The First 10: Nova

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The first ten issues of a comic are important. They establish what the book will be, and whether it will be a success. Whether it runs a hundred and twenty issues or only eleven, those first ten issues are well worth looking at. So that’s what I want to do.

The last time I did this, I looked at the Marvel British X-Men spin-off Excalibur. But for this one, we're going a little more modern. After Annihilation, Marvel Cosmic was deemed successful, and they launched the Abnett and Lanning Nova book, which I love a whole bunch. It ran 36 issues, beginning in June of 2007 and ending in June of 2010. Let's look at the first ten issues, and see where it takes us. Probably to space, I'm guessing.


1. What’s Next

Writers: Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning
Artist: Sean Chen

Well, holy hell, that’s one breakneck first issue. Like, if you ever wanted to see hit the ground running, leave this book alone, because this is hit the ground SPRINTING.

In the aftermath of Annihilation, Richard Rider is the last remaining Nova Corpsman. The Worldmind – the computer mind that previously ran all of Xandarian culture – is locked in his head, but after the horrors of Annihilation, the galaxy is in crisis. Richard frantically shoots from one crisis to another in an attempt to handle every distress call. But it’s running him ragged, and Worldmind is begging him to take some time off. After handling two crises and failing a third, Richard tries to take a shortcut on his way to the next disaster, and runs too close to a gravimetric event.

He barely survives that, so he decides to return to Earth for a short time to recuperate. But his arrival attracts the attention of Iron Man, who’s fresh from the Civil War and beginning his new position as Director of SHIELD.


2. Alienation

Writers: Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning
Artist: Sean Chen

This book keeps getting better and better.

Abnett and Lanning's work here is even better than it was in Annihilation, and Sean Chen's art is fantastic. Really classic superhero action.

Honestly, this whole issue is basically a cathartic eye-roll at Civil War, which everyone needed at the time. The scene in which Richard basically yells at Tony Stark about how the Civil War was petty on a grand scale was the best scene involving Tony Stark that year.

What happened to [Annihilus]?

I pulled him inside out and saved the universe. What have you done lately, Tony?

The rest of the issue involves Richard’s return to earth and his discovery that people (including his father) kinda hate superheroes now. Oh, and all of his friends in the New Warriors have died.

Between verbal reamings, Tony offers Nova a slot in the 50-state Initiative program, which he decides to consider. But after he arrests his old foe, the memorably phallic Diamondhead, he steps outside to face off with"¦The Thunderbolts! Who at that time included Penance! Who used to be Speedball! Who used to be in the New Warriors with No…Look, at the time, this was a crazy moment.


3. Home Truths

Writers: Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning
Artist: Sean Chen

God, I forgot how dumb Civil War was.

Nova holds his own against the Thunderbolts, until Iron Man shows up and ends the fight. Penance slinks off without confronting Rich as the press arrive. After a conversation that actually makes Stark look likable, Richard heads home, where his parents essentially tell him to register or get out. But Penance arrives as Rich is leaving, and the two talk for a bit. Then Richard decides that 2007-era Marvel is just too s***y to be around, and he bombs off into space.

I kid, but I'm shocked that Marvel editorial let this book get past them, since it's just Richard talking about how insane things are. And they treat Penance as exactly the kind of dumb, bad idea that it was. Richard's last line to him – Don't let them turn you into something you're not – is pretty much delivered straight at Marvel Editorial.

Deciding that the Civil War was dumb and bad, Nova heads back out to space again, and that ends the little three-parter that opened the series.


4. Alone

Writers: Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning
Artists: Sean Chen and Brian Denham

We’re now heading into Annihilation: Conquest. It’s the sequel to the event that launched Nova's series, so it requires a bit of context. Thankfully, if you're reading these Nova issues in the Annihilation: Conquest omnibus, it's all included. I originally read this series as issues came out, and boy, was I lost.

But here we go, with context included for you. On the Kree homeworld of Hala, a failed pact with the Spaceknights results in the Phalanx – alien machine-people who are determined to conquer the galaxy – successfully compromising the Kree Sentries and weapons. When Nova shows up in this issue, he's too late to stop this event, and can only do battle with some Sentries. While he's fighting, we learn that the Phalanx has taken over Gamora – the galaxy’s deadliest woman and future Guardian – and she’s now working for them. Oh, no!

The Phalanx begin hacking the Worldmind, and Nova is sucked through a space bridge and deposited on a Kree world. But the process has apparently burned him alive and left him a lifeless husk. The Kree Captain Ko finds his corpse and is enveloped in energy, which transforms her into"¦The New Nova!!! Overall, a good intro to the crossover, and a very solid ending. Is Richard Rider dead? Let's find out.


5. Together

Writers: Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning
Artists: Sean Chen and Brian Denham

Well, okay, no. He's not dead.

We learn pretty quickly that Ko has only been deputized. Her job is to protect Rich while the suit heals him and he returns to full health. As he rests, she brings him to an outpost, only to find that the Phalanx have teleported in after him. And Gamora’s with them.

While Ko battles the Phalanx ground troops, Gamora gets to Richard. Motivated by her love for him, she infects him with the Phalanx virus. So, he's back up and running, but he's playing for the other side.

This issue is way better than the last one. Ko is a fun character, and we get a great view of her world in such a quick time frame. And when Gamora starts killing everyone, it’s legitimately upsetting.

