The next episode of Series Consideration is up! Watch it, like it, comment on it, share it, discuss it. Whatever you please!
And as usual, the text for the essay itself is behind the cut for your reading pleasure.
Nextwave Video Essay Draft
Sometimes, you want a comic with a layered narrative [show Watchmen].
Other times, you want a heartwarming tale [show Blankets].
Maybe you feel like gritty noir [show Tumor].
Or you want an autobiography about a woman living in Iran during the rise of the Ayatollah. [show Persepolis].
And sometimes, you just want to read about someone beating up broccoli men with a shovel.
Fortunately, that describes a comic called Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E.
On the surface, Nextwave is about a small group of obscure heroes fighting ridiculous threats. The characters read less like superheroes and more like walking punchlines.
There’s former Captain Marvel Monica Rambeau, who mostly plays the straight man role while incessantly reminding us she was an Avenger.
There’s The Captain, who’s as powerful as he is belligerent.
There’s Aaron Stack, aka Machine Man, a robot designed to crave beer and hate fleshy ones. There’s Elisa Bloodstone, a monster hunter loaded to the teeth with weapons.
And finally, there’s Tabitha Smith, aka Boom-Boom, aka Boomer, aka Meltdown, aka Firecracker, aka…you get the point…whose running gag is saying “Tick tick tick, boom,” before blowing something up.
Together, they fight the Beyond Corporation, funded by the terrorist cell S.I.L.E.N.T. That’s an acronym, by the way, that’s never explained.
Below that surface, however? Actually…that’s it. If someone asked me what the comic is like, I’d tell them it’s devoid of character development, has the barest of backstories, and has some of the most outlandish fight scenes in comics. I’d also tell them it’s ONE OF THE FUNNIEST COMICS OF ALL TIME.
Where else will you see a green dragon that threatens to stuff you down his purple shorts? Or killer koala bears? Or homicidal crabs? Or an Assault Pterosuit Flock? Or evil broccoli people? Or Wolverine apes fighting alongside snakes piloting planes? Or a flying fortress built from three submarines?
But see, that outlandishness is completely intentional. Warren Ellis took the idea of The Authority and “stripped out all the plots, logic, character, and sanity. [He] cut everything back until [he] was left with pure superhero comics. […] To cook this down to the essence of an action book, where things can be ridiculous, […] but it doesn’t take away from the experience of it and the fun.”
Given that Nextwave is often cited as one of the best superhero comics ever, I think Ellis and company nailed it. Ellis keeps Nextwave “as compact and simple as possible to make space for the jokes – and let Stuart Immonen go.” That’s evident when several pages have barely any dialogue to make room for punching and blowing things up. In every issue, character growth and plot development intentionally take a backseat to the action. There’s even a joke is issue 8, where the narration says: “One of them even had something approaching a Character Moment. You can be damn sure we won’t let **** like that happen again.” In the penultimate issue, HALF of the comic is just double-page spreads, free of dialogue.
If someone read too much into the comic – like, say, someone who desperately needs to find purpose for his Bachelor of Arts in English Literature – they could say that Nextwave’s core theme is shutting up and fighting. For example, the terrorist group funding the Beyond Corporation? S.I.L.E.N.T. What do the villains do? They monologue. Dirk Anger goes on page-long rants. Number None has several rants. And the final villain, who I’ll keep hidden because it’s a great surprise, spends the whole time monologuing. Meanwhile, while the Nextwave team do speak, it’s mostly limited to character quipping and exposition. (Mind you, exposition is something of a common trait in Warren Ellis’ work.) But the only time we see any real deep character monologuing is when the team is forced into their own Personal Hells! In other words: talking too much is evil! What makes you a real hero in Nextwave is punching and blowing stuff up.
If there’s one word that defines Nextwave, it’s irreverence. It takes the most obscure bits of Marvel history and kicks them in the junk. [Picture of dildo-shaped drill in issue #1] Still with some semblance of respect for the original material, mind you; a swift, but loving kick in the junk. Even on my third read of the series, I found myself grinning and laughing aloud at the ridiculousness. James Whitbrook at io9 put it best: “Nextwave is the annoying kid sibling that you with your jaded outlook end up admiring despite the annoyance, because they just revel in the fun of it all.” In other words, Nextwave not only doesn’t try to be anything beyond what it’s presenting, but does so with full self-awareness.
A perfect example of this is the cover for issue #11. At the time of publication, Marvel was doing one of their massive, company-wide events. In this case: Civil War. Every main universe comic, whether it tied in with the event or not, was given a template cover design, with the title taking up half the cover space. Proving Nextwave’s irreverence, the creative team depicted their characters like they were on strike, stating they don’t care, and that Civil War writer Mark Millar licks goats.
The book is gleefully violent and the characters are rarely (if ever) seen rescuing citizens. Instead, similar to The Authority, they charge in, guns blazing, and cause as much collateral damage as possible, so long as the threat is neutralized. With so many wordless panels and pages, you need an artist like Stuart Immonen to go nuts. And goes nuts, he does, with ridiculous action scenes that still amazingly flow smoothly from one insanity to the next. Wade von Grawbadger’s thick ink outlines around the characters give them little-before-seen depth and Dave McCaig’s coloring gives the book a “bold, chunky color palette.” [io9 quote]. Together, the art team turns in some of their best work in the business.
Nextwave is one of those perfect, timeless comics that everyone should read if they want a good laugh.
After all, any comic that reminds us that Mark Millar licks balls has to be great, right?