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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.*

45 Comments

Nextwave absolutely makes the world a better place.

Drop bears aren’t widdle and cuddly.

They are an Australian MENACE that must be destroyed.

I think the world would be a better place if Warren Ellis and Immonen worked on more books. Good article.

[…] Start the new year off right with a brand new She Has No Head! column about the wall to wall fun that is NEXTWAVE AGENTS OF H.A.T.E.! […]

Nextwave has left a hole in my life. It ain’t for everyone, but I loved every freakin’ panel. This should have cemented Monica Rambeau as a cornerstone of the Marvel U, but no one else knows how to write her better than Ellis and Immonen.

And, fot everyone who ever wanted to know the origin of Fin Fang Foom’s shorts … http://marvelsmartass.wordpress.com/2009/11/03/a-i-m-high-issue-eight-a-i-m-vs-econ-101/aim-high-issue-eightc-2/

I think of Nextwave as something of an Anti-Watchmen (which I imagine is something I’ll get quite a bit of flak for saying). A reimagining of relatively minor characters dealing with a large-scale threat in a book that is more or less in direct opposition to the kinds of books it was released alongside. Sure, Nextwave will never likely be as successful, but I think it’s a nice compliment and change of scenery of the usual dark comics we mostly get nowadays.

FIN FANG FOOM PUT YOU IN HIS PANTS!

Brian from Canada

January 3, 2011 at 11:46 am

Comics were a better place with Nextwave on the shelves. Quite frankly, I don’t think any comic Marvel has put out this past decade comes close to its unbridled enthusiasm for the bizarre and extreme like the classic days of their anthology titles of the 60s.

And the credit goes to Ellis 100%. Much as I love Immomen’s work here, it’s Ellis who finds the fringe and makes them someone you want to see more of — much as Bendis did at the beginning before diving right into the center. Marvel and DC are both chock full of these characters, and finding them is like revisiting a Hollywood classic: you get reacquainted with some great characters that offer something a little bit different.

It’s like the producers of Batman: Brave & The Bold said: you don’t need to add the humour because it’s already there in the characters; you just need to let the ridiculous be handled seriously to get a great adventure.

I just re-read this about 2 months ago – it’s even funnier the second time around. And you just have to love a comic that finds a way to incorporate both Fin Fang Foom and Devil Dinosaur.
Anyway, great review Kelly. You pretty much summarized my own views, particularly the pure unbridled awesomeness of Monica Rambeau – that flashback of her frying the little yapping dog is a personal favorite scene. As are Elsa Bloodstone’s flashbacks of her childhood training to be a monster-hunter…

No one is better than Warren Ellis at making you feel like a superhero story is happening now. Now! NOW!

The cast that he chose put (then) recent Marvel history into the rearview mirror. Monica Rambeau’s previous apex had been the Stern-Buscema AVENGERS. Tabitha Smith had been closely associated with Rob Liefeld and the ’90s. Elsa Bloodstone was a legacy character whose father had been active in the Wolfman-Wein monster books of the ’70s. Aaron Stack was probably the last major character the Kirby created in his second stint at Marvel. Collectively, they put the Silver and Bronze Ages firmly into the past.

That freed Ellis to riff on Old School superhero stuff. There were giant monsters. There were dueling secret acronym groups. They had an awesome base of operations.

One thing I doubt is in the trade is the Colour it in yourself variant. Now that was good.

I ordered the Ultimate Collection way back when Amazon had that little error of discounting all of the Marvel trades. Such a great, great book, I pull it out regularly to re-read it.

“I think of Nextwave as something of an Anti-Watchmen ”

My god, that makes so much sense that it hurts.

For me, the only series that came close to matching the sheer “whatthefuckery” of NEXTWAVE was Jason Aaron’s GHOST RIDER run (which, Kelly, if you haven’t read I recommend as highly as possible).

i haven’t checked out Nextwave in a looong time (since the first ish came out), but i remember being more into the Alpha Flight relaunch by Scott Lobdell and Clayton Henry. twisted, weird, and wacky. i think that book also ran for 12 issues. i also loved New Warriors: Reality Check. a funny and smart mini series. i weeped like a baby reading the 5th issue. pretty moving.

