Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Corduroy Adventures

1976. Jack Kirby’s highly-anticipated ETERNALS brings the Chariots of the Gods style to Marvel; issue #2 has a bullpen announcement about the excitement over the new hero, the Man Called Nova. Though most new heroes are launched in try-out books in these times, Stan Lee’s enthusiasm for the new hero gets him a first issue of an ongoing monthly title. “Now if only Wolfman, John Buscema and co. will hurry up and finish it!”
That’s the way it was, in 1976: rock’s getting a new shot in the arm through punk, why not super hero comics with a punk of their own? Meanwhile, a bizarre flipside take on super heroes and high school coalesces in Nova’s contemporary, OMEGA THE UNKNOWN, as different from super heroics of the day as Nova was their embodiment. HOWARD THE DUCK and RED SONJA are the other two big debuts that come to mind, taking off by ’76 as smash hits embodying passing trends...though HOWARD seems built around its creator’s idiosyncratic persona, the sword by which the concept lives and dies.
So the year passes. Steve Englehart’s begun his big run on Detective Comics and Justice League of America, while LOGAN’S RUN, BLACK PANTHER, and MS. MARVEL are highlights of the new Marvel crop. It’s not a market where things catch a lot of traction; can anyone name a launch of the era that survives? For this reason doth this be the Implosion Era, in some ways; a blizzard in early ’78 causes a distribution nightmare, and when we get there we’ll find a cavalcade of hopeful new ideas in need of a good spinner rack. But by summer of ’77 Marvel’s about to score its biggest licensing hit yet with STAR WARS and her Human Rocket’s still blasting into monthly adventures, like...
Nova #13, 1977

“Watch Out, World, the Sandman Is Back!”

Wolfman / Buscema / Sinnott Annette Kawecki, letterer; Phil Rache, colorist

8:30 am: the Hempstead National Bank has Richard Rider bemoaning his two hundred and fifteen dollar account, as it will prove little help with the mortgage, and oh yeah, Sandman is smashing the window with a gang in tow, sandblasting the guard in his fashion. This time, a new crimefighter, the Crimebuster, dives into the fray, combating the hired thugs with tactics and a lasso-gun. By this point Rich is Nova, going against the grain (:-( and his dubious mindset by standing up to his super-powered foe, whose strength rivals Diamondhead. Some quick thinking leaves Sandman pouring into the vault, where Nova locks him. Now he meets Crimebuster, who says he’s waited for two years to debut. He makes his getaway with superb timing in a hovercraft waiting overhead.

The victory dance is short-lived; after all, how will they get Sandman out? He works this problem out to his advantage, sending his grains out through an air-vent, but cashless. Another manipulator watches him with anticipation, while a German-accented man in the shadows, identified as Von Horstbaden with an apparently dark past, prepares to procure Sandy’s services.

At Truman High, Nova rockets through an empty room window to change into his wrinkled clothes. Ginger Jaye now spots him in the hall and offers her tutoring help to the “all-night studying” spazz she calls cutie. Now they attend psychology class together, where lotus positions and shared feelings are the order of the day. To his chagrin, he’s asked to begin by going around the room telling what he most dislikes about his friends. When he holds back, Mike Burley’s happy to pitch in, slamming the rampant jealousy towards himself and confessing his envy that they, his classmates, live without the constant pushing that forces him to excel.

Meanwhile Sandman badgers himself with an even more brutal assessment of himself than is typical for our hero. Under the name Heinrich Von Flessle, our shady “Karl” from before presents his services as shrink. Soon his “therapy” includes a set-up that echoes a Kirby laboratory, featuring an “encephalographer.” The offer to increase his confidence apparently begins with a torturous walk through his previous failures against Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four and Hulk, and a negative-conditioning of extreme pain.

The phony shrink calls up our behind-the-scenes villain, our BSV, who now awaits phase two. The Sandman is theirs to control, a situation he wishes to extend to an unidentified man in chains.

Nova’s bored. Time to zip around the town. The people he thinks envy him below actually scapegoat him for their frustrations. The Thing’s intense reading of Dracula sets him up to spook himself as Nova flies by. Time for Charlie’s Angel’s on TV.

Nova finds a man worse for wear, begging him to rescue a Doctor T’Kora. Nova slams feet first into the getaway car’s engine block, then uses tires to immobilize the gunman before he makes off with his hostage. The Doctor here knows T’Challa, knows NYC is wild, but has no idea why anyone would hurt him. The Sandman does, however, and he and Nova clash. The helmet re-breather helps once more, as the thoroughly-punched hero flies out of the harbor to attack Sandman again.

His dive passes him about halfway through Sandman’s controlled granular body, which he now uses to crush Nova. He takes both of them hostage. Soon Nova hangs in a trap described as jets beneath, waiting to burn him, while liquid oxygen nozzles then freeze him “as brittle as spun glass” as he hangs tethered by each appendage by metallic tentacles. Sandman lies back for another “therapy session”, and painfully absorbs information about his next target: “athlete supreme,” “student wizard,” and overall BMOC, Mike Burley. The last panel previews the assault preceding Mike’s kidnapping by the sandy villain, while Nova begins to stir in his sealed environment, unaware of the nature of the trap he must endure and escape.

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