There’s no doubt about it: Sam Alexander is gaining traction in the Marvel Universe. Although Sam has had a number of creators chronicle his journey to heroism, his latest creative team — current “Deadpool” co-scribe Gerry Duggan and former “Deadpool” artist Paco Medina — have set Sam on a new path, one which balances phenomenal cosmic adventure with the Earthbound conflicts of bullies, homework and babysitting.
With “Nova” #13.NOW on stands, CBR spoke with Duggan about his plans for Sam Alexander, and the new Nova’s potential as a hero, as well as the balance between space and Earth, constructing a .NOW issue to launch the next big arc, playing in the sandbox with Beta Ray Bill and how Nova will be affected by the far-reaching consequences of Marvel’s big summer event: “Original Sin.”
CBR News: Gerry, “Nova” #13.NOW was a great introduction for new readers to the character. What was the challenge for you in constructing the issue for a brand new audience?
Gerry Duggan: I was grateful for the opportunity to have a .NOW issue for Nova. I had a fun idea that Sam would do the right thing for some bad people — his naÃ¯vete got the best of him, and I got a chance to do that in issue 12, which set the table for the big misunderstanding and fight in issue 13.NOW. I wanted to embrace the idea that we would be attracting new readers while at the same time pairing Sam with a fun and very different partner. I’ve been a huge fan of Beta Ray Bill since “Thor” #337, and [former Marvel editor Steve] Wacker gave me some good advice: not to lose Sam in his own story. Sam and Bill get off on the wrong foot, but whether they are fighting each other, or fighting alongside one another, they are a fun odd couple to write. In this next arc, Sam’s greatest moments of heroism are only separated from his biggest goofs by a few pages.
One of the aspects that really makes “Nova” unique compared to other solo books is the emphasis on the events going on outside Sam’s superheroics, like problems with bullies, friendship troubles and commitments to family. It seems like a difficult balance to maintain, both for Sam and for you. How challenging has it been for you to balance each issue between action and normal life drama?
[Marvel senior editor] Nick Lowe and I just had our first conversation today about Nova. One of the things we talked about was a love of the old classic Marvel formula, which I am shamelessly mainlining in my writing of Sam Alexander. It’s been a very fun chore to cause the Alexanders all kinds of problems. His dad Jesse is, of course, out of the picture, and he was the sole breadwinner for the family. His absence is felt in every way, including the bank account. Eva, his mom, is working now, but it would be fair to describe them as “financially insecure.”
My goal is to begin to build up a rogues gallery for Sam, while also piling up all kinds of problems for Sam, Eva and Kaelynn. If I am doing my job correctly, then Sam’s time risking his life while wearing his Nova helmet will be a welcome respite from his real problems. For me, the tight rope walk is not how to balance Sam and Nova; it’s how to deal with big, real serious problems, but keep the book fun. Wacker, Ellie Pyle and Devin Lewis have really helped me maintain balance.
Beta Ray Bill was a great guest star in the most recent issue — he certainly provided a pretty tangible connection to the rest of the Marvel U. Plus, the nickname “Thorsie” was appropriately hilarious. What made Bill the best character to bring in to help shepherd Sam into the next stage of his story?
Glad you liked that. I think that was one of the ones that showed up not long before it goes to print. There’s another moment between the two in issue 14 that might beat it. Short answer is, I simply love the character of Beta Ray Bill — he’s a wonderful guest star for Sam. That’s really why he’s here. Thor asked Sam to join the Avengers. That’s something that Sam will never forget — and here’s Bill — the only other warrior that ever hefted Mjolnir.* Bill’s experience and Sam’s inexperience leads to some fun moments, I hope. It also helps that Bill’s appearance is actually quite frightening. If Sam had asked his mom to leave for outer space with Thor, Star Lord or Iron Man she might have only worried a little bit — but a terrifying alien leading her son around the galaxy will keep her up at night. My job is to cause discomfort.
*(Dear Commenters: I am well aware about all the times Mjolnir has been lifted by a guest hammerist. Cap, Superman, Odin, Bill, that construction worker from when Thor was on strike or whatever. I know there are more.)
The series seems to be building to another contentious encounter with Captain Skaarn. As Sam heads back into space, what can readers expect from his return to the derelict Nova ship?
Oh, yeah — plus, a space pirate! Skaarn is a dick, but it’s not personal — yet. He beat Sam without lifting a finger in Issue #12, so you know he’s crafty. We’ll also see Cadivan, his wife Emiliasta, Jinin, the girl trapped on Skaarn’s ship, and some old, familiar faces. Maybe even a canine.
