“We all live in the shadow of Nextwave.”
I didn’t say that. Kieron Gillen said that. The guy that wrote Phonogram, the Wicked and the Divine, Young Avengers, Journey into Mystery, Angela – Asgard’s Assassin, that guy. Look at that list of comics. It’s insane. Those are some of the best stories to come out of this generation of writers. That’s a hell of a thing, but he took the time to acknowledge the towering accomplishment that is Nextwave.
To understand this, we need to set the stage.
Civil War was happening. Civil War is one of those comics that people that don’t read comics really seem to like, but as they get into comics they look back on Civil War and feel bad about themselves. It okay, theoretical reader. We all grow and mature. We all need to start somewhere. Civil War was a point where things really started going wrong with Marvel, where they decided that we were more interested in heroes fighting heroes. It’s where Iron Man became utterly unsalvagable as a hero, where the events that led to Peter Parker selling his marriage to Satan started, where Marvel set up straw-man arguments and achieved nothing save the devaluation all of their intellectual properties. The whole of it has been retconned out of existence except the bit where Spider-Man sold his marriage to Satan to make him more relatable.
It was penned by Mark Millar, a guy that seems to like shock for shock’s sake, a dude that seems to despise the medium that he makes his living off of. This doesn’t keep him from writing good comics, or, sometimes, comics that are heavily edited and become good movies. Kickass, Kingsmen, even Wanted to some degree.
How did Nextwave react to Civil War?
Nextwave didn’t go by the grimdark writing tropes that infested comics way back in the eighties and have lingered into the modern era, groping for the success and acclaim of the Dark Knight Returns and Daredevil Fall From Grace without any understanding of what makes those comics work. Nextwave instead focused on its own story, of lashing back against those types of stories and making something that was utterly unlike anything else.
Make no mistake: Nextwave is ridiculous. It’s five heroes you’ve never heard of breaking away from the people they work for to fight unusual weapons of mass destruction that are being field tested in America. It is about people being punched and things being kicked. It is a glorious series of two-issue stories that read like summer blockbusters, and it is a work of the purest and maddest genius.
And as for the content? Well…
I have a belief about how this comic was pitched. There is no evidence to support this belief, and it is nothing more than fevered imaginings. Still, it is the only way I can make sense of this comic being made. So, again: this did not happen, but it probably should have.
So, the story goes that Marvel is having a board meeting when the door slams open and Warren Ellis strides in, bottle in hand.
“I have an idea!” Warren says, as the various people that run Marvel look upon him and despair. For the purposes of this story, I like to imagine that the people running Marvel is a person, a single multi-headed dragon that Warren Ellis approaches without fear. “You will listen to my Idea or you will be destroyed!”
“Warren,” says one of the heads of Marvel. The large head, for those that must know. “I didn’t realize you were in the country. Listen, we’re in the middle of a meeting-”
“Shhhh,” says Warren Ellis, placing the tip of his finger on the dragon’s lips. He smiles a mad smile.
“I wouldn’t mind listening to what Warren has to say,” the smart head says. The others murmur their agreement, all realizing that Warren is not leaving until he’s shared with them an idea that will change the world.
“Okay,” says Warren. “Okay. Alright. Does anyone here remember HATE?”
“I hate you, Warren,” whispers the large head.
“What?” says Warren.
“I think he means the Highest Anti-Terrorism Effort,” the smart head says, using a claw to scratch his third chin. “They were a SHIELD analogue back in the seventies, I think?”
“Why were they called HATE?” asks one of the younger heads.
“There was a lot of drugs going on back then,” the smart head says, smiling and looking at something no one else can see. He blinks, looking around the room, his vision returning to this reality. “Anyway, they were phased out.”
“What if they weren’t phased out?” Warren asks, hopping in a circle on his left leg. “What if, instead, like, all their funding went to SHIELD? They’d need to stay open. Right? Right? So, like, what it they decided to crowdfund?”
“Crowdfund?” the large head asks. “This is 2006. What is crowdfunding? Is it even a verb?”
“We’re a dragon, so use your dragon powers and look into the future for something called kickstarter,” the green head says, longing to return to the cave where they store their treasure. The others think he’s a little weird.
“Yeah, okay, so, HATE ends up crowd-sourcing for funding, and, oh, this is so good!” Warren laughs and does a little jig. “So, SHIELD has Hydra as an enemy, right? Well, HATE has SILENCE, and SILENCE becomes the Beyond Corporation, and the Beyond Corporation starts funding HATE!”
An awkward quiet settles over all the heads of the dragon.
“So,” says the youngest head, “HATE is being funded by their enemies?”
“HATE gets funded by the people that they’re supposed to stop!” Warren Ellis laughs and has a shot of the powerful drink he is carrying, knowing that the dragon cannot understand the subtlety of his genius. “Anyway, SHIELD is led by Nick Fury, and HATE has Dirk Anger.”
“Is he anything like Nick?” asks a head that, up until this point, has been quiet. A head that cannot be described, for any fine detail of the head is torn from the mind of the observer. Still, Warren Ellis dares to look this head in several of its eyes, holding the bottle of drink between them.
