With the series biding its time in the lull between “Original Sin” and “AXIS,” “Nova” #22 finds Sam Alexander home just in time for Halloween. Just when he’s feeling most out of touch with his home life, the Jean Grey School students — including Kid Gladiator, Nature Girl, and Genesis — come to the rescue to invite Sam along with them for trick-or-treating in Westchester. Gerry Duggan, Frederico Santagati and John Timms’ holiday-themed one shot is just as sickeningly sweet as eating candy for breakfast the day after Halloween.
Duggan keeps the youthful vibe alive in this issue by focusing in on Sam’s interactions with his peers. It’s refreshing to see Sam and his unusual friends getting a chance to act like the teenagers they are, something that Duggan reinforces by removing all parental influence and lowering the stakes. The small-scale nature of their latest disaster goes to show that heroes must concern themselves with even the tiniest of capers — and that they can have fun doing it, too. With all the huge events that Sam has been caught up in lately, this issue gives Sam the chance to be a kid again and spend some time with other teens who (at least fundamentally) understand what he’s going through; what’s more, he’s able to be unabashedly himself, get a little silly, and have some fun, which is more than a pleasure to watch. Together, Nova and the X-kids have a boundless enthusiasm and positive energy that some of the older, more tired heroes don’t have. However, Duggan fails to introduce all but one of the Jean Grey School students by name, which — for readers unfamiliar with that side of the Marvel Universe — could get pretty frustrating, especially where the issue had on-again-off-again narrative boxes that were underutilized and sounded forced.
Likewise, even in his solitude on the moon, Sam gets to figure out his own goals by thinking through his choices and options out loud, bouncing ideas off a memorial of Uatu in a way that shows that he only needs someone to listen to him and not shut him down before he gets a chance to express himself; further, it’s this self-reflection that gives him the strength to confront Principal Philbin in the next few pages, which shows and solidifies his growth. He’s able to develop as a character by acknowledging his mistakes and learning from them.
Santagati dishes out the fun as well with some incredibly expressive figure work. What’s most impressive about this, though, is his work with Sam when he’s in costume, particularly when Sam has his monologue on the moon; little flourishes, like rolled eyes or a pensive mouth, breathe life into an otherwise dialogue-driven scene in a way that makes it fun and engaging. This pitch-perfect body language easily crosses over into the other characters as well, exacerbating Philbin’s exasperation and the X-kids’ hilarious overzealousness in pursuing their quarry. Santagati also got into the holiday spirit by slipping all sorts of Halloween-themed decor into the background, up to and including a Jack-o-Lantern carved to look like Magneto’s helmet. Nevertheless, Santagati’s lines are a little rough and choppy around the edges, which gives the art overall a rushed feel. On the other hand, Timms’ artwork at the end of the issue had a much cleaner look that gelled much better with David Curiel’s electric colors, particularly with the “apparition.” Curiel employed some bright colors despite the night setting, but — for the lighthearted tone of the story — this choice is both appropriate and compelling.
“Nova” #22 manages to further Sam’s personal storyline while keeping up with its Halloween-themed plot. While not much by way of consequence happens here, it’s a wonderful jumping on point that will acquaint readers with the character before he dives into his next Marvel Universe-wide event. Duggan, Santagati, and Timms hit all the right notes with this adorable, youthful one-shot.