Tom Fitzpatrick

January 3, 2011 at 2:12 pm

My favourite Aaron Stack line: “Death to the fleshy ones!”

That always makes me smile.

Why in the Maker’s name did MARVEL ever cancel this series, will always be beyond me.

What is, and should be considered more important now, when is MARVEL going to bring this book back on to the market with the same magical team on it?

NEXTWAVE is simply made of awesome!

Back when CBR was counting down the 100 greatest writers, one of the big knocks I saw folks mentioning about Ellis was his dialogue. Good God, how could I have forgotten to bring up NEXTWAVE during those posts. Each issue had 4-5 absolutely quotable in perpetuity, diamond perfect lines though would immediately bring maniacal grins of glee to any other NEXTWAVE reader within earshot who knew what the hell you were talking about. This series was so good it hurt, and I’d almost be willing to do unspeakable things to get a continuation of this series that maintained the same level of awesomeness as the original.

That, and the Captian had the absolutely greatest origin story of any comic superhero chracter I’ve ever come across, bar none.

Highest Anti-Terrorism Unit? How does that spell H.A.T.E.? I assume that’s part of the humour?

I love fun books, too, and I really wish Marvel would do more of them (I think my favourite series this past year were Avengers Academy and Young Allies, which along with SWORD, may’ve been the most fun stuff they’ve had lately). Often times, though, the fun books degenerate into ridiculousness, as happened a lot in the original Excalibur, for instance. I don’t know much about Nextwave, but I get the impression it may’ve gone a little too far in that direction.

So this is the same old Machine Man from the olden days? it doesn’t look like him at all.

I love Monica. And I really like Boom-Boom. I don’t understand why so many people dismiss her the way they do (of course, I’ve read very little X-Force, so I don’t know how bad she might’ve been in that). Boom-Boom once blew up the Beyonder’s butt, just for fun– you’ve got to respect her for that.

But since when did Monica have super-powers as a kid? Ellis didn’t go making up a new history for everyone, directly contradicting what had been established before, did he? I really hate writers who do that.

It’s “Highest Anti-Terrorism Effort,” actually.

@Michael P – Corrected! Thanks.

I remember as it was coming out, NEXTWAVE had detractors. I don’t really see them around for this post, so hopefully they either changed their mind or were kicksploded in the meantime.

Issue 11 won the CBR Forums best issue of the year, and it was well-deserved. The only book that I helped to nominate that actually was voted on and won!

I enjoyed aspects of the series, but I always feel like the hype around it is severely overblown when I see people talk about it. Some of the jokes/scenarios really aren’t THAT hilarious. Amusing, yes, enjoyable, sure, but there’s much more parody rather than celebration of the genre in these pages. Which is fine. There are some really inspired moments throughout, like the use of Forbush Man and even Devil Dinosaur. But the series only really seems to fire on all cylinders and achieve its promise in issue #10, with all other issues being a mix of hit and misses. 3 1/2 stars out of 5 is what I’d give it.

Nextwave is so good I read every slowpoke review of it just to make sure the reviewer gushes to my satisfaction. I am appeased.

@MisterSmith:
Holy shit you’re a genius. I totally agree now that you point it out. That would make for a great article if someone took both of them in the context of their times and compared them. But I think every time I hear someone say they read Watchmen, now, I’m going to reccomend Nextwave instantly.

Damn @dnwilliams, you are right on the money! Every now and then, there is a review like this, but you know what? still not enough, this comic was TOO good :D

Peace

Nextwave was too damn pretty to live.

no good can come of a robot in a bra

Akaky Akakievich Bashmachkin

January 3, 2011 at 9:31 pm

@Mary Warner

“But since when did Monica have super-powers as a kid? Ellis didn’t go making up a new history for everyone, directly contradicting what had been established before, did he? I really hate writers who do that.”

