Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Worlds of Wonder: The kids are all right

Take that, Thorsie! The new Nova laying the smackdown on Beta Ray Bill. Er, doesn’t he know he’s one of the GOOD guys?

Take that, Thorsie! The new Nova laying the smackdown on Beta Ray Bill. Er, doesn’t he know he’s one of the GOOD guys?

We take a bet on the future by exploring Marvel’s next generation, starting with Nova and the New Warriors.

THE Golden Age of Marvels (circa 1960s-1970s) was definitely the most exciting era in comic book history. It was a time when comics struck their richest vein in terms of creativity, and there was an explosion of new characters such as the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, Iron Man, Hulk, Avengers, Thor and the X-Men.

Back then, creativity took centre stage over profitability, as the likes of Stan “The Man” Lee, Jack “King” Kirby, and Steve Ditko were given a free hand to construct a fantasy-based universe that was limited only by their imagination.

Today, that half-century-old purple patch of creativity has withstood the test of time and technological advancements, and has even evolved into new dimensions – from web fluid to organic webbing; armour in a suitcase to liquid-based armour; costumes made from unstable molecule to … ahem … spandex. If, however, you pause for a moment to take stock of developments in comics, you will realise that a majority of “new” things today are actually kind of old!

In the past few decades, have there been any new heroes as inspiring as Spidey or the Fantastic Four? Since mutants and Inhumans were introduced years ago, have there been other races/species that have had more impact? In short, it seems as though things are just going round and round in circles, with rehash after rehash of the same old characters!

Case in point – all the recent Marvel blockbusters have been based on characters that were created in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s (well, except Elektra). Efforts to construct new Marvel universes such as Jim Shooter’s New Universe, the 2099 Universe, the Ultimate Comics universe and so on, have resulted in more damage than homage.

Sure, if new things are your, er… thing, then you could always escape to DC’s New 52 universe, or try out other books from Image, Valiant and Dark Horse Comics. But for veteran comic fans, the House of Ideas will always be their first point of reference.

But wait, the future isn’t exactly bleak for Marvel fans. There ARE some unpolished gems in Marvel’s warehouse (though we hope they don’t bring out D-Man, Brother Voodoo or Gilgamesh!). There have been some recent successes with “off-beat” titles such as Hawkeye, Daredevil, Iron Fist, the new Ms Marvel and She-Hulk, all of which have gained solid cult followings.

This increased focus on second-tier characters can be attributed to the over-exploitation of “save the world” story arcs (c’mon, Earth can’t be on EVERY alien race’s hit list, right?), which make the straightforward neighbourhood problems these titles deal with easier to relate to.

Still much of the latter can also limit a character’s potential and profile – which brings us to Sam Alexander a.k.a. Nova and the New Warriors.

Initially conceptualised as homage to Spidey, Richard Rider never quite attained the stardom the wall crawler has.

Nova (ongoing, currently at issue #18)
Writers: Jeph Loeb, Zeb Wells and Gerry Duggan
Artists: Ed McGuiness and Paco Medina

I will always have a soft spot for Nova, as the “original” Richard Rider version was the first comic book I read. Then (and probably even now), the notion of a teenager being gifted with alien powers was very enticing and the ability to fly (albeit like a human rocket) definitely sealed the deal.

Placed 98th on IGN’s Top 100 Comic Book Heroes of All Time, Nova is one of those “expendable” characters that you can use to save the world or as a “makeweight” when sacrifices are needed.

Not to be confused with the female ex-herald of Galactus, the Nova we are referring to wears a bucket-like helmet (which explains his “Buckethead” moniker), and shares Spidey’s knack for cracking jokes while fighting crime.

Originally created by Marv Wolfman (Crisis On Infinite Earths, New Teen Titans) and Len Wein (X-Men) in 1966 via the fanzine Super Adventures, Nova only made his official debut in his own series a decade later.

Initially conceptualised as homage to Spidey – hence the teenage problems, working-class roots and secret identity – Richard Rider never quite attained the stardom the Wall-Crawler has.

Despite boasting three regular series, and featuring in a few teams (New Warriors, Secret Avengers and Nova Corps) as well as a few crossover events (Annihilation, Secret Invasion, War Of Kings, and The Thanos Imperative), Richard’s biggest claim to fame is as part of the foundation that introduced notable characters such as the Sphinx, the New Warriors and the present Guardians of the Galaxy team.

While Peter Parker emerges stronger from his tragedies, Richard went the opposite way, sliding ever closer to the edge of the abyss after every debacle.

Eventually, after 35 years, Marvel pulled the plug on his tenure as Nova in 2011 and created a new “Human Rocket” – Sam Alexander.

Sam’s stint as the new Nova began with the mother of all introductions – with him sounding the alarm bells on the Phoenix Force’s arrival during 2012’s Avengers Vs X-Men event, and subsequently being named as an honorary member of the Avengers!

