When is a modern superhero comic not so much a modern superhero comic?

Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. #8

I haven’t discussed this series is quite a few issues, mainly because the book makes it a point not to leave much to discuss; if ever there’s a current Marvel superhero comic that works overtime to render itself review-proof, it’s Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. Single-minded in its pursuit of laffs and explosions of escalating size, each and every one of the book’s two-issue storylines are somewhat easy to forget about above the din of cheery mayhem. At the conclusion of this issue, the book’s narrator apologizes to the readership for any attempts at character development that might have occurred - it’s funny, but the book seems to mean it through its execution.

This probably isn’t the best way to go in the modern Big Two superhero market.

Glancing at the latest Diamond numbers posted at ICv2 (and accepting the relative uncertainties inherent to such), the prior issue of Nextwave, #7, placed at #95 on the Top 300 charts, with 24,245 copies sold. In other words, it’s selling around or slightly above the level of one of writer Warren Ellis’ creator-owned series (by way of comparison, the most recent issue of Desolation Jones sold 17,369, and issue #5 of the lower-priced Fell moved 19,353, all of this prior to any reorders). This makes a certain amount of sense, as Nextwave is a Warren Ellis book through and through, soaked in his personal brand of humor and detached from the Marvel U at large, enough so that it very well might be functioning in the minds of readers and retailers as a de facto ‘personal’ book for Ellis, the type that tends to rarely sell as well as something like the (Ultimate) universe-established Ultimate Fantastic Four (Ellis’ last issue of which moved 71,478 copies on initial release) or the Event-in-a-bottle stylings of Ultimate Extinction (71,756). Nextwave is maybe too detached from current Marvel goings-on, too blithe in its love for individualistic detonations and yuks - as absurd as it sounds, it’s probably a bit too snappy and fight-happy to function all that well sales-wise as a contemporary Big Two superhero comic, not without a major ‘name’ character at the helm.

And thus, a disposable fight book about high-powered, corporate-owned superheroes who zip around smashing things and cracking jokes becomes not merely displaced from the current Marvel U in terms of story, but in terms of sales. Ellis’ personality is so strong in the book, it seems like the book is truly his (stripped of the benefit of owning the characters, of course), and I wonder if the market is reacting to the series in essentially that way. It will be something to see how the presumably more continuity and plot-point heavy newuniversal will do, having isolated Ellis to play in his own version of a pre-established Marvel universe.

Anyway, this was a good issue of Nextwave, a series that dips and jumps for me. It’s rather easily numbing, or repetitive (the big drawback of as simple a comedy fight book as this one), but the jokes mostly land this time. The villain of this storyline is Rorkannu, one of those cosmic-type evil entities with flames for a head, so needless to say we find out what happens if one of those suckers gets dipped in a toilet. Ellis has kind of relaxed into the use of mighty Marvel tropes, and the book currently seems less nervous about having fun with the sillier corners of the superhero mythos, in that we get to have fun without character constantly, nervously commenting on how silly such things really are instead of just letting them be silly. Rorkannu is an amusingly purple speaker (“I am Rorkannu, Master of the Dim Dimensions -- and you cannot beat me up!” - does anything sum it up better?), also prone to plugging Suicide Girls and cooking up awful golem-like monsters who love to dance and seem curiously interested in emulating human society than completely eliminating it. But it’s futile to look much deeper into anything here, such as the gradually revealed and thoroughly awful childhood of monster hunter Elsa Bloodstone:

You got your question wrong, Ellie. Come to Hate Mother now.”

Need I mention that Stuart Immonen’s art is as sleek as ever, having possibly gotten a bit better at maintaining flow throughout the long, long action sequences that are this book’s forte? I didn’t think so. I wonder if anything needs be said about Nextwave’s content, which tries so hard to be about nothing but surface? It succeeds, but its C-List superhero transparency ironically does it no favors in a market dominated by big heroes, big plotlines, and weighty intents. Its characters parade around as if homeless on the latest released cover, simultaneously voicing their defiance and begging for sweet Event dollars. They’ll have to settle for the upper reaches of Warren Ellis dollars, left to his own devices.