** (two of five stars)
Nova and the new Centurions take down the Serpent Society, whose members have barricaded themselves inside a compound with hostages (including their own family members) in response to the Skrull Invasion. Back Project P.E.G.A.S.U.S., Robbie and Darkhawk watch the TV coverage of the battle and gripe about being overshadowed by Nova. Returning to Project P.E.G.A.S.U.S., Nova confronts Worldmind about beginning to recreate the Corps without telling him. Worldmind argues that Richard's disobedience had consistently put Xandarian culture at risk, forcing it to start the process of rebuilding. Nova acknowledges that the Centurions Worldmind chose were good candidates and asks it to stop adding new ones until they can properly discuss it. Worldmind informs Nova that it will not be re-uploaded into his helmet. Nova and the Centurions are called to stop some creature attacking New York and, upon returning to Project P.E.G.A.S.U.S., Nova learns that Worldmind has called up 50 or so more candidates, including Robbie. Rich meets Firestar and Justice for beer and pizza and talks about his concerns over Worldmind's actions, but also his fear that he disapproves because he's not a team player. (In a flashback, we see Nova and Robbie fight, with Nova expressing concern for Robbie's safety and Robbie accusing Nova of being jealous.) Firestar and Justice assure Nova that he was a team player, but also note that it would've been helpful to have a fully functioning Corps to fight off events like the Skrull Invasion and the Annihilation Wave. The trio end their reunion, just in time for Nova to discover Ego the Living Planet hovering in Earth's orbit. Worldmind reveals that it overwrote Ego's "high functions in order to assume dominance" and that it plans to use the planet as the New Xandar. Nova expresses his disgust over Worldmind's actions, though Robbie defends Worldmind. Nova leaves to get some air, but runs into the Fantastic Four. He explains the situation to the team, giving a pretty eloquent defense of his position Robbie arrives to make sure Nova was "OK" and Mr. Fantastic converses with Worldmind, which implies, with Robbie's help, that Richard has begun to go insane under the pressure of containing the Nova Force. Expressing concern for his sanity, Mr. Fantastic convinces Nova to surrender the excess powers to Worldmind. At the last minute, Nova balks, and Worldmind strips his powers from him. Shortly thereafter, Worldmind begins to select dozens of people from Earth to become Centurions. Richard consults with the staff at Project P.E.G.A.S.U.S., who support his feeling that Worldmind is doing something wrong. They agree to run a full batter of psychological and physical tests on him and help him with the next stage of his plan, luring his brother to the compound. Upon Robbie's arrival, Dr. Necker convinces him and another Centurion to enter an isolation chamber. Once there, Richard appears and reveals that he hasn't been driven insane, according to the tests. However, he states his opinion that Worldmind has. Robbie argues, but then Richard observes that Worldmind has been manipulating them. Robbie and the other Centurion realize he's correct: they can no longer hear Worldmind subconsciously reassuring them. Richard notes that it's also infusing them with endorphins to make them feel good about its control. At that moment, other Centurions arrive and Worldmind reestablishes his control over Robbie and the other Centurion. They depart to stop an impending war between the Shi'Ar Imperium and the Kree Empire. Later, Dr. Necker reveals that Nova only has 48 hours to live, given the physiological damage containing the Nova Force did to him.
OK, I spent most of this arc annoyed. In fact, I did something I rarely do and skimmed issues #21 and #22 for clues about where the plot was going before I finished issue #20. But, in so doing, I realized that I should have had more faith in DnA, because, after all, they wanted me to be annoyed. I was afraid they were undermining the progress Nova has made throughout this series, treating him once again like a insecure goofball. Instead, Nova confronts that same fear and realizes that he's not the problem. It's the best hero type of moment, where the hero faces his fears, overcomes them, and attempts to conquer the villain who's trying to use his fears against him. All that said, it's still a pretty frustrating arc, exactly for those reasons. Although I can acknowledge how well written it is, I can't say I particularly enjoyed reading it.
1) OK, I (heart) the Serpent Society. I vividly remember the Serpent Society arc in "Captain America" in the 1990s. Something about it was just...cool. I can't quite put my finger on it, but it always seemed to really bring it when it came to fighting superheroes. The individual members might not be that powerful on their own, but together, with so many of them, they even gave Cap a run for their money.
