I had come to really enjoy NOVA over the course of the first batch of issues I had read featuring the character. Which was a bit of a turn-around for me. There were a bunch of titles in the Marvel line that I studiously avoided for a bit thinking that they weren’t really for me. This included stuff like Killraven, Deathlok and Guardians of the Galaxy, which all had the surface feel more of science fiction adventures rather than super hero stories, which was what I wanted. Having seen Nova in ads, I had lumped him into that category in my mind, possibly based on his descriptor, “The Human Rocket”. But having discovered that NOVA was a bona fide super hero title, I thereafter embraced it whole-heartedly.
This issue introduced a character who wound up not really going on to anything big, and thereafter being largely forgotten. This was the Comet, and he’s got an aspect tp him that I think is worth discussing. See, at around this time, writer/editor Marv Wolfman had begun to introduce new Marvel characters built around the seemingly-defunct names of other companies’ major heroes. The Black Cat was one of these, the (Human) Fly (who was invented by Len Wein, Marv’s friend) another, and Crimebuster yet another. I get a sense that it wasn’t so much a specific legal problem so much as a sense of impropriety with this practice that made incoming editor in chief put a stop to it. But as this book came out, Jim had only just stepped into that role, and so he didn’t step in as Marv built a new MU player off of the name of an old Archie/MLJ hero, the Comet.
This issue opens with Nova’s enemy Diamondhead reappearing, bursting in on a burglary in progress and co-opting the gang that was in the midst of it. Thereafter, we get some nice sequences of family tranquility among the Rider family. Last issue, Richard Rider had revealed to his parents that he was secretly Nova, and so here, we see him showcase his powers for his family, taking them on flying jaunts. It’s a nice sequence, the kind you didn’t usually see in series about teenage heroes getting super-powers, most of whom desperately kept their costumed identity a secret from their families. Elsewhere, the old man that hapless supporting character Mike Burley had taken to the hospital last issue is X-Rayed, and suddenly begins to glow with unearthly power.
It turns out that this homeless stranger is actually a long-lost super hero from the 1950s, the Comet. He explains to Burley that he’d gained super-powers after being struck by an ethereal energy ball from space, and he used them to fight crime and protect people for a while back in the ’50s as the Comet. But the Comet disappeared and was believed dead–but before we can find out more, our focus shifts back to Nova, who is zipping about thinking about his personal problems when he comes upon the gang Diamondhead recruited blasting away at a jewelry store. Nova swoops down to intercede, but this is all a plan on the part of Diamondhead, and ambush–and Nova winds up buried in the rubble of a collapsed wall.
But that isn’t enough to stop Nova, who is able to force his way out of the rubble and engage Diamondhead directly. Unfortunately, the many-faceted villain is as hard and strong as his namesake, and he proceeds to kick the holy crap out of his young enemy. It’s worth mentioning the stylized artwork of Carmine Infantino here, this issue inked with some lushness by Steve Leialoha. Infantino had been one of the darlings of the Silver Age, but since his return to the drawing board following his ouster as DC’s top executive, his work had been greeted with a mixed response. It was more abstract than it had been, more personal and idiosyncratic. Some fans loved it, others not so much. I was kind of in the middle–it depended on what series he was working on. Here on NOVA, I pretty much liked it, even if he’d occasionally produce figures and vistas that were strangely posed or composed. His work also depended on how good or bad his inkers were–Leialoha, I think, helps him out here, giving his forms more solidity and texture without overwhelming them with his approach.
Diamondhead races off, leaving Nova for dead–and that’s when the Comet and Mike Burley show up. Despite the fact that he vowed never to wear his costume again for reasons still undisclosed in this story, the Comet apparently still had it on him, despite being homeless, and with his powers reignited, he’s reluctantly taken up the identity again. He arrives in time to shock Nova’s system with an electron charge, reviving him. We’re treated in this section to reactions from the cops, who recognize the Comet from years before. This helped to sell the idea that he had been a legitimate 1950s super hero to me, rather than a continuity implant, which is what he really was. It also probably didn’t hurt that the Comet’s costume, while a bit ridiculous with its ridged cowl-fin, was reminiscent of the Flash’s, and so it was easier for me to connect with him. With Nova revived, he and the Comet take off in pursuit of the escaped Diamondhead, with the Comet falling quickly into the role of guiding mentor to the younger hero.
