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Tue, August 17th, 2010 at 2:28pm PDT | Updated: August 20th, 2010 at 9:14pm

Comic Books
Augie De Blieck Jr., Columnist

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NEXTWAVE: AGENTS OF H.A.T.E.

After reading "Absolute Authority" last month, I found myself on a Warren Ellis jag so I took a left turn over to "NextWave: Agents of H.A.T.E." and reread the two hardcovers that collected that 2006-2007 series that Ellis wrote with art from Stuart Immonen.

It's as perfect a collection of 12 issues of a comic series as I've ever read. This is prototypical Ellis scripting topped with Immonen at his most stylistic, paired with Dave McCaig's usual great coloring job and a creative mix of lettering from Chris Eliopoulos and Joe Caramagna. I don't think I enjoyed the series as much at the time as I do today, which is a good sign for sales of the collections well into the future.

NextWave, in case you don't recall, is a team of mismatched superpowered characters who are fighting terrorism in America by fighting America's anti-terrorism task force (H.A.T.E.) which is covertly being run by terrorists (The Beyond Corporation). If you think that's bizarre and complicated, you ain't seen nothing yet.

The team brings together Bloodstone, Boom Boom and Captain Marvel (the woman who once briefly ran with the Avengers), along with Machine Man and The Captain. Ellis deftly gives them each specific characteristics and history that help them clash and function, all at the same time. Boom Boom is your basic 90s version of a Valley Girl, texting into her cell phone, speaking the same language and generally making no sense, but making things explode when called on. She's also an ace thief. Bloodstone is a tough-as-nails monster hunter who's been trained (some might say "abused") since childhood to follow in her father's footsteps. Captain Marvel, well, she once ran the Avengers the way Jubilee once ran with Wolverine and the X-Men. Machine Man is detached from humanity, who he refers to as "fleshy ones," and The Captain just swears a lot, drinks more and punches things.

Ellis was having a lot of fun here, cracking jokes at the inherent silliness of superheroes as a genre and its fandom's nearly religious idolatry of them. These characters are far from perfect, often miserable and cantankerous. They are good at breaking things and blowing things up - "Kick! Punch! 'Splode!" That kind of thing. When you boil superhero comics down to their bare essence, isn't that what we're all reading them for? "NextWave" is, in part, a summer blockbuster of superheroic proportions: give us ludicrous characters with big set pieces and sharp one-liners and we'll be happy most of the time.

Immonen's art took on an extreme cartooniness in this series, being very angular and energetic. Characters show up with pointy chins in profile, hips that jut out at extreme angles and perspective that is forced whenever necessary. It's a big difference from his more realistic-looking Superman work prior to this and turned out to be quite a breakthrough style. It's been pulled back a little for subsequent work on titles like "New Avengers," "Ultimate Spider-Man," and "Ultimate Fantastic Four," but you can still see how happy he is to work on this more iconic and less photorealistic style. (Check out Immonen's editorial at the COMICS SHOULD BE GOOD blog for a textbook example of how photo reference should be used.)

Immonen also gives Michel Gagne a run for his money in special effects shots. Gagne's work might be familiar to you from his work in the "Flight" anthologies or his "Twisted Rabbits" series, or his short-lived "Zed" comic. Gagne is an animation veteran who specializes in doing special effects animation, like the smoke that a rocket blasting off might generate, or what an exploding planet might look like, or how the reins on a horse might flap in the breeze or under tension. (Check out his "Star Wars: Clone Wars" designs and prepare to be blown away.) It's all the little things that you don't pay attention to, but that can often define how a shot feels. Immonen gets a lot of opportunities to do this kind of work in "NextWave," where there's never a dearth of explosions happening, or exciting energy lines being produced.

If you keep in mind Roger Ebert's advice for reviewing -- that the work must be judged with its intent in mind -- then this is about the most perfect comic I've ever read. To put it in British slang, it's Warren Ellis taking the piss out of American superhero comics and there's even a full page gag at Mark Millar's expense. Having a little knowledge of Ellis' on-line presence and the opinions he's expressed in various venues helps the reader to understand where this book is coming from, but isn't necessary. The idea that superheroics are all "Kick, Punch, 'Splode" is utilized in "NextWave" to