Comics Are Trying to Break Your Heart #55 by Drew Barth
We All Live in the Shadow
Do you remember when Marvel comics was headed by someone who wasn’t a stooge for Donald Trump? I remember those years fondly—when I could pick up a Marvel book and not worry about my money going to Ike Perlmutter so he could further grind the VA into the ground.
Those were the years that spawned one of the greatest pieces of superhero fiction from Warren Ellis and Stuart Immonen: Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. And it’s easy to say that one series is a great piece of superhero fiction—dozens of great stories exist—but Nextwave was something special and is something we all live in the shadow of. And it’s one of the only series with its own theme song.
Nextwave offers a fairly straight-forward story: five heroes defect from H.A.T.E. (Highest Anti-Terrorist Effort) due to it being funded by the Beyond Corporation—itself the remnants of the terrorist organization S.I.L.E.N.T.—and must continually thwart Beyond’s development of bizarre weapons of mass destruction. Massive damage is done to whatever town or city the heroes are in, many things explode, many more people are punched, there’s a giant gorilla dressed like Wolverine, and every single page is like a new revelation in what superhero comics can be when they forget the 80s happened and obstinate realism wasn’t the end goal for every story.
Nextwave is the kind of story that sees a machine man, a woman who can turn herself into particles, a demon hunter, a drunk with super strength, and a teenager who can blow things up with her mind, and realizes that this is a story that needs explosions and jokes. Sometimes all we want to do is give punching a chance.
But then there’s the moments throughout where Ellis’ penchant for the best character work comes through as well. Almost every character has a moment, even if it’s only two panels, that encompasses who they are as people. The Captain has a moment where his mom hangs his bear by its neck when he was a kid; Aaron Stack is called an asshole by The Celestials; Elsa Bloodstone is thrown into a pit of beasts before she can even walk. They’re small moments bookended by punching and exploding, but they’re the kinds of small moments that can make them feel more rounded.
Nextwave is distilled superhero comics, ninety-nine percent proof. There has been very little before that was like Nextwave,and there’s been almost nothing that has come close to the mood and feel of the story. It’s one of those things that’s tough to describe—it’s comedy without parody, satire without spite. Ellis and Immonen crafted a story that will last long into the next century, and we can never escape its shadow.
Get excited. There’s lots more punching.
Drew Barth (Episode 331) is a writer residing in Winter Park, FL. He received his MFA from the University of Central Florida. Right now, he’s worrying about his cat.