He's one of Marvel's most important cosmic characters, and a key ally of the Guardians of the Galaxy. And yet, Nova, also known as the Human Rocket, is not currently slated to appear in the "Guardians of the Galaxy" film.
Might Marvel be saving him for a solo film of his own? To see why Nova could merit such treatment, we need to take a look at his history over 35 years of comics, as well as the newest incarnation of the character.
Rich Rider, the teenager who would come to be known as Nova, made his first Marvel appearance in 1976's self-titled "Nova" series, by Marv Wolfman and artist John Buscema. But the roots of Nova lie in the fandom of Marv Wolfman and his friend Len Wein, both of whom went on to professional careers which continue today. Wolfman initially developed a character named The Star in a 1966 edition of his fanzine "Super Adventures", who would become a new character known as Black Nova a few months later. Although Black Nova's powers (initially popping alien pills to give him a vast array of abilities, and later needing a pair of "sky skates" to fly) were very different from the Marvel incarnation of Nova, and he had neither Rich Rider's identity nor his backstory, the costume Wein designed for Black Nova bears a strong resemblance to the later character.
As told in "Nova" #1, Rich Rider was an ordinary teenager who came upon a dying alien, Rhomann Dey, the last surviving member of an intergalactic corps charged with policing the universe. Dey passed his powers on to Rider, who accepted the mantle of the Nova Corps, and avenged Dey's death at the hands of the alien criminal Zorr. Nova's first series lasted 25 issues, and in the wake of its cancellation, Rich Rider's story was wrapped up in another series, 1981's "Rom" #24, where Nova, alongside the Galadorian Spaceknight Rom, helped defend the home planet of the Nova Corps, Xandar, from a Skrull invasion. With the threat at an end, Rider longed to return to Earth, but he was informed that the power he was imbued with was needed on Xandar, so a powerless Rider was sent home, his career as Nova seemingly at an end.
Nova proved to be a character perennially in demand from fans, so in 1991, when Marvel sought to come up with an answer to DC's popular "Teen Titans" series, Nova was chosen to join the ranks of the "New Warriors", a team mixing established and new Marvel teen heroes, written by Fabian Nicieza and illustrated by Mark Bagley. Rider's powers returned when the enigmatic Night Thrasher, in the process of assembling the team, dropped him off a rooftop, theorizing that Rider's powers had remained in him all along and simply needed sufficient stress to trigger them. Fortunately for Rider, Night Thrasher was correct, although he did not take kindly to the test conditions. However, he agreed to join the team, and became an integral and valued member, kindling a romance with teammate Namorita in the process.
Nova's return with the New Warriors led to the 1994 relaunch of Nova's solo series, this time by Fabian Nicieza and Chris Marrinan. The series lasted 18 issues, and was followed in 1999 by a third try at a "Nova" series, by Erik Larsen and Joe Bennett, which lasted only 7 issues. In 2006, however, Marvel editor Andy Schmidt was ready to try a new take on the character, and commissioned a 4-issue miniseries from writers Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning, and artist Kev Walker, as part of the "Annihilation" event, a relaunch of Marvel's cosmic properties.
Removing Nova from his earthbound adventures, and transforming him into a more serious, intergalactic soldier, Abnett and Lanning's take connected with the audience, and led to an ongoing series which lasted 36 issues, his longest run to date. Although Nova never formally joined the Guardians of the Galaxy during this time, he served as a close ally, and seemingly perished alongside Star-Lord when the two remained in the collapsing Cancerverse in order to contain the threat of an enraged Thanos.
While Star-Lord has made his return in the pages of "Avengers Assemble", and will soon be featured in a new Guardians of the Galaxy series, Marvel has decided to go in a different direction with Nova. Richard Rider has not returned, and is still presumed dead, but a new Nova has been introduced, a young boy by the name of Sam Alexander. Created by writer Jeph Loeb and artist Ed McGuinness, and making his comics debut in the recent "Marvel Point One" one-shot, much of his background remains a mystery, although he risked his life to alert several planets, including Earth, of the threat of the returning Phoenix Force, and assisted Earth's heroes in combatting that cosmic menace in the "Avengers vs. X-Men" event. He will be getting his own ongoing series in January 2013, also by Loeb and McGuinness, and he's already been established in the Marvel animated universe as one of Spider-Man's fellow young heroes in the "Ultimate Spider-Man" cartoon (which Loeb oversees in his role as executive vice-president of Marvel Television).
With the character in flux and still being introduced to comic audiences, it's understandable that Marvel may want to hold off on his film debut in order to make certain Nova is given his due. Alternatively, given that Rich Rider is the better known incarnation, they may have simply not made up their minds as to which version of the character they want to introduce into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Much will likely depend on how the new series is received; although a cult favorite, Nova has had a rocky road when it comes to solo series, so Sam Alexander's future is well-worth keeping an eye on for fans who wish to know where the Human Rocket will next launch.
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