Eye on Comics

Comics criticism and commentary from Don MacPherson

Rocket Man

Posted by Don MacPherson on February 23rd, 2013

Variant coverNova #1
Writer: Jeph Loeb
Pencils: Ed McGuinness
Inks: Dexter Vines
Colors: Marte Garcia
Letters: Comicraft
Cover artists: McGuinness & Vines (regular)/Adi Granov, Marcos Martin, Joe Quesada/Danny Miki & Scottie Young
Editor: Stephen Wacker
Publisher: Marvel Entertainment
Price: $3.99 US

I don’t have any particular affection for the Nova concept, nor has my previous exposure to this new incarnation of the character (on the Ultimate Spider-Man cartoon) fostered a particular interest in him. But I have to admit to having a soft spot for the bombastic, basic super-hero storytelling of the creative team of Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuinness. The maturity and nuance Loeb brought to his writing more than a decade ago isn’t to be found anymore, but his latest approach has been to bring a more traditional, fun tone to the genre, which is reflected by the over-the-top, cartoony qualities of McGuinness’s style. Their performance on this latest project is certainly straightforward and capable, but it was a little underwhelming as well. This is the beginning of an origin story, and so far, I’m not invested in these characters. After reading the first issue, I found I wasn’t all that interested in seeing what comes next, nor was there much of a hook to lure me back to find out.

Variant coverVariant coverBeing the son of an alcoholic is a tough road for teenage Sam Alexander, and there are a couple of things that make things even worse. When your dad’s also the janitor at your high school, taking grief from other kids is pretty much unavoidable. And then there are the stories… his father’s tall tales of adventure, intrigue and danger in deep space as a member of an elite troop of alien Nova warriors. Sam’s little sister eats these stories up, but Sam learned long ago not to put much stock in his father’s inconsistent, rambling yarns of space-faring super-heroes. However, he grows concerned when his father disappears, but he soon comes face to face with visitors in his place who open his eyes to worlds far beyond the mundane existence of everyday life in Carefree, Arizona.

This comic book features 26 pages of story and art, which seems like a slightly better value than one normally gets for one of Marvel’s $3.99 releases. However, when one considers not only the number of double-page spreads but the first three pages depicting only empty space, the value becomes much more difficult to discern. The new design for the title character brings back a simpler look than the amped-up version we saw a few years ago, and it’s also darker. I don’t mind the more traditional look, but the inkier color palette, especially for the helmet, seems like a poor fit for the teenager who’s about to be transformed into a super-hero.

McGuinness’s linework, inked by his usual partner in crime Dexter Vines, throughout this issue is as crisp and clean as we’ve come to expect. Furthermore, the premise offers him plenty of opportunities for the sort of big-screen, extreme action for which the artist is known. Unfortunately, most of the action sequences appear to unfold in the cramped cockpit of a spaceship. The superhuman, space-faring characters in the flashback are jammed into panels to reflect it, but it just doesn’t seem to play to McGuinness’s strengths. Still, that’s what the story calls for. As I read this comic book, I was struck by the fact that McGuinness and Vines’s collaboration here reminded me often of the style of Arthur Adams; it was most apparent in the characters’ faces. Maybe the influence was always there, but this was the first time I was struck by it. The characters’ rounded faces also put me in mind of Paul (Aquaman) Pelletier’s style, which is similarly bright in tone.

I think what stuck with me the most about this comic book was how Loeb seems to have brought Green Lantern into the Marvel Universe. The Nova Corps has been compared to the Green Lantern Corps in the past, sure, but this felt like the story of the Son of Hal Jordan. It was Sam’s father that evoked the link for me here. Sam’s father looks a great deal like Hal, and he’s portrayed as a broken shell of a man who used to be the brashest and bravest hero in countless galaxies. One could argue Sam’s mother, with her dark hair and strong attitude, bears a resemblance to Carol Ferris, Hal Jordan’s main squeeze over in the DC Universe. I don’t know if Loeb intended to draw these parallels, but as a longtime comics reader, they jumped out at me.

This story is missing a lot of things, and one of them is any sense of subtlety. Mind you, subtlety isn’t exactly something one expects to find in Loeb’s writing in recent years, so it’s not really a disappointment. Still, the ham-fisted juxtaposition of a heavily burdened teen living in a town called “Carefree” elicited a groan, as did, for example, the cameo of the principal from Back to the Future acting in a similar capacity here. As I understand it, this new incarnation of Nova is meant to serve in part as a replacement for Spider-Man in that Marvel doesn’t really have a teenage super-hero going through youthful angst while trying to live up the memory of a lost family member and ideal of responsibility. Loeb has certainly included a number of plot and character elements to fulfil that assignment, but by the middle of the issue, it felt as though I was running through a gauntlet of clichés and conventions rather than immersing myself in an engaging or entertaining story. 5/10

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2 Responses to “Rocket Man”

  1. ‘Nova’ #1 rockets into comic shops — what did people think? | Robot 6 @ Comic Book Resources – Covering Comic Book News and Entertainment Says:

    [...] Don MacPherson, Eye on Comics: “This story is missing a lot of things, and one of them is any sense of subtlety. Mind you, subtlety isn’t exactly something one expects to find in Loeb’s writing in recent years, so it’s not really a disappointment. Still, the ham-fisted juxtaposition of a heavily burden teen living in a town called ‘Carefree’ elicited a groan, as did, for example, the cameo of the principal from Back to the Future acting in a similar capacity here. As I understand it, this new incarnation of Nova is meant to serve in part as a replacement for Spider-Man in that Marvel doesn’t really have a teenage super-hero going through youthful angst while trying to live up the memory of a lost family member and ideal of responsibility. Loeb has certainly included a number of plot and character elements to fulfil that assignment, but by the middle of the issue, it felt as though I was running through a gauntlet of clichés and conventions rather than immersing myself in an engaging or entertaining story.” (5/10) [...]

  2. ultrapaul Says:

    Oh, sure they do, released in the same week no less. I’m not sure which one is more rad, though.

    Alpha (2013) #1
    Published: February 20, 2013
    Rating: Rated T+
    Writer: Joshua Fialkov
    Cover Artist: Humberto Ramos

    From the pages of AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, get ready for the greatest hero who ever existed…EVER! Alpha was having an awesome time of it, till that buzz-kill Spider-Man made him quit being a …