All good things must come to an end, and so there was a shock awaiting me when next I was able to get to our local drug store outlet. For their fabled Big Bin of Slightly Older Comics had been removed, never to return. Oh, how I mourned the loss of this treasure trove of my youth–and how I hoped, each time we would thereafter approach the place, that I would find it returned, stacked to the brim once more with glorious releases from days gone by. Eventually, there was a substitute for it–but it was an inferior replacement, a bit of a thumb in the eye. Some weeks later, the drug store began to sell plastic wrapped bundles of older comics in assortments of, I believe, 10. But what made this a horrifying prospect was that all of the books in those plastic bags were coverless. I can only surmise that somebody working for the publishers (Marvel in particular) or the distributor had caught wind of the back door deal that allowed the drug store chain to purchase quantities of comics that had been reported destroyed for pennies on the dollar. So with the distributor now having to return the cut-off covers for credit, they moved on into selling the discarded guts of the books, again for a cut-rate price. These coverless books were a bit of an anathema to me–but given that they included any number of issues that I wanted and was interested in reading, I dutifully sucked it up and bought these bundles whenever they seemed to contain something worthwhile. (They were even more difficult to deal with than the 3-Bags, since, with so many more books in a given bundle and no covers, it was much harder to determine what each package contained, apart from the outward-facing books in either end (and sometimes, those would be in the packages backwards, leaving you looking at a back cover ad. I can’t swear to it, but I have a distinct memory of coming across at least one such bundle that showed back ads on both sides, giving no clue as to its contents.)
As I say, this situation stacked the deck against me in a manner that I didn’t love, and so I think i only bought maybe 2 or 3 of these bundles during the relatively short time they were offered. Again, I’m only intuiting here, but it looks to my eye, given the contents and the books that I got (which didn’t duplicate any issues I had previously owned) that had been copies intended to be sold in just like the earlier bin books, and whose covers had been removed when the jig was up. It was a consistent thing: any issue that had turned up in the Bin at any time recently didn’t make its way into these bundles, but lots of issues that never showed up did. Anyway, this all leads me to this issue of NOVA, a comic book that I only bought and read because it was in one of those bundles that I shelled out to get for some other release. But that didn’t stop me from enjoying it.
See, as we’ve established already, I was a bit of a finnicky eater in terms of my comic book consumption. I wanted super hero books as a kid, and anything that wasn’t an obvious super hero comic wasn’t of great interest to me back then (at least until I sampled them, and often found something to my liking.) And there were still a lot of comics coming out from Marvel and DC that weren’t in the super hero genre, so anything that appeared to be even a little bit off the beaten path, I avoided. My financial resources were simply too limited to waste three dimes and a nickel on a comic book that wasn’t clearly a super hero book. So NOVA simply wasn’t on my radar. From the ads I’d seen (and despite a brief appearance by the character in an issue of DAREDEVIL that I’d read) it looked more like a science fiction comic to me, like a 2001 A SPACE ODYSSEY or a STAR WARS or a LOGAN’S RUN. And that wasn’t my jam, so I stayed away. Little did I realize until perusing this issue of NOVA that it was about as right-up-the-middle a super hero book as one was likely to find.
NOVA was a brand new character created by writer/editor Marv Wolfman. Based loosely on a design he’d originated in his fanzine days, Marv was attempting to produce a series that felt like the early Spider-Man comic books had felt to him, a series about a young teenaged would-be super hero. At around this same time, Gerry Conway was attempting a similar thing over at DC with FIRESTORM–so those characters always tend to link together in my head. And to be honest, while Marv’s motives were pure, his skill set was not yet as great as his ambition. So NOVA is a solid enough Marvel comic book of the 1970s kind, but lacked any of the inspiration or emotional gravitas of Spider-Man. But that didn’t stop me from really loving it at the time, especially coming into the series fait accompli, rather than being there as the issues rolled out. I liked Nova’s funky design (a friend of mine crafted his own Nova helmet out of paper mache and other such materials) and the straightforward, rock-solid Sal Buscema artwork was always appealing, even if it never quite soared to the heights of a Ditko or a Romita.
Nova was Richard Rider, a typical high school kid from Long Island with a genius younger brother and a father who was the school Principal. He had a circle of friends that were almost straight out of central casting, who spent their off-hours hanging around in an ice cream parlor straight out of Archie. Rich was zapped by a ray from outer space–the work of a dying lawman from another world, who was duty-bound to pass on his powers to a deserving successor. If that sounds like Green Lantern’s origin to you, you’re not alone–NOVA took a lot of grief in fan circles of the era for hewing so closely. The difference being that, unlike Hal Jordan, who was chosen to be a super hero because of his fearlessness, Rich Rider got his powers completely by chance, and so had greatness thrust upon him.
In this particular story, Rich’s friend “Caps” Cooper (See? Right out of Archie 101) had an Uncle Nathan who went missing and was presumed dead. Turned out he had instead been blasted into the far future, as tends to happen. And in the manner of Vina from the STAR TREK pilot episode “The Cage”, he was put back together by an abstract future being–but one that had no understanding of what a human being was supposed to look like. So now he was a Megaman, and he fled from his savior back to the present, to take revenge on Caps, whom he held responsible for the accident that seemingly killed him. Nova gets involved, and the pair battle it out on a number of occasions. Ultimately, Uncle Nathan discovers that his faithless wife has forgotten him in favor of a new suitor, and this drives him a bit around the bend. He leads Nova on a chase into a carnival funhouse, where the conflict showcased on the cover (which I never got to see when I first read this book) was depicted.
Ultimately, the Megaman’s lovestruck creator had followed him back into the past, and carries him off, unwilling, to consummate their union. And that’s it for this issue of NOVA, apart from this last page ad for the next issue. I didn’t know who any of these characters were, but they sure looked like a bunch of cool heroes or villains, and I wanted to know more. So from having been indifferent and a little bit cold to NOVA at the outset, I was now fully on board with the title, and would begin to pick up new issues as they made their way to my neighborhood. The series was very much by-the-numbers, but they were numbers that I liked and wanted to see added up on the regular.