Nextwave was, at the time of it’s publication, set outside the regular Marvel continuity. A kind of Elseworlds tale.

Personally, I’m very happy to ignore established continuity if it means getting a good story. And Nextwave is absolutely brilliant.

Ellis always said that Nextwave was the only book that was actually in continuity and that everybody else were actually Skrulls. Then Secret Invasion happened.

Interesting side note…I originally called this post “Why Does Everything Totally Awesome Happen (Sorta) Outside Of Continuity”

Still like that title quite a bit, but was trying to go more positive for the first post in 2011.

@Matt’s Duarte and Maniac – Was afraid I was going to be crucified for that particular comparison, but I’m glad to see people get what I was saying.

Also, I had asked Tom Brevoort on formspring some months ago about Nextwave, and it IS canon…albeit with a whole lot of brainwashing and just flat out lies: http://www.formspring.me/TomBrevoort/q/597747173

I’ve read both Nextwave and Watchmen.

I prefer Nextwave.

Because Watchmen is all about a bunch of losers whose mothers dressed them funny.

As I recall, back in the early days of Nextwave, nobody seemed to be in agreement about whether it was canon or not, sometimes even disagreeing with themselves from week to week. Very broadly, originally, it was in, which was why Ellis was using all characters that weren’t appearing in any other books and why he explicitly couldn’t use Nick Fury.

But as every issue upped the ante, and after the third or thirtieth “Techno organic prolapse imminent!” it was back out because, frankly, it would hilariously demolish most of the established Marvel Universe.

These days, Marvel seems to have mostly settled on MisterSmith’s explanation, as more and more writers wanted to use the (vastly superior) Ellis characterizations of some of the leads.

That said, if violations of established Marvel continuity really bug you, I imagine Nextwave would make your head explode.

I honestly believe this has to be the funniest 2 panels in comic book history.
http://api.ning.com/files/TEMzKYDJXGzNW96i1h4Vh9OKnc6KSkNRSLERmbpkBN8MOlRhgKTVSaWxFb3csFKtzPn*C5SzvNxBa3tDkZ2zdQDQUFIcAneo/nextwave_robothead.jpg
And considering that I’m a DC fan, that’s saying a lot.

Awww, dang. That link was too long.
Okay…let’s go with the single most funny panel in comic history (IMO).
http://www.marvunapp.com/Appendix4/dropbears2.JPG

Nextwave is in continuity. What you have to consider though, particularly in flashback scenes, is that the characters are the very definition of unreliable narrators. That’s what they feel happened, not exactly what really happened.

Except for the Celestials kicking out Machine Man. He really is a total ????.

(Aw man, I tried to do the four little skulls, but I guess that the comment field didn’t recognize them)

I laughed all the way through Nextwave. Loved every single moment of it! In my dream alternate reality Warren Ellis writes a Nextwave Annual and Global Frequency Annual every year FOREVER AND EVER!

I would tend to believe that your dream alternate reality is a wonderful, magical land.

Nextwave is absolutely awesome, yes indeed.

But reprinting, in full, 9 story pages out of a total of the 22 in NEXTWAVE #1 really seriously exceeds fair use.

@Bully. I suppose one could look at it that way, but since I suspect people are unlikely to hunt down (four years after release) the single issue #1 if they don’t already have it when multiple collected trades exist, I took it as 9 pages out of the 264 page edition that I was raving about…? Same thing?

I was torn on this book. I really loved it when it first came out, but the shtick got old fast to me 4 issues in. I think it would have been better bimonthly, quarterly or as a miniseries. Good but repetitive.

I’m definitely buying this.

If I’d realized you hadn’t read NEXTWAVE yet, I’d have mailed it to you months ago.

What I like about Tabby here is that, appearance aside, she’s essentially the big dumb bruiser of the group and that’s a role women rarely get to play.

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