Comics Watch: Marvel Sets New Course for Nebula

The comic is a far cry from the character Karen Gillan plays in the 'Avengers' and 'Guardians of the Galaxy' films.
Marvel Entertainment/ Jen Bartel
The comic is a far cry from the character Karen Gillan plays in the 'Avengers' and 'Guardians of the Galaxy' films.

Welcome back to The Hollywood Reporter's weekly Comics Watch, a dive into how the latest books from Marvel, DC and beyond could provide fodder for the big (and small) screen. Be warned, there are spoilers ahead.

This week we return to the cosmic side of the Marvel Universe with the first issue of the five-part miniseries, Nebula, starring everyone’s favorite grumpy, space-cyborg of the same name. The series is penned by Vita Ayala, a recent Marvel talent poised to break out in the industry and the writer behind the previous Comics Watch featured issue Morbius, the Living Vampire, with art by Claire Roe, best known for her work on Batgirl and the Birds of Prey. Like Marvel’s recent miniseries, Hawkeye: Freefall, The Web of the Black Widow and the upcoming Falcon & Winter Soldier, Nebula seems perfectly positioned to take advantage of the character’s popularity in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and further bridge the gap between invested theater audiences and curious comic book readers.

Nebula has undergone quite a few changes since her first appearance all the way back in The Avengers No. 257 (1985). Of late, her appearance and personality has become more closely aligned to actor Karen Gillan’s portrayal, which originated in Guardians of the Galaxy (2014). Nebula may not have quite the same fan base as the most popular members of the Avengers, or even the Guardians, but she has emerged as a welcome character in her own right and one of the most complex figures in the MCU. Ayala’s depiction of Nebula may be a physical match, but she isn’t the hero we’ve come to root for in Avengers: Endgame (2019). Instead, the comic version of Nebula, who has a lot more history on the villainous side of the universe than on the heroic, still possesses the rough edges and unwillingness to compromise that we see in director James Gunn’s films. But even so, the Nebula in this comic and the Nebula from the earlier days of the MCU are not a one-to-one match. As Ayala highlighted in a recent interview, her connection to Thanos is different, and her villainy is driven by a claim to Thanos’ bloodline that may or may not be true. This is a Nebula who has wielded the Infinity Gauntlet and remade the universe in her own image in a bout of madness. She’s seen some things, held power in her grasp, and spent most of her life on the run. She’s never had a reason to live any differently, until now.

The opening of this series finds Nebula back to her familiar pirate ways, and this time she’s after a device called the all-seer, which allows users to see the probabilities for success in different outcomes. But Nebula doesn’t just blast her way in, she’s goes after the scientist who created the device and blackmails him into integrating the all-seer into her cybernetic system by implanting a nanite bomb in the neck of his daughter. Her ruthlessness is a bit surprising, especially for those coming off of her redemption arc in the MCU. But this isn’t a bleak book, and as serious as the stakes get, Ayala isn’t without a sense of humor that feels classically Marvel. Equipped with her new tech, Nebula faces off against Devos, the avatar of balance in the universe who is also after the all-seer. It’s in their battle where the book really comes alive, with Nebula using her new abilities to see the rate of success and probability of death in each action she considers taking. Roe delivers on these action beats with a sense of clarity and motion so that no panel ever appears static. The design of each of the characters and the spaces surrounding them gives the book a sci-fi feel rather than that of a traditional superhero book, which allows Nebula to stand out even more.

Ultimately, the seeds are planted for an entirely new Nebula by the end of the issue, one stripped of her memories and left without a clear future. Like their writing in Morbius, Ayala has fun playing with the ironies behind Nebula’s quest and her current state. Her efforts to see the future with the all-seer has left her without any sense of vision for who she is. Whether redemption and heroism lie at the end of her journey, or if there’s an inherent part of her that is simply corrupt, remains to be seen. But, it looks like we’re in for a character-driven journey with this series. Given that many of Marvel’s current miniseries seem to be tied to characters featured in upcoming films or Disney+ series, we can’t help but wonder what’s in store for the MCU’s version of Nebula.

There’s little doubt that Karen Gillan will reprise her role in James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, which seems likely to arrive no earlier than 2022, given the filmmaker’s current work on The Suicide Squad, set for release in 2021. That seems like a ways off, and with no cosmic adventures announced for the immediate future, a Nebula series on Disney+ could be the thing to tide fans over. Even though Nebula has redeemed herself in the MCU, and is a far cry from the space pirate we see in this current series, she is still seemingly directionless with Thanos, and the Gamora she knew no longer alive.

She has the Guardians for support, and will hopefully remain a member of the team, but a personal journey for the character doesn’t seem out of the question, especially if it could help broaden the MCU’s cosmic side ahead of GOTG Vol. 3. What’s interesting is that for arguably the first time in the character’s history in the comics and the MCU, Nebula’s future is entirely up to her. And when it comes to either iteration, we’re just happy to be along for the ride.

  • Richard Newby