There are some things that I just keep coming back to again and again: particular albums, specific books or comics, movies that I’ve seen a dozen times or more. There’s just something about them that keeps drawing me back in, and every few months I find myself cracking open the book/CD case/DVD case and running through it all over again.
Warren Ellis (writer) and Stuart Immonen’s (artist) Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. is one of those things. I feel the overwhelming urge to reread this comic every couple of months, just to remind myself that, yes, something this awesome does in fact exist. It’s probably my favorite Ellis comic, and I’m quite the fan of most anything he writes. It’s probably that he seems like he’s just having so much fun writing the comic. I happen to usually like my comics with a bit of “bwahaha” in them (hence, JLI is a perennial favorite), and there are plenty of those moments here. Ellis throws so many completely random things at the reader (Fin Fang Foom in purple underpants, for instance, or “drop bears,” deadly koala commandos dropped from the aeromarine, which is itself basically four submarines thrown together with great big jet engines strapped onto the back), and it’s the sort of comic that never takes itself too seriously. I like that. I like comics creators that see this as a fun medium (which isn’t to say you can’t have Serious Comics; I also happen to like some of those, but I tend to come back to the fun ones more often) and take advantage of the goofy and downright bizarre nature of the artform to craft engaging, entertaining stories.
Ellis’s writing is, of course, top-notch, wry, and funny as hell, but what really sells this particular book is the art by Stuart Immonen. Immonen’s art for Nextwave is a loose, cartoony style that perfectly captures the crazy, kinetic nature of the action. “Cartoony” doesn’t mean “less detailed” in this case, though; Immonen crams so many details into each page that it’s amazing the book doesn’t just explode awesome all over the place. The series of splash pages in the middle of issue #11 – in which our heroes face increasingly bizarre enemies such as Elvis M.O.D.O.K.s that spew hamburgers, monkeys with Wolverine’s claws, a dinosaur with Cyclops’s eye beam, and crazy ninjas – as they march towards their enemy’s inner sanctum is just brilliant and reason enough to read the book.
Nextwave is a great cheek to the somewhat-stale superhero genre. It’s out-over-the-topping (yeah, I just made that up) the sometimes-extreme nature of superhero comics, with the splash pages and the hyper-violence and the old anti-hero trend (seriously, can we get away from that one now?). While Ellis and Immonen clearly have some affection for the genre they’re so mercilessly lampooning, they don’t pull any punches. Nextwave is easily one of the best comic books that’s been released in the past decade, and the only problem with it is that it doesn’t last longer.