When I was a kid growing up there really weren’t a lot of new characters.
Most every book on the racks had been going strong since before I was born. Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, Thor, the Hulk, the Avengers… they were all well into their runs before I was able to read.
And back issues? Forget it! There were no comic book stores to be found anywhere near where I lived. I picked up my comics at Rexall Drugs in Fort Bragg, California. They weren’t available in my hometown of Albion or even in the town where I attended school, Mendocino – if I wanted comic books I had to wait until the family drove to Ft. Bragg.
The funnybook bug bit hard. My Dad bought comics when he was a kid so we had stacks of his wonderful old golden age comics kicking around the house and I’d picked up a few new comics here and there, but it wasn’t until I was in fifth grade that I really started buying comics with gusto.
But the problem was, I never got in on the ground floor. I was always coming in late. I half remembered a bit from the old “Fantastic Four” cartoon. Somehow in my brain I’d managed to scramble Dr. Doom’s origin with the Thing’s origin and I had it in my head that Ben Grimm got horribly scarred and decided to hide his features from the world by covering himself with a large pile of orange rocks! It would be a while before somebody set me straight and I can remember thinking to myself, “What – they all went into space and got bombarded with cosmic rays and yet they all got different superpowers? How stupid!” (Somehow the idea of four guys getting different superpowers from the same cosmic accident seemed more ridiculous to me than a guy gluing orange rocks all over his body in order to keep from being ridiculed – go figure).
There really was no way for me to get the straight scoop. There were no trade paperbacks collecting early adventures and even the reprint comics that existed at the time were well into printing runs from the books far beyond the point where an origin might be found.
I wanted a character that I could call my own. A character for my generation not my father’s. Somebody whose adventures that I could follow from day one.
Enter: The Man Called Nova!
Nova was everything I wanted from a comic! Nova was cool! Nova had this bitchin’ black and gold costume and he could fly and he was strong and he was just starting out and he wasn’t sure what exactly his powers were or how to use them. And it wasn’t just that he was the only new guy around and therefore the only game in town – it was more than that.
And I was there from the beginning! I bought the first issue off the stands and the second and third and so on and so forth. A new comic by Marv Wolfman, John Buscema and Joe Sinnott? How could it not be awesome?
And in retrospect it was a little derivative. Nova’s origin was a tad similar to that of Green Lantern, only instead of the dying alien finding a Hal Jordan, he found a Peter Parker, but since I wasn’t familiar with Green Lantern’s origin at the time it didn’t matter much to me. The Peter Parker comparison was there, sure, but where Peter was a certifiable genius, Richard Rider was anything but! Richard Rider really was an everyman (or every-teen as the case may be). He struggled in school, he was an average to poor athlete, he had girl problems galore, was bullied by bigger kids and he actually had friends! Where Peter Parker seemed to have no pals, Rich Rider had two close buddies that he’d hang out with.
And then there were the villains! Condor, Powerhouse, Diamondhead, the Corruptor, Tyrannus, Megaman and the Sphinx! And, as each villain was introduced, I was treated to their origins as well!
There was nothing not cool about Nova! And I was there from day one!
After a couple issues, Sal Buscema replaced John Buscema and Tom Palmer replaced Joe Sinnott, but that was fine with me. I wasn’t so pleased when Frank Giacoia replaced Tom Palmer though. Tom added a lot of flash and texture to Sal’s sparse pencils and Frank didn’t. Hell, Frank didn’t even bother to fill in the blacks on the space sequences much of the time. But Frank was just there for a short while. A half dozen issues and Joe Sinnott was back – followed by Dick Giordano. And then Sal left and Carmine Infantino took over and with his arrival came the return of Tom Palmer! Life was good!
It was a swell book. Regardless of the ever changing art team. And more than anything, he was my hero. Mine!
But after 25 issues (and even more shuffling of the creative team – Mike Esposito inks were a poor match with Infantino’s pencils, even if it was for just one issue – yikes!) it was over. The book was cancelled and I was devastated.
