Being a lapsed reader and NOVA
Comics, at least American superhero comics, which is what this article/diatribe is mostly about, are a weird medium. I think it was Matt Fraction who talked about the illusion of the second act in comics, and he roughly said something like how, after introducing the reader to their world, comics series need to have a never-ending second act, because they're meant to just continue indefinitely. Last year there was a conversation about the limits of the comics marketplace due to the cancellation of Walker and Villalobos’ Nighthawk. I don’t want to rehash that whole argument but I think it’s an example of how easy for readers to get swept up into talks about how many copies is their favorite series really selling because we all want our favorite books to tell an engaging story and part of that depends on the creators being given enough room to do so. So as comic readers, we kind of have to deal with this ruthless market logic that’s not entirely present there for fans of other mediums like music or movies. It’s just how the business works.
At the same time, despite of the strong sense of identification that’s born from that, it’s really to become a lapsed comics reader. After I got my first job, I bought a hybrid laptop. It’s basically a laptop with a detachable keyboard, so you can kind of use it as a tablet. My comics fandom dates way back to getting Thunderbolts #100 on the fifth grade but it wasn’t until then that made myself a pull list. It was just really convenient to read digital comics on that device. And let me tell you, Comixology is a hell of a drug. Suddenly I had money to spend and a setup that made it easy to read digital comics. And just like that I was pulling 15-20 comics every month. I even started writing reviews on this very site! But last October my laptop broke down and I had a more hectic schedule between university and the aforementioned job so I just sort of dropped comics entirely.
After all this happened, some fateful day on December I trekked to my LCS to get a present for a fellow comic book dork (Darth Vader vol. 1, he liked it), and while I was there I picked up the Nova #1 Christian Ward variant. When Marvel announced the creative team for the Nova reboot I was pretty hyped, I love Ian Herring’s coloring on Ms. Marvel and Silk; I knew Jeff Loveness from his Groot mini-series, which is fantastic and unabashedly optimistic; and I knew Ramon Perez from Amazing Grace, which is the best Spider-Man story from the last 10 or so years, if you ask me. So while I’ve never been a fan of either Richard Rider or Sam Alexander, I was just ecstatic to see three of my favorite creators work together on a new series. So I just made the decision to buy that without thinking too much about it.
The variant that I got is a homage to Chance the Rapper’s Coloring Book cover. Putting aside the valid criticisms of Marvel’s hip hop variants for a second, I feel like that’s the one of the best expressions of what Marvel has been trying to do with their generation of legacy heroes. Coloring Book is a mixtape that captures a very personal vision of hope and faith while dealing with the challenges that Chance the Rapper has faced as a young black person growing up in Chicago during a well-publicized violence epidemic. It’s a fantastic record and marrying that with the character of Sam Alexander, a Mexican kid from Nowhere, Arizona, is a truly inspired choice. Marvel seems to try and latch onto whatever they find out is marginally popular at the time and oftentimes they completely miss the landing but sometimes, just once in awhile, they’re able to conjure images such as this one that feel really transcendent.
Once I got home and wrapped the present that I bought for my friend, I pondered for a second whether I should read the comic I’d gotten for myself or not. I’ve never been what people into punk affectionately call “collector scum” but I honestly thought about just framing the damn comic and moving on with my life. But of course I opened the bag and started reading.
Art is around us so much, that we don’t really think about what we’re doing when we pick up a book or queue up an album anymore. That work that we’re going to experience for an hour or two (or 10-15 minutes in the case of a comic) is someone’s entire life. It’s an extremely intimate communion between the artist and the spectator. The commodification of it makes sense because it is such a unique experience that not thinking about what that means is immensely easier. And most of the time, we’ll just be reasonably entertained and move on but there are few things more rewarding in life than those handful of times when you are able to really connect with an artist’s vision.
Nova #1 features the return of apparently well-beloved character Richard Rider, who had been retired by Marvel around 10 years ago. The comic isn’t coy about it, introducing him to us from the very first page. But this is still Sam Alexander’s book, we see his life through a series of vignette. Loveness and Perez are really in-sync crafting a fun, light-hearted book that’s nevertheless not . It might be easy to miss but the book doesn’t pull any punches in dealing with Sam and Rich’s missing father figures. It touches on complex subjects born from the characters’ context in continuity while also being a fun read. It also manages to combine all that into a solid cliffhanger for the second issue. That issue was just a great remainder of why I cared about this stuff in the first place.
I’ve been reading some comics ever since. I’ve read All-Star Superman two or three times and I think it’s one of the most rewarding works of art ever, it really does gets better every time. I picked up Second Generation by Michel Kichka, which was fine. I read some of Strangers in Paradise, which I honestly expected to like more. I just bought Super Mutant Magic Academy and I’m looking forward to reading that. I’m not quite sure what to do with my old pull list but I’m looking forward to catching up on my favorite books, like Ms. Marvel and Black Hammer, at some point.
Regardless, I’ll be keeping up with Nova in the meantime. I also got Nova #2 and #3 within a week of their release. Long story short, they’re also pretty good. Honestly, I don’t think I’ll ever read quite as many comics as I did for the last 2 years, but I’m extremely glad I still gave Nova a shot. Nova is great. Comics are great. Art is great.