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REVIEW: MARVEL LEGENDS NOVA
By Thomas Wheeler

Convoluted histories are hardly anything new for Marvel Comics characters. And yet it does seem that, for a character that has never quite broken into the top tier of heroes, few characters in the Marvel Universe have had quite as convoluted a history as -- the man called Nova.

It pretty well stunned me to consider the fact, when I purchased this figure, that Nova was introduced to the Marvel Universe over 30 years ago -- almost 35. With Marvel proclaiming its 70th anniversary this year, that means Nova has been around for almost half of it.

Let's see what Wikipedia has to say about this character, before I get into an analysis of his Marvel Legends incarnation.

Nova debuted in Nova #1 in 1976, written by Marv Wolfman and drawn by John Buscema. Wolfman intended the teenage character to be an homage to Stan Lee and Steve Ditko's Spider-Man, down to his humble working-class roots and alliterative alter-ego. Nova's real name was Richard Rider, not too far removed in basid structure from Peter Parker.

The original Nova series, The Man Called Nova (the tag-line for issue #1 reads "In the Marvelous tradition of Spider-Man!"), lasted 25 issues, running from September 1976 to May 1979. Dangling plotlines were resolved in several issues of Fantastic Four, which was written by Wolfman at the time.

The character then disappeared into obscurity for some time before returning as a member of the original New Warriors team, appearing in the original New Warriors series which ran from 1990 to 1996.

Marvel produced three subsequent Nova titles, including Nova (vol. 2) #1-18, which ran from January 1994 to June 1995, and Nova, The Human Rocket (vol. 3) #1-7, which ran from May 1999 to November, 1999. This short-lived series was produced by Erik Larsen, best known for his independent creation, "Savage Dragon". The series would have likely continued, but there were conflicts between the individual title and Nova's return to the New Warriors in their new title, with a somewhat different costume and the temporary name of "Kid Nova".

There were actually two New Warriors series in which Nova would appear, specifically New Warriors (vol. 2) #0-10 (October, 1999 - July, 2000) and New Warriors (vol. 3) #1-6 (July, 2005 - December, 2005).

The most recent of solo series (Nova, volume 4) began in April, 2007. The character also featured prominently in the 2006 Annihilation cross-over cosmic sci-fi storyline (which included the Annihilation: Nova limited series), that led into the fourth volume of Nova as well as 2007's Annihilation: Conquest, in which Nova was prominently featured.

Nova is also involved in the 2009 Marvel storyline "War of Kings", which writers Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning have tied in with the ongoing Nova series.

Personally, I can't tell you much about that, since I've pretty much given up on Marvel Comics since they decided to produce political stories rather than super-hero action stories.

As if the character's publication history isn't complicated enough, his personal history within the Marvel Universe isn't exactly the easiest thing in the world to sort out. Back to Wikipedia:

Richard Rider, a student at the fictional Harry S. Truman High School in Hempstead, New York, is chosen at random by the alien Rhomann Dey, last surviving Nova Centurion of the planet Xandar's elite Nova Corps, to inherit his power and succeed him in the rank of Nova Prime following the destruction of his world by the intergalactic pirate Zorr. Having been mortally wounded in the battle that tore Xandar apart, Dey succeeds in tracking Zorr to Earth, but is unable to exact vengeance due to the extent of his injuries. At death's door, Dey has little choice but to transfer his power to an unsuspecting human on the planet below, praying that whomever he finds will take up his cause.

Rider gains increased strength, a degree of invulnerability, the power to fly, and a uniform with a sealed life support system, but little instruction on how to use these new powers. Overjoyed, Rider eagerly takes up the life of a super-hero, fighting costumed super-villains in New York and gradually learning how to control his new abilities. Calling himself Nova, he makes arch-enemies out of street level thugs and cosmic level threats alike, fighting villains such as Condor and Powerhouse, Diamondhead, the Corruptor, and the Sphinx. Nova also teams with Spider-Man to capture Photon, who had killed Richard Rider's uncle, Ralph Rider, before ultimately choosing to reveal his secret identity to his family.

Discovering Dey's Nova Prime Space Ship, which has been invisibly orbiting the earth for several years, Doctor Sun and the Sphinx lead Rider across the stars and to the newly reconstructed planet Xandar, the same world where his great powers originated. The Xandarians form the Champions of Xandar, pressing Rider and several allies into over a year of service protecting their territories from attack. Tiring of life so far from home and hoping to rejoin his high school friends, Rider requests to be released from his duties on Xandar and return to Earth. When he is told he must relinquish his powers in order to do so, Rider reluctantly agrees.

For a time, Rider lives a relatively quiet life, flipping burgers as a cook at a fast food restaurant and barely making ends meet due to his disrupted education. He spends his time trying to pick up the pieces of the life he had left behind, all the while wishing he could find a way to regain the powers he has lost. Unknown to him, during this period, the planet Xandar is utterly destroyed in an attack by the space pirate Nebula.

