It now seems strange to consider that between the introduction of Daredevil in 1964 and 1976 of all Marvel’s successes, only Luke Cage could be considered a straightforward superhero. Nova was designed to change that, being intended as a blockbuster new addition to the Marvel universe. It didn’t quite work out that way.

Originality is largely absent from an origin sequence very similar to that of the Hal Jordan Green Lantern grafted onto what’s to all intents and purposes Peter Parker’s high school class, with Nova’s powers always slightly ambiguous beyond flight and strength. Richard Rider even has the standard alliterative Marvel name. Marv Wolfman extends his imagination a little more when creating the villains. There are fights against Sandman, Tyrannus and the Yellow Claw, whose appearance isn’t Nova’s finest hour, but Wolfman mainly created new villains to pit against Nova. Condor is an African-American Vulture, and the Corruptor is close to the Purple Man, but Powerhouse, Diamondhead, Blacklight and especially the creepy faceless Megaman all have something interesting about them. The best of the batch is the real heavy, the Sphinx, an immortal considering himself above humanity, and his machinations eventually occupy more space than any other villain.

In terms of art there’s a solid start with John Buscema, but while always professional, subsequent issues by Sal Buscema don’t involve the same amount of work, although his splash pages are always well composed. Carmine Infantino draws the final half of the series, and his enthusiasm seems to diminish as he continues, the figures becoming more posed. Wolfman’s writing is also better over the first half than the second, when he extends stories too far and involves ideas better left untouched. A robot Sherlock Holmes invented by Richard’s genius younger brother is intended as whimsical, but really? The later material is also diminished by endlessly monologuing villains, convenience and cast members acting stupidly to serve the plot.

If allowing for the high word content and some contrivance, the first dozen issues are still fun, Wolfman hitting the right blend of superheroics and soap-opera high school plots, but a change of emphasis isn’t as satisfying.

Since Marvel’s decision to let their cheaper black and white reprints fall out of print, the 1970s Nova series is now only available in colour, spread over three considerably more expensive volumes of Nova Classic. These also feature a lot of associated material, while Essential Nova restricts itself to a Spider-Man crossover and a team-up with the Thing. Both are written by Wolfman and reflect the fun values of the earlier stories.