26th Feb2013

Comical Thoughts – Nova #1

by Will


I don’t usually review contemporary comics. The reason for that is that everyone does it, so why get lost in the shuffle? That said, I happened to read Nova #1 from the whole Marvel NOW kerfuffle and I just had to write about it. Because IT’S REALLY GOOD! At first glance, one wouldn’t think it would be good because it’s written by Jeph Loeb. Loeb’s name is spoken by fanboys with a disdain so heavy you’d think they’d said “Kardashian”. In recent years, he’s gotten a bad rap as a hack and a dream killer, and a rapist of childhoods (I heard he and Michael Bay were roommates at Childhood Rape Camp). One thing people seem to have forgotten, though, is that he’s actually a pretty good writer. I think I’ve figured out what his deal is: Jeph Loeb is not equipped for “event” storytelling, but he’s great at writing timeless stories.


Nova #1 is instantly engaging. It reads like every great teen movie of the 80s. Kid is tired of living in bumblefuck town, and he’s bullied because his father is the janitor at the local high school. All he seems to want to do is leave that one horse town behind him, but he fears he’ll end up just like his alcoholic dad. Oh, and did I mention that his dad used to be a member of the Nova Corps? If only anyone believed him. Family members seem to humor the Nova stories as the wishful thinking of a depressed drunk. Oh, there are so many 80s movie tropes even though it’s a contemporary tale. Again, with the exception of the Suicide Girls-ish “cutest girl in school”, this seems like the foundation of a timeless Marvel tale. If only Marvel cared about “timeless”.


Jeph Loeb’s most lauded material was done at DC Comics. He’s best known for his work with artist Tim Sale, which includes Superman For All Seasons, Batman: The Long Halloween, and Batman: Dark Victory. These are stories that are routinely included on lists of the greatest stories told about those characters. Even though they tended to focus on the early days of the heroes, they have come to be revered as timeless tales that really embody the core of who those heroes have become. Someone (maybe Loeb himself) decided “Ya know, maybe he’d be just as good on contemporary event comics.” That person was wrong. We first saw this when he penned the “Hush” storyline in Batman. Most fans have pretty much written this off as a Jim Lee showcase, as the story wasn’t good. It established Hush as a character who would be better used by other writers, but nothing about him was too special in this first storyline. This led to him teaming up with Ed McGuinness to launch Superman/Batman, which was basically DC’s equivalent of Astonishing X-Men: in continuity stories that were the springboard of “event seedlings”, like the introduction of the new Supergirl, and the end of President Luthor’s time in office. While not in the thick of event storytelling, Loeb’s DC stories were always on the fringe of the Next Big Thing. Soon, he left for Marvel, where he jumped from the frying pan into the fire.


Once at Marvel, Loeb was used in yet another attempt to inject life into the Ultimate Universe. He wrote Ultimates 3, with returning fanboy fave artist Joe Madureira. And it was bad. There were so many things wrong with it that it’s really not fair to blame it all on Loeb. First  off, it was the first Ultimates series not written by original writer Mark Millar. Next, Madureira had spent so many years in the video game industry that his art seemed rusty, literally. Everything had a muddy, kinetic red hue about it. The Ultimates had never been an ongoing series, as each iteration was meant to be its own little event. As I mentioned before, Loeb just isn’t the guy for “big things storytelling”. There was some crazy storyline about a bullet that traveled at superspeed, killing Scarlet Witch. Instead of focusing on the espionage angles of the original Ultimates stories, this tried to be a 616 Avengers story set in the Ultimate Universe, and the styles just didn’t mesh. That didn’t stop him, however, from his next failure: Ultimatum. Ya see, when Ultimates 3 didn’t work, they went “scorched Earth” on the Ultimates Universe, basically saying, “Kill ’em all and let editors sort ’em out!” The death toll topped out around 29 characters, across 5 issues, and most of them were X-Men and other mutants. Fans did NOT like this, especially those who had never read an Ultimate Universe book but had just decided to hate it anyway. But Marvel wasn’t done with him yet. No, next they put him on a Wolverine storyline that was set to feature the death of Sabretooth. They even teamed him with artist Simone Bianchi, whose style was completely wrong for this story, yet Marvel had dubbed him one of their “Young Guns”. Again, fans hated it. You’d think Marvel would learn their lesson by then; this clearly wasn’t a great fit. No, instead, THEY PROMOTED HIM!


In 2010, Jeph Loeb was promoted to Head of Television for Marvel. So, the guy who wasn’t great at Event Storytelling in Comics would now be in charge of Event Storytelling for television – a much more important, and crucial marketplace than comics. He’s failing upwards! But it’s not Loeb’s fault. He’s just not suited for this type of storytelling. He’s a timeless guy, he’s not Event Guy. Very few people are both. Grant Morrison is both, Geoff Johns is both, but few others. Some folks are JUST event guys: Bendis (love the guy, but he has yet to write a “timeless” tale. He’s a talented journeyman. He’s all about NOW), Mark Millar – these are the guys who you call in when you need a tentpole event. Sure, their Q-ratings rise and fall, but these aren’t typically the guys you just stick on a title expecting a “definitive” storyline. Then, you have your timeless guys, like Loeb and Alex Ross – they give you the definitive storylines, usually focusing on a time gone by, and not wrapped up in the convoluted continuity of the regular ongoing comics. They’re left to their own schedule and devices, and they only do minis and projects, so as to not overstay their welcome. They come in on a mission, and they accomplish it. Analogy Time: By trying to change who Loeb is, Marvel is essentially trying to “turn a ho into a housewife”. He’s not supposed to cuddle with you. He’s supposed to make love to you so sweet and tenderly that it reminds you of your first love, and makes you think he actually has feelings for you. You’re not supposed to put a ring on it. But that’s what Marvel’s done.

Back to what I was saying, Nova #1 felt like the first “timeless” story Loeb has ever done for Marvel. It’s sentimental, and it’s so engaging that I can’t wait for the next issue. I don’t remember how long it’s been since I felt that way about a comics – especially a Loeb-penned comic. My only fear, though, is that Marvel doesn’t always do “timeless”. Sure. there are the “color” books that Loeb and Sale did after their DC work, including Spider-Man: Blue, Hulk: Grey, Daredevil: Yellow, etc, but those follow that format I described: minis outside of continuity. If you want someone constantly stroking themselves over the past, you go to DC. They’re the “legacy” guys. With Nova, I feel it’s only a matter of time before it’s co-opted by Guardians of the Galaxy and Marvel’s rumored summer space crossover. Whatever happens, we can at least say that it all started in a good place. I guess I’ll just have to trust Marvel and Loeb to know what they’re doing. Man, you don’t know how hard it was for me to type that last sentence!