She Has No Head! - Nextwave Agents of AWESOME

Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E.  Warren Ellis (writer).  Stuart Immonen (artist).  Wade Von Grawbadger (inks).  Dave McCraig and Paul Mounts

(colors).  Marvel.  264 pages.  $34.99, softcover edition issues #1-12.

So let's start the year off right with some balls to the wall comics fun, yes?

I’ve been talking a lot in this column over the last year about the lack of unabashedly fun comics lately…or at least in the comics that I seem to read, and how I find myself yearning for genuinely fun books.  Pure fun was what had me falling for Heralds and maybe of the best stories from Marvel's Strange Tales II and Girl Comics, for Amanda Conner’s Wonder Woman/Power Girl team up short in Wonder Woman #600, for the best of Wednesday Comics, Beasts of Burden, everything Kate Beaton puts on paper, and even Scott Pilgrim.

But where could I get more...I was hungry for it?!

Well lucky for me I wasn’t reading comics when Warren Ellis and Stuart Immonen’s hilarious Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. first released, so I got to pick up the new collected edition and discover it for the first time.

It was exactly what the doctor ordered.

A fantastic superhero book that manages to simultaneously both celebrate and parody everything superhero, Nextwave was so much fun I almost couldn’t stand it (except I totally could, it was awesome).

The set up is a somewhat bizarre team up of characters: Monica Rambeau (formerly Captain Marvel and Photon); Tabitha Smith (aka Boom Boom – and a variety of other names too tedious to mention); Aaron Stack (aka The Machine Man); Elsa Bloodstone “monster hunter”; and The Captain (formerly Captain XXXX) as Agents of H.A.T.E. (The Highest Anti Terrorism Effort) that go rogue when they discover that H.A.T.E is being funded by terrorists (via The Beyond Corporation).

After stealing the Shockwave Rider (basically a completely awesome ship/plane) and a marketing plan that lays out the Beyond Corporation’s blueprint for using H.A.T.E. as a tester of WMD’s on American soil, Nextwave follows the blueprint to stop them at every turn.  Between what trouble they find at each stop on their mission and Dirk Anger (a hilarious Nick Fury send up) head of H.A.T.E., hunting them down the action literally never stops.

Monica Rambeau leads this “team” of misfits and troublemakers and in the hands of a lesser writer these strong personalities could easily get exhausting, but instead they somehow blend perfectly.  And without every having a hallmark hall of fame moment you still feel at the end that they DO care about each other against all odds – and in fact don’t really want to go their separate ways when the time comes.

The plot and giant action pieces are crazy wild – with the team fighting everything from a giant purple pantsed Fin Fang Foom and broccoli men to drop bears (aka widdle cuddly bears of DEATH!) and samurai robots.  There really are no “small moments’, which I tend to like in superhero stories, but I didn’t miss it here.  The book never slows down enough from its breakneck action and joke-filled pace to have a “small moment” but it works anyway, in fact, it works to the tune of awesome.

The cast Ellis chose, which I think feels deliberately arbitrary and strange, is in fact smart and well-considered, balancing nicely (and surprisingly) on the page.  Monica Rambeau is effective as the leader and “straight man”.  She anchors the team nicely and it’s hella nice to have a black female superhero as the powerhouse, backbone, morality, and fearless leader of a team.  It helps that she’s also hilarious, even as the straight man.  I really fell for Rambeau in this book.

I’ve always kind of liked Boom Boom, despite her kind of ditsy persona and a power that always seemed rather lame on the page, but Ellis uses her ditsy personality to great effect and her powers under both Ellis and Immonen are pretty badass here.  We can’t all be rocket scientists, so I don’t mind that she’s the dim bulb of the team, it fits how she’s always been and it works in concert with the rest of this kind of rag tag fly by the seat of your pants team and despite her ditziness (in fact, sometimes thanks to it) Tabitha pulls her weight and saves the day with surprising frequency.

Aaron Stack gets all the good lines…okay, okay, he doesn’t get ALL the good lines, but he gets like 80% of them.  His predilection for referring to humans as “fleshy ones” alone is worth the read, and he has good chemistry with Rambeau and despite being arguably "the funny one" he also feels like the other anchor to the book, the co-leader if you will. Though if Rambeau ever leaves him in charge of anything, I fear for everyone.  From a powers standpoint Stack can do all sorts of crazy cool stuff including basically being a giant violent Swiss army knife.

The Captain is the only “new” character and he’s a good anti-hero – a “loser” imbibed with an alien power somewhat on accident – but someone that definitely wants to make something of himself and desperate to prove his worth to the team.  He also brings a good masculine energy to the table, even though I suspect he rarely feels uber masculine in the company of his badass teammates.

Elsa Bloodstone rounds out the cast nicely as the ballsy British monster hunter.  I wasn’t very familiar with Bloodstone before this book, but she basically rocks…and gets most of the good lines that Stack doesn't snap up for himself.

Stuart Immonen’s art is awesome.  There’s no other single word for it.  It’s really cartoony and exaggerated which is a perfect match for the tone of the book and all the crazy characters and plot lines that raise their heads.  The expressions especially are great – Immonen never holds back and illustrates well how much we really miss in the storytelling with artists that don’t pay attention to the acting of their characters.  Here's a nice big excerpt...(psst! buy it now!):

The visual look of the book is so damn strong and a huge part of that is the basic character and costume design which is on point down to shoes and hair accessories.  I'm sure some people out there might think I would have a problem with Elsa and Boom Boom's costumes, but they perfectly fit the characters and even though extreme - and the ridiculousness of some of it (like the tiny feet and insane heeled boots) work in the same extravagant way that her crazy eight foot ponytail with a mind of it’s own works - i.e. mostly to fit the drawing style.  And even as is, the costumes and portrayals are still not as crazy as most of the stuff I encounter on a daily basis in comics.  But it's all about context for me as usual and the context here is "who are these people and what would they wear?".  Immonen nails it.  Elsa is brashy and bold, almost trashy though she would never think so, while Tabitha is a bit sexy and girlish, but functional (right down to her flat and practical boots). Meanwhile Rambeau is in heroic white, and fully covered and conservative (well, as conservative as spandex can be) but crisp and clean and stylin’.  Stack is in a fairly traditional spandex similar to Rambeau and The Captain has a more casual look with camo cargos, converse, and a t-shirt.  They’re all linked together nicely as a team with neutral colored trench coats.

Dave McCraig and Paul Mounts colors are picture perfect.  Capturing all the iconic superhero feels, but keeping up beautifully with the off the wall tone.

What can I say?  Does Nextwave make the world a better place?  Maybe not.  But if more comics came to the table with this energy and enthusiasm and ability to laugh at itself COMICS at least would be a better place.

Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. is available as one softcover trade collecting the entire series issues #1 – 12, and also as two trade paperbacks, each collecting 6 issues.  Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. is available at comic shops and bookstores everywhere, as well as with various online retailers.

*FYI – She Has No Head! is actively accepting review copies of “female friendly comics and graphic novels” for future columns on CSBG.  Please get in touch via email (using the CSBG “contact us” button above) to discuss.*

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