By Ben Morse
[Welcome to Make Mine Marvel, a bi-weekly series of articles devoted to all the things we've loved about Marvel over the past 60 years. From toys to video games, movies to trading cards, Underoos to stamps and more, we embrace it—warts and all. Kick back and enjoy Marvel's merry past with us.
Don't tell the folks that run this joint—I'm banking that they don't read my stuff—but I've never really been that into Spider-Man.
Oh, don't get me wrong, I've enjoyed many a great Spidey story and totally find the character to be innovative and appealing, but when the mask comes off, Peter Parker has just never really felt like "my character." Everybody has got that one character they feel like they'd be buddies with in real life, and for a lot of people, that's Spidey, but not for me. Married, single, young, old, nerdy, clone, whatever—I've just never connected with Spider-Man that way.
I guess you could say a big reason for that is because Nova is "my" Spider-Man.
I first encountered Richard Rider, then Kid
Nova—don't ask—in the first volume of NEW WARRIORS
when I was a kid. I'll maintain to this day that NEW WARRIORS was and is one of the most underrated comics of all time, with Fabian Nicieza writing deep, entertaining and thought-provoking stories about real issues that were ahead of their times and drawn by future artistic superstars like Mark Bagley and Darick Robertson honing their craft…but that's another column.
Nova, who dropped the "Kid" after a dozen or so issues, quickly became my favorite Marvel character for the most childlike of reasons. First and foremost, he had a rad costume. No matter how many times folks have tried to monkey with Nova's look—and any Nova fan will recount the horror stories for you—that incredible classic look always finds its way back. I think Nova's post-Annihilation gear succeeds because it's a cool update that didn't completely try to reinvent the wheel.
In addition to his gear, 13-year old Ben had plenty of other reasons to dig Rich Rider. He had long hair, razor stubble, an earring and an attitude—basically everything a young teenage boy in the early '90s looked for in their heroes. And the fact that he hooked up with Namorita, the Warriors' blond bombshell in a bikini and easily the hottest girl on the team, certainly didn't hurt.
So my love affair with the Human Rocket certainly began for the most superficial of reasons, but I quickly learned there were reasons I found myself gravitating to this character that went more than skin deep.
As soon as I learned of the concept of quarter bins, I was quick to snatch up as many issues of the original 70's NOVA series—now available in super-affordable Essential format in its entirety—as I could. It would be a few years still before I could
fully appreciate the work of Nova's creators, legendary writer Marv Wolfman and equally decorated artist the late John Buscema as well as his successor Carmine Infantino, but I knew what I liked.
I liked the fact that Rich Rider seemed more like a real teenager than any comic book alter ego I had ever encountered. Even with his dated 70's wardrobe and lingo, I related to Rich. He wasn't captain of the football team or the most popular kid in school, but he also wasn't a socially hapless science prodigy like a certain other Marvel hero of note. He was a normal, likable dude—he got picked on by bullies, but he still had some cool friends and a cute girl on his arm.
I also really dug the fact that Rich didn't just get saddled with a couple groovy super powers and that was it, he was gifted his amazing abilities by an alien hero who also tasked him with being an intergalactic protector of Earth, Xandar and countless
other planets—no easy task for a high school student from Queens!
Armed with my new knowledge of where Rich came from, I re-read my earliest NEW WARRIORS issues with a whole new perspective. The series picked up with a de-powered Rich working at a burger joint until Night Thrasher comes along and reactivated his Nova abilities by dropping him off a roof (no joke). While this began just as a throwaway scene to give the first issue a powerful opening—the first page literally has Thrash dangling a powerless Rich over the ledge of a tenement—Nicieza would revisit the well of Rich being lost without his Nova identity both in NW and in a short-lived second NOVA solo book.
Rich's insecurity about his ability to be anything more than a counter jockey at McDonald's if he couldn't fly to the moon fascinated me. A memorable sequence in
NEW WARRIORS v1 #40, the first chapter of the Nova-centric "Starlost" arc, has Rich confronting his worst fears after being wrapped in the fright-inducing Darkforce mass of Warriors foe Asylum: losing his powers once more, leaving his friends and family vulnerable and himself without purpose.
Unlike so many of his Marvel Universe peers, Rich really wants
to be a super hero. So much of his identity is wrapped up in it. On the one hand a large part of that comes from him being a genuinely good guy who holds himself responsible for the safety of everybody from his immediate family to a world light years away from our own, but on the other he's afraid to let go of being Nova because it's the one thing he's ever really excelled at. I find both traits to be endlessly intriguing and endearing.
With Annihilation and his current series, Nova is experiencing a renaissance not only in terms of popularity, but also in amazing character work, thanks in large part I
believe because Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning, as well as Keith Giffen before them, really get what makes Rich tick.
The first Annihilation event took everything I love about Nova and amped it up to 11. He's no longer just the everyman among the heroes of Earth, he's the everyman who an entire freaking galaxy is counting on to pull their fat out of the fire! He's in way over his head and he knows it throughout Annihilation, but that doesn't stop him from gritting his teeth and letting his heroic nature take control, leading his troops to victory over impossible odds, ripping the guts out of the personification of evil and then literally smirking at Death afterwards.
Seriously, how could you not love the guy?
I've heard Nova called a Spider-Man knockoff, but that's bull. Spidey's beat is usually New York and occasionally like Jersey or something; he spends his time catching bank robbers or dudes wearing goblin masks. Rich Rider has the same background and upbringing as Peter Parker, but the threats he faces on a daily basis, particularly with his current status quo, are so out of Spidey's league that it sets him apart.
I've also heard Nova called a knockoff of a certain emerald ring slinger from the Distinguished Competition—again, bull. That guy's whole shtick is having "no fear," whereas Rich is a person who fully acknowledges his fears, but rather than tossing them aside, he uses them to fuel his resolve and make him stronger.
Just about every character in fiction is derivative of some other idea somewhere, but while Nova may borrow from here and there, the end result is a hero like none other. A true blue (blazes) good
guy who came from an ordinary environment to become extraordinary. A Human Rocket whose ignition is caring about doing what's right and a burning desire to make a difference.
He may have lost the long hair, the earring and even a bit of the attitude—not the razor stubble though, thank the stars—but Nova's still the coolest dude in the Marvel Universe to me and now and forever "my character."
Sorry Spidey—you never had a chance.