Written by Sean Ryan
Art by Cory Smith and Andres Mossa
Lettering by Albert Deschesne
Published by Marvel Comics
‘Rama Rating: 3 out of 10
There’s a sort of bitter irony about Nova #11, a book that has Sam Alexander question whether or not to continue with his career as a superhero, even as Marvel is shuttering his solo series this week. But unfortunately, this finale winds up ending with a whimper rather than a bang, as writer Sean Ryan delivers a combination of naval-gazing, wheel-spinning and hollow sentiment that saps the life out of Cory Smith and Andres Mossa’s ambitious art.
From the beginning, Ryan’s script has some issues getting off the ground, as Sam spends literally the first four pages of the book asking variations of the same question, as he comes face-to-face with the Xandarian Worldmind, whose true identity is both a cheap giveaway and yet also woodenly telegraphed for the readers who likely didn’t have a strong desire to know this information in the first place. Yet as Sam and the Worldmind share a heart-to-heart (at least after the “Where am I” and “Who are you” questions subside), the setting feels about as formless as the story - Sam has no definitive motivation or characterization, bouncing between asking about his father Jesse’s whereabouts to asking about how his helmet works to worrying about his mother, his friends, and his superheroic career. While it must be bittersweet to have to close down shop on a character that once seemed like Marvel’s most promising new find, Ryan essentially short-changes Nova by wrapping up his run with all questions and almost no answers.
Unfortunately, though, the few answers that we do get feel insubstantial and unsatisfying, making this send-off feel even more forgettable. The question of Sam’s friends guessing his secret identity is less wrapped up and more just surrendered with a shrug, while Sam’s dynamic with his mother gets a paper-thin conclusion (complete with an item that feels like something the Fantastic Four or even the Guardians of the Galaxy could whip up in their sleep). The pacing shows that Ryan wants these moments to feel momentous, but the problem is he hasn’t earned any of it - Sam Alexander is still largely a blank slate of a character, and we never really feel invested in him or feel his anxieties over his mother’s approval or the fact that his father is missing in action. The tension doesn’t so much plateau as much as it never appears in the first place - this is a languid landing that doesn’t have any worthwhile stakes to actually return to.
Which is a shame, because the art from Cory Smith and colorist Andres Mossa looks about as ambitious as it ever has. While the scenes with the Worldmind feel pretty loose in terms of their structure and direction, Smith winds up using this to his advantage, as the Worldmind’s realm looks almost like a psychedelic space-age church, with shifting panels and beautifully rendered stained glass windows that break across the entire page. Mossa imbues these scenes with a fiery palette that gives this book the energy it needs to get from beginning to end, but eventually the setting does become a bit repetitive thanks to the talky script. The visuals do experience a bit of whiplash once the setting goes back to Earth, but I can’t fault Smith for trying to play up Ryan’s beats as best as he can - there’s a nice spark of reliability watching Sam with his friends, and watching him hug his mother might be the best-looking moment of the book.
But at the end of the day, it’s unclear who Nova #11 is trying to target with this story. It’s too insular and slow-moving to draw in any latecomers. It’s too shallow and unquestioning for long-time fans. It hardly even feels like a bookend for an entire run - it feels less like a triumphant last hurrah with Sam Alexander, and more of just sedately washing hands of the character. I’m sure that we’ll see a more dynamic and effective use of Sam Alexander in the upcoming Champions series, but it's a shame that he couldn't be treated with the same enthusiasm and skill in his own book.