Monday, 24 January 2011

Nova #3. Diamondheads are forever.

Nova #3, Diamondhead
"He's here!" declares the front cover, "The ultimate super-hero!"

No. It's not Superman and, sadly, the fact Nova's title only lasted twenty five issues would suggest the great comic book reading public didn't think he was the ultimate super-hero either. But what Nova was in his short run was by, all accounts, an attempt to produce a comic in the 1970s that could've been made in the 1960s.

I can see why, for comic creators, a nostalgic attempt to relive the comics of their younger days would appeal but was that ever going to mean anything to readers?

Here's what's going on. There's a villain called Diamondhead who, like many a Silver-Age villain, got his powers in an unlikely manner, this time by tripping over whilst seeking to rob a science institute, and falling into the path of its experimental laser beam. By some means unexplained, this turned him into a man made of living diamond, who therefore can't be harmed. Now, as well as wealth, he's after a box he thinks can enable him to defeat an unseen foe he refers to as the Dreaded One. From my knowledge of future issues, I'm assuming the Dreaded One was the Sphinx although I stand to be corrected.

Not that Diamondhead's blatant invulnerability to harm stops Nova from trying to harm him. Again and again our witless hero flings himself at the villain, only to find it doesn't even phase him. And still that doesn't lead him to change tack - and still he keeps flinging himself at Diamondhead. You do get the feeling from reading this issue that Nova isn't exactly the sharpest knife in the drawer. Perhaps we're meant to see Nova's inability to change tactics as a sign of his inexperience as a super-hero but, really, how much experience do you need in order to know that if head butting someone is hurting your head more than his, you're going to have to try something else?

Finally Diamondhead gets bored with hurting Nova's head and teams up, at the tale's end, with a villain called the Condor who likewise wants to sort out the Dreaded One.

No one loves a comic from a simpler time more than I do, so does this attempt at retro work?

On the strength of this issue, sadly not.

It has two big problems.

One is the hero's domestic set-up's too cosy. As we all know, Marvel super-heroes tend to have troublesome home lives, usually involving the loss of at least one legal guardian and the obligatory work and women troubles. But Nova's alter-ego Richard Rider has a mother and father and a brother and lives in suburban comfort. If there are girls in Rider's life to give him grief, there're no signs of them here, meaning that pretty much his only source of personal conflict seem to come from the school bully who, in the style of an early Flash Thompson, likes to give him a hard time. That brings us on to the other problem.

He's Spider-Man.

You can't get away from it, virtually every line of dialogue Nova spouts in this comic sounds like it was written for the masked wall-crawler. It means you might as well be reading an issue of The Amazing Spider-Man with all emotional conflict removed.

The plot's also too straightforward, with no twists and turns. In fact, the one moment of intrigue comes with the claim by a person unseen that one of Richard Rider's friends has murdered someone. This is clearly meant to be a hook to make you buy future issues but just feels bizarre. I know next to nothing about the character in question but it seems obvious from what little I've seen here that he isn't a murderer.

The thing's solidly drawn as always by Sal Buscema (just how many books was he drawing for Marvel at this time?) but inked by Tom Palmer. We all know Tom Palmer's a great inker but I'm not convinced his style suits Buscema's pencils. It may sound a ridiculous thing to say but somehow it just looks too inky.

So, in the end it's a mildly diverting comic but there's really nothing that'd make you want to come back for more. I would say that's a shame but, as long as we had Spider-Man in two monthly mags, why would we ever have had a reason for mourning his imitator?


Wil said...

When was this '76? I'd have been 12 and was definitely pumped for Nova. A school mate's mum had taken us to our first comic mart and if that wasn't enough to make my comics-addled head explode there was Nova #1. I don't think I drew any parallels with Spidey (although they stand out like an angry Hulk now) and I only stayed with Nova for about 5 or 6 issues before the cosmicness of Kirby's The Eternals gripped me over another superhero but he'll always have a place in my memories for being there that Saturday afternoon.

I also remember it because I threw up in my mate's mum's car on the way home all over Hulk #200.

Steve said...

Yeah, it was the Autumn of 1976. I always remember this issue because at one point his mother gives him a steak sandwich. For some reason, as a twelve year old, the idea of putting a steak in a sandwich seemed completely wrong. I think I felt it was disrespectful towards the steak, which deserved to be part of a full and proper meal.

The Groovy Agent said...

This one came out in late August to be exact. I know 'cause I bought it for my 13th birthday. I like it a bit beter'n you (though I can't disagree with a lot of your points--my love for Sal B. combined with nostalgia is a hard thing to beat!), but that's what makes the intraweb innerestin', right?

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