Reviews of trade paperbacks of comic books (mostly Marvel), along with a few other semi-relevant comments / reviews.

23 April 2012

Nomad: Girl without a World

Collects: Nomad #1-4 and a story from Captain America #600 (2009-10)

Released: March 2010 (Marvel)

Format: pages / color / $14.99 / ISBN: 9780785144199

What is this?: Captain America’s sidekick from the Heroes Reborn universe tries to fit into the normal Marvel Universe

The culprits: Writer Sean McKeever and artist David Baldeon

I’ve discussed Marvel’s lack of success with series starring newer characters and the relentless use of the same old concepts by Marvel and DC. Sometimes, however, reusing old ideas can win a deserving new character a series (or miniseries) that otherwise wouldn’t be published.

Take, for instance, Nomad: Girl without a World. “Superhero’s sidekick from a parallel world” is not a concept that sets fans’ hearts afire. It’s a workable idea, but any time you have parallel worlds or alternate universes or possible futures, readers drift away.

Nomad: Girl without a World coverThe character of Bucky (Rikki Barnes) from the Heroes Reborn universe isn’t one fans were clamoring to see more of. But given the popularity of Captain America around the time of the original’s “death,” writer Sean McKeever was given a chance to tell what happens when an alternate version of Captain America’s sidekick tries to fit into an entirely different world, one where “her” Cap has died and been replaced.

Bucky, who becomes Nomad early in Girl without a World, is not a McKeever creation. (You can tell because she has nothing to do with Wisconsin.) Instead, she is a Rob Liefeld and Jeph Loeb character, created for a maligned mid-‘90s event. She is the definition of a throw-away character; no one would have complained if she had never been seen again. But McKeever does the responsible thing and recycles the character here and in Young Allies. And he manages to tell an interesting story, one that is well constructed and enjoyable. I actually cared about Rikki by the end of Nomad. I want to know what happened to her next — although given the quick cancellation of Young Allies, I may be alone in that desire.

McKeever tells a simple story — one I could imagine seeing in Spider-Girl, or given the throwback villains, Nova (v. 1). Something strange is happening in Rikki’s school, as students from different social strata band together to impose their version of order on the school in the name of a school presidential candidate. Rikki investigates and finds far more than she bargained for.

McKeever does a good job isolating Rikki throughout the book. Her only friend in this world is John Barnes, the counterpart of her brother from the Heroes Reborn world. When she reaches out to make friends in the superhero community she is either rebuffed, as Black Widow does when Rikki tries to talk to the new Cap, or she can't seem to capitalize on her meetings with friendlier heroes, like Patriot and Falcon. Like most teenagers, she feels separate from everyone else, and her alternate-world origins give her a better reason than most; when she is separated from John, she feels completely alone. Her mysterious benefactor, who gives her the Nomad costume, and the mental manipulations of Nomad’s villain makes her think the adult world she’s trying to fit into is making all her decisions for her. The conflict between Nomad’s teen world and the adult she finds herself fighting her way into makes a good parallel to the student activism and teen suffrage subplots in the background.

Needles to say, I think McKeever does a great job with teenage heroes, and I think it’s a shame Young Allies was cancelled so quickly.

Nomad is not without its faults, of course. Flagsmasher shows up as a random villain, and even the footnote listing his recent appearances seems to say he’s a bit overused — he’s fought the Runaways, the Liberteens (in Avengers: The Initiative), and Araña. (Issue numbers would have been nice.) I doubt if any of those used Flagsmasher as anything but a throwaway villain; they could have fought anyone. A more serious complaint is that the death at the end of the story feels gratuitous; it’s a death meant to give the story an emotional punch it didn’t need or to get the character of Rikki out of a plot-related bind. Still, these are small complaints.

I enjoyed David Baldeón’s artwork. Really, it’s everything I could ask for from an artist. The teen characters aren’t oversexualized — or sexualized at all, really. Characters are easily distinguishable, despite the similar, almost uniform, facial shape his characters have. Action scenes are dynamic and easy to follow. There’s nothing bizarre to distract the eye or mind from the story. Baldeón’s pencils aren’t flashy, but I love them.

For some reason, Marvel published the Nomad TPB at an odd size. It’s not the standard trade paperback size, and it’s not as small as a digest book. Nomad is similar to those teen titles that Marvel reprinted as digests in the early 21st century (Runaways, Araña, Spider-Girl, etc.), but for some reason, Marvel chose to reprint Nomad at 8¾ x 5¾ inches. Had Marvel abandoned the digest size by the time it published Nomad in March 2010? The last non-Marvel Adventures digest I can find is Thor and the Warriors Four, which was published in October 2010; two Runaways volumes were also published as digests between Nomad’s publication in March 2010 and Warriors Four. So if digests were on their way out, why not choose to print Nomad at full trade paperback size (10 1/8 x 6½ inches)? The smaller size might be cheaper, but it surely ensured Nomad was more easily lost in the shuffle. (Nomad was already out of print by the end of 2011.)

McKeever’s grasp of what it’s like to be a teen is excellent, and the story is simple but satisfying. Baldeón’s art is perfect for the story. It’s a great book, if you can find it.

Rating: 5 of 5 Captain America’s shield Captain America’s shield Captain America’s shield Captain America’s shield Captain America’s shield

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