who will replace the now-broken window! Welcome to a riff frequently played by Spider-Man, friend. And maybe as we get off and running this morning we can discuss why this series was short-lived (25 issues of its own, and then continuing into the pages of the Fantastic Four for the tying up of loose ends). As I said a minute ago, that it obviously rips off (yep) GL and Spidey probably didn't help. While that's a proven formula for success, fans are onto that sort of "borrowing" right away. The writers and artists had better do something nifty right away to gain some separation -- and I'm not sure Nova creator Marv Wolfman did that. Great super-suit, however. The Nova costume has always been one of my favorites. So why wasn't this mag must-read? Let's continue.

Doug: As Nova arrives home on Long Island, he swoops in his bedroom window undetected (see?) and then recaps his origin from the previous issue. He's full of self-doubt (see?), unsure of what his full power-set is and the backstory of the centurion who'd gifted him his powers. But as he'd been in flight home, we the readers were introduced to an African-American gentleman calling himself the Condor. He spoke in mysterious tones, and flew off to meet his partner. We watch him arrive to a rather mountainous region on Long Island. As he flies into his hideout, he muses to himself how soon his plans will be in place and he'll be some crime overlord. But then he wonders about another referred to only as "him" or "he" (the oldest "mysterious" writing trick in the book), and how "he'll" not like his territory being compromised. But there's a partner to the Condor -- who is not where he's supposed to be. Quickly flying back out of the cave, the Condor finds a young man on a cliff, deep in his own thoughts. The Condor, angry, swoops low and knocks the youngster off his feet. But as his partner falls and begs for rescue, the Condor abides. Taking him back into the cave that is their base, the Condor chides the yet-unnamed youth for his disobedience. The Condor gestures to his partner to put on his costume, and in a rather garish display we are introduced to our second antagonist -- Powerhouse. In a two-panel origin the Condor reminds Powerhouse how he was found on a merchant ship as the sole surviving crew member -- everyone else drained of their life force by said sole survivor. We don't know why the Condor was not similarly affected, but this is apparently why he controls Powerhouse as basically his slave.

Doug: We get a brief interlude in the cafeteria of Truman High School, where Peter and... er, Richard and his friends are in the lunch line when Flash... er, Mike Burley and his girl push on through. It's textbook Ditko-era Spider-Man casting (or even Archie Andrews and the gang) as everyone pretty much plays a part that you'd expect to find. Suddenly Richard spies the Condor outside the school, apparently just winging by. You know the routine -- find a closet in which to change. As he charges away, he clips Mike and flips his spaghetti all atop his dome. Penance will be paid later, for certain! Rushing outside, now in full Nova gear, our hero engages the Condor. But why? How did he know the guy was a baddie? Although we'd been looking in on our villain-of-the-month, there was nothing about him in flight that suggested any malice. It could just as easily have been the Angel or the Falcon. But of course, then we wouldn't get a slugfest. The one element that Wolfman employed that was welcome was that Richard Rider had not clue #1 how to use his powers. This made for a little comedy but also a bit of frustration on the part of the reader, as we really aren't used to seeing our heroes as incompetent. The Condor more or less makes a fool of Nova, long enough for Powerhouse to slip into position. But once engaged in the battle, Powerhouse shows why his name can have two meanings -- super-strength, but also energy absorption! Nova manages to break his grip, but not before he's severely weakened. Powerhouse gets one last big punch in, and he and the Condor take off.

