#CBR5 Maneuver #15 – Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E.
Profile: Comics, Action, Comedy
After Action Report:
Nextwave is a great comic. It’s not deep. It doesn’t challenge your expectations. It doesn’t change the paradigm for what a comic book is supposed to be, but it’s still a good comic. It’s also somewhat hard to access. Nextwave is a parody/satire written for and by a certain cross-section of the geek population who enjoy a broad spectrum of geeky entertainment. In the first issue alone, Nextwave references: Japanese monster movies, 90s television, pretty much every major team-up comic series ever, and itself for good measure. All of this means that if you aren’t conversant in these genres some of the comedy of Nextwave might go right over your head. There is still a fair amount of generally accessible comic moments in the vein of slap-stick, crude language and the funny scenario. And we are fortunate enough to live in a world where S.H.I.E.L.D., The Avengers and comics in general have become common conversation topics.
For all of its almost reverential nods to the geek community, Nextwave is definitely making fun of the comic book establishment. Author Warren Ellis is well known for his distaste for the directions that mainstream comics have been moving since the late 80s. Here, that distain is transmuted into irreverent comedy that still manages to twist the knife every so often, particularly if you’re more up-to-speed on the state of Marvel Comics circa 2006. I am not, so I had to get most of this stuff off of TVTropes but that research really enhanced a re-reading of the book.
Nextwave is the somewhat disconnected story of the NEXTWAVE team, who were assembled by the Highest Anti-Terrorism Effort (H.A.T.E.) to combat a series of increasingly bizarre weapons of mass destruction. Only not. Because it turns out that H.A.T.E. is actually a front for the Beyond Corporation, itself a front for S.I.L.E.N.T., another terrorist cell. When Tabitha Smith steals the Beyond Corporation’s top-secret marketing plan, NEXTWAVE realize they’ve been playing for the wrong team and suit up to take down H.A.T.E.
The NEXTWAVE team is composed of a bunch of lesser B-List heroes from Marvel’s extensive library. Monica Rambeau, formerly one of the dozens of people to be called Captain Marvel and sometimes known as Photon, is likely the only member of the team you’ve heard of. She made a name for herself as one of the first female African-American team leader in comic history and of The Avengers at that, but subsequently had little big title press. The rest of the team consists of Elsa Bloodstone, a monster hunter from the eponymous mini-series Bloodstone; Tabitha Smith, a mutant of X-Force with a long list of codenames and the power to make things explode; Aaron Stack, the Machine Man from his own mini-series and the Marvel version of 2001: A Space Odyssey; and the original character of The Captain, a generic superhuman who is so drunk all the time that he can’t remember his real name.
The team is delightfully dysfunctional, with Monica constantly reliving her experience as the leader of the Avengers (not always fondly), and the rest of the team in various states of amusing mental instability or general hostility. These characters aren’t heroes per se, instead reading much more like regular, albeit very violent and slightly psychopathic, people with extraordinary abilities that happen to be saving the world. With violence. And exploding things. To that extent, Nextwave rejects the Dark and Modern era of comics. It isn’t about deep character analysis or epic crossover plots. Just explosive, in-your-face violence and tongue-in-cheek quipping.
The quipping is really the reason to read the book. The best (read: most informed) comparisons I can make are to TV. Nextwave evokes shades of ‘Buffy’ and the better episodes of ‘Community.’ It’s packed with quips, puns, catch phrases and even self-aware jokes about the inability to quip on the fly. Even the infrequent textbox narration is snarky and ignores the fourth wall entirely. I understand that Spider-Man and Deadpool are usually written as very verbally witty, so there may be a few comic analogues, but I’m not as well versed with comics and even less so with Marvel’s back catalogue.
Unfortunately, the writing does have to carry quite a bit here. If you’re thinking of buying Nextwave just for reading purposes, and not because you like the idea of comic book satire, there isn’t a lot here. The story is stripped down and simplistic and the events of the book are canonically questionable, though apparently increasingly accepted. Ellis really was lashing out at the conventions of superhero teams and chose to strip out much of the potential literary content. I’m not saying the writing isn’t good, but there is little here that traditionally makes up a ‘good book.’ Nextwave is a summer blockbuster and, as such, is less interested in being literary and much more interested in entertaining. That’s not a bad thing. And there are still enough asides to keep more story-oriented readers happy. It just isn’t the primary focus.
Visually, Nextwave is simple, dynamic and vibrant. Bright colors and simple design choices that shift the eye towards the action keep the visuals crisp and consistently good looking. The level of detail is surprisingly high in most panels, and the faces in particular look very good over the entire run. Immonen is probably one of the most-praised comic artists at work today and he delivers visuals on par with anything I’ve read in a simple, easy to read format. Nexwave isn’t as creatively impressive as something like J.H. Williams’ III Batwoman, but it does a better job of just telling the story.
Anyone who is likely to enjoy Nextwave probably already picked it up, or has at least heard of it, so this review is more of a necessity of the Cannonball Read than anything else. As with all satire, your enjoyment will vary depending on your personal opinions of comics, and really, the entirety of geek culture. But I think there’s enough cross-cultural appeal to make this book enjoyable to non-geeks as well. It’s fun, action-packed and wacky enough to keep you reading, if only because you can’t believe what just exploded this time.