Nexus: more than “angsty Punisher in space”

While I haven’t finished the Nexus Omnibus collections completely, Nexus: Alien Justice makes such a good stopping place for the Mike Baron/Steve Rude series (the equivalent of a season ender on TV that could serve as a season ender), I figure I might as well give it an overview.

When the series (initially from Capital Comics, later from First) begins, Nexus is already infamous as a vigilante in the vast spacefaring universe of 500 years from now. There’s the Solar System, which is loosely united; assorted alien races and human colonies; and the repressive Sov empire, the result of Russia taking its communist dictatorship to the stars (when this series started in the early 1980s, it still seemed possible the Soviets would last that long). When Nexus enters one dictatorship’s airspace, the tyrant’s reaction is to have every possible ship and weapon deployed to stop him (they don’t) so it’s clear he’s serious business. Nexus channels fusion power from the heart of a star so he’s near unstoppable (emphasis on the near).

As we learn over the next few issues, Nexus is Horatio Hellpop, whose father was a Sov general ruling one outpost. When his overthrow became inevitable, he followed his duty and wiped out the entire planet, then fled with his wife to an isolated world to hide. After her death, Horatio goes up with his dad and two imaginary friends for company … but they’re not imaginary. They’re agents of the Merk, a cosmically powerful entity that eventually drives Horatio to kill his father by showing him visions of Dad’s ruthless past, then charging him with fusion power. It’s only the beginning: the Merk wants to fight evil, so it sends more dreams of evildoers to haunt Horatio until he kills them. Nexus is born.

On one of his first cases, Nexus kills the boss of a slave labor camp on Thune. The laborers point out that they’ll be blamed and executed so Horatio reluctantly takes them with him back to Ylum, the isolated world where he dwells (it’s linked to the Nexus). This becomes the beginning: Ylum draws more refugees and its development into a functioning democracy is a running plot through the series. Dave, one of the laborers, becomes Horatio’s closest friend. Then there’s Sundra Peale, a spy who eventually falls for Horatio and opens a business on Ylum; and Judah Maccabbee, Dave’s long-lost son, raised Jewish and modeling his role as an interplanetary trouble-shooter on Nexus.

What makes Nexus more than just a standard hardcore vigilante who kills bad guys is — well, several things, starting with Horatio. He’s not a violent man by nature, but the Merk’s torments make it hell for him to refuse a mission. He tries several times, but it doesn’t go well. Later, when the Merk dumps Horatio and appoints a new Nexus, the new man likes killing way too much (Horatio eventually regains his powers in Alien Justice but I didn’t buy it — it seemed he’d be happier to hang up his suit and stay retired). In one story Nexus kills a tyrant, which guarantees vicious reprisals against the oppressed — but Nexus isn’t willing to wipe out the entire government to save them, so what does he do?

There’s also a great supporting cast. Sundra. Dave. Judah. Tyrone, the put-upon leader of Ylum. Ursula who seduces Horatio to begat two girls with psionic power. The Loomis sisters, three young women PO’d Nexus executed their father.

And then there’s the backdrop. Much like Saga, this universe isn’t meant to be taken entirely seriously, as witness we have a cult of assassins known as the Gucci. But it works. There are weird races such as the Heads, disembodied psionics enslaved and used to channel fusion power and political conflict between Ylum (which is largely identified with Nexus) and some of the worlds where he deals death. Even when it’s not serious, it’s usually interesting.

There are some parts of the series that don’t work. Clonezone, a humanoid frog who’s also a chiseling opportunist, is never anything but annoying, but Baron and Rude gave him a backup strip for a while. I just skipped over those stories.

In the Alien Justice miniseries (after First Comics shut up shop and the original series ended), the Merk recruits multiple alternative Nexi without success. Fortunately a rival Merk, “GQ” (see what I mean about not serious?) recruits Horatio to stop them, with Sundra and Judah’s help. GQ then hauls the Merk back to their own plane and offers to power Horatio in his stead. Which like I said, I didn’t buy: with the Merk gone, I think Horatio would happily end his Nexus career and go on with his own life. But either way it represents a stopping point, even if it turned out the series didn’t stop.Despite that, the run of the series is well worth collecting and available in both hard and paperback omnibuses. I’ll be reviewing the remaining collections as I work through them.

#SFWApro. Top cover by Paul Gulacy, others by Steve Rude. All rights remain with current holder.

 

1 Comment

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One response to “Nexus: more than “angsty Punisher in space”

  1. Pingback: Bronze Age C-listers and Nexus: Graphic novels | Fraser Sherman's Blog

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