Monday, October 18, 2010

Song of Nova: the Human Rocket


“Song of Nova”

The caption sings the song of Nova; his bard Mantlo asks, “How long ago was it that a dying alien ship sought out Richard Rider and passed on to him the powers of a Xandarian Centurion? Not long, as the universe tells time, but long enough for the astonished Earth youth to understand that with great power comes great responsibility...and come to grips with his mission as a Nova Prime!”


(I can hardly express how mysterious and important these words seemed to me as I learned to read them all, sending me to the dictionary and Mom many times. The little adult in me found the idyll of the Human Rocket an intriguing drama, even when it puzzled me.)


Here Rider uses the Nova Prime power to rip a gash all the way down the side of this mile long ship; the vacuum of space replaces the environment, as the Skrulls desperately try to change to some form of life that wouldn’t need to breath. “As for the traitorous Diamondhead,” Manto inveigles, “the accident that made him a crystalline creature in the first place, removed him for all time from the necessity of breathing.” The Diamondhead of old held the edge over Nova each time, but here and now, the blocks erected in his life as Richard Rider have fallen away, and now the villain runs, scheming to alter his plan. On his way to his hidden hostages, Nova stands in the airless vacuum, demanding with his eyes their whereabouts. Diamondhead’s crouched, seeking a way around Nova---who suddenly realizes where the Corps may be found!


That’s all she wrote, then, for Diamondhead. The battle could never have been even, now: justice comes for the crystalline criminal, as Nova flies into him head first, battering him thru outer hull, a silent scream as Diamondhead “joins his Skrull collaborators in an eternal drift through space. You see, Nova recalls the “super-scientific life preserver,” the dimensional Phaser, a means of surviving in sub space during outages in life support. “Whew! Suddenly it seems a lot cleaner in here!” Nova thinks. “Servo-drones are already at work repairing the hole I punched in the Nova Ship’s hull---so I guess it’s time I let the Nova Corps out!”

As he tilts his head towards the panel in the red glow, Mantlo intones: “for the briefest of seconds, the man called Nova hesitates. Does he really want to know which of his friends were imprisoned in another dimension, and which fell, resisting Diamondhead and the Skrulls?” His hand shoots out to activate “Phaser”: “Of course he does!”

These drawings and colors, so faded, seemed impossibly robust with moving images in the dozens of times I read this as a child. We watch the heroes return...but the Comet must tell how Diamondhead’s aid to the boarding Skrulls and Trojan Horse signal to trap the Corps was discovered first by Crimebuster, at the cost of his life. The vengeful father fell into the Phaser’s limbo, with the rest of the Corps. Nova’s moved by the passing of his friend, but courageously rallies everyone to join Rom on the surface of the besieged planet, where the Queen and her civilian populace fight to survive.


Now stabs the shaft of life upon the square once more---perhaps with the threat of ever more Skrulls. The queen’s consternation breaks with the roar of the heroes, who blast into legend itself by the side of the silver stranger. Mantlo’s caption carries a poet’s touch, celebrating the songs that will fill the dreams of children one day with courage and duty.

Rom doesn’t understand why the victorious Xandarians send the Skrulls back, but their culture is said to punish failure in ways “worse than death!” “Whaddya know? We won!” beams Nova; the Centurion declares he’s earned his powers as Nova Prime, and then holds the Queen in peace at last. The Protector, merged with the living computers of Xandar (to prevent them falling into the hands of the enemy), offers boons to the heroes of other worlds gathered here. The Comet chooses to stay on this world where his last blood relation fell saving lives, to keep his memory alive. And Rom, who bids the Earth-bound Richard Rider give his regards to Brandy Clark of Clairton, assures him ordinary human beings must also find ways to fight for their planet...and that is in fact what Nova must become, to there return.

Rom himself soon acquires the location of Galador and the knowledge that it’s been moved, from the Protector, who also teleports him there in a beam of light. A Wraith plot wraps around the lives of Torpedo and his family in Clairton, as a mist erases the will of Brandy Clark’s parents while she gazes skyward, thinking of her secret love for Rom.

Nova protests that Centurion said he’s earned his powers, which he hoped to use combating Wraithkind Earthside. But part with them, he must; Protector explains they remain where they originated. So an image, a self, fades with a touch, returned to his world, “with the eternal thanks of Xandar!”

Bill Mantlo now, with his elegy for the innocent, brightly colored secret life of the Man Called Nova:

“Richard Rider remembers the day when fate chose him, of all the students at Harry S. Truman High School, to receive the Nova powers. Indeed, how could he forget?
The beam carries him from Xandar.

In an instant, his life had been transformed. No more was he a loser, a shy, hesitant, and lonely youngster. Not when he donned the costume of Nova, anyway.
(He beams to Earth.)

He’d used his powers wisely and well---as his predecessor had known he would---and he’d had the best time of his life. But he had also missed his family, his friends.
Nervously, Richard Rider sets foot on the steps leading up to his front porch.

Beyond, inside the house where he grew up, awaits his brother, his mother, his father---the three people he loves most in the world.

Have they given him up for lost? Knowing of his dual identity, have they assumed he died fighting some menace somewhere as Nova?

Worse, have they rented his room?

Smiling at an uncertain future, Richard Rider mounts the steps. He is home.”

The End...for now!

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