What do you get when you combine four D-list superheroes, a thinly-veiled Nick Fury clone, a hero whose code name contains an expletive, Warren Ellis, Stuart Immonen, bad guys made out of genetically altered kelp, and a giant lizard monster in purple underpants? You get Nextwave, a wild and wacky fun ride which just happens to be one of the best new comics of 2006.
Nextwave tells the tale of a bunch of heroes who worked for a secret, anti-terrorist organization named H.A.T.E. which in turn was funded and armed by the Beyond Corporation which in turn is the new name for S.I.L.E.N.T, a terrorist group which H.A.T.E. was created to fight. When the heroes find out that the company they work for is being used by the same terrorists they are supposed to stop, they go A.W.O.L.
If the plot seems somewhat conventional, don’t worry. Ellis more than makes up for it with a gonzo writing style that is seldom seen in comics.
Perhaps the reason Ellis is so freewheeling in his writing style is due to the characters he is working with. His team is composed of Monica Rambeau, the former Avenger once known as Captain Marvel and Photon, Aaron Stack, formerly known as Machine Man, Tabitha Smith, who used the code names Boom Boom and Meltdown, adventurer Elsa Bloodstone, and a new character called Captain ****, the asterisks (which are a skull and crossbones in the book) standing in for some undefined curse word.
You might not have heard from some of these characters in a while. Heck, you might not have heard of some of these characters at all. These aren’t the type of heroes that Marvel is building big summer crossovers around or that Hollywood is rushing make movies about. You get the feeling Marvel just gave Ellis a list of characters and said, “Here. Do what you want with them. We don’t care.” Which might be why the team’s former boss is Dirk Anger from H.A.T.E. and not Nick Fury from S.H.I.E.L.D.. The similarity between the two characters goes deeper than just the name. Nick Fury is still a vital character and therefore might have been off limits for Ellis to use.
If this is true, that Ellis was given carte blanche to do whatever he wants with the title and the characters, then this might be one of the smartest things that Marvel has ever done. Ellis revels in the free license Marvel has given him, and this results in some of his best writing in years. He uses his free rein to make Nextwave a high-brow parody book, one where he can play with and poke fun at comic book conventions.
The book is laugh-out loud funny at times, and the dialog is eminently quotable. If this was a movie, or if more people read comics, some of what Ellis comes off with would become part of our everyday lexicon. Dirk Anger’s address to his new recruits is especially droll. The writing is top notch all around, silly without being stupid, amusing without being addlebrained.
The art acts as an ideal complement to the story. Immonen’s style is versatile enough to be a perfect match for all aspects of the book. His artwork during the parts of heavy dialogue is great, making each of these panels more than just a bunch of talking heads. His characters show more personality by just listening to somebody speak than some others do in entire books. And his action scenes almost explode of the page, drawing the reader in. His drawing is crisp and detailed and shows the years of experience he has in the comic’s business.
A special note must be paid to colorist Dave McCaig. Colorists often aren’t mentioned unless their work is awful. This is not the case with McCaig’s work on this title. His use of vibrant colors adds depth and texture to the art. Each page has the look of a richly painted animation cell, which goes well with the goofy, cartoon-like nature of the book.
As if the first issue wasn’t funny enough, we are treated to a letters page where such historic figures as Genghis Khan and Napoleon offer their opinions on the issue we just read. Hey, William Shakespeare likes the book! What else do you need to know to take a chance on the book? And as a special bonus, the letters page prints the lyrics to the Nextwave theme song. Yes, you read that correctly. Nextwave has a theme song.
Nextwave is an inventive comic, rich with humor and excitement. It shows that some times when they let creators run loose, great things happen. My only complaint about the issue that is the first of only a 12-issue limited series. I wish that it was the first issue of a new, on-going series, because I don’t want my enjoyment to end after a dozen issues.