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.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


Tracy and I got our first apartment together when she moved from Fort Lauderdale to Orlando in late 1996. We were just starting our life together as a couple, finally living in the same zip code, and found a nice little 900 square foot place off Conway on the southeast side of Orlando in an apartment complex called Valencia. It was an upstairs apartment with an interior private stairwell. Next door to us lived Nancy.

I wasn’t really sure what to make of Nancy, this transplanted New York/New Jersey single lady in her mid-50s who at first struck me as kind of nosy. But as Tracy and I got to know her, I realized she wasn’t nosy at all. Rather, she was a genuinely interested in us and had immediately taken a liking to us. She grew to become involved in both our daily routines and part of the overall fabric of our lives. Nancy was a guardian angel looking over us, a surrogate parent in the geographical absence of our own, a sounding board and voice of wisdom for two young adults trying to find their way in the world together.

It wasn’t all a one-way street, though. We looked in on each other, neighbors in the most comforting sense of the word. When Nancy had knee surgery, we had a system down where I would check in on her regularly and help her with whatever she needed, and Tracy would make dinners for her. Nancy had her cat, Magic. We soon brought home Monty, our Dachshund puppy. And we looked out for each other’s pets and shared the ups and downs of the loving them.

When she told us her brother was the Emmy-nominated director of Saturday Night Live, it was completely without pretense. When she told us she had left the convent and returned to secular life, it was completely without ordeal. When her sister Mary came to visit Nancy, it was a given that we would all spend time together, out to dinner and visiting. When our parents would come in town, we were sure to introduce and include Nancy. She was always doing something to enrich her well-being… reading, painting, writing, whatever. She was a continually fascinating character, and we grew to love her and rely on her.

After Tracy and I were married, we moved up the street to Lake Underhill. We still kept in touch with Nancy regularly, getting together as often as our busy schedules would allow. We moved back north within a year, leaving our Florida friends behind. But I ended up traveling to Orlando numerous times for work over the next few years, and would always make time to meet with Nancy. By then, she had moved on from Valencia, too. She now had a small house and still had Magic by her side. We planned a February 2006 family trip to Orlando, the first time Tracy would be back in the Sunshine State and the kiddo’s first Disney World vacation. We got together with Nancy at P.F. Chang’s at the Mall at Millennia, and she got to meet our son for the first time.

We have always exchanged Christmas cards, and would send the occasional email or make the infrequent phone call, but Nancy has always been in our hearts over the intervening years. But this year, we didn’t get a Christmas card from Nancy. It didn’t go unnoticed, but the holidays are ironically sometimes too busy to actually follow up on things like that and soon it passed completely from our minds.

But one night last week, as we were sitting down to spend some family time together, my cell phone rang. The caller ID registered a 201 area code, and it was obvious it wasn’t from a number already in my phone’s contacts. I answered, and it was Mary sounding hauntingly like Nancy. She began to apologize and explain who she was. I gently interrupted her and told her of course I remember her. She then told me that she was calling because Nancy had passed away on January 7 from a brain tumor.

I was stunned, feeling like a horrible friend for not following up with Nancy at the holidays. As Mary and I talked over the next 15 or 20 minutes, I could feel a Nancy-sized hole opening up in my heart. Tracy and I are both still reeling from the loss, belated though it may be. We are grateful for the time we shared with Nancy, and thankful Mary came across my cell phone number among Nancy’s things and thought enough to reach out to us.

Our thoughts are with Nancy’s family now. And Magic, who is still going strong at 15. Mary told me she always assumed she’d grow old with her sister, but she also told me that she believes that every time you think of someone who’s passed away, they are looking down and thinking of you as well. I hope Nancy’s smiling as she looks down on our family and realizes the positive influence she’s had on us.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Deus ex Comica Anniversary

It’s been one year since I first published Deus ex Comica: The Rebirth of a Comic Book Fan, and I have been overwhelmed by the positive reception it’s received! Thank you to everyone who has bought a copy of the book, or checked it out from the library, or come out to one of my author appearances, or said “hello” at a convention or in-store event over the last year. It’s always amazing to learn that my story resonates with someone; those are the moments that make the struggles of self-publishing and awkwardness of self-promotion all worthwhile.

If you’ve attended one of my author visits, thank you! I hope you had a good time and will tell a friend. I am readying many more appearances (some already scheduled, some still being planned) for the remainder of 2010, both locally in Northeast Ohio and elsewhere.

I do hope that if you’ve read and enjoyed Deus ex Comica you will take a few minutes to rank and review it at Amazon, Lulu, and/or GoodReads and also recommend the book to a friend. This kind of positive word of mouth is huge for little publication like mine. I sincerely hope you’ve enjoyed my book and appreciate the support!

Hope your 2010 is off to a great start!