The struggle to understand one’s identity is a very human experience. Day by day, indeed moment by moment, we reflect on the world around us, contextualizing its impact as we fight to piece together what makes us us. Nebula by Vita Ayala, Claire Roe, Mike Spicer, and Travis Lanham is an exercise in that self-actualization, snapshotting Nebula’s journey to discover who she is on several levels.
With the breakout success of the Guardians of the Galaxy film franchise, as well as her central role in Avengers: Endgame, Nebula has enjoyed a meteoric rise to prominence within the public consciousness over the past few years. Daughter of the Mad Titan Thanos, she toils to earn the smallest amount of respect and gratitude to no avail. Nebula is a beacon for the unwanted, those that feel rejected by the ones they love or otherwise othered by the world at large. Unfortunately, however, this same treatment has historically been given to the character in Marvel’s comic publishing. Though originally created to be Thanos’ granddaughter, Nebula has had a rocky history in the years since, with her kinship to the Titan in question constantly and never quite resolved.
Perhaps it is this very nature of uncertainty that creates the backbone of Nebula #1. With a relatively clean slate, the creators have room to truly and substantially define the character in a way that has not been done before. It is with this in mind that one should approach Nebula. The issue takes advantage of a murky history to show a desperate Nebula, fighting to stay relevant in a shifting universe that could leave her behind at any moment. She frantically searches for an edge, that one simple trick to put her at an advantage. That’s ultimately what this new comic is about: resistance and actualization in the face of disadvantage and empowerment over the self-serving and self-aggrandizing.
Over the course of the issue, Nebula comes face-to-face with adversity personified. Her initial plan involves extorting and forcing the creator of a potentially deadly piece of cybernetic technology that she wishes to integrate into her body’s systems, the All Seer. It is here that we are reminded, within the first sequence of the book, that Nebula is indeed the villain, the bad guy of her story who is apparently not above threatening children to accomplish her goals. There is no twisted sense of justice in what she does; she is not under any illusions that the universe is unfair, that she is owed the All Seer to make the scales right. She steals it because she is a bad person who wants to do a bad thing. It is interesting, then, how sympathetic Nebula becomes as the issue progresses and the story’s major conflict presents itself: Devos, avatar of balance in the universe. Devos seeks to remove the machinery from Nebula’s system by any force necessary, up to and including death. In this confrontation, the reader gets the clearest sense of wanting Nebula to win. Yes, it is her book; there’s an inherent notion that we should be rooting for her to begin with. However, as the dust settles, one can clearly see Devos for what he is: a blond-haired white guy taking the universe into his own hands. As Nebula fights him, she fights the inherent misogyny of her world; she fights the very notion of a “sympathetic” villain who uses the thin guise of order as justification to do harm.
The main crux of this first issue is the extended fight sequence with Devos. On a technical level, the craft of this sequence is masterful. The art by Claire Roe is stunning, at once brutal and kinetic, animated yet distinctly harsh. This art, and more specifically Mike Spicer’s colors, serve as a backbone for the issue, setting the tone of the story immediately. Their work, along with letterer Travis Lanham, keeps that extended fight sequence fresh when there is every opportunity for it to overstay its welcome. The teamwork between Roe’s layouts and Lanham’s lettering placements is impressive in particular, moving the fight scene along and drawing the reader’s eyes during crucial moments to push forward. The synergy demonstrated between the art team is incredibly impressive, a team working together at peak efficiency to deliver visual storytelling with unmatched skill.
When I approach a comic book, I try to break down who or what the main thrust of the story is. In that vein, who is Nebula? I think that’s an important question, especially in this iteration of the character, as she is at a crucial point in her storytelling. Who is she, really? The character has had some frankly murky storytelling over the years, to the point where any writer that used her almost had a duty to play catch-up, constantly setting a new status quo for her and never allowing Nebula to flourish on her own merits. That sense of mystery and unsureness permeates the character, transforming her into an analogue for those who feel slighted by the world. It is then providence that her first solo work should be tackled by Vita Ayala, one of the preeminent queer voices at Marvel right now. The greatest opportunity Marvel has for this series is that they can define the character in a way that has not been done before, during a time in which Nebula is most within the public consciousness. With Ayala and Roe at the lead, Nebula has a bright future, and absolutely has the potential to be a character-defining run.
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