All too often, Marvel comics of the last twenty or so years just get veteran characters wrong. DnA/ Giffen’s Richard Rider and Nova was one such moment where they got veterans right. Rider was a great story that had brilliant metaphorical work in terms of the struggles of many veterans today.
In my opinion, comics and Marvel have mostly struggled to depict vets as anything but crackpot or shell shocked stereotypes..Assassins , “Hitmen”, Black Ops guys or PTSD laden villains like “Nuke” or the Winter Soldier. Personally, I’ve read little that connected with me. Aside from Rider and a few others I mostly find it cliché and trivial.
There’s been some good Captain America stuff over the years…but there’s been lousy hackneyed stuff as well. So often the Captain America persona and image gets hijacked for the sake of political commentary I got frustrated with the character. I love the USA, but all too often the flag on Cap’s chest just attracts the occasional piss poor characterization.
I can tell you from my experience that vets read comics. So too, do active military troops. I used to treasure hoofing it to the P/X or LCS (when I was fortunate enough to be able to). Getting back to my bunk and reading Busiek’s Avengers or Larsen’s Nova, PAD’s Captain Marvel and Jurgens/ Waid Captain America. Those books and the time I spent on them used to mean a lot to me during some tough times.
When I got out it of the military it was right about the time Starlin was doing his THANOS series, I got into that book and to the new GIffen direction for cosmic stuff thereafter. Eventually, I found myself in the Giffen Annihilation stuff. I had always liked Nova from New Warriors and his earlier 70s stuff. All the while I struggled with some aspects of life without the military. Life outside had a lot challenges to cope with and I missed a lot friends and blood brothers.
This was the perfect storm for Giffen and DnA’s Nova to develop from a character I always liked (and followed), to one that became intrinsically special.
I remember reading his stories in the late 80s as a very young kid. They were always the comics at flea markets people didn’t think were worth a lot. You could get ’em in the quarter bin right next to Starlin’s Warlock stuff or DCs Firestorm. All great stuff. With Rider, I loved the spider man type stories initially that transitioned into growth and soldier who had to go off to fight in wars. (Initially the Skrull Xandar war of vol. 1) It dealt with a lot of the same things I was going through in the late 90s as a soldier. it was always tough when writers wanted to retrograde that character back into an immature huckster. Larsen’s series was pleasant , but even he was guilty of this.
It was during Keith Giffen’s , Dan Abnett and Andy Lannings Annihilation work that the bond was really galvanized.. Rider went off to a brutal conflict and fought for the earth’s survival. The so called “mook from Long Island” came of age to a competent leader of men on the battlefeild. A grizzled man with a deep scar on his face and in his soul. The issues where Rich Rider came back to earth and confronted friends, family and the government were especially profound. This guy had some many aspects I could identify with, he also seemed so much like other guys I knew coming back from the war of the next ten years.
To top it off, he had his “Ranger Buddy” Star Lord. Who was written like the kind of guy you would want to go to hell and back again with. I’m not going to devote this space to complaining about what has happened to Star Lord either, but I miss the old version. It just connected with me.
Rich Rider became this kind of “real and workable” version of Steve Rogers that didn’t have all the political baggage and targeting. That was something very special and identifiable. He was the leader, but DnA and Giffen always showed us the inner workings of his mind that made him such a really genuine character. As a writer, I would think that notion would be so attractive for creators to want to work with and expand upon.
Maybe this mostly has to do with a newer era of non veteran writers and creators. Guys like Starlin, Kirby, Stan Lee, they were vets And don’t get me wrong, I don’t think writers need to be veterans to get the group down. I just find it lacking and deprioritized in the material we are seeing today. I do see a lot of creators right now who just strike me as folks who have never left college or an city environment. There is a visceral reality and layer of grime to those stories that Annihilation captured. I can feel the lack of genuine empathy in some of the stuff geared to vets or fans of military fiction since Thanos Imperative.
Marvel seems very honed in on picking up demographics and expanding readership. After fourteen years of war, and a large population of veterans out there, it’s strange they would have such little faith in comics that would interest veterans and not see veterans as a larger priority. The act of mothballing Richard Rider and turning his poignant coming of age veteran metaphor into a kiddie rama manga esque romp for young kids shows they have dropped the ball here. I’m not going to go down the road of roasting Sam Alexander here or the current direction, but I do feel Marvel has made an incredible mistake by killing off and making Richard Rider a pariah….the companies greatest” non Cap” veteran character deserves to come back in proper fashion.
I guess some may find this cheesy and silly..but I assure you this is genuine and my feelings. I’m well aware Rider was not a ‘real person’ nor a ‘real veteran’. I was and am and I know it is a very real thing. But the lesson and values are really important. Its just one more reason that makes Rider a character worth fighting for. “Never leave a fallen comrade” and we will NOT leave Rider behind.