Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Nova Annual #1

Richard Rider, current dome bearer of the golden-helmed Nova Corps, has been working long and hard to aid the Kree in their resistance against the Phalanx. He’s been infected with the consciousness-manipulating Transmode Virus, and thus far has been successful in overcoming its commending influence. Ultimately, though, it’s going to be a losing battle and the intergalactic warrior is eager to find a cure as soon as he can. Now, with the aid of Knowhere, a scientific research facility located at the edge of time and space, he’s searching the past and the future for that cure, along with the present.

The writing tandem of Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning has pleasantly surprised me through both issues of Nova that I’ve reviewed so far, Although this annual is really just a fleshing out, both of the hero’s past and of his destiny, it’s still an entertaining, approachable read. Richard Rider never loses sight of his humanity, even when he’s sixty years old aboard an intergalactic cruise ship, and he’s easy to identify with. While Rider often toes the line between a genuine guy and somebody who’s just a little too wholesome, enough of that is kept in check to keep the reader rooting for him from cover to cover. In Nova’s battle against the Phalanx in a dark, distant future, Abnett and Landing provide an ongoing motivation to see this issue through to the end. It fits nicely alongside the continually entertaining narrative in the ongoing series.

The artwork is handed by a mixed bag of fill-in artists... five pages by one name, three by another, a two-page spread by a third contributor, then back to the first illustrator again. The majority of the heavy-lifting is done by Mahmud Asrar, whose work shows a lot of promise. His characters can occasionally feel stiff and needlessly over-muscled, but he gives them each a unique face and he’s got a nice handle on how good body language can help to tell the story. His backdrops are almost always nicely detailed and populated, too, which is becoming a rarity, and he always manages to leverage that to expand the depth of the tale with a little extracurricular background activity.

The rest of the visuals are handled by Wellinton Alves, the regular series artist, and newcomer Klebs Demoura. Alves is an artist whose work apparently suffers during the transition from pencils to inks, because I’ve seen some of his raw artwork and it’s stunning. In print, though, it loses a lot of its luster and feels a bit too realistic for its own good. In contrast with Asrar’s work, Wellinton’s contributions feel empty – a bit too straightforward and literal for their own good. He’s got his moments, like when he’s briefly sketching the golden-bodied future Quasar, but they aren’t frequent. Demoura’s work, which only appears on a handful of pages, is the worst of the trio. It isn’t awful, but it doesn’t add anything to the story like its peers do. His work is so detail-heavy that it gets tough to follow and doesn’t have much personality.

Really, a carousel of styles and treatments like this can be more than a little distracting, and is a major reason why I rarely bother with annuals unless the regular creative team is left fully intact. In this instance, it’s less an issue than normal, since the artistic changes are almost always accompanied by a change of tense – past, present or future. Some shakeups can be expected, and if the art chores simply have to change hands, it’s as good a situation for it as you’re going to get. Still, the difference in direction from page to page in this issue can be jarring, especially when making the leap from Asrar’s tight, under-detailed Phil Hester-style approach to Alves’s more lifelike, if wooden renderings.

Even in this annual, which isn’t close to an integral part of the story, Nova continues to overachieve. Aside from the occasional jolt of a jump between artists, this is a good read. Strong characterization, brief, informative dialog, a compelling plot that moves forward at a decent pace... as long as you’ve got these, it doesn’t really matter how important the book’s characters have been in the past. The artistic choices hold it back from being everything it could be, but this is still worth borrowing. I’m slowly becoming a Nova fan.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 7.5

No comments: