Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E.
Comic book series by Warren Ellis (writer), Stuart Immonen (artist)
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Release Date: March 2006-February 2007, "Ultimate" trade paperback in 2010
[Authors note: The books, games, and comics I'm reviewing this week are older than usual. That is because I find myself without a lot of time this week due to the big even I'm hosting on Saturday. I'll have a post dedicated completely to that on Friday, but for now please enjoy reviews of some of my favorite things until my schedule works itself out.]
There are a couple of comics that I like to return to again and again. Like comfort food or a great TV show, rereading a great comic is a comforting experience, especially when world feels like it's on the brink of disaster. There's a particular comic I picked up a few years ago after seeing it mentioned on an episode of Linkara's Atop the Fourth Wall (a webseries that reviews comic books in an entertaining fashion). It only ran for twelve issues during Marvel's Civil War event in 2006. Now I read it twice a year on average.
Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. tells the story of five B- and C-list Marvel superheroes who find out that their previous employer, H.A.T.E. (Highest Anti-Terrorism Effort), is actually funded by the Beyond Corporation, a terrorist organization dedicated to testing out Unusual Weapons of Mass Destruction on the unsuspecting American public. Our heroes steal a ship and the Beyond Corporation's "Marketing Plan," and make their way across the country stopping the terrorist's plans. What follows is twelve issues of pure unadulterated "comic book." The Nextwave team punch, kick, and explode their way through ridiculous enemies, giant monsters, and the Beyond Corporation's Human Resources division.
The team is led by Monica Rambeau, one of the many previous Captain Marvels, and former leader of the Avengers (which she doesn't mind reminding everyone). She's backed by Aaron Stack, a.k.a. Machine man, a robot with a wide variety of useful tools; Elsa Bloodstone, a British monster hunter who can turn anything into a weapon; Tabitha Smith, a mutant who previously had a million different superhero names and can blow things up; and The Captain, who just gave up on trying to find a name after all the good "Captain" names were taken. Together, they must somehow outwit the horrible machinations of Dirk Anger, the suicidal leader of H.A.T.E. who is in no way at all based on Nick Fury (except obviously he is, duh). As a superhero team, their are completely unorthodox, from their costumes to their behaviors. Their outfits are street clothing or semi-superhero costumes underneath large trench coats (a look that many writers and illustrators kept in the character's later appearances), they referred to each other by their actual names (except The Captain, who forgot his), and the gender ratio of the team was 3 women to 2 men (or one robot and one man-child, if we're getting specific).
Warren Ellis clearly was having a blast writing this material, throwing in amazing jokes and asides at every moment. Some of the best scenes come from these asides, especially during flashbacks of the characters' pasts, such as The Captain gaining his powers, Aaron Stack's time with the Celestials, and Elsa Bloodstone's training as an infant. And throughout all of it, Stuart Immonen illustrates the most frenetic high-paced action and jaw-dropping expressions, all culminating in a several-page spread of the heroes fighting their way through some of the most bizarre creations imaginable, including a giant Wolverine ape and rockabilly M.O.D.O.K.s.
Fans loved the series, even when it was making references to their favorite Marvel heroes acting out of character. Ellis played wild and loose with Marvel canon, even pulling on and referencing the old Not Brand Echh series. In later comics, writers have tried to pass the entire adventure off as a shared fantasy between the five of them as a way of keeping everything "canon." After all, can we really believe that Captain America would tell Monica to go back to the Avengers mansion and make them all dinner? (Yes.)
Nextwave was a return to comics that were fun for fun's sake, and where brooding heroes and year long series-spanning events had no place. It was a fantastic series that Marvel shouldn't ignore or disavow, even when some writers and editors seem to want to. If anything, it should have been continued in some fashion, and I know there are plenty of fantastic authors and illustrators who would probably love to give the team a try. I highly recommend taking the time to track down the trade paperbacks or single issues of this run and checking them out.