Doug: Back at the Rider household, Richard sits alone at the kitchen table, still stinging from his big-league stink-up against his new nemeses. Suddenly he smells smoke coming from his brother's basement laboratory. Descending the stairs, he finds an experiment gone wrong and the house ablaze. Quickly grabbing a fire extinguisher, Richard puts out the flames. His brother goes into some Reed Richards-like explanation, which Richard largely ignores. But later that evening, as Nova, he heads out on patrol. As he zips around New York City, he soon spies the Condor, about to break into the Museum of Natural History. You and I, the readers, have just been let in on the next dastardly plan of our winged wingnut -- steal some parchments from a mummified wizard in the Egyptology section. Condor had told Powerhouse that they needed to get it, before He did (bro-therrrrrr). So of course a fracas breaks out again, and in the process of the fisticuffs Powerhouse launches Nova into the mummy's sarcophagus, destroying it before Condor could locate and remove the parchment. That pretty much destroys the Condor's world, so he beats it out of the museum fast -- because you know, now He will be mad and be after Condor. Whatever. Nova, still battling Powerhouse, thinks back to the fire at his house. Grabbing an extinguisher off the wall, Nova rifles it at Powerhouse, who catches it and crushes it. Well, that releases all of the carbon dioxide which #1, chokes the breath out of Powerhouse and #2 shuts off his power-dampening prowess. Fight over. So is the story.

Doug: OK, so I've been pretty harsh on this one. Which is pretty curmudgeonly, because when I was 10 this was a can't-miss book. By then I was aware of what a back issue was, and of Marvel's history. So the opportunity to get in on a book with the inaugural issue was significant in my young brain. I recall thinking both of these baddies were pretty colorful, and that next issue's foe -- Diamond-head -- was pretty cool as well. But I'll admit to not having the historical knowledge then that I do now, and so my lens has altered. Now I see the aforementioned Green Lantern and Spider-Man tropes all over this book. But I don't think Marv Wolfman put forth much effort in trying to be original. And c'mon -- no one in the history of America has ever exclaimed "Blue blazes!" Certainly no teenager in the 1970s that I ever knew. Oh, and the whole "He/Him" deal? I thought the Sphinx storyline eventually paid off, and the culmination of the battle with Galactus in the pages of the Fantastic Four was memorable (but then, the Big G usually is!). I'll add a comment on the art: John Buscema is more than solid as usual, and I noticed that this issue features full pencils by Big John. I say that as it's pretty obvious in some of the faces that more Buscema shows than does the tendencies of Joe Sinnott. Certainly when we moved into the 1980s, specifically on the Avengers, we can see Tom Palmer much more in charge of the finished product than Buscema. But here it's my contention that we're getting Buscema's lines. At any rate, please leave a comment -- am I right, off base, you loved this book/hated this book/never read this book... You know the drill. And thanks in advance.

PS: In thumbing through the trade while I was reading for this review, I noticed in the very next issue what may be the single best example of what Karen and I refer to as "Buscema-blasted". You know how Sal Buscema draws a guy who just gets jettisoned by another guy? Check out this panel, from Nova #3. Dude... Inks are by Tom Palmer.


Humanbelly said...

This darned title was so ridiculously hyped as the next "Big Thing" from Marvel (a major older, local fan/wheeler-dealer I knew bought all of the copies in our little town, in fact), and then, man, it just WAS NOT. I was fifteen when this came out and yep, I stuck with it for the entire duration of its run. It's one of the few times I was honestly relieved for a book to be canceled.

The saving grace for these first few issues was the reasonably solid art by the Buscema brothers and A-list inkers. But from the very first issue it was simply impossible to get past the almost comically heavy-handed use of loooooooong-established Spidey tropes. The GL powerset origin wasn't quite as off-putting, because that's not a major element in the day-to-day storytelling aspects.
To put it simply, I think the writing is just dreadful. Apart from there not being a glimmer anywhere of anything original at all (just rehashing ideas and scenarios that date back to the Golden Age, really), Wolfman's facility with dialog has a forced quality that is nearly unbearable. It's especially painful when he tries to be "funny". Witness the "banter" in the brief excerpt from #3 there, eh? But the single element that put me off more than anything else at the time was the rapid-fire introduction of a wholly new rogue's gallery of Major Villains for Rich to combat. It was an early whiff of Sentry-ism, where most of these guys HAD to have been around before now (esp the Sphinx!), and yet they somehow had flown below the Marvel Universe radar until Rich Ryder came on the scene. Of all the questionable elements, that particular aspect distanced me the most (well, plus I didn't care for these new rogues all that much, either--)

HB-- even more curmudged than Doug!

