BHOC: NOVA #8

Another issue that I picked up coverless in one of the plastic bundles of coverless comics that had been stripped for credit then sold nonetheless. This was the second issue of NOVA that I got in one of these, and it helped to make me interested in the strip. Before I’d read an issue, I’d seen the character promoted in ads and on the Bullpen Bulletins page. But somehow, between his costume and the fact that he was promoted as being a “human rocket”, I thought it was a futuristic science fiction strip, and I had little interest in such material. What Nova really was it turned out was an attempt to introduce a new teenaged super hero in the mold of Spider-Man. This was a trick that both Marvel and other companies attempted a lot over the years, and nobody was quite ever able to succeed. Bu tthe effort did lead to some fun characters.

Nova was the creation of writer/editor Marv Wolfman, who had come up with the basic look of the character during his fan days, when he was known as Black Nova. During one of Marvel’s frequent moments during the 1970s where it needed to increase title count, Marv convinced the powers-that-be to launch Nova in his own series, without even a trial period in MARVEL SPOTLIGHT or the like. This was a relatively rare occurrence in the mid-1970s, but showed the confidence that somebody had that the book would be able to find and sustain an audience. It’s honestly a bit of a haphazard effort when you sit down and read the first dozen issues in sequence, but as a reader coming in on issues #8 and #9, I thought it was cool. I was entirely open to the idea of finding more new super heroes that I could read about.

A bunch of the mythology behind Nova has been overhauled a lot over the years–it’s true that the initial conception borrowed a lot from Green Lantern, enough so that subsequent creators did their best to try to shift things away from a Green Lantern model. As this issue opens, Nova is aboard the starship that his predecessor as Nova, Rhommen Day, had used to come to Earth. Three of his enemies–Diamondback, Powerhouse and the condor–have pillaged the place, making off with weapons that they hope will let them win their underworld war with the mysterious Sphinx. But Rich Rider is stuck up here in space–at least until the ship’s onboard computer PRIME speaks up to give him a bit of a history lesson and provide him with a means of getting back to Earth.

While he’s there, Rich also uses PRIME to determine the location of his best friend, “Caps” Cooper, who had gone missing in an earlier issue. And it’s a good thing that he does, as Caps is tied up in the sewers with the water rapidly rising. Using a handy Nova shuttle (albeit one that, for no reasonable reason, can’t survive re-entry into the atmosphere–kind of a serious design flaw for a shuttle) Nova is able to race planetward and rescue his buddy before he drowns. Taking the kid back home, he changes back into his Richard Rider identity, and then questions Caps about what happened to him.

It seems that Caps’ abductor is actually his believed-dead Uncle Nathan, who has returned as a faceless wonder calling himself Megaman. Caps runs down what his Uncle told him: The two had been camping when they came across a strange whirlpool, and Nathan accidentally tripped over Caps and fell into the thing. The pool was a portal to another time and place, the future, but Nathan was horribly scarred by passing through it. A mysterious molecular entity pieced him back together, but (in true Star Trek fashion) having no guide for what Nathan was supposed to look like, remade him as the powerful Megaman. The entity wanted Megaman’s company, for it had been alone for centuries. But Nathan was only interested in getting back to his own time and getting revenge for what had happened to him. He managed to seal the entity inside a crystal globe he fashioned with his powers, then make the trek back through the portal to the present day.

But everything is all right now, yes? Because Caps is safe. Wrong! It’s only a few days later when Caps shows up on Rich’s doorstep, totally frantic and out of breath. He tells Rich that his Uncle is after him, intending to kill him, and that he needed a place to hide. But the Rider household isn’t it, as only an instant later Megaman comes crashing through the wall. Rich quickly becomes Nova so that this issue can have a bit of action in it–we’re already almost at the end of the book, after all. But Megaman is simply too strong for Nova to put down.

Having scooped up Caps, Megaman moves to make his exit. When Nova follows, Megaman sets the house behind him on fire as a diversion. Rich’s entire family is inside the structure, and if he continues to pursue Megaman, they’ll no doubt die before the fire department gets there. But if he relents, Caps is finished. It’s a typical can’t/must conflict, and it signals that this issue is To Be Continued! And yeah, this is another example of an approach that put me off of Marvel books for a long while: the cliffhanger is the cover image to this issue.

The letters page in this issue is entirely dedicated to a single correspondence, one sent in by Peter Sanderson. Sanderson would go on to become a writer and a historian in the field, working on the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe and the DC Who’s Who among other projects. He was well-known at the time, though, for his lengthy and literate analyses of then-current comic books.

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