“Nova” seems to get back to the roots of teenage super heroics in a way that few modern books do. How much of a priority is it to emphasize the fun inherent in the series?
I think anybody that can fly under their own power is, by definition, fun. Sam Alexander is fun. He’s not the smart science hero, but that’s the charm. Someday, when Reed Richards summons the finest minds to the Baxter building, Sam will not appear in that hypothetical future issue. The artists I’ve been lucky enough to work with on the book, from Paco, Juan and David Curiel — to David Baldeon and Terry Pallot — you have to credit these folks for how it’s all drawn, inked and colored. They’ve nailed the thrill of what it is to be an imperfect human rocket.
Staying on that track, when constructing a modern teenage superhero story like “Nova,” what are your priorities in terms of theme and construction?
Hopefully finding a way to have the home stuff feel seamless, rather than tacked on. One of the first things Wacker said was, “I always wondered what would happen to a young hero for missing school.” That’s when I realized Sam would be a crappy student. He’s not unintelligent — he’s capable of a leap, but there’s nothing behind it. He could learn it all if he wanted, but he can fly and shoot lasers from his hands, so, you know, he’s a little busy.
In terms of structure, I try to make sure there is a good bit of action in each issue, with at least a couple of pages of home or school life. Anything could be boring to a teenager, especially babysitting — but at least he has this helmet — so he can go out back and shoot cans until his mom comes home. That’s a pretty good use of teenage boredom, I hope. A little bit of that stuff can go a long way and ground the book.
What speaks to you about Sam as a character? What is it that makes him a compelling character to write?
I remember what it was like to be his age and have some of his problems. His DNA is mostly “underdog.” His dad was the janitor, he’s of mixed race, the family doesn’t have a lot of money. That’s a target rich environment for bullies. He tries to do the right thing, he screws up, and tries to do the right thing again, he’s the man of the house whether he’s ready or not. He’s accomplishing everything without a mentor. How could you not root for him?
I hope I’m not going too far out of my way for this — but this seems like a chance to address the very small but vocal internet minority of Rich Rider fans that follow each new issue of “Nova” with anger and frustration. I’m sure they enjoyed watching Rider struggle with his responsibilities as Nova while balancing a tumultuous family life, including all the trouble that a kid has while in high school. I bet they enjoyed watching him get better at being Nova over the years, too. Though inexperienced, Sam has the potential to be every bit the hero Rich Rider was — and he’ll get there. But the journey is half the fun.
On the plus side, there’s nothing more enjoyable than when folks tweet “I tried ‘Nova,’ I’m adding it to my pull list.” I see things like that every day, much more frequently than the other stuff. I think you have to credit everyone that’s contributed to that first year of publishing starting with Jeph [Loeb] on down. I’m grateful to get a chance to have fun writing a young, brash hero.
TL/DR: Sam is a fun underdog. Give him a shot, you might be surprised.
How does “Nova” scratch a different creative itch for you as compared to “Deadpool”? They’re obviously very different books.
They are, but they both have to be fun. People don’t read comics that aren’t fun for very long. I hope you laugh as loud in “Nova” as you do in “Deadpool.” Maybe the laughs aren’t as frequent, but that’s by design. Nova’s inexperience is what makes him unique. It’s nice to be on one of the lower floors of a character that’s going to grow. He’s a teenager, and they screw up. For me, those screw-ups are opportunities for fun.
I have a lot of live TV experience from “Attack Of The Show,” and when something went wrong, it was always pretty damn wonderful. It helped to have great hosts like Kevin Pereira, Olivia Munn, Chris Hardwick to be able to roll with the punches, and make the most of bits that didn’t quite land, or just big screw-ups. That was when that show was at its best. So I cherish mistakes. Recently, Mike Hawthorne drew hair onto Preston’s husband — and called to apologize and say he had to fix it — and I said, “No! That’s perfect — his wife dies, and he went on Rogaine and started eating salad. Preston is gonna find out, see his dating profile and be pissed.” That example is another accident, but we try to plan believable screw-ups.
Looking to the future, Nova’s set to play a role in Marvel’s “Original Sin” event. Given his friendship with Uatu, what kind of challenges are ahead for Sam this year?
There’s nobody closer to Uatu than Sam. I had planned to really challenge him in other ways, and then I got the call about the event and I thought, “Oh, that’s perfect — what a mountain of crap about to land on him. He’s gonna miss his friend.” “Nova” #18 and 19 are hard for Sam. “Nova” #20 is a gut punch for different reasons.
What can you tease about Sam’s big “Original Sin” secret?
What you see isn’t always what you get.
“Nova” #13.NOW is on sale now.