Warning: spoilers for the end of Alita: Battle Angel ahead. After a 20-year development process, James Cameron’s passion project Alita: Battle Angel is finally in theaters. But for anyone seeing the movie with no prior knowledge of Yukito Kishiro’s manga series Gunnm upon which the film is based, the real villain (Edward Norton) from Alita is going to be a massive surprise as the character has a very complicated history in the comics. So who the hell is Nova in the Alita world?
Well, he's kind of a big deal. In the years and months leading up to Alita: Battle Angel’s release, fans assumed the villain of the movie was Vector (Mahershala Ali). The rich, corrupt man who controlled the Motorball games and all the criminals in Iron City, Vector was determined to defeat the amnesiac cyborg Alita (Rosa Salazar) and take her 300-year-old warrior cyborg technology for his own gain. But, as the film reveals, Vector wasn’t working alone. He was actually being controlled by Nova (played by Norton in a surprise, silent role), a mysterious scientist in the sky city who was able to transfer his consciousness into others in Iron City.
Nova becomes the real villain of the film, puppeteering everything from behind-the-scenes. And if Alita: Battle Angel gets a sequel, fans who didn't read the books might finally understand what all the fuss is about.
His Big Moment With Alita
Alita and Nova’s first meeting as teased by the film’s final moments: He knew more about Alita’s past as a cyborg warrior from Mars than anyone else. He orchestrated the attacks on her and her boyfriend Hugo (Keean Johnson) and by the end of the movie, Nova was still untouchable up in the sky city of Zalem. The only way for anyone to ascend to Zalem is to win Motorball, and the last scene of the movie sees Alita gearing up for her final Motorball competition, possibly to win and confront Nova. She raised her sword at the starting line, looking up to Nova watching her from above. But that's where it ends.
His History In The Books
Their story, however, doesn't become very clear in the books. In Gunnm, Alita and “Desty Nova” actually have a more complicated relationship than audiences may be expecting. While he starts off as the villain, a version of him eventually becomes Alita’s ally in the manga series and they work together on missions.
A citizen of the sky city with extensive scientific knowledge, Nova experiments with nanotechnology on living humans and, at one point, actually saves Alita’s life by resurrecting her. He also gave himself the power of immortality by injecting himself with nanomachines that repair his body from any injury, so if he is ever killed, this technology brings him back to life by restoring him to the state he was right before death. That means there are many different incarnations of the character that appear over the course of the series, including Nova II, Super Nova, Porta Nova, and Nova X.
His (Possible) Future With Alita
Some of Nova’s versions are more ruthless and evil than others, and because Alita: Battle Angel never reveals which Nova Norton is playing, there’s no way to tell what he actually has planned for her. All we know is that he was doing everything he could to make sure she didn’t ascend to Zalem. What would happen if she finally met him face-to-face? Would she get revenge on him for what he did to Hugo? Would he be able to fill in the blanks of her past as a cyborg warrior from Mars? Would he be hiding the same secret he knew in the comics (the truth of everyone’s brain bio-chips)?
It’s clear from the manga series that there is so much more to the character of Nova than what this first movie explores. But for now, fans will just have to read the Gunnm manga series to learn more about the character.