2) So, as the "Meh" and "Bad" sections detail here, I wasn't a fan of the idea that Worldmind went behind Richard's back to re-start the Nova Corps. I acknowledge that it feels like the sort of thing that Worldmind would do, even if it weren't insane, given that it's not a human being and it's playing a long game. However, it still felt like DnA were unnecessarily adding drama into the series or, at the very least, doing so too early. However, they manage to take a plot point I disliked and turned it into one I loved: namely, Nova's conversation with Firestar and Justice. I love that Nova seeks out the two of them to work through the situation. Most authors would've just had the main character narrate his conflicted feelings via thought bubbles. But, here, we get an entire issue of character development. As I mentioned above, a lot of the reasons why Nova feels annoyed are the reasons I was annoyed. I liked Nova having sole access to Worldmind. I was jealous that Rich wasn't special anymore if Robbie also had powers. Of course, DnA are setting up that crisis of confidence just to show us that Rich has his own special attributes that make him one of the best Centurions ever, as Worldmind itself noted. Despite everything that's happened, Nova still doesn't trust that, and so, on some level, he wanted to avoid competition. I realized reading this issue that I felt the same way on his behalf, that I didn't want him to be overshadowed by Robbie or anyone else. But, just like Nova, I had to learn to trust him. After all, Nova eventually realizes that he's not motivated entirely by this fear of competition and correctly deduces that something else is afoot. The fact that DnA took me through a journey of my own emotions about the situation and showed how they mirrored Rich's? I mean, what more can I say? Genius.
3) The best part about this arc is how subtly DnA build the reveal that Worldmind isn't exactly acting "normal." At first, it appears he's just using his long view of the Corps' challenges to go around Nova, who approaches the numerous challenges from the narrower perspective of a human being. As I've previously mentioned, Nova himself questions whether or not his response to Worldmind's action was just jealous and petty. But, the nagging suspicion that maybe Worldmind was being more than just "strategic," if you will, started when it took over Ego the Living Planet. I mean, you're definitely leaving "good-guy territory" when you're "sublimating" Ego's intelligence to take over the planet. The fact that Robbie so quickly defended Worldmind also added to the sense that maybe something else was happening. Then, we heard Nova's conversation with the Fantastic Four, where he makes a pretty good argument why recruiting a whole slew of untrained Centurions wasn't really that great of an idea. At that point, you wonder, if Rich is making such a good argument, why Worldmind isn't listening to it. Again, Robbie plays an important role in playing up these suspicions when he suddenly appears to "check" to make sure Rich is OK. Then, when Worldmind starts talking about how "unstable" Nova has become, everything went a little Hitchcock. It all goes pear shape in issue #22, when you've got one of the new Centurions asking why anyone would ever leave the Corps and Worldmind assuring the new recruits that they should "remain calm" for this "great day." The reveal -- that Worldmind went insane controlling the Nova Force -- was great. Again, it wasn't fun getting there, but I can't help but applaud the artistry of it.
4) Re-reading some of the issues in order to write the summary, I have to note how pitch-perfect DnA got Robbie. They manage to show his jumping to Worldmind's defense as coming both from a sense of awe and gratitude to Worldmind for giving him the powers he needs to compete with his brother as well as from the fact that Worldmind is probably manipulating him. It's really through Robbie that DnA manage to cast doubt on Nova's motivations. Without him, it probably would've become more apparent sooner that Worldmind wasn't acting terribly nobly.
1) OK, so, for most of issue #19, I enjoyed the sibling rivarly/friend jealousy sub-plot. Darkhawk and Robbie had a funny conversation about being also-rans to Nova. It served the purpose of highlighting how different Nova is now, something I mentioned in the last arc; DnA are capitalizing on the character growth we've seen over the course of this series by having other characters in the Marvel Universe acknowledge it. Awesome. The more we see them do that, the less likely we're going to get a return to the loveable-loser stories of the '90s. But, I feel like they overplay their hand here. Giving Robbie Nova powers? Really? I mean, by the end of the series, you begin to realize that Worldmind clearly picked Robbie not just for his scientific knowledge but also his ability to exert influence over Rich. But, it still felt like the cheap shot it was.
1) I don't like Nova and Worldmind fighting. Although it's hard to argue with Worldmind's position that Nova taking the risks he has over the course of this series put Worldmind -- and, thus, the Xandarian culture -- at risk, I still didn't enjoy seeing them having a major rupture. Part of the joy of this series has been the witty banter between Nova and Worldmind. Although, again, I appreciated how well written this arc was, it's still disappointing that it's going to be a while (if ever) before we get back said banter.