Warning: Spoilers for Nova #11 and Civil War II #5 ahead.
Originally created by Marv Wolfman for the fanzine Super Adventures, Nova migrated into the pages of Marvel in 1976. His first solo series ran only until 1979, but the character became a journeyman around the Marvel Universe with stints in the Fantastic Four, Rom the Spaceknight, New Warriors, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Secret Avengers among others. Richard Rider also enjoyed two subsequent short-lived solo shots along the way.
After the “Annihilation” story arc, Nova experienced another surge in popularity and his adventures resumed in an ongoing solo title, as well as during Marvel Cosmic events like “Annihilation: Conquest” and “War of Kings” (which also brought renewed enthusiasm for the heroes from the Guardians of the Galaxy and Quasar). Unfortunately for fans of classic Nova, interest in his solo series waned in the late 2000s. His story came to a penultimate conclusion after the critically-acclaimed saga “The Thanos Imperative,” where Rider and Peter Quill (Star-Lord) faced down Thanos.
However, it turns out reports of Richard Rider’s death may not have been entirely accurate. How did the Nova Prime survive being trapped with Star-Lord and Thanos as the Cancerverse imploded - to safely return to Marvel's current universe?
When We Last Left Our Hero...
The events of “The Thanos Imperative” saw things looking rather bleak for Star-Lord and Nova. The remnants of the Guardians of the Galaxy and Quasar were transported away as “The Fault” between normal space and the twisted deathless realm was sealed. Rather than being rescued, Quill and Rider intentionally stayed behind, joining forces to keep Thanos from returning to active duty in their or any other universes. Their heroic sacrifice was memorialized for all to see in a massive statue on the Kree homeworld.
Astute readers might have noticed that being blinked out of existence didn’t quite take for Star-Lord and Thanos, though. During the “Original Sins” tie-in, Quill related how a dis-armed (sorry) Nova sacrificed himself to keep Thanos from escaping. Sadly, it appears as his sacrifice was in vain. Since that point, however, Star-Lord has eluded to some shady dealings with the Mad Titan, so perhaps there’s more to this story. In any case, things still looked pretty bad for Richard Rider's return to the Marvel Universe, until recently.
Sam Alexander Meets the Worldmind
The mantle of Nova was kept alive in the pages of Marvel by Sam Alexander. While the teen character has gone on many exciting journeys on Earth and throughout the cosmos, many fans still yearned for Rich’s return to the MU. Nova #11 took readers along on the conclusion to Sam’s soul-searching journey as he considers leaving his title and super-heroics in general behind. As he does, he also searches for the whereabouts of his father Jesse, a former Black Novas member. With some help from Monark Starstalker, he gains access the Xandarian supercomputer known as the Worldmind – which has been rebooting since Rider’s apparent death.
Storing all the collective memories of the oft-destroyed and rebuilt Xandar, as well as those of past Nova Corps members, Alexander is happy to learn that his father is not among the residents. Yet, while enmeshed with the Worldmind, a new personality begins to emerge from the folds – that of Richard Rider. He convinces the young Corps member to maintain his heroic course. He also explains, to a limited degree, his continued existence. Apparently, he was or is still trapped in the Cancerverse but also exists inside the confines of the Worldmind. After their chat, though, Rider begins to fade away before being re-enveloped into the hive mind computer and blinking out of existence once again. At least, so it would seem.
The Return of Richard Rider
As the story moves back to Earth, Sam and his mother have both accepted his role as Nova. He also confesses to his friends, who actually kind of figured it out on their own (and think it's pretty cool). In the epilogue, though, a gray-haired Gloria Rider answers her door, only to find her son Richard standing there. It would appear that Richard’s fight to reassert his individuality within the Worldmind was successful. But his return leaves many curious questions to be answered in the future, including how he managed to manifest his physical form outside the supercomputer and whether he retained his link to the Nova Force?
Although the true answer probably won’t be revealed until Marvel NOW! Nova #1 arrives in December (if then), of the several possibilities, the most viable answer is rooted in his connection with the Xandarian computer. After the Nova Corps were destroyed for the third time, Rider and the Worldmind became heavily interconnected during the “Annihilation” storyline. Since the computer and his own powers resided on his person and was even capable of possessing his body unwittingly, it seems Rider has a deeper connection to the Nova Force than many others. His powers were also able to return after losing them on several occasions. Therefore, upon reasserting his own identity, Rider may also be able to be re-assume physical and his powers.
And Then There Were Two (or Two Hundred)?
Richard Rider may have returned to Earth, but there is no guarantee that he’ll be returning to the Nova Corps. At the same time, his talk with Sam Alexander makes it seem like, as long as he’s capable, he’ll gladly reprise his role as a cosmic defender. Marvel, as usual, is being coy about the revival of once-thought-deceased heroes. Still, it wouldn't be surprising if Nova Prime dons his old uniform.
What does that mean for the series? With Sam Alexander also assuming a role in the ongoing Champions series, Rider’s presence could mean that each Nova follows a two-pronged course, as Richard heads out on cosmic adventures while Sam takes care of the planet. It could also mean a return to form for the Nova Corps, assuming Richard has retained his connection to the Worldmind and Nova Force. If so, the two could take steps to rebuild the intergalactic protectors, making them stronger and more relevant than ever.
No matter what happens in Nova #1, it's great to see Richard Rider back in action. It will also be fascinating to see how Marvel Cosmic evolves with a grounded Marauder crew and a revamped Nova Prime.
Nova #1 co-starring Richard Rider and Sam Alexander arrives on December 7, 2016.