Sunday Slugfest - Nextwave #1

A comic review article by: Keith Dallas, Ariel Carmona Jr., Kelvin Green, Shawn Hill, Shaun Manning, Judson Miers, Jason Sacks

Ariel Carmona Jr.

Plot: The Nextwave Squad, an elite anti-terrorism team hired by H.A.T.E. (Highest Anti Terrorism Effort) led by General Anger, comes into conflict with H.A.T.E.'s source of funding and commandeers a highly classified experimental aircraft. They band together to fight Fin Fang Foom when the giant lizard is let loose by the Beyond Corporation.

Commentary: Fin Fang Foom is one of Marvel’s cool old monster characters. He was a Chinese dragon standing 150 feet tall and able to fly at moderate speeds and who is vulnerable to certain poisonous herbs and potions. In the past, the character has been employed in the Marvel universe against established heroes like Iron Man and the mighty Thor (though when he fought the latter he was actually the Migard Serpent of Norse mythology in the guise of the giant dragon). It’s too bad such a cool character is employed in such a lame story here.

Warren Ellis here gives us some of the dumbest and most stilted dialogue I have read in a long time in a comic book. I surmise he is going mostly for comic effect, but whereas the chuckles in a book like Marvel’s recently released X-StatiX Presents: Dead Girl are derived from poking fun at comic book conventions and established characters like Dr. Strange, the jokes in this one fall pretty flat. There’s an attempt to make fun of acronyms for criminal organizations and other groups such as H.A.T.E. which I guess is supposed to be a comical take on S.H.I.E.L.D., but the concept isn’t too funny to begin with and neither is General Anger even though the book takes greats pain to establish him as a lampoon of Nick Fury. The problem is that he is too much of a cliché, or rather the satirizing of the cliché goes too far at satirizing, and in doing so, the effort comes out as too labored. Nextwave is a pretty uninteresting collaboration of Marvel second and third stringers including Monica Rambeau, formerly Captain Marvel when she was a member of the Avengers, and Tabitha Smith, a mutant formerly in X-Force who has the power to blow things up. These characters weren’t exactly a big hit when they were around in the 80s and subsequent years, so what makes Marvel think it’s a good idea to band them together now? For that matter, how is a character like Captain Marvel who had trouble deciding on a super hero name supposed to inspire confidence? Then again, maybe that’s the point. It’s smart for Marvel to try to cash in on nostalgia and to bring back their old monsters from back in the day, but nostalgia can only take you so far, you also have to have a good story.

Either way, the comic book says that it’s a story about five people who have minutes to prevent a town from being eaten by a giant lizard moster, but it’s really not, they don’t even attempt to engage the monster until the end of the comic book. Half the book is spent on exposition and establishing Nextwave’s mission and the other half in meaningless fights with Robots from the Beyond Corporation.

In The End: I get that this is supposed to be a tongue in cheek book and a nod to Marvel continuity, but Ellis’s dialogue is really bad at times and even though the artwork by artist Stuart Immonen, who’s done extensive work for Marvel in the past in titles like Ultimate X-Men is competent, this book is just too wooden for me to recommend. Silly comics can be deliciously good, but in this case, silly is badly crafted and it shows.

Kelvin Green

Take an article from National Geographic or New Scientist that you really like and write a plot around it. Stick in a bunch of arseholes masquerading as characters, and one or two impressively choreographed action scenes. Steep the whole thing for a month in either a hot mixture of cynicism and bitterness, or some vaguely defined wide-eyed wonder, then serve.

That’s more or less been the Warren Ellis Method for a while now, and it’s not something I’ve really got on with. I’ve never been infected by Ellis’s overly obvious enthusiasm for his ripped-from-the-scientific-journals subject matter, and while he can write a fantastic action sequence, sometimes that alone is not enough to carry a book (hello Ultimate Secret).

