Richard Rider has had a hard time in the 21st century, y’all. After being boosted to the most prominent cosmic hero in Marvel’s roster following the Annihilation crossover, Nova spent the past two decades saving the universe in a non-stop race from disaster after disaster. Even the death of his closest friends, and even himself, could stop Rich from giving everything he has to save everyone else over and over again. However, Guardians of the Galaxy #6 asks the Human Rocket to face the one threat he can’t blast into dust: his own trauma.
Guardians of the Galaxy #6
Rafael Albuquerque (cover artist), Federico Blee (coloring), Al Ewing (writer). Cory Petit (letterer), Marcio Takara (interior artist)
September 2nd, 2020
Some plot spoilers follow.
Picking up where GotG #5 left off, #6 opens with Richard Rider in therapy following a successful mission running support for the team. Specifically, a not-so-subtle jab at other similarly-themed comics, such as DC’s Heroes in Crisis, a reality show talking-head styled introduction with Rich talking about himself and his past. The comparisons to HiC are inevitable and seemingly welcomed from how blatant the two series’s parallels are from the first page. However, what makes GotG a resounding success where HiC fell flat on its face is that Nova’s trauma isn’t endlessly revisited or wallowed in; it is shown and processed and treated as something to work on over time.
I’m talking about Nova a lot despite Guardians being a team book because, well, everyone else isn’t in this issue very much. Barring one incredible scene with Gamora (more on that later), the entire team is relegated to background appearances or quick mentions by Nova during his therapy session. The one noteworthy moment among the ensemble is a quick one-panel kiss between Noh-Varr and Hercules, something that fans of both characters will likely be overjoyed to see.
The sights don’t end there, as Marcio Takara’s art rises to the challenge of following series regular Juann Cabal’s powerhouse performance on the first five issues. While Takara’s layouts are not as inventive or exciting as Cabal’s, he truly shines when given room to focus on his excellent skill at expressions and emotional beats. Blee’s colors don’t serve Takara quite as well as Cabal, the loose and heavy nature of Takara’s linework clashing with the highlight-heavy aesthetic Blee brings to the table.
Rich’s therapy focuses on two things in particular: his need to do everything on his own, no matter what, and his relationship with his best friend, Peter Quill, a.k.a. Star-Lord. The first is shown in multiple ways, from his history of heroic last stands against insurmountable odds to constant negative reinforcement from his father while growing up. Rather than feeling cliche and overwrought as many abuse revelations are in superhero comics, the flashbacks to Rich’s father feel incredibly raw and authentic. He is not a cartoonish figure of hate and malice, he’s simply a man raised through the values of toxic masculinity who then forced them upon his son. Rich manifested these lessons in a cycle of self-sacrifice instead of inflicting his pain on others.
Star-Lord, however, presents a far messier problem for Rich. Peter Quill is dead. Sacrificing himself to save the team and stop the newly reborn Olympian gods, he died while Rich was helplessly clinging to life in Guardians of the Galaxy #2. Before meeting his therapist, Rich ran into Gamora drinking in a seedy bar and decided to talk it out. Gamora, a former flame of Rich’s who had since fallen for Quill by the time this volume of Guardians launched, begrudgingly accepts his offer. Initially reminiscing over the “good old days” of life-or-death warfare in Annihilation, Gamora turns the topic towards their past romance.
Gamora loved Rich. She truly did, even if Rich doesn’t believe her. Justifying his skepticism to his therapist: “Well, l mean, loving me…it’s kind of a reach, isn’t it?” When Gamora admits her love died when she realized Rich would never give up the fight, never stop giving everything he had for the universe, even at the cost of every meaningful relationship he has. She loved Quill for everything Rich wasn’t. Quill was home, a place to find peace and comfort beyond the battle.
As Gamora leaves, Rich stops her with two sentences that change everything about his relationship with Star-Lord. “…I loved him too. You know that, right?” While not explicit confirmation that Rich’s love is romantic in nature, the pain in his eyes drawn by Takara spotlights that anguish and within the context of Gamora’s points, it gestures at this being a long-suppressed confession of love from Nova. I can only hope Ewing follows through on this development with an overt commitment to Rich’s bisexuality, something that Marvel has had trouble doing in other recent titles.
With this off his chest, Rich can end his therapy on a high note. Feeling better about himself and his role in the universe, he leaves with a smile on his face and a commitment to come back next week—a realistic and optimistic example of therapy helping our mightiest heroes where so many have faltered. And with the aftermath of Ewing’s other series Empyre looming ahead for the series, it’s lucky for the Guardians that one of their most powerful members is finally taking steps to heal.