There was the promise of Nova’s story continuing in the pages of the “Fantastic Four” and they did for a short while. I even got to see Nova drawn by John Byrne, which boded well, I thought, but in short order, Nova was all but forgotten. He was left in space in the middle of some galactic skirmish and we didn’t even get to see it end.
And I wasn’t pleased.
A few years later, Nova’s story was picked up in the pages of “Rom Spaceknight.” The battle ended, Richard Rider was stripped of his powers and was sent home.
And I was pissed.
That was a sorry send off to a character that I knew and loved.
He appeared next in an issue of “What If” and then he didn’t show up for years.
So, I broke into comics. I’d been drawing the “Doom Patrol” over at DC and Marvel tapped me on the shoulder and I came running. I took on the Punisher and it was a struggle. The Punisher was not a character that I took to. I wanted to draw big superheroes – big action! Guys knocking each other through walls! The Punisher? He shot guys. And if he was in a fight, it had to be played realistic and I was not a guy that wanted to play by those kinds of rules.
At some point, I decided that I wanted to write in addition to drawing and so I pitched a little five-part serial to “Marvel Comics Presents” editor Terry Kavanagh featuring – you guessed it – the Man Called Nova.
The pitch was accepted.
I bid the Punisher goodbye.
And then it all fell apart.
It seemed that Nova was already being revived elsewhere. Soon, Tom DeFalco and Ron Frenz reintroduced Nova as a member of the New Warriors over in the pages of “Thor” and that meant that my story no longer fit in the big scheme of things. In a short while the New Warriors got their own title and Fabian Nicieza and Mark Bagley got to chronicle the character’s further adventures.
And I hated it.
First, Nova got a horrible new costume (one of a string of horrible new Nova costumes – and they’re still fucking with it to this day) and second, Rich Rider looked and sounded nothing like the Rich Rider that I grew up with. The letters pages backed me up. Nova fans hated Fabian’s take on the character!
But time went on and soon there were more “New Warriors” reader than Nova readers and those Nova readers that did stick in through grudgingly accepted Nova’s abrupt personality overhaul, his ponytail and his beard stubble.
But I was long gone.
I ended up drawing an Excalibur serial for “Marvel Comics Presents” instead of the Nova serial. I was no fan of Excalibur, but having left the Punisher and having had Nova pulled out from under my feet, I was in no position to be choosy. The Excalibur serial lead to the “Amazing Spider-Man,” another book that I felt ill suited to work on, but at least it was a book that I had enjoyed at one point and it was, as they say, a “good gig.”
Now, I like Fabian.
I was not a big fan of his handling of Nova in the “New Warriors,” but a fellow human being, I find him to be an amicable chap. We get along well and we’ve conversed at times about Nova.
I wasn’t going to make the “Amazing Spider-Man” my life’s work. I enjoyed the book a great deal, make no mistake, but having had the opportunity to draw most of Spidey’s extensive rogues gallery at least once and several of them more than once, I was determined to do something else with my life. I’d already gotten some writing work. I’d written and drawn a Spider-Man/Wolverine story for “Marvel Comics Presents” and that was pretty well received, but I didn’t want to do more Spider-Man.
What I wanted to do was Nova.
Now, I’d talked to Fabian at length about the character and I told him a number of ideas that I had in mind for the character. So, I put in a pitch for an ongoing Nova series and I waited and waited.
Out of work at that point, I took on a few inking jobs, determined to teach myself how to ink. I inked a Namor annual and a Human Torch story for “Marvel Comics Presents” (over Steve Ditko’s pencils, no less). Eventually, I took on a run on the adjective-less “Spider-Man” book that Todd McFarlane had started. I even managed to stick Nova into the mix, prepping readers for, what I was convinced would be, the greatest run on any comic book – ever!
And then “Nova” was approved!
…As a miniseries.
So, I put it off.