Some time later, Nova would become in the newly-formed super-team known as the New Warriors. In a bid to secure new super powered allies, the superhero Night Thrasher breaks into S.H.I.E.L.D. computers and steals detailed data on Rider among other super-powered individuals. Deducing that Rider's powers were not taken completely from him but instead lay dormant inside the young man's body, Night Thrasher believes that a high-stress situation will be enough to reactivate Rider's powers and open him up to recruitment. To that end, Night Thrasher kidnaps Rider and drops him off the top of a multi-story building. The fall causes Rider's powers to reignite from within him, saving his life.

Rider joins Night Thrasher's superhero group, the New Warriors, who first appear as a team aiding Thor in his fight with Juggernaut. Though their first battle pits them against Terrax the Tamer, their adventures together typically include dealing with street level super villains as well as Nova's old foe the Sphinx.

Functioning for several years as an earth-bound superhero with no connection to the now defunct Nova Corps, Rider eventually encounters Garthan Saal, a former Nova Corps Centurion who has been driven insane by his quest to absorb the entirety of the Nova Force, the source of the powers of all Nova Centurions. Having failed in his effort to enact revenge against Nebula for the destruction of his home planet, Saal instead turns his attention to restoring Xandar to its former glory. Stripping Rider of his powers for a second time, Saal transports Rider to Xandar again and forces him to assist in jump-starting the process that restores the dead planet to life. Rider also witnesses the reformation of the Nova Corps, which appoints him to the rank of Centurion Prime.

Assigned to Earth, Rider is confronted with the challenge of balancing dual lives as a member of both the Nova Corps as well as the New Warriors. Defying a direct order of Xandar's Queen Adora to return to Xandar to quell an emergency, Rider finds himself stripped of his powers once again and replaced as Centurion Prime by Garthan Saal. After several months, Saal is killed, returning the Nova force to Rider with his final breath.

After working with the New Warriors again briefly, Rider leaves the group for Xandar to report for duty alongside the entire Nova Corps, which has been fully mobilized to respond to an unknown threat. The clustered world of Xandar is swiftly decimated and with it the Nova Corps massacred by a surprise attack of what is revealed to be the Annihilation Wave, newly arrived in this universe from the Negative Zone.

Rider somehow survives the onslaught, awakening on the ruined surface of Xandar. Drawn deep underground, Rider makes contact with the Xandarian Worldmind, a living supercomputer that is the regulator of the Nova Force. As Rider is the last Nova Centurion left alive, the Worldmind explains that there is no choice but to upload itself and the entire Nova Force into his body and mind. This act greatly enhances his already superhuman strength and durability as well as granting him control of the nearly limitless energies of the Nova Force.

During the prolonged effort to repel the Annihilation Wave, Rider takes command of the United Front, a loose collaboration of soldiers hailing from the worlds already under siege by Annihilus. Ultimately, he leads a small team deep into the Wave's conquered territory. Rider eventually engages Annihilus himself in personal combat, tearing the tyrant inside out and halting his wave of destruction once and for all.

Nova returned to Earth just in time for the Civil War. Iron Man gave him 24 hours to register with the government. Nova, subsequently attacked by the Thunderbolts, told Iron Man where to stuff his registration, choosing instead to depart from a world he believes has gone mad in order to continue patrolling the universe at large. Smart kid.

He's since been involved to one degree or another with the Secret Invasion and the War of Kings storylines, ultimately returning to Earth, but honestly, I've been so thoroughly disappointed with Marvel right about since Civil War that I just can't bring myself to relate that mess.

As to his powers and abilities, in basic summary, Nova derives his powers from an energy source called the Nova Force, which all Nova Corps Centurions wield. This energy was transferred by Xandarian technology to Rider by the Nova-Centurion Rhomann Dey. Nova's small measure of the Nova Force gives him superhuman powers including flight, superhuman enhanced strength, speed, and durability, as well as the power to absorb energy directed against him and release it as gravimetric pulses and beams, either from specific parts of his body or from his energy body surface.

And, by the way, any similarity between Richard Rider receiving his powers from a dying alien that was part of some multi-planetary peacekeeping force, and Rider's subsequently involvement with this so-called Nova Corps -- and DC Comics' Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps, I'm sure is entirely coincidental...

So, how's the figure? Well, honestly, a better question to ask first might be -- where did this figure come from? I was rather under the impression that, despite an announcement QUITE some time ago that there was going to be one final assortment of individual figures (as opposed to the two-packs), an assortment that would include Nova, that the Marvel Legends line was pretty much dead in the water, with Hasbro preferring to turn their focus on the 4" scaled Marvel Universe line.

Well, right around the time of the San Diego Comic-Con 2009, word got out that this last assortment of Marvel Legends figures would be released -- starting at Wal-Marts in the San Diego area and then across the nation.

So -- now -- how's the figure? Well, for the most part, Hasbro's done a very good job bringing Nova to plastic action figure form.

Nova, as one would expect, has a distinctive headsculpt. The Nova helmet is somewhat bullet shaped, although it's not pointed on top. Call it somewhere between a dome and a bullet. There is a red star-like shape on the front, which has always been portrayed as raised, not just painted on the helmet. To accomplish this, Hasbro had to sculpt this little detail separately and attach it to the helmet during assembly. fortunately, this has been very effectively done, and with a good amount of precision.

