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Healing America by Beating People Up March 23, 2007

Posted by Brian L. Belen in Comics, Reviews.
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You would think that a comic book meant to distill superhero comics to their very core would be bland entertainment at best. Low on plot and high on action, you would think that a comic of the sort works better to parody what the genre is all about instead of as a title meant to be taken the least bit seriously. Throw into the mix a set of c-list characters as protagonists, what you would expect to find is a comic book that is not only trivial but one that cannot help but be utterly terrible as well.

Ordinarily, you would be right. Unless the person writing that comic is Warren Ellis. And that comic happens to be Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E..

The premise is just too good to pass up: the Beyond Corporation’s Highest Anti-Terrorism Effort (H.A.T.E.) assembles the Nextwave squad, a cadre of second-tier superheroes whose sole purpose is to combat weapons of mass destruction being deployed on American shores. Yet things unravel when Nextwave learns that H.A.T.E. and the Beyond Corporation are themselves terrorist fronts. As a consequence, the squad go rogue in a bid to foil the machinations of their former employers.

What sets Nextwave apart is the simple fact that Ellis does only as much to develop the plot as is necessary to advance the story — and makes no apologies doing so. The result is a barebones superhero tale taken to the extreme, with story arcs that conveniently resolve themselves every two issues. At a minimum, yes, Nextwave is widescreen comics writ large as only Ellis can pen it, chock full of unabashedly over the top action more or less within good taste. But at its best it also works as a satire of superhero comics in general and Marvel comics in particular, with the added bonus that its sensibilities and humor — ah, the humor! — are just spot on. Further, Stuart Immonen’s cartoonish artwork complements Ellis’s little tongue-in-cheek experiment by reminding us all that, at the end of the day, this is nothing more (or less), than a comic book. How else are we supposed to take a book whose first chapter begins with the description Nextwave: Healing America by Beating People Up?

Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. is surprisingly entertaining, and it is a shame that it ran for only twelve issues. The first six of these have already been collected in one volume, This is What They Want. A second volume collecting the remaining installments, I Kick Your Face, is slated for release in July 2007.

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