Having sampled and enjoyed a coverless issue of NOVA in one of the plastic-wrapped bundles of coverless comics that I bought from my regular drug store, I was ready to pick up the latest issue of the series when it arrived on the spinner rack at my 7-11, the place where every Thursday I purchased my new comics. This issue has kind of a sedate, almost 60s DC-style of cover, the hook of the issue being story-based rather than jeopardy-based or action-based as most Marvel covers were at this time. It also strangely has a robot Sherlock Holmes smoking a pipe. Who could resist?
This issue of NOVA was still written by the character’s creator Marv Wolfman. But the art assignment had switched. In place of the reliable Sal Buscema, I found the reliable-in-a-different-way Carmine Infantino. A few words are probably necessary about the trajectory of Carmine’s career at this point. Only a few years prior, he had risen from being just another pencil-pushing artist (albeit DC’s most contemporary such practitioner, at least until Neal Adams showed up) to being appointed the firm’s Creative Director. He was their counterpart to Stan Lee, and he pushed DC forward in a number of ways, mostly in the area of graphics. But Carmine could be a ball-buster as a boss, and he also tended to be a bit trigger happy with new projects as he cast around for the big new hit that would save teh company and his job. As such, he wasn’t beloved by everyone. Once he became Publisher as well, I think it’s fair to say that he was a bit in over his head trying to wrangle all of the different needs and goals of the parent company. After a downturn in sales and a bad winter, Carmine was let go by DC. And so, he picked up his pencil, walked out of the building, and went back to drawing comics for a living.
Carmine’s work had always had an angularity to it, in particular when he inked himself. But a combination of his time largely away from the drawing board and teh smaller size of the original art paper he was working on brought out more of this in his style. He was one of those divisive artists–every fan had a strong opinion on his work, like it or hate it. Among his fans, though, were a number of young writers and editors who had grown up with his work, so he didn’t have much difficulty lining up assignments. Him taking over NOVA wound up feeling like a cross between him doing THE FLASH and SPIDER-MAN. He always told the story well and with kineticism, and while his clean, open vistas were largely a thing of the past, there was a uniqueness of style to the manner in which his characters posed and stood and emoted. It was maybe not as pretty and pristine as his Silver Age material (which was often inked so as to shave down some of Carmine’s angularity) but it was appealing in its own way.
NOVA wasn’t long for the world when this issue came out, and in its pages, you can sort of get a sense as to why. It’s an odd mélange of disparate elements. Almost the entirety of the book’s first half is devoted to Richard Rider and his family out of costume, dealing with their civilian problems. Which might have worked a little bit better if any of the characters was remotely interesting. They all felt as though they’d come out of Central Casting. And in particular, a subplot in which Rich’s genius younger brother Robbie is concerned about Rich’s frequent disappearances, so he builds a thinking Sherlock Holmes robot in his basement to help him spy on Rich was perhaps a plot twist too far–I know it strained my credibility. I had three brothers, and none of us would have been able to build a robot to spy on one another, nor would we have cared enough to. And I know that this was all related to Doctor Sun, an old TOMB OF DRACULA villain that Marv had brought back–but there wouldn’t be any hint of that for another issue or two, so here this feat must be taken as it is presented. Which is to say, ridiculous.
The main story of teh issue concerns the fact that Rich’s school principle father is being blackmailed by an underworld organization called the Inner Circle. What they want with a High School Principle is a bit of a mystery to me, but whatever. Charles Rider decides that he’s going to turn State’s Evidence and accept any punishment that he’s got coming, but before he does, he intends to tell the Inner Circle off. Which is a seriously dumb choice to make, but who can fathom the pride of the High School principal? His family can’t talk him out of this insanity, to Rich decides to shadow his father as Nova to make sure nothing untoward happens to him. But Nova loses his dad’s car as it passes through a tunnel, leaving Charles Rider on his own. Rattled, Nova goes to shake down a bunch of lowlife thugs in the hopes that they can direct him to the headquarters of the Inner Circle before his father gets hurt.
The thugs don’t have the info Nova is after, but they direct him to underworld informant “Shuffles”. who’s a bit of an unfortunate stereotype right out of a 1970s cop show. While pulling off a card trick (which would have been more impressive in a medium other than comics, where the writer and the artist control every aspect of the action) he gives the Human Rocket the intel that he’s looking for in exchange for a favor to be named later. I imagine that Marv thought he’d come back to Shuffles as a recurring character, but with teh series heading off into space in a few months and getting cancelled after that, I don’t believe we ever head from him again. Somewhere out there, Nova still owes him a favor. Also, take a look at that weird flat face on Nova in Panel 5 above. This manner of distortion happened often in Carmine’s work on the series, making it seem as though Nova had no nose.
Anyway, Nova bursts into the Inner Circle’s secret lair and tears up the joint looking for his father. Unbeknownst to him, though, Charles Rider has been brainwashed by them to make him fall into line–and when he tries to shoot Nova in his mesmerized state, Nova causes the gun to backfire, injuring the man whom he unmasks as his own dad. And just to make things even worse, it’s at this moment that Robbie and his Sherlock robot have suddenly been able to follow Nova from Hempstead, and they arrive just in time to see Nova standing over teh seemingly-dead body of Charles Rider. To Be Continued! This isn’t a bad comic, it knows the kind of thing that it’s trying to be. But somehow, everybody involved misses the mark on all fronts just by a little bit, resulting in a series that often felt like a bad xerox copy of other, better super hero comics. I liked the book, and followed it to the end–but in these days, I was a relatively easy touch for a super hero series.