So I shouldn’t really enjoy Nextwave, as it’s very much a case of more of the same, except for one key difference. For perhaps the first time, Ellis seems to be having some good old-fashioned fun. The cast is still full of cynical and bitter personalities (the shifty Captain **** and slightly frightening Elsa Bloodstone are favourites already), and the techno-babble is all over the place as per usual, but there’s a very clear sense of fun here; not a “here’s a story about using foeti as voodoo charms and isn’t that deliciously icky” kind of fun, but more of a “here’s a big green dragon in purple pants and we’re going to kick it in the face” kind of fun. Ellis seems to be playing with the absurdities of the Marvel Universe, rather ridiculing them, and it makes for a wonderful read, with every page having at least one eminently quotable moment. Ellis’s sense of humour hasn’t changed as such; he just seems to be more cheerful.

I’m also pleased to see Ellis restoring some apparently unfashionable aspects of the comics medium, like third-person narrative captions; there’s a clear attempt here to show that the reason why such mechanics fell out of favour was because they were misused, rather than because they were intrinsically unworkable. Ellis knows that comics are comics, and that instead of pretending to be films, perhaps all that’s needed is a bit of sprucing up of the core mechanics, and that’s great to see in a Marvel comic in this day and age.

That said, before I’m accused of having joined the Cult of Ellis, I should point out that some parts of the script come across as a bit strained and self-conscious, but Ellis is staking out unfamiliar territory here, so a couple of minor fumbles early on are to be expected.

Again and again, I’ve seen Stuart Immonen praised as a top-flight artist, and while I’ve always appreciated his craft, I’ve never truly been blown away by his work. That changes here, as he and Grawbadger adopt a starker, more exaggerated and angular style that does a great job of conveying the energy and excitement of the story and characters, while Dave McCaig chooses suitably bright and vibrant colours for everything. This book relies on impressive and audacious imagery rather than flashy techniques, and it looks all the better for it.

This is the Warren Ellis comic I’ve been waiting for; it showcases all his many strengths as a writer, with none of the grumpiness or slightly unconvincing obeisance of some of his other titles. Perhaps Planetary or Transmetropolitan are better comics, but this is a great deal more enjoyable.

Shawn Hill

Plot: Fin Fang Foom is unhappy in his underpants, and the Beyond Corporation© is foolishly riling him up in North Dakota. H.A.T.E. Director Dirk Anger is in denial about his funding from Beyond©, which may represent the terrorist interests he’s supposed to be fighting. Monica Rambeau is not, however, and has taken her own cell of super-beings (all with a new streamlined cynical edge and an experimental craft called the Shockwave Rider) off-plan to fight the real enemies.

Comments: Big explosions and funny lines. Not a bad mix. Immonen’s cartoonish but grounded art is a nice foil for this costume-shy crew, who are more fashionable than your average super-team and with the verbal wit to match. If it reads like a really good proposal for a new Cartoon Network show for Adult Swim, well, maybe it will be, one day!

Let’s not kid ourselves about subtlety here: General Anger leads the Highest Anti Terrorism Effort, the Captain’s actual name is unprintable, and the corporate goons (who are testing Marvel Universe-style WMDs) are actually poking Foom with a big stick and thus must be stopped. But the clever lines are clever, even Machine Man has a personality, and the pared-down team seems to have a varied power set for taking on their foes. There’s a lot in place here that could guarantee some fun, in yet another entry on Ellis’s drive to update stupid heroes for real world (or at least currently cinematic) threats. It’s all about the synergy.

Shaun Manning

Oh, brother. Nobody’s favorite characters return in a half-hour sitcom from Warren Ellis and Stuart Immonen. Captain ****, Ellie Bloodstone, and the heroes formerly known as Machine Man, Captain Marvel, and Meltdown rebel against their H.A.T.E. masters and the insidious Beyond© Corporation. Exploring the evils of globalization, urban sprawl, and secret government task forces, Nextwave is liberal propaganda at its finest!

Nextwave reads like a TV show, with quick cuts and on-screen narration. There’s an opening sequence before the credits, and, hell, it’s even got a theme song. Like the much-lamented Arrested Development, Nextwave features a barrage of both verbal and visual gags, not subtle in the least but evoking that brand of laughter that comes from being in on the joke. Fin Fang Foom and his underpants, a high-tech giant telephone, and the Captain’s censored moniker are all incredibly clever and remarkably funny in that slightly-stupid way. Dirk Anger and H.A.T.E are also so over the top that one can’t help coming round to accepting their absurdity.