Again, I haven't read these books in over a decade, and my memory isn't great. But I really hope that Ko sticks around. She's fun, and a total badass. Especially in the opening scene of this issue.


6. Inside

Writers: Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning
Artists: Sean Chen and Brian Denham

Well, then.

If anything, this should prove to you that I write these one by one after reading the issues. So Richard and Gamora have left the planet. Worldmind instructs Ko to find Richard Rider. And kill him. The Nova Prime can’t fall into the hands of the Phalanx. Meanwhile, Nova and Gamora are subduing Drax the Destroyer so he can be turned into a Select, which is a Phalanx zombie.

Ko catches up, and she and Richard engage in a fast-paced fight through the skies that’s simply breathtaking. Chen and Denham produce some beautiful action comics in these pages. The motion is fluid, and the atmosphere is tense throughout. Finally, Ko closes in on Rich, only to have Gamora’s knife in her side steal away her victory. I literally gasped upon turning the page. Ko dies in Richard's arms and begs him to break free.

Ugh. I'm sad now.


7. Out

Writers: Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning
Artists: Sean Chen and Brian Denham

This book is very good.

After Ko's death, Richard and Gamora return to the Phalanx base. But something is wrong. Investigating a voice in his head, Phalanx-Richard has a conversation with the last vestiges of real Richard. Based on one key question – Why aren't you screaming? – the talk eventually breaks Rich's conditioning and allows him to break free. And that's the high point of the issue.

It’s not just because we get to see the old Nova outfit in Chen and Denham's style, but it’s at least partly because of that. We also get a real confirmation that Ko's death was traumatic for Rich. It's going to stick with him for a while. Rich explodes out of the base with Gamora and a newly turned Drax trying to recapture or kill him.

Richard manages to escape through a stargate, blasting Gamora and Drax into uncharted space. Only problem? He's in even deeper.

8. Knowhere, Part 1

Writers: Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning
Artist: Wellinton Alves

Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome to the Marvel Universe the single greatest comic book character of all time. Joining the ranks of the MU is Cosmo, telepathic Russian Space Dog!!! And he’s an extremely good boy.

Following the previous issue’s events, Richard floats on the outer edges of all of space, and is sucked up in the celestial riptide. He blacks out and awakens somewhere weird. It’s a strange techno-organic space haunted by victims. Welcome"¦to Knowhere. Knowhere is the decapitated head of a Celestial, bouncing through space's uncharted zones. Richard immediately runs into some Nightmare Fuel courtesy of Suspensor, one of the greatest heroes of Xarth.

She attacks him and melts. It’s horrific. Fortunately, Rich's next encounter is with Cosmo, who is – as previously mentioned – a very good boy. He explains Knowhere to Rider, and tells him that the heroes of Xarth have brought something monstrous aboard the vessel. And it's now loose.

WellintonAlves's art is really strong in this issue. It doesn't feel like a huge departure from Chen and Denham, but his drawings of Cosmo are shockingly good. Drawing dogs is hard.


9. Knowhere, Part 2

Writers: Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning
Artist: Wellinton Alves

I didn't mention it in the previous section, but it's really cool to see this kind of space-horror pop up in a book like this. That kind of messing around with genre was what made this Nova series so much fun.

Cosmo and Nova explore Knowhere in search of the heroes of Xanth, who are now fully zombified. Of course, they run into them, and there’s a big fight. A fight that Cosmo owns. Telepathic Russian space dog for the win.

Nova ends up tapping into the Phalanx technovirus he's been fighting, and uses it to seal the Xanth heroes back in their boxes. Afterward, Cosmo is able to welcome everyone back to Knowhere and send Nova on his way.

Even better, he can send our human rocket into the heart of the Phalanx systems. After he vanishes, however, two more people port in and out: Drax and Gamora, still chasing Nova.

Also, Nova gives Cosmo a chewy bone, and Cosmo proceeds to play with it for the next two hours in a panel that literally made me clutch my hands to my heart.


10. Vore

Writers: Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning
Artist: Wellinton Alves

Oof. Look, if you've come up with a title for an issue, maybe Google it first? Make sure you aren't going to give some internet-savvy people some horrible flashbacks to episodes of the F Plus.

Anyway, this issue opens with Nova and Gamora alternately fighting and making out before they realize that oh, hey, they don't know where they are. Or how they got there. They explore a bit, and Gamora tells Nova to give in and become a Select again. Nova tells her he's horrified at who she is. And not just now; turns out that Nova broke up with her because she was a whole bunch of murder-crazy even before a computer race took over her mind.

Eventually, Nova seems to give in to his love for Gamora, buuuuuuut that turns out to be a ploy. He blasts her to death before she can stab him. Or, y'know, it seems that he's killed her, but who among us really believes that?

Nova throws Gamora's "corpse" and Drax, and flies off to continue his search for the Technarchy. But the technovirus will kill him or conquer his mind within two hours. Will he save the galaxy from the Phalanx? Will the true master of the Phalanx forces be revealed??? I dunno, read the book yourself.

These issues of Nova and the ones that follow are available in trade, in the Annihilation Conquest omnibus, or maybe on the Marvel Unlimited app? It's a fun run, and one I'd obviously recommend.

As final impressions, I don't know how consistent the book feels as a whole, but each variation is good on its own. Awesome cosmic adventure for you Guardians fans out there.

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