Saturday, September 26, 2009

Nova has awesome bad guys

In the ever contentious world of comic book super hero fandom, I think you will find that one of the few nearly universally held opinions (and with a set-up like that I'm just begging for debate in the comments section, which I look forward to) is that though the order may be up for debate, Batman and Spider-Man have the two best rogues galleries in the business. If you ask me, Flash and the Fantastic Four clock in at three and four, though not necessarily in that order (Superman has three or four great villains, but that's still just three or four guys; I love the X-Men, but they spend too much time fighting dudes with ill-defined powers who stand in the shadows and gloat or bad guys whose names end in "o").

The one thing I think we can all agree on though, is that without any question whatsoever, Nova the Human Rocket and his array of foes round out the top five.

Ok, that may not be true (it's definitely not true), but Nova does have one of the more underrated assortment of antagonists around, most of whom have been criminally absent from prominence for the better part of thirty years. When you've got the likes of Marv Wolfman, the brothers Buscema and Carmine Infantino hard at work, I guess the first part of that last sentence should come as no surprise.

Here are a few of the dope Nova villains who should be fighting the Avengers right now...

One look at this guy and you are probably instantly doubting any and all credibility you may have thought I possessed, but seriously, it's a name, design and general character that should be obsurd by all rights (and ok, he kinda is), but in the hands of the talented creators I mentioned, Diamondhead actually seemed like a credible threat. He's just your run-of-the-mill bruiser with diamond-hard skin, not a world beater by any stretch of the imagination, but he's possessed of that same "clearly minor villain who thinks he's hot shit" mentality that makes guys like the Rhino or Killer Croc so ultimately endearing. I mean, this guy gets his ass kicked routinely and has never scored even close to a major win, but he still goes out there every day in that outfit and thinks today's gonna be the day. He was also really Nova's first solo villain, and against the inexperienced Rich Rider he fared pretty well, so every time he butts heads with our boy, it's a decent barometer of where the Human Rocket is at (in their last post-Annihilation meeting, it was a very quick fight). And silly as the costume is, the Buscemas and Infantino really knew how to make it kinda cool.

The Condor
Points right off the bat have to go to the Condor (and Marv Wolfman) for being an African-American villain created in the 70's who didn't talk jive or deal drugs, but instead was a brilliant and malicious scientist who turned his genius towards his own thirst for power. I dig that unlike say Hawkman or Angel, Condor recognized right away that just wings were enough to rob banks and whatnot, but he was woefully undermatched against any and all super heroes, so the first thing he did was run out and recruit a far more impressive dude to partner up with (that would be Powerhouse, who we'll get to in a moment). Condor had an edge to him that most mad scientist types didn't in that he really did seem to get the big picture and made logical moves rather than crazy death traps and grandiose speeches (though he made plenty of those too). Also, like Diamondhead, Condor did have an inflated self-worth, which proved his ultimate undoing as the Sphinx (also to come) turned him into a bird, and he wouldn't return until years later as a 90's-tastic half-human monster I'd rather not talk about.

The key to Powerhouse was that he was uber-mysterious and neither Nova, his villainous cohorts or the reader quite knew what he was about. Condor basically found him in a crashed spaceship Ma and Pa Kent-style and convinced him he was a bad dude, but you always knew there was more to this garishly purple power player than him just being Nova's equivalent of the Absorbing Man, and that was intriguing. His abilities were also neat, as Wolfman took the old "absorbs all forms of energy" chestnut but put a decent spin on it of Powerhouse being able to expel said energy in all sorts of ways. The fact that Powerhouse would start instinctively using his gifts in more intuitive and clever ways as he went on as well as the fact that Condor and Diamondhead were pretty terrified of him realizing that he wasn't their buddy added a nice dimension to the guy. Eventually we learned that he was in fact a good guy, a hero from the world of Xandar (where Nova's powers came from) in fact; given that Xandar has been destroyed many times over now, a surviving Powerhouse either as a bitter villain or hero with a chip on his shoulder would be a cool encounter for Nova or the other Marvel cosmic heroes.

Dr. Sun
Ah, the sublime absurdity of Dr. Sun. The good doctor was a Chinese genius who was obsessed with vampires and blood and ended up butting heads with Dracula (over in Tomb of Dracula, which Wolfman also wrote), rarely to his benefit. In one of the more bizarre shifts of motivation in comic book history, Dr. Sun ended up turning his attention from bloodsuckers to Nova's Xandarian computer power source (this is another reason I love Marv Wolfman and his seamless ability to shift genres) and put his brain in an impervious computer body the better with which to battle his new foe. However, the way Dr. Sun got close to Nova was friggin' fantastic, as he posed for months as young Robbie Rider's (Rich's kid brother) "detective robot," Sherly (short for Sherlock Holmes) before making his move. If today's writers can't find a place for a Chinese genius vampire hunter turned brain in a mechanical body who can pose as a Sherlock Holmes robot at will, perhaps they aren't really earning their paychecks.

The Sphinx
Indisputably the top man among Nova's villains, the Sphinx is also not surprisingly the one who has the most success in the wider Marvel Universe (albeit success that has still been pretty limited). At first, he was just a guy in the shadows playing puppet master to Nova's other foes who happened to have a neat Egyptian gimmick/look and some insight into Xandar and the root of our hero's powers. As time went on (both in Nova's original book, in Fantastic Four and years later in New Warriors), we learned that he was actually a wizard in the court of the pharoah who lost a duel to no less than Moses and ended up getting exiled to the Egyptian desert where he discovered the uber-powerful Ka Stone, which both gave him sick abilities and also made him immortal. As centuries passed, the Sphinx became ridiculously bored and eventually undertook a quest to amass power not because he wanted to rule the world or anything, but because it beat sitting around doing nothing, which really is pretty neat and unique motivation. Sphinx had a few great story arcs in New Warriors where he first clashed with a female version of himself that turned out to be a chick he had spurned after first getting his powers but unknowingly also made immortal, then ended up forming a strange andogynous bond with her. He came back briefly in Erik Larsen's Nova book, back to the old power-monger version, but hasn't show up since...but that will change this December. I'm thrilled to see ol' Stoneface back as he's a great old school villain with the perfect mix of a bad ass visual, great reason for doing what he does, and an air of mystery that still lingers despite us having learned so much of his story. Can't wait to see what Dan Abnett and Any Lanning do with him, and hopefully he'll have life beyond Nova as well.


Rickey said...

Dr. Sun looks fucking epic. How the balls did I never know about him before?!?!

Ben Morse said...

Dude, he is a true hidden classic. That he is not the true power behind Dark Reign is a tragedy (unless he is and I just blew up Bendis' spot).

Dennis Culver said...

Dr. Sun got killed by H.E.R.B.I.E. in an issue of Fantastic Four.

I did a drawing of him for the Marvel Masterpieces II Sketchcards and this guy on ebay thinks it's worth a lot of money:

Ben Morse said...

Nice sketch, Dennis!

Yeah, I didn't figure it was necessary to mention how Dr. Sun went out, but to be fair, he also took HERBIE with him.

Jesse T. said...

The first issue of Nova I ever picked up (at a flea market in Chattanooga, circa 1987) had Megaman as the villain. He died in that same issue (his second appearance?), but I thought he looked cool, in a "faceless evil" sorta way. Tell Abnett and Lanning he's ripe for resurrection, Ben!