In considering what it would take to set Marvel Studios Nova film apart from its prior Cosmic offerings and prepare Richard Rider to ascend as the studios greatest Cosmic hero, I’ve found myself challenged over the past several days. The character of Richard Rider isn’t hard to crack, but there’s more to a film than its lead. Instead of trying to write up a script (I’m no script writer), I’m instead going to try to roll out a series of pieces explaining how I would chose to tackle some of these challenges I’ve encountered while imagining the Nova film.
In Part 1 (which you can read right here), I took a crack at solving the problems surrounding the Xandarian Worldmind, the Nova Force and Richard’s kid brother, Robbie. Now it’s on to a whole new set of problems surrounding the Human Rocket including his origin, why he wasn’t around during the events of Avengers: Endgame and what it is about him that makes him human enough to make mistakes and learn from them.
Richard Rider’s MCU origin will share one key point with that of his comic counterpart: it starts with an alien invasion of New York, just maybe not the one you’re thinking of. Marvel Studios Nova will begin in 2012 as an 11-year old Richard Rider, from the safety of his home in Hempstead, New York, just 45 minutes East of Manhattan, watches in horror and disbelief as Manhattan is destroyed by the Chitauri. As his younger brother, 6-year old Robbie, cries in terror, Richard cheers, almost violently, as the tide turns and the Avengers save the day. The trauma experienced here by Richard cements some key pieces of who he will become: a xenophobic response to otherworldly aliens and a drive to one day be the kind of hero the Avengers were. These are not only realistic repercussions of experiencing something like that as a young age, they are key to developing Rider over the course of 3-5 films and 10 years worth of adventures.
When we next catch up with Rich, it’s 2018 and he’s now a 17-year old high school junior who has become lost in the day-to-day routine of high school. It’s probably important here to connect with some more of Rider’s core personality traits. While not overtly suicidal, Rich is a classic case of a teenager mired in depression and, if not for his girlfriend Ginger Jaye, he might have fallen apart entirely. However, there’s one thing that’s even more important to Rich, even though he might not know it yet (but he’s about to find out): he’s an adrenaline junkie.
If left up to me, I let the scene above play out as a direct translation of the comics. Rich and Ginger talk and establish his inferiority complex while we, as an audience, wonder what happened to that fiery little boy. This happens in high school: some kids are swallowed hole by it and never come out the same. If not for the events of this day, that may well have happened to Rich. Fortunately for him, instead of the high school bully, Mike, crashing his date with Ginger, it’s Zorr, another of Thanos’ children, whose battle with Nova Corps Denarian Rhomann Dey has found its way to Long Island.
For MCU fans who have never read Nova #1, it should suffice to say that Rich’s origin as the Human Rocket share a lot in common with Hal Jordan’s origins as the Green Lantern. As a lifelong fan of the comics, those similarities have always been fascinating to me because while it provides a common beginning, the two characters (and their space corps) have diverged and developed so differently that it serves as a really cool reminder as to how divergent two similar characters can become given the different imaginations that create them over time. However, as fun as it was in the comics as a kid, I want fans to be able to connect as little as possible to the abomination that was the Green Lantern film, so while I won’t entirely subvert the origin, I think there’s a way to make it authentic to the MCU by using the events of Avengers: Infinity War.
Unseen in Avengers: Infinity War was the attack on Xandar that left it in ruins and allowed Thanos to get the Power Stone. In comic canon, it’s pretty normal for Xandar to take be a target and it has been razed multiple times, so despite it getting pretty roughed up, I have no problem having it wrecked once again by Thanos: it fits and it opens a window of opportunity to get Rider a helmet. We are all well acquainted with the Black Order, the Children of Thanos: Gamora, Nebula, Ebony Maw, Proxima Midnight, Corvus Glaive and Cull Obsidian. 6 kids. 6 pretty badass kids, but a warlord like Thanos, who has conquered so many systems could certainly have taken in more and so…he did. While the Black Order are the tip of the spear, it would be revealed in Nova that once Thanos and the Black Order raze a planet, the Mad Titan sends in a second crew to complete the work. We glimpsed this crew at work in the flashback to Gamora’s own experiences and now we’ll see them again, this time led by Zorr. In the comics, Zorr was a Luphomoid and, allegedly, related to Nebula. I see no reason to veer from this here as we have evidence that Thanos would gladly take more than one warrior from each planet since Glaive and Obsidian were oprhaned brothers taken in by Thanos. And so, Zorr, a fellow Luphomoid of Nebula, is now the head of Thanos’ second wave kill crew and working his way through the wreckage of Xandar while his father and the Black Order head for the Space Stone.
Don’t sweat all the fine details here, but here’s the outline: Zorr and his crew do their work on Xandar. They kill half of what’s there, leaving the Worldmind intact because it serves them no purpose. Zorr packs up and while en route to meeting Thanos gets new coordinates: Earth. Denarian Dey is summoned back to Xandar by the Worldmind and finds it in ruins. Quickly Worldmind and Dey track Zorr the clean up crew and Dey heads to Earth. While Ebony Maw and Cull Obsidian have headed out to space, Dey has caught up to Zorr and crew as they are working their way through Manhattan. This takes place just a little less than 24 hours after the Maw and Obsidian were there. Dey works his way through the fodder before his battle with Zorr takes to the air again and finds them in Long Island, right in the middle of Rich’s date with Ginger. The images below are actually of Rich’s first flight as Nova where he took on Zorr, but for our purposes, imagine them as the kind of destruction done in front of Rich’s eyes.
Something in Rider changes as he connects the trauma of his youth to what he’s seeing here. As the ice cream parlor he and Ginger are in is reduced to rubble, Rich digs deep, grabs Ginger and makes a run for it. We see the battle from Rider’s eyes and Zorr and Dey wear each other down but also endanger every bystander, something that Rider cannot abide and while he’s helpless in the fight, he knows he can save those around him and so we see the beginnings of the legendary bravery of Richard Rider. By the time Rider gets to the final battleground of Zorr and Dey, both are dead. Still high from the adrenaline, Rider approaches the dead aliens. Dey’s helmet, which was removed from him during the fight intrigues Rich who decided to pick it up and inspect it before finally putting it on. Instead of getting another look at what Stark’s HUD might look like (and what audiences might expect) we get something very different as the quantum node that Rich just put on his head begins to connect and interface with his brain. It’s only seconds before Rich hears the Worldmind address him by name in his head and before Rich begins to become overwhelmed with the enormity of the information that’s been made available to him. Questions he hasn’t even fully formed yet are answered in his mind (Thanos, Infinity Stone, the Guardians of the Galaxy). As Ginger turns a corner and catches up to Rich, she screams his name, first in excitement, then in horror as Rich and the helmet crumble to dust and are swept away in the breeze.
A problematic origin story solved while setting the stage for some very important pieces of Rich’s future. Additionally, with Rich being snapped, we’ve eliminated another problem: why a Terran-based Nova wasn’t around to help out during Avengers: Endgame when his connection to the Worldmind would have absolutely alerted him to the events taking place on his home planet. Many more problems to go, however! Stay tuned.