Monday, September 29, 2008

Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. Volume 1: This Is What They Want by Warren Ellis, Stuart Immonen, and Wade von Grawbadger

Big budget action movie adaptations of super-hero comics tend to be (a) more focused than actual super-hero comics - the continuity is stripped down to its essentials - and (b) a lot less farther out than actual super-hero comics - there's not as much tolerance for the kinds of conceptual inconsistencies that super hero comics thrive on (i.e., the willy-nilly mixing of fantasy and sci-fi, the cosmic and the mundane that gives those Kirby/Lee their particular kick). Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E., a slapstick variation on Ellis' Planetary, belongs to a (relatively) recent trend of super-hero comics that take the aesthetics and the focus of the big-budget Hollywood adaptations, but don't shy away from the farther out aspects of the genre.

In terms of execution of concept, Nextwave is just about perfect: Ellis' writing is sharp and the in-jokes - mostly at the expense of Marvel's bigger books - are pointed; Stuart Immonen knows how to handle action sequences and he can draw giant monsters AND giant robots; Wade von Grawbadger helps to give it a manga-esque flow. Despite all this, Nextwave is a book whose qualities I appreciate, rather than one that I really like. I think it's just as well made as The Immortal Iron Fist, but while that book really resonates with me, I'm not on Nextwave's wavelength.

Now, three or four years ago, I could see myself really enjoying a book like this: today, not so much. Not because I've somehow matured beyond it - the book is certainly no less mature than Iron Fist - but because I'm a little weary (and wary) of irreverent super-hero comics that nonetheless rely on you actually knowing quite a bit about super-hero comics in order to really grok. But that's a personal preference thing and not any kind of moral/aesthetic pronouncement.

Still, if I were going to expand on this point of personal preference, I'd say that Nextwave is too cynical for me to enjoy in the way I enjoy Iron Fist or early Ultimate Spider-Man, but not thoroughly cynical enough to take on the genre with real teeth like The Boys or Rick Veitch's super-hero books. (Is there some kind of cute name for The One, Maximortal, and Brat Pack? The Veitchverse? Please let me know.) Nextwave feels a little bit like Frank Miller-Lite.

All that said, I'm planning on tracking down the remaining issues. Ellis is funny, Immonen does know how to draw super-heroic spectacle, and, who knows, maybe I was just cranky this weekend.


james said...

Although I haven't read Nextwave, "Frank Miller-lite" is probably the most succinct description of Ellis's style I've come across.

I find Ellis to be a very entertaining critic (in the Knows-Better style), but one of the curses of Knowing Better is that when you sit down to create something it really ought to be extraordinary.

Part of it might simply be that Ellis is writing for 14 year old boys, and doing an excellent job of it. But Ellis's "serious" work really doesn't strike me as much more sophisticated.

David Wynne said...

Completely new to this blog, followed the link from Journalista, because I just happened to re-read Nextwave over the weekend.

Two things, though-

Firstly, in response to your assertion that Nextwave requires a certain level of knowledge of comics history- I really don't think that's the case. Sure, there's a whole bunch of jokes in there for those of us who do know that stuff, but my partner read it and thought it was hilarious, and she's hardly read any comics at all. The characters and situations are funny, full stop. The fact they all derive, either directly or indirectly, from existing comic books just adds a bit of extra tang for us geeks, but it's not the point of the book.

Other than that, while I definitely enjoyed it a lot more than you did, I can't disagree with anything in your review, really.

My second point is actually in response to the other comment-

I'm very curious to know how much of Ellis's work the commenter has actually read, and if any of it was non-Marvel/DC stuff? Because to say that he's writing for 14 year old boys seems to suggest a serious lack of familiarity with the work, as does the Frank Miller comparison (which does kind of work for Nextwave, since Miller has produced plenty of material like this, but Ellis hasn't; most of his work is grand-scale socio-SF).

I heartily reccomend pretty much anything Ellis has done outside of the spandex genre, if you haven't read it. His WFH superhero work is solid and workmanlike, and does the job it sets out to do. But it's obvious that his heart isn't in it. Freakangels is the best place to start right now.

Jon Hastings said...

David -

Maybe I should have said "completely grok" instead of "really grok".

Dave White said...

Is there some kind of cute name for The One, Maximortal, and Brat Pack? The Veitchverse? Please let me know.

At one point Veitch was referring to his weird superhero works as "King Hell Heroica" (after his then active self-publishing imprint).

James said...

David, I haven't read widely of Ellis's work, but I've read half of Transmetropolitan, which, at least several years ago, was regarded as his magnum opus, half of Planetary, Orbiter, and this sixteen page thing about a bad cop doing bad things to worse people.

What I see in Ellis's writing, at least his allegedly serious writing, is a lot of shallow depictions of the brutality of the human condition, and shallow depictions of moral courage.

It's quite possible that there's a level of heartbreaking lyricism and shattering timelessness to Ellis's other works, but I confess this would come as a surprise to me. To me, he seems to be a writer of a very limited emotional range. But I'd gladly take recommendations.

Joe Gualtieri said...

David Wynne, I'm curious as to how many of those non-superhero works of Ellis you've read.

The man was one of the greats in the genre, then lost his way.

His non-superhero work, aside from the first year of Transmet, is mostly dire. They're usually the same cliches arranged a smartphone with a newer set of features and some new horror googled off the net. Crecy is, of course, a wonderful exception.

Twenty years from now, he'll be remembered for the brilliance of Stormwatch/The Authority, the slow-burn flameout of Planetary (if it ever finishes), and probably still for revolutionizing the net presence of comics creators.

As for Nextwave, yes, it's little inside baseball (nevermind the comics references, there are several jokes you need to know Ellis's net history for), but it's hilarious and Immonen's art is gorgeous. The height of the book (the Mindless Ones do Westside Story) is in volume one IIRC, but the second volume is no slouch either, particularly the revelation about who ran the Beyond Corporation.

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