Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Marvel Unbound - Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E., Ultimate Collection

I don’t have a lot of exposure to Warren Ellis’ work. A few years ago I read (and enjoyed but wasn’t necessarily completely wowed by) Iron Man: Extremis. I have jumped around and read a few issues of Transmetropolitan and Planetary here and there over the last couple of years, and liked what I saw of the latter enough to pony up for both Absolute Planetary volumes. But that’s about it. Then I read the Previews solicit description for Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E., Ultimate Collection. I had no idea what to expect beyond that, but had a laugh-out-loud time when I got into it.

With the first issue tagline of “healing America by beating people up,” you know you’re in for something fun. Ellis finds a way to slay the Marvel Universe while still honoring the – nah, I can’t even type that with a straight face. He pretty much skewers it all, and it’s pure genius.

Everything about this book, from the writing to the art to the recap page to the letters page to the theme song (yes, theme song!) is awesome. Ellis takes a bunch of second-tier Marvel characters and breathes new life into them. Beginning with the second issue and continuing for eleven of the twelve issues, each book begins with a “primer” page containing an irreverent recap of the series up to that point, along with introducing the characters like this:

Monica Rambeau, a former Avenger once called “Captain Marvel” and “Photon”, is their leader. She can transform her body into any form of radiation in the electromagnetic spectrum. Aaron Stack, formerly known as Machine Man, is a robot who does robot-y things. Elsa Bloodstone has a magical stone that she wears around her neck that gives her super strength and invulnerability. And she’s English. Tabitha Smith, former member of X-Force who was called “Boom Boom” or “Meltdown”, can make things explode. The power is helpful. The Captain, also known as The Captain, is really strong and can fly. Though no one knows how or why. He’s a bit sucky.
Set up as six two-issue arcs, the overall book is held together under the premise of the Nextwave team having been put together by the Highest Anti-Terrorism Effort, or H.A.T.E. and H.A.T.E. director (and Nick Fury parody) Dirk Anger. But Nextwave discovered that H.A.T.E. and its parent company, the Beyond Corp.©, are being funded by a terrorist organization when Tabitha stole the Beyond Corp.© marketing plan prior to issue #1.

To avoid spoiling too much of this fun read, let’s just say there are a lot of twists and surprises along the way involving Nextwave foes and origins. There are completely out-of-character cameos by first-tier Marvel heroes, and a lot of love shown to Marvel’s late ’60s Not Brand Echh title.

H.A.T.E.’s foot soldiers are made up entirely of Broccoli Men, robots made from genetically modified kelp, motor oil, and Doombot bodies. Big bads include Dread Rorkannu, alternately referred to as Lord of the Dank Dimension and Master of the Dim Dimensions, Fin Fang Foom, “a giant evil-cop-robot-thing,” and the Beyond Corporation©’s own super teams.

Ellis pulls out references to everything from House of M (“Is that what they taught you in the Avengers? That and beware of spooky chicks who think they’ve been made pregnant by robots?”) to West Side Story (check out the opening page of issue #8) to Animal House (“You want orders? You crank this xxxx thing up to Ramming Speed and you bring me my xxxx brains!”).

Underneath all the savaging of comics is a love for the medium. Ellis’ writing would have come off horribly one-dimensional if it weren’t for Stuart Immonen’s transcendent artwork. Barely contained, his images overflow off the page. With the exception of issue #11 (a parody of the Marvel Civil War event covers), individual issue covers are stylized collages of manic MTV generation attention deficit disorder glory. Issue #5 even shipped with a “Crayon Butchery Variant Edition” that was printed in black and white on newsprint for a coloring contest whose winner was announced on the letters page of issue #10.

All those letters pages (called “H.A.T.E.Mail”) are reproduced in this Ultimate Collection, weaving its own narrative independent of the comic book stories. The Lettermatic 7053™ handles the letter responding duties for the bulk of the twelve issue series. Also included is Ellis’ original pitch, a single page of character sketches, and the lyrics to the Nextwave theme song by series editor Nick Lowe and his brother Matt’s band, Thunder Thighs.

Despite the lack of traditional collected edition extras, it’s hard to complain about Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E., Ultimate Collection. The book compiles all twelve issues of the series, along with all of the covers, letters pages, and in-jokes you could ever hope for. Buy this book. Things blow up and people get kicked.

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