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#29 [May. 10th, 2010|07:49 am]

100 COMICS TO READ BEFORE YOU DIE (or grow out of them)

#29 NEXTWAVE – Warren Ellis, Stuart Immonen

“Superhumanity is a wildflower, in this strange America. It grows unchecked, and I considered for many years how to best garden it.”

Bear with me for a moment. I’ll get to the point soon enough.

By the later years of the 18th century the landscape paintings of masterful Dutch artists like Rembrandt had become commonplace enough to be used as designs on wrapping paper. Dutch items smuggled into Japan were wrapped in these prints and a young Japanese artist who would become famous under the name Hokusai was inspired by them. He went on to create Japanese interpretations of the style, including The Great Wave Off Kanagawa, an iconic image that’s incorporated into Stuart Immonen’s artwork on the front cover of Nextwave #1.

In the 1950s and ’60s American publications that were destined to be pulped were sometimes rescued so that they could serve as ballast on ships bound for Britain, filling the hold and being destroyed on arrival before the valuable cargo came on board. Dealers found them first, however, and they made their way onto the market and around the country’s import restrictions. They included superhero comics, which must have looked very strange being stacked next to humour comics like The Beano and The Dandy, appearing in the newsagent’s in sudden and unpredictable bursts with no respect for issue-to-issue chronology. To children unfamiliar with the genre the garishly violent American covers must have looked like windows into an alien world.

Maybe Warren Ellis was one of those English children, maybe he wasn’t. Either way, Nextwave makes real the comic that previously existed only in the imaginations of confused, intoxicated, non-American children. Its tagline is, “Healing America by beating people up.”

Nextwave remixes characters and ideas from other Marvel comics. Its stars are a band of ‘pirate superheroes’, mainly secondary characters from other books, on the run in a ship stolen from a group based on Marvel’s spy organisation, S.H.I.E.L.D. Where S.H.I.E.L.D. are controlled by Nick Fury, their Nextwave counterpart H.A.T.E. (it stands for Highest Anti-Terrorism Effort) have a director named Dirk Anger and where S.H.I.E.L.D. fly around in an aircrraft carrier that is also an aircraft, H.A.T.E. have the Aeromarine, which is four submarines bolted together with rockets stuck on the back. They are very big rockets. If this doesn’t sound cool, check your inner 10-year-old’s pulse.

Breathless captions remind you of the premise of the current storyline, like so: “nextwave is a super hero comic about five people who have just minutes to prevent a town from being eaten by a giant lizard monster.” Immonen’s well-defined, thickly outlined world of American towns with names like Shotcreek and Abcess is constantly in peril from outlandish creatures – cyborgs, interdimensional critters who shoot kill-beams from their faces – and there is only barely enough time for a flashback to somebody’s horrible childhood to explain why they punch monstrosities for a living before it’s on at the speed of comics. “Monsters to beat up! Things to blow up! It’s the best job in America! NEXTWAVE GO!

Nextwave has all the energy of American superhero comics as imagined by someone who has only heard about their best qualities. If you ever missed an issue as a kid and tried to imagine what amazing things must have happened while you weren’t reading, this is what you would have come up with only better.

It’s like Rembrandt, but with lots more explosions.