Martinex1 said...

I agree almost entirely with everything Doug and HB have said; the series was woefully overhyped and the Spidey element of the lonely loser did not play well a second time. I think that particular aspect was somewhat a fault of Rich Ryder's depiction; there seemed to be a dichotomy there in that he did not look the part.

I don't know why Wolfman's writing was so hit and miss. He would go on to do great things with DC and the Titans, but here it was painful. Maybe sticking to the Peter Parker trope limited him.

However, I do disagree with the villain aspect. That was one thing I liked about Nova. I liked that he had a new and different gang of villains. A lot of them were retreads of other Marvel adversaries, but I was always hopeful that something decent would materialize. I know I am probably in the minority, but I liked Diamondhead. He was always so nasty and angry. He wouldn't be hard to pick out of a lineup, and I always wondered how I guy like that did normal living. I had high hopes for his villainy.

Some of the Nova stories finally wrapped up in ROM many years later.

Edo Bosnar said...

I never read these early issues; rather, I only started reading Nova just before the series ended, in those stories that were tied to that 10+ issue space opera going on in FF (also written by Wolfman, and which I rather liked). I probably wouldn't have picked those up otherwise, because at that point the art was being done by Infantino.
I have to say, though, that I agree with Martinex about Nova's villains: I think some of them are pretty cool, like Sphinx, Diamondhead and Powerhouse (who later became a good guy).

Anonymous said... wasn't a BAD comic, I guess. Wolfman was throwing in a lotta weird new characters in there, it was a game attempt at pumping a little new blood into the Marvel Universe. I never could figure out what the Condor's deal was.
The Sal Buscema art made it nice to look at, anyway.

Edo Bosnar said...

By the way, I have to say I totally agree with Doug about Nova's outfit - it's really one of the nice costume designs.

Karen said...

Hey partner, I like the title for this post. It took me a minute to come up with the song that lyric is from. Good one, and fitting. Deja Vu indeed!

This issue was my introduction to Nova as I had missed the first issue. I don't think I was sharp enough as a youngster to pick up on the fact that the book was an amalgam of Green Lantern and Spider-Man. I liked Nova's costume and powers (he had a rather unique look when he flew), but the title was never a must buy for me. Once Infantino came aboard, I lost interest quickly.

If we're matching Nova's villains up to Spidey's, my first thought was that Condor =Vulture, but that's rather obvious. Who would Powerhouse be standing in for? One of the reluctant villains, like a Molten Man? Diamondhead =Hammerhead? Again, too close? How about the Sandman, back when he was a real tough guy? The Sphinx seems too much of a world-beater -I'm not sure Spidey has an analog.

david_b said...

Nice costume, agreed, almost like that initial MarVell Kree in style perhaps.

There's a blandness to this story being told. Origin..? Yeeeah, been there, seen that.

Villains..? Nothing engaging to see there either.

Despite the star-studded line-up of Englehart, Buscema/Sinnott, just looking at the panel work shown, this seemed all obligatory, 'by-the-numbers', phoned-in..., pick your description.

You never get a great sense of newness or excitement from this story. It looks great but again, nothing really engaging.

Humanbelly said...

We definitely are of divided opinion on Nova's rogues gallery, aren't we?
Wasn't Blackout one of his, as well?
Perhaps another problem with them is that they're indeed yet another shameless "it worked for Spidey, so we'll do exactly the same thing again!" borrow. Jump right in and come up w/ a series of charismatic, exciting foes! How hard could it be?? Buuuut, Wolfman simply doesn't have Stan's frenetic creative energy, and John Buscema, for all his inherent artistic brilliance, is cuh-LEARLY bored with the work here, and you don't get even an iota of the creative investment that Ditko brought during Spidey's genesis. It's. . . what's the word I'm looking?. . . cynical. That's it-- the whole darned thing was a terribly cynical attempt to simply grab that bottled lightening from (only!) about 14 years earlier.

