The Marvel Comics universe is in a state of upheaval, with many heroes already unsure of their place in the new continuum created by Secret Wars and many more having their lives turned upside-down by the conflict of Civil War II. One major result of many such events has been the rise to prominence of a new, more diverse generation of young heroes who have inherited "legacy" superhero identities, like Amadeus Cho's "Totally Awesome" Hulk and Riri Williams, a black female college student set to become the new Iron Man.
One other popular "legacy hero" is Sam Alexander aka "Nova." But a new teaser image has suggested that he may not be carrying that mantle for much longer.
By the time Marvel saw the mass-leak of a huge number of covers and teaser-art for upcoming "Marvel NOW!" initiative last night, many of the (identifiable) twists and reveals had already been teased or guessed at elsewhere. But one image caught fans especially by surprise: An unnamed, untitled, not-otherwise-identified piece of art credited to Francesco Mattina bearing the words "Coming Soon" and the golden helmet of Richard Rider - the original Nova.
Created by Marv Wolfman (adapting an earlier concept from his days in the comic-fanzine scene) in 1976, Nova was essentially a thoroughly Marvel-style riff on DC's Green Lantern concept: Richard Rider was an unlucky teenager who found himself struck by a bolt of energy from deep space, which imbues him with the powers and Centurion armor of The Nova Corps - the intergalactic police force who played a prominent role in Guardians of The Galaxy. While seldom a top-selling character on his own, Nova remained a fixture of the Marvel Universe via membership in The New Warriors and a featured role in the epic cosmic miniseries Annihilation.
When Rider (now an adult) was killed during the Thanos Imperative event, his Nova mantle was passed to teenager Sam Alexander, which refocused the Nova concept back to its original young-hero foundations. Alexander has served as Nova for several years now, and has gained a new following via featured appearances in the pages of The Avengers and also as a recurring character on the Ultimate Spider-Man animated series. While the teaser image does not explicitly guarantee that Richard Rider will be returning to reclaim the Nova mantle, it does seem like a strong possibility. However, fans of Sam Alexander's Nova are unlikely to be worried about seeing him diminished (or killed off) just yet - he's already been confirmed as part of Marvel's highly-touted Champions series.
One possibility could be that Rider or some aspect of his mythos could be returning to life in order to bring the character back into prominence for a feature-film appearance: Marvel's upcoming Phase 3 films are expected to make more explicit reference to the cosmic side of the MCU, and as mentioned before the Nova Corps itself was already introduced in the Guardians franchise. Notably, John C. Reilly's character Rhomann Dey is, in the comics, the Nova official who selects Rider to become a Centurion.