Diamondhead, though, is in the wind, having returned to his hideout. There, he gets an unexpected broadcast from a shadowed figure with robotic dimensions, who is perturbed that Nova has joined forces with the Comet. This figure tells Diamondhead that the two heroes are headed his way, drawn to his location by a hologram of the villain that the shadow-figure is generating. He wants Diamondhead to kill the Comet and bring Nova to him. But Diamondhead is prideful, and he smashes his receiver, indicating that he doesn’t work for anybody else and that he’ll simply crush the Comet and Nova both when they arrive. And on that note, the issue is To Be Continued.
9 thoughts on “BHOC: NOVA #22”
Normally, I’m kinda disturbed by lifting the name of a long-gone hero, but I can’t really complain if the trademark owners doesn’t want it. (We see Archie constantly bringing back the MLJ heroes though it doesn’t seem to sell in any decade – dang it!) And otherwise we might never have had the New Sensational Captain Marvel/Rick Jones. I’m conflicted.
Ironically, the only title I didn’t like Infantino’s new style on was when he took over the Flash in its waning years. I loved him on Nova and especially on Spider-Woman. There’s a scene h e drew with Jessica Drew post-shower with a towel wrapped around her hair that sticks with me to this day.
Something was certainly going on there, on FLASH.
He had some good inkers for a while, but increasingly, it seemed like he didn’t care about telling the story well, and once Cary Bates became the editor and Frank McLaughlin (who also didn’t seem to care) became the inker, the book got incomprehensible at times.
Part of that was that Bates was writing stories that weren’t in Carmine’s wheelhouse — Bates wanted to write FLASH as HILL STREET BLUES and Carmine, who had been great at more mundane books like that in the 50s, just didn’t have control of (or didn’t care about) the body language and expressions that made that work. And then McLaughlin didn’t help at all. I don’t blame Bates for McLaughlin — that was almost certainly Pat Bastienne’s doing, since she had to find places to put DC’s longtime contract players where the editors or other artists wouldn’t complain about them — but I have to wonder if Carmine wasn’t just so angry about how his career had gone since being fired as DC’s publisher that drawing FLASH, his old marquee assignment, just made him more resentful.
I mean, I know he was cranky, but FLASH seemed to be a special case of difficult, apparently-uncaring work, and I can’t help but think there might have been something particular about that gig that made it all worse.
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Given the number of pre-FF history Marvel has built up in recent years, I’m surprised nobody’s incorporated the Comet into it.
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I don’t know that Infantino’s style really changed all that much when he moved over to Marvel — we were just used to seeing him inked by really heavy-handed guys like Anderson and Giella, while the Marvel inkers seemed to take a lighter touch. If you look at the older stories where Infantino inked himself (Super-Chief, Detective Chimp, some of the Elongated Man stories), a lot of that angularity and abstraction was there all along.
I think Infantino’s time as DC’s publisher might have impacted the development of his pencilling work, and possibly the change to smaller art boards also threw a hitch into things. Either way… his work by the late 70’s is way more overtly stylized and mannered than his more elegant work of the 50’s and mid 60’s. By the mid to late 1970’s the shadow of Neal Adams loomed large and Infantino’s way was 180 degrees counter to that…. despite his very strong sense of design. However dated his approach was (to a lesser degree than Ditko) it could be smoothed over by the right inker…. Wiacek, Janson, Layton, etc.
Just a typo but Diamonhead is called Diamondback a lot in this. As for using old names, as you know with a billion comics having been published it was hell to find a name that hadn’t been used somewhere. Besides, Stan started it with Daredevil and Captain Marvel. And if it was good enough for Stan… otherwise I liked the piece. Nice to see Novs being remembered.
You’re right about Diamondhead/Diamondback, because I’m an idiot. Fixed.
If that’s you, be proud of your work on the book. I reread it a couple of years back and it’s still fun.