Nextwave: This Is What They Want

Nextwave: This Is What They Want cover

Nextwave: Agents of HATE Volume 1: This Is What They Want collects the first six issues of the superhero satire.

Third-rate characters from the outskirts of superherodom assemble into a team dedicated to, as one of the taglines puts it, “healing America by beating people up.” Elsa Bloodstone is a violence-loving English Buffy type, a gorgeous fighting machine. Tabitha, PMS made flesh, is a California party girl formerly known as “Boom Boom” because she blows things up. The team’s Captain Marvel is the black female one whose presence is now inconvenient to the regular Marvel universe; she’s in charge of a group of misfits who resent her authority while secretly craving it.

The robot Machine Man doesn’t always respect the “fleshy ones” he hangs around with. He’s the contributor who will always be overlooked and ignored, Marvin’s symbolic grandson. And the Captain, previously known as Captain (Four-Letter Word), is the new character, an anti-social loser with the usual invulnerability and super-strength whose origin is a brutal parody of Green Lantern’s. His story is based on an unbelievable assumption that drinking and cursing and generally being a wastrel will be rewarded. Boys used to dream that their internal Superman would get them a girl; now the fantasy has degraded to being a hard-drinking faux-Brit.

Nextwave: This Is What They Want cover

Dirk Anger, Bad Guy, is what happens when the authority figure actually wants the power given: a twisted mass of neuroses proving every rumor about every perversion possessed by every leader through history true. The team doesn’t have missions so much as last-ditch protective actions, whether they’re saving a town from Fin Fang Foom (the dragon in purple underwear) or trying to stop a police officer who’s been taken over by a sort of virus that’s turning him into a Transformer.

Writer Warren Ellis parodies some of the elements he’s best known for. There’s the foul-mouthed jerk who doesn’t take superheroes seriously; an attractive anti-American Brit who drinks lots of tea; a tough guy who complains to newbies about how old he is and how good his drugs are; a telephone receiver given a fancy acronymic pseudo-technological name; and a super-spaceship named after a famous cyberpunk novel. No one takes anything seriously, least of all the creators, and the characters are all in love with themselves and their powers.

This team is so thoroughly modern that they spend all their time insulting each other. When it comes time to save the day, everyone splits up and does whatever they do with little or no concern for the others. It’s the ultimate group of individuals, and it’s very of the moment, now that news is out that our society is more isolated than ever. Everybody lies, and everyone’s a smart aleck. No Care Bear Stares saving the day here; put in a room and told to act on their core emotions, this bunch would end up eating each other. They still manage to do their jobs, though, stopping the bad and worse guys.

The art, penciled by Stuart Immonen and inked by Wade Von Grawbadger, is in a hard-edged classic superhero style perfect for over-the-top action comedy. Everyone looks vaguely annoyed most of the time, as though fighting outrageous creatures and coping with explosions were simply an unwelcome distraction. It’s better than drugs in its ludicrous imagery. It’s all — whether War Gardens, broccoli-men grown as interchangeable fighters, pterodactyl suits, or samurai robots — just an excuse to have fights in ever more outrageous ways. The visuals more than keep up with the ideas, especially when it comes to the killer koalas, all noses and fangs. Cuddly yet dangerous.

The well-crafted one-liners stitch the scenes together, summing up the characters and situations in sardonic epigrams. This book is a hilarious, refreshing take on superheroes, perfect for those with a sense of humor and perspective about the genre, a lot of deranged fun.

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