Cranking the absurdity to eleven
Comic books, despite bearing the unfair moniker of “funny pages”, are often sorely lacking in humor. The entire Batman franchise, an incredibly prolific and sizeable segment of the comic publishing pie, is devoid of lightheartedness or comedy. Sure, some titles may feature a glimmer of levity. Books such as Amazing Spider-Man, Deadpool and Justice League: Generation Lost, often dial back the seriousness but just as often become embroiled in plot drama or mindless shtick. However, 2006 saw the emergence of a comic that wasn’t afraid to explore satire and open up to self-parody. The book in question is Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. by Warren Ellis and Stuart Immonen. A twelve issue long series, this title openly lampooned many of the more ridiculous aspects of comics, Michael Bay-esque explosions, adults wearing spandex costumes, super science mumbo jumbo to name a few, while also celebrating the absurd enchantment a stack of panels and pages can have on a reader.
Warren Ellis brought to Nextwave a snarky attitude and wit few comic writers can emulate. Nextwave is packed full of instances where the conventions of the comic book medium are laid bare and open to derision. However, Ellis has no intention of destroying or needlessly criticizing the sometimes insular world of comic books. The closest approximation to what Nextwave strives for is a celebrity roast. All the snide comments and observations presented by Ellis are done with a smile, a knowing nod and a wink. As in a roast, after each speaker has savaged the roastee with insults and jokes, the roasters often have a heartfelt, poignant message regarding their prey. The intention of a roast isn’t to poke fun or insult simply to have a few laughs, but to drum up a few jokes while elaborating on the roastee’s good nature and the respect he or she deserves. Ellis does the exact same in Nextwave, having a few guffaws while ultimately celebrating a medium the writer works in and cherishes.
For example, the book contains a vast, comedic number of explosions. While it is true that comics can emphasize explosions over plot or character development, Ellis makes it clear that not only is this juvenile and preposterous but it is also part of the fun of superhero comics. It can be fun to indulge in mindless violence on comic pages because of the unlimited scope available. Comic pages have almost non-existent budget restrictions. The only restriction is the imagination, skill and creativity of the writer and artist. Between Ellis and Immonen the sky is the limit. Immonen matches Ellis’s satire with bombastic action sequences and plenty of non sequitur visual gags. The aforementioned scenes of mindless violence are not only hyper-kinetic but laugh out loud hilarious with a bevy of foes including rabid, airdropped koalas, broccoli men and giant, floating Elvis heads. For those who are interested in a series that doesn’t take itself too seriously, or for long time lovers of comics looking for breath of fresh air, grab all twelve issues of Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E.