The lad also received further support from the Nova Corps and some guidance (if you can call it that) from the Guardians of the Galaxy; he recently joined the New Warriors, and was also friends with Uatu The Watcher (who was unfortunately killed off in the ongoing Original Sin event).

Compared to Richard Rider, this new Nova is a better representation of the Peter Parker homage, albeit with his Earthbound adventures set in the small town of Carefree in Arizona. Still, Sam’s life isn’t as “carefree” as his town is called – after the disappearance of his father Jesse, (who’s also a former Nova Centurion), he inadvertently inherits his father’s Nova helmet, which has led him on a series of adventures with the likes of the Guardians of The Galaxy’s Gamora and Rocket Raccoon, Spidey, Thor, and Beta Ray Bill (or as Sam calls him, “Thorsie”)!

Next, Sam’s rapid rise to the big leagues is being accelerated by his groundbreaking role in the ongoing Original Sin event, where he raises the obvious question concerning his friend, The Watcher’s death: “What is the Watcher actually looking for?”

And that’s not all – Sam’s also got a slot on the animated Ultimate Spider-Man series where his “rivalry” with Spidey often takes centre stage.

In Nova’s case, the stars aren’t the limit – he’s got a whole galaxy waiting as well!

The New Warriors is Marvelâ¿TMs way of uniting its sidekicks and semi-established teenage characters.

New Warriors (ongoing, currently at issue #4)
Writer: Christopher Yost
Artists: Marcus To and Nick Roche

Just like DC’s Teen Titans, the New Warriors is Marvel’s way of uniting its sidekicks and semi-established teenage characters.

Past New Warriors teams have featured the likes of Night Thrasher, Firestar, Namorita, Nova (Rider-version), Aegis, Blackwing, Bolt, Dagger (minus Cloak), Darkhawk, Debrii, Decibel, Gauntlet, Helix, Hindsight, Longstrike, Microbe, Phaser, Powerpax, Rage, Renascence, Ripcord, Scarlet Spider (all incarnations), Silhouette, Slapstick, Tempest, Tigra, Timeslip, Turbo, Ultra Girl and Wondra. Phew!

Never heard of those names before? Well, in the past, the New Warriors have always been an “incubator” for new super heroes needing a big break. The concept of a backup superhero team (especially on days where the Avengers, Fantastic Four or X-Men are on holiday) first appeared in the pages of The Mighty Thor #411 and #412, where the team of Night Thrasher, Marvel Boy (now Justice), Speedball, Namorita, Nova and Firestar joined Thor to halt the unstoppable might of the Juggernaut.

Barely a month later, the team was given its own series (Vol 1, 1990) and stamped its mark by defeating Terrax, a former herald of Galactus. With two high-profile victories in the bag, the team enjoyed a worthy 75-issue run, as well as an 11-issue relaunch in 1999.

Despite the interrupted publication schedule, both volumes offered a fair amount of characterisation and provided some worthy developments in the Marvel universe – particularly in areas where the big guns were not involved.

It was the third incarnation of the New Warriors that made the biggest and most devastating impact, though. Instead of saving the world, this team (comprising Namorita, Night Thrasher, Nova, Speedball, Microbe and Debrii) opted to be reality-TV stars. During a “live” encounter with a group of supervillains (Nitro, Cobalt Man, Coldheart and Speedfreak), things went horribly wrong when Nitro the exploding man went “kaboom” in a residential area, resulting in the deaths of 612 civilians.

This tragedy sparked the beginning of the controversial Civil War event, which divided the superhero fraternity into two factions, under Iron Man and Captain America respectively.

Don't mesh with us: The New Warriors finally come together as a team in New Warriors #4.
Don’t mesh with us: The New Warriors finally come together as a team in New Warriors #4.

The recently launched All-New Marvel NOW New Warriors series features a new team – Justice, Speedball, Nova, Scarlet Spider (Kaine), Hummingbird, Sun Girl, Haechi (Mark Sim) and Water Snake.

This latest incarnation offers a mixture of its original “seriousness” with today’s light humour (as reflected in the art style and the characters’ youthfulness). With Justice, Speedball and a new Nova as its core members, the team is given more character via the diverse idiosyncrasies of Scarlet Spider (obviously every team needs a Spidey, even if it’s a clone), Hummingbird, Sun Girl, Haechi (an Inhuman), and Water Snake (an Atlantean). The current ongoing story arc sees them gathered by the High Evolutionary in anticipation of a Celestials homecoming – which certainly qualifies as an “Earth-shattering” event.

Whether or not these new incarnations manage to last, I am confident that the Nova and New Warriors will always have a permanent spot in the Marvel Universe.

Tags / Keywords: Lifestyle , Worlds of Wonder , comics , Nova , Marvel Comics , New Warriors


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