This volume represents the second and, for the foreseeable future, final collection of Warren Ellis and Stuart Immonen's nextwave. Ellis's high-concept sees a group of renegade C-list superheroes take on the terrorist-funded organisation H.A.T.E. and its parent company the Beyond Corporation who are intent on road-testing weapons of mass destruction on the American public. This premise gives the writer the perfect excuse to take his ragtag bunch and put them through all sorts of deranged challenges, which are brought to life vividly by Stuart Immonen.
Ellis's twisted sense of humour is probably the main reason to recommend nextwave. Even though the central characters are fairly obscure and the concepts are unusual and outlandish, the humour is fairly broad and accessible--and crucially, it's very, very funny.
I'm usually skeptical when people say that a comic book made them laugh out loud, but the very first pages of this collection had me chuckling like a fool. It opens with the Dread Rorkannu asking for $100 cash and some of the Suicide Girls in exchange for the use of his army of Mindless Ones. Additionally, The Captain bemoans his long history of copyright challenges over his various adopted codenames.
There are many, many other great gags in the pages of this book that I won't spoil here, but highlights of this second collection include H.A.T.E. director Dirk Anger's increasingly violent mood swings, the bizarre replacement of a small town community by Mindless Ones, and the resurrection of such Not Brand Echh characters as Forbush Man and the Inedible Bulk as a new super-team in the Ultimates mould.
If these concepts sound amusing in theory, they're even more fun in execution--and I'm impressed that Ellis is so gifted at coming up with crazy notions that are rooted in age-old Marvel characters and concepts, but which work brilliantly when re-imagined in an original way and in a more modern context.
Ellis even manages to craft an engaging plot, zany though it is, as the final few issues see nextwave take their fight to the Beyond Corporation's headquarters--ultimately discovering the identity of the true mastermind behind the terrorist organisation. Again, the final developments are best enjoyed unspoiled since they're as unexpected as they are hilarious--and Ellis's unique characterisation of a fairly obscure old Jack Kirby creation is inspired.
Stuart Immonen provides artwork for all six issues, and his evident rapport with Ellis results in one of the most natural collaborations between writer and artist that I've ever read. The fast-moving story with its unending stream of ideas from Ellis is matched by a raw energy in Immonen's artwork with bold, angular designs, thick, confident linework, and bright, vibrant colouring that is somehow able to match the unrelenting pace and constant vigour of Ellis script.
It's not often that you see an artist whose style is clearly such a perfect match for the tone that the writer is aiming for, but nextwave is an example of one of those happy pairings, producing constantly enjoyable results.
Immonen also shows an ability to modify his style to suit the needs of the story. One memorable sequence sees Forbush Man trap the members of nextwave in their own personal hells, each of which is described in its own three-page story.
These individual vignettes are a great showcase for Immonen's versatility as he evokes Mike Allred during the comic-strip-style Machine Man segment and then switches to a style that is more reminiscent of Mike Mignola’s during the section that sees Elsa Bloodstone transposed into a gothic horror story.
Ellis also gives Immonen the chance to really cut loose in a gloriously over-the-top sequence of giant double-splash pages, which mocks the overuse of the device in superhero comics at the same time that it presents a relentless deluge of weird and wonderful enemies (including Elvis MODOKs, Chimpanzee Wolverines, and two-headed samurai with three arms) for the nextwave crew to battle.
It's a celebration of the wild possibilities that are offered by comics and the superhero genre, and it's a refreshing change from the dour realism that seems to be so dominant in many comics at the moment.
I'm also a big fan of Immonen's cover collages, which are reproduced here in full (including a great parody of Civil War, all the way down to the tie-in trade dress).
Comics readers often complain that some of the fun and exuberance of the Silver Age has been lost in recent years--citing the overbearing influence of the grim 'n' gritty '80s as a factor that has contributed to a more realistic and restrained approach to comics over the last couple of decades. To those people, I would highly recommend nextwave.
It's difficult to convey just how unashamedly enjoyable and dynamic the book is but, hopefully, my review has come close. I didn't follow the book when it was being published as a monthly title, though this TPB makes me wish that I had because if more readers had supported the series on its initial release it might not have ended as soon as it did.
Perhaps if enough people buy the collected editions of the series, there's a chance that we'll see a return to nextwave for Ellis and Immonen. I really hope so because (aside from, perhaps, Matt Fraction's Casanova) there's nothing else around at the moment that can come close to replacing it.
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