“He is better than Nick,” Warren Ellis says. “Let me show you.”
“How…,” the largest head looks uncomfortably around the room. “How did you do that?”
“I’m Warren Ellis,” Warren Ellis proclaims, as if this explains everything. And it does. You are now enlightened. “Anyways, SHIELD sort of his the Avengers, so Dirk has his own group of heroes.”
“Alright,” says the oldest head, who has been around long enough to see the shape of things. “Here we go. Who do you want on your superhero team?”
“Monica Rambeau is the team leader,” Warren Ellis says, climbing onto the table.
“Who?” asks the largest head.
“Captain Marvel,” replies one of the others. “Not that one, or that one. The other one. She was also Photon, I think? She led the Avengers for five minutes. No one’s used her in a while.”
“Let’s change that!” Warren Ellis howls, standing on the table and striking a heroic pose. “She has the experience, the wisdom! Let her lead and be my straight man!”
“Straight man?” the largest head asks. “Why do you need a straight man?” Warren Ellis backhands the largest head of the dragon and strides down the table, waving around the bottle in his hand.
“Do not question my muse, for she is Mighty!” Warren proclaims and, indeed, the bottle appears to be made of the same stuff as Mjolner. The dragon heads all look at one antoher, sharing the same thought – what potent drink might such a bottle hold? “Also, there is the Machine Man, but you should call him Aaron Stack.”
“Why?” the youngest asks, so Warren Ellis kicks him.
“Because robots are people, too,” Warren says, cradling the dragon’s head. “He has come back from his time among the Celestials enlightened, switching his fuel source to the one thing humanity will always have.” Warren thrusts his bottle up with powerful intent.
“He’s gone solar?” asks the green head.
“No, not at all,” Warren says, grinning a mad grin. “He is now powered by beer.”
Warren accepts the silence that greets this proclamation as acceptance.
“Also, there is Elsa Bloodstone,” Warren says. “Thing of her as Lara Croft’s evil twin sister who hunts demons, and comes from a long line of nigh-immortal demon hunters.”
“I think I’m in love,” the youngest head says, sighing.
“And why wouldn’t you be?” Warren says, his grin spreading to horrible lengths. “Joining them is the Captain.”
“Which Captain?” the largest head asks, veering away before Warren can strike him.
“Yes!” Warren laughs, spinning in place. “There’s a Captain for almost everything, so he just calls himself the Captain. He got his generic set of superpowers while drunk, and can’t remember his real name!”
“So, a self insert,” the wisest head mutters. Thankfully, no one else hears him.
“Anyway, their last member is Boomer,” Warren says. “Or Meltdown. Or Boom-Boom. Or whatever ridiculous name she has this week. She makes things explode and she’s a kleptomaniac, so she steels the Beyond Corporation’s plan to use HATE to test Unusual Weapons of Mass Destruction in America, and our heroes abandon HATE to stop them.”
“So,” the wise head says, “you could say Nextwave rises above HATE?”
“Yes! Yes, exactly!” Warren cries, dancing on the table and kicking the paperwork everywhere.
“Sounds like a serious work,” the large head says. “What’s the tone?”
“Insanity!” Warren answers, staring the large head in four sets of eyes. “People will get punched. Things will get kicked. Two issue stories, each one a summer blockbuster. A tribute to the glorious excesses and madnesses of the medium!”
“If we say you can do this,” the oldest head says, looking around the room cautiously, “Will you leave?”
“Yes,” Warren promises. “Twelve issues of greatness. You will give me this.”
“Yep,” the largest head says. “Please go away.”
“One more thing,” Warren says, throwing his bottle through the window so that it shatters. The bottle, made of the same stuff as Mjolner, returns to his hand. Warren Ellis is worthy. “There is a theme song.”
“Is that Dethklok?” the oldest head asks. Warren Ellis just grins.
“Hail Hydra,” Warren says, bowing with a flourish before teleporting away. A sentence lingers after him, a warning carved flaming in the air. “The name of the team is Nextwave.”
The story ends there.
Again, that didn’t happen, but it should have. This is the way that Nextwave was pitched in the truest world, of which we are all but an echo. Somehow, somehow Nextwave exists to rescue us all from the banality of grimdark and idiot politics and greed and pretense. It is an act of genius, a self-contained work that flies in the face of conventional logic, transcending any understanding of a sane universe. Warren Ellis wrote it. Stuart Immonen did the pencils, Wayne von Grawbadger the inks, Dave McCaig the colors, and Joe Caramagna the letters. We owe all of them a great debt that can never be repaid for crafting this comic, but we do not have to. By working on on Nextwave, all of them transcended the stage of history. They are as gods walking this world.
And we are all better for the existence of Nextwave. It’s okay that we all live in the shadow of Nextwave, and all our worlds are a better place for it. If you like fun, if you have ever been in love, if you have thought to yourself that this world is an okay place, if you have a soul, you need to read this comic. And if you never had any of those things, Nextwave will show you how to have those experiences. It will make you a better person if you let it. You can and should purchase Nextwave by clicking on this sentence.
Saving America one explosion at a time.