Collecting issues #1-6 of nextwave.
Writer: Warren Ellis
Artists: Stuart Immonen (p), Wade Von Grawbadger (i), Dave McCaig (colours)
Publisher: Marvel Comics
The Warren Ellis marathon that I've been undertaking over recent months brings me to nextwave, one of his most recent works for Marvel, and one that I've been holding out on until I could get my hands on the collected edition. nextwave (all lower case, please) is a knockabout team book which is as irreverent and unpretentious as you can imagine a mainstream superhero book to be, throwing together some relatively unmemorable old Marvel characters (and creating a few new ones) in a series of short adventures which is as light and silly as it is action-packed and imaginative.
The book sees a renegade splinter group turn against their superiors in the global espionage initiative known as H.A.T.E. - presented as a bizarro S.H.I.E.L.D., and led by the psychologically disturbed Dirk Anger (a hilarious riff on Nick Fury) who is based in the flying Aeromarine - four airborne submarines strapped together - rather than a helicarrier. The ragtag bunch is led by Monica Rambeau (once Captain Marvel and Photon, whose previous superhero identities come in for a fair bit of flack throughout the book), and includes among its members the explosive Tabitha Smith (Meltdown), monster-hunter Elsa Bloodstone, the hilariously foul-mouthed and dunder-headed hero known only as The Captain, and the sardonic Aaron Stack (Machine Man), who has a disturbing habit of referring to his human comrades only as "fleshy ones".
Ellis is clearly having fun with the ridiculous excesses that are afforded by the superhero genre, and the result is one of the most exhausting romps I've enjoyed in quite a while. Robot broccoli men, the menace of Fin Fang Foom's purple pants, robotic transformer-style corrupt policemen, and a crack commando squad in pterodactyl suits are just some of the threats faced by the group, and their ready acceptance of these fantastical inhabitants of the Marvel Universe only makes the hyperbolic tone even more enjoyable. The writer never shies away from exaggerating his characters' personalities and powers to the greatest extent that he can get away with, peppering his story with throwaway one-liners, amusing flashbacks and po-faced strapline captions, all of which give the book a mood which is as close to an animated sitcom (think Futurama) as it is to a regular superhero book.
Yet as important as Ellis' writing is in maintaining the frenetic pace and lunatic tone of nextwave, it's the artwork of Stuart Immonen which truly defines the book. Immonen's angular pencils capture every moment with a cartoonish exaggeration which mirrors the heightened tone of Ellis' writing, pushing the characters' powers and poses just a little further than is natural in a suitably over-the-top manner, and making the movement so clear that it's sometimes hard to believe that the images are static. It's a great technique for such an unashamedly operatic super-hero book, and ensures that the action scenes really shine. The chunky thick outlines from regular Immonen inker Wade Von Grawbadger and solid, vibrant colouring from Dave McCaig both work to reinforce the cel-shaded look of the book, making the panels really pop off the page; the closest comparison I can think of is the work of Genndy Tartakovsky's animated work on Samurai Jack and the Star Wars: Clone Wars TV series, and that should give you some idea of the kind of raw energy that Immonen & co. manage to inject into their dynamic visuals. Immonen's covers are also standout pieces of art, frequently using collage techniques and re-imagining the book's logo with each issue (as with Planetary) to create some unusual yet defining images for the book.
Extras in this TPB include the original series pitch and the song sheet for the nextwave theme song, but the tone of both is so tongue-in-cheek that it's hard to take either of them seriously or just laugh at them - and that sentiment goes for the whole book, too. It's rare to see a modern superhero comic embrace the silly conventions of the genre to such an extent rather than being embarrassed by them and try to explain them away, and the sheer enthusiasm and energy that Ellis and Immonen bring to the book aren't lost in translation to the reader. Readers who look for great depth and seriousness in their funny books might find the series to be more style than substance, and it's true that the book is more fast food than it is haute cuisine. However, sometimes I'd rather have a tasty burger than a plate of foie gras, and if you approach this book in the right spirit, it will probably be one of the most enjoyable you've read in a long time.
What did you think of this book?
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