The Image Comics thing looked like it might be a worthwhile venture and since “Nova” was just a miniseries, I reasoned that it could wait until after I did a miniseries over at Image first…
But there was no looking back. “Savage Dragon” was an immediate hit and my own creation, which meant I could do whatever I wanted with him and that meant that if I wanted to do an ongoing book, by George, I could do an ongoing book!
Fabian and I had, at one point, pitched an idea to take over “X-Factor” and we’d worked on a few ideas for that. I’d stuck in a character that I’d created as a kid and I’d done, what I thought was, a pretty cool redesign of a character called the Crimson Commando. We were proposing shortening his name to Commando and turning him into a cyborg.
We didn’t land the assignment.
I was going to introduce the new, improved Commando anyway in my “Spider-Man” story, but the editor balked at having a flag-faced character shooting up a shopping mall, so I hastily redesigned the character and changed his name to Cyborg-X. Perceptive readers may note that the dialogue he spouts is directly lifted from a string of back up stories Fabian wrote in which the Crimson Commando lost his limbs.
Following my “Spider-Man” run, I took the original Commando design that I’d come up with for “X-Factor,” removed the scrawled “X” from his chest and turned him into an updated version of a Captain America knockoff that I created as a kid. You may recognize him as a character called SuperPatriot.
In any case, in exchange for Fabian’s suggestion, which helped me create the SuperPatriot design, I let Fabian run with whatever ideas I’d had for Nova in a new “Nova” mag.
And, sure enough, they let Fabian do an ongoing series.
That series went along just fine. And over the course of it, “Nova” became just a bit more like the “Nova” that I loved as a kid. And then it ended as well. But over in the “New Warriors” a similar change took place. Over a number of issues, Nova started looking and acting more like Nova again. The latest variation on the costume was ditched and the ponytail and beard stubble were ditched as well and by the time that book came to its end, Nova was Nova once more.
And he was gone – again.
Years later, I was dabbling in writing other books. I was still perpetrating “Savage Dragon,” but I’d taken on a couple assignments to stretch my creative muscles and try to get my name out there some more. I’d taken on “Aquaman” and I was writing “Wolverine” and at some point somebody suggested that I dust off an old pitch that I’d submitted years ago and see if it faired any better this time out.
And Nova was given his third shot at an ongoing series.
And I had a ball!
I did everything I wanted to immediately. I had all of Nova’s major villains appear one after another, plus had a few guest stars and tossed in a few new characters and played around with others. I turned Namorita back from the fish-faced dog that she’d been turned into and set things in motion to radically transform Diamondhead into the baddest badass ever! It was the most fun I had ever writing for Marvel!
And “New Warriors” readers hated it.
(Okay, maybe not all of them, I’m prone to hyperbole, but it sure seemed like it was all of ’em at the time).
Having become accustomed to Fabian’s version of Nova (and having stopped reading the “New Warriors” or “Nova’s” previous mag, following Fabian’s departure), “New Warriors” readers were not all that taken with me “turning back the clock” and making Nova a “fun character” again. With the advent of a disastrous “New Warriors” re-launch in which Nova (and the entire New Warriors crew) got god awful new outfits, the writing was on the wall. The “New Warriors” was weak, sure, but the market was unwilling to support two Warriors books, so “Nova” went away after a brief seven-issue run and the “New Warriors” fizzled out with issue #10.
And that was all she wrote.
Nova has appeared a few times since – always in a different costume, always one that looked worse than the last – and I’ve tried my best to ignore it all.
But for that one shining moment – that brief run – Nova was mine! And it was fucking sweet!
But that’s just one fan’s opinion. I’m willing to concede that I could be wrong.
If you want to read the real Nova, please give the “Essential Nova” a gander. It collects “Nova” #1-25, “Amazing Spider-Man” #171 and “Marvel Two-In-One Annual” #3. It features a lot of great comics and maybe, just maybe, it’ll stir the blood of some other youngster who’ll fall in love with that character and that costume and compel them to continue the adventures of Nova, the Human Rocket.
We should be so lucky!