Nova's eyes are clearly visible through the eyepieces. Sometimes, Nova is portrayed as having blanked out eyes, but I think Hasbro made a wise decision here, allowing Nova's eyes to be fully visible and painted. The eye-holes in the helmet are just a little too large to plausibly get away with the "blanked out eye" look on a three-dimensional action figure. You can work that sort of thing into a pen-and-ink art style a lot easier than a sculpt.

Nova's body uses the same "male hero" mold that Hasbro has created and used on a number of figures. To date, I've seen it used to one degree or another on Quicksilver, Yellowjacket, Vindicator, and to a somewhat lesser degree, Union Jack, who needed the lower arms and legs swapped out because of his costume design.

Overall, it's a decent design, with a strong emphasis on articulation. However, I have two criticisms with it. One is, the arms are a bit too long, proportionately, in my opinion.

Secondly, and of greater concern, is that the figure is so articulated, that the articulation level has an adverse effect on the look of the figure. Now, I'm all in favor of a well-articulated action figure. But when either (or both) the amount of articulation or the design of that articulation has an adverse effect on the overall look of the figure as representing a reasonably effective human being -- even a colorfully costumed one -- then in my opinion, that's a problem.

The most glaring points of articulation that, in my opinion, adversely affect the final look of the figure, would include the very strange "shoulder blade" articulation, as well as the double-jointed elbows, double-jointed knees, and the peculiar ankle structure. To a lesser degree, the hip and leg rotation, but that's a common enough design, so I'll leave that alone.

It's fine and well to be able to claim X-number of articulation points, but when the end result is an action figure that looks less -- human -- than he deserves to, I think the pendulum has swung too far in the direction of articulation, with insufficient attention paid to design concepts that might have retained most of the articulation and worked better from an appearance standpoint.

I find it interesting that the handful of female figures produced in Hasbro's Marvel Legends line, especially She-Hulk and Tigra, are much better designed. They might not be quite as highly articulated, but they certainly look better -- and I don't say that on the basis of gender, either.

However, for those who are especially fond of a high range of articulation, you really can't go wrong with Nova. The figure is fully poseable at the head, arms, shoulder blades, upper arm swivel, double-jointed elbows, glove tops, wrists, finger groups, mid-torso, waist, legs, upper leg rotation, double-jointed knees, boot tops, ankles, and even the fronts of the feet.

All of the articulation points are well-assembled, and are decently tight. Everything moves without difficulty, but he's not flopping around like a bad marionette, either. This is especially impressive, as errant assembly and occasional loose or too-tight parts is a problem I've encountered too often on what would arguably be the competitors' counterpart line, Mattel's DC Universe Classics -- although they seem to be getting a handle on this matter.

So, how's the look of the costume, overall? Not bad. Hasbro has done a decently accurate job replicating the Nova costume. The helmet is gold. The bulk of the costume is dark blue, with gold sleeves, belt, and boot tops. There are three starbursts on the chest of the costume in a "V" shape, the upper two linked to the lower one by two straight lines. This has been carried out very effectively, especially since they must cross the mid-torso point.

One thing's bugging me a bit here. The back of the costume is blank -- just dark blue. And I'd swear that Nova had a single large starburst back there. But I don't want to say for certain that he did, because I just don't know for sure. And attempts to find a picture of Nova's BACK were not especially successful -- and for all I know, Hasbro tried and didn't have any better luck than I did. So let's leave that one as "uncertain".

One observation here. Gold is a tricky color in both comic books, and, it would seem, plastic. Generally speaking, in the comic books, certainly back in the 70's, gold was accomplished by the artist drawing a simulation of a metallic reflective sheen with black ink on the illustration, and the colorist adding some straight yellow to it. So one could interpret Nova's costume as being blue and yellow.

Gold, for some reason, is not an easy color to manage in plastic. There seem to be two versions that turn up in action figures most often, when you're talking about a plastic color, and not paint or chrome. There's sort of bright yellow gold that almost looks comical, almost an exaggeration of gold; and there's a darker gold that, honestly, is almost too dark for its own good. Almost looks like a tarnished or antique gold.

Nova has the latter. And I'm not saying that the brighter gold would have been an improvement. What I am saying is that I'd like to see some plastics manufacturer out there come up with a third option. Nova, in all honesty, looks just a little too dark for his own good in respect to his overall color scheme. The blue is fine. The gold -- is -- well, like I said, I wish there was a better option.

So what's my final word here? I know it sounds like I've been slamming this figure, and really, I haven't meant to. Whatever my opinion of Marvel Comics itself these days, Nova is a cool character, and I'm sincerely delighted that he finally has this impressive an action figure of his own. It's certainly well-articulated, and it looks cool. My problems with the figure are my own nit-pickiness as much as anything, but there is a degree to which I believe they are valid points.

Ultimately, if you're a fan of Marvel Legends, which I sincerely hope we haven't seen the last of, and I do have reason to believe it will continue in some form, or even if you're just a fan of Nova, you'll want to try to track down this figure. The MARVEL LEGENDS figure of NOVA definitely has my enthusiastic recommendation!