Story Pile: NEXTWAVE!

April has been a difficult month to write for, not the least of which because, uh, global pandemic, but also because one of the details about April is it’s a time to write about things I want to write about, the subjects I’ve saved to talk about because they’re personal.

For the non-Pile articles, this has been decidedly easy, with lots of indulgent sniping at other people’s misinformed or inadequately excellent opinions, but for the media piles it has proven difficult because I feel I’ve already addressed some of my favourites and most culturally important experiences and at least right now, in this time of malaise, I find it hard to remember things I consider deep and personal favourites, favourites about which I can say fun or interesting things.

I’ve written about the Quest for Glory games, I’ve written about the Baldur’s Gate games, Doom and Baccano and other games that feel somewhat iconic to myself, and I find myself wondering what more I can even say, what has been worth holding up. John Wick? Tons of people have talked about how great that movie is, what more am I going to bring to bear on the conversation except as someone who has been in some creepily controlled situations with violence as the only out? Nothing useful. Nothing relatable.

Instead, then, I’m going to take an easy route. I’m going to talk about a comic book I love. I’m going to talk about Nextwave, a 2006-2007 limited run comic book that was written to live outside the main continuity of Marvel comics… and we’re going to start with a content warning.

This content warning might well represent the entirety of this ‘review’, really. Because Nextwave is an extremely pure comic book. I don’t use that term to refer to it in the way we refer to things like feeds of puppy pictures or sweet cake stories, but rather that Nextwave is a comic book that takes all the elements of a comic book, boiled in a pot, put under pressure, winched in tight, confined, constrained, and fed through seive after seive until what remains is distilled and concentrated and makes your face pucker up when you taste it.

Nextwave is violent in a needless way, which is, you know, okay, obvious. It’s foulmouthed, even though it covers its foulness with censor bars. It’s deliberately contrary to growth, and its characters are in many cases ‘offensive’ in that they bring up nasty topics or demonstrate that they’re not really the moral superiors of their enemies except in a broad way. And also, the comic has a villain who is both suffering from endless suicidal ideation and all sorts of identity and the genders concerns. His mother’s underwear is a plot point at one point, and who stole them matters. He wears the underwear and has some… uncomfortably well-written breakdowns.

There’s also some deliberate sexism, played for comedy – a 2006 era Captain America is depicted as a shallow, moralising dick. Characters throw around ‘crazy,’ there’s niche in-joke references to particular comic book things, there’s a certain dash of sexual-assault-played-for-laughs, the general awfulness of mind control as it pertains to sexuality comes up, there’s at least one person who constantly pushes at boundaries that women have set up for him, and of course, all those whacky suicide attempts.

This is to say, Nextwave is kind of everything happening in 2006 comic books, at the time, that Warren Ellis could see, and then poured out onto pages of adventure and extremely Warren Ellis-y stuff.

With that in mind, here’s a list of actual things in Nextwave arranged in no particular order.

  • A giant incel lizard in purple shorts
  • The gods of the universe dunking on one of our heroes for being a shithead
  • A secret villain being revealed as a smoking-jacket wearing tyrannosaurus rex
  • Monica Rambeaux, who you might know now from the Captain Marvel movie
  • Tabby, who has the secret power of blowing stuff up and stealing all your stuff
  • Drop bears being foiled by a robot head
  • A trade paperback called ‘I kick your face’
  • A plot around freeing a cop from a body-altering virus that turns him into a Voltron style superweapon, then beating him up because he’s a cop
  • Enemies made of broccoli
  • Elsa Bloodstone murdering a samurai robot with a shovel
  • Mindless drones getting bored with their lot and becoming skateboarders
  • Stephen Hawking, but evil, with laser beams
  • Captain America beating up The Captain for having a potty mouth
  • A demon lord being sated by a deal not for someone’s soul, but a hundred bucks and a suicide girls login
  • The origin story for the Captain’s powers, which he got, while drunk
  • A stupid character being the ultimate foil for a reality warper who messes with people’s minds
  • A Mike Mignola art inspired piece where a lone character contemplates the scale of an expanding universe
  • Robot tech support
  • “I shall kick you to death in slippers so it doesn’t hurt as much.”
  • An issue that is six splash pages in a row
  • Complete, contained, two-parter stories in every single issue.

Nextwave is not a normal comic. It is much like a caffeine shot, it is concentrated and painful and it is a dizzying high of pure comics. You can read the whole thing in an hour or two, and whenever I do, I spend most of that time laughing my ass off.

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