Stuart Immonen’s art is well-suited to the cartoonish story. Immonen seems at his best in an environment of infinite possibility, and like Legion of Super Heroes, this new title is set completely outside the world of the expected. Nextwave benefits greatly from his exaggerated approach, as it makes all of the absurdity easier to swallow.

Ellis is on a roll lately, and Nextwave should satisfy fans looking for an offbeat superhero book.

Judson Miers

First off, I would like to thank the Marvel executive(s) who have been providing us here at SBC some much needed previews of new material that’s being developed. That being said, I wasn’t much impressed with this new series.

First off, it seems like every media outlet makes the “safe bet” and spins off a new series by using a character who’s leaving another successful series such as The Avengers. It also seems that either the comics are becoming too gritty/dark or campy. NextWave falls into the later category. While I wasn’t tremendously impressed with the artwork (a little too manga-inspired for me), it was really the storyline that let me down.

The basic story is that there is a new over-the-top version of S.H.I.E.L.D. out there named H.A.T.E., complete with its very own tribute or joke on Nick Fury. A team of ex-super heroes, led by Captain Marvel, have just left H.A.T.E., because of corporate corruption. It seems that a large corporation named Beyond© has uncovered Fin Fang Foom as part of a weapons of mass destruction exploration. Without being particularly informative on how Fin Fang Foom got there (Who wouldn’t know where a monster of such size would be!!??), who/what Fin Fang Foom is (for the uninitiated), what danger he may or may not possess, the NextWave team jumps into action. There is much stated about how sexually frustrated he is and how it’s impossible for him to “relieve himself.” I would have to assume that this is just another attempt at humor, like the name of one of the characters.

I’m sure some will enjoy this comic, but I won’t be buying any of this series. There’s just not anything that’s compelling enough to keep me interested.

Jason Sacks

Well, this is pretty damn wacky. Warren Ellis takes the Marvel Universe, flips it onto its side, tickles its tummy and makes it giggle uncontrollably. Umm, does that even make sense? See, this comic totally puts me into that kind of weird state of mind.

How can you resist a comic where the stand-in for Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. works for an organization called H.A.T.E. and spouts dialogue like, "Every day I smoke two hundred cigarettes and one hundred cigars and drink a bottle of whisky and three bottles of wine with dinner. And dinner is meat. Raw meat. The cook serves me an entire animal and I fight it barehanded and tear off what I want and at it and I have the rest buried. In New Jersey."

The Nextwave are former agents of HATE and constitute some Marvel second-raters like the heroine formerly known as both Captain Marvel and Photon, a girl called Bloodstone, Aaron Stack, the former Machine Man, and others. Since they're all second-raters, Ellis can do whatever he wants with them, producing something that's similar in tone and style to the old Giffen/DeMatteis/McGuire Justice League.

Some may not like the silly tone of this comic. "It seems silly" is the new decompressed. In light of the new Defenders series, the new X-Statix: Dead Girl book and this one, it seems like Marvel has become enamored of the idea of making fun of many of their characters. There's nothing wrong with that to me; heck, I love making fun of their heroes in my blog. Marvel does run a risk of being too po-mo with their characters, though; it's hard to see the Doctor Strange in X-Statix as the same one who solved the mystery in "Avengers Disassembled." But I like the po-mo corner of the Marvel Universe, and I enjoy seeing second raters like The Captain and Fin Fang Foom being made fun of.

The artwork by Stuart Immonen is just wonderful. I enjoyed the loose and cartoony style he presents, and I just love the way he draws Bloodstone's enormous ponytail. I do like his "straight" cartooning better, but this is just fine for me.

I have trouble seeing how this comic can sustain itself in the long haul - these characters don't quite seem to have the kind of spark that can take them from silly diversion to interesting people - but as a debut, this is loads of wacky fun.

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