I kinda liked the Condor too, though. I'm not sure if there's a way to put this w/out sounding like an idiot, but I liked the fact that he was African American, but not written with a shred of cliched "black-sounding" dialog. (Sweet Sister!) It's nice to see that bullying, narcissistic megalomania can be portrayed as culture/race neutral. (Was there ever an origin for him?).

Diamondhead never struck me as anything more than a Dick Tracy villain.

And Sphinx, as I mentioned, doesn't work for me at all because, a) he's a "Big Bad" (like Galactus or the High Evolutionary or something), and out of Nova's ballpark, and b) like Apocalypse, he's just too big and powerful and omnipotent to suddenly be introduced as a there-all-along type of threat.

IIRC, there was also a push to make the Yellow Claw into Rich's Evil Empire-type foe late in the book's run. Honestly, I find almost nothing as dull as the Yellow Claw.


Anonymous said...

Blue blazes indeed Doug & Karen!

While I loved Nova's look and powerset, his origin really echoed Spidey's own too much. It really was a case of 'hey I've read this somewhere before - in the pages of Spidey!'. Even the alliterative name, Richard Rider (yeah I know Stan did it too - but in the 60s) kinda gave me a tipoff that this was Spider-Man 2.0 So, yeah, it wasn't the art, although I have to agree with Karen that Infantino was really at a low point in his career here. It was simply deja vu, seen that before, read that already, not original or unique enough, end of story.

- Mike 'what about a Nova movie?' from Trinidad & Tobago.

Doug said...

Thanks for the feedback today, everyone!

Karen, you sniffed out that lyric! Kudos to you, detective!

In the next week or so (such is my reading schedule. *sigh...*) I plan to dig into some Wolfman/Perez New Teen Titans. I've not read any of those in quite some time, but recall fondly the two trades of which I have partaken. It's a plan that Karen and I review the New Titans 1st appearance from DC Comics Presents #26.

Be well!


johnlindwall said...

10-year old me loved this book, and of course that colors my opinion of it even now. I was the target audience for this thing also: old enough to fall for the "issue #1, get in from the start" excitement but maybe not so quick to connect the GL swipes on the origin front. I think that part of the attraction was a new leading hero who was young, like me. On that front it succeeded wonderfully for me.

I echo the crowd's sentiment: his costume is fantastic!

I loved the villains, though I do recall wishing the lead baddie Condor had a little more impressive powers then: wings, genius, bad social skills. I really liked Diamondhead though!

I did wince at the supporting case at times: his annoying brother who could whip up "Sherlock Holmes" robots in the basement for example. Corny and childish.

Even young me could tell that things were heading downhill as the Infantino art was not to my liking. I think I fell off the bandwagon with the giant tidal wave / yellow claw storyline. I am an Infantino fan now, but his earlier work is more to my liking.

Enough negativity! I have a soft spot in my heart for this book and will love it forever. I remember how excited I was as each new issue came out. I loved the few Kirby covers to be sure, as well!

Anonymous said...

I became aware of Nova thanks to New Warriors. I have never read an issue of his '70s series, but I'm getting nostalgic for the Nicieza & Bagley NW run as I type this. Nova was the star of my favorite story from that era, "Forever Yesterday." The Sphinx has rewritten reality and only Nova can stop him! The new reality was fascinating to me- instead of Thor, they had Horus! Storm leading the Avengers! - and it made me like Richard Ryder.

Marv Wolfman was not a very good humor writer. It made him a bad fit for Spider-Man, and made Changeling's dialogue in New Teen Titans cringe-inducing. I loved Tomb of Dracula and NTT is a Bronze Age Classic, but Martinex put it best: he was always hit-or-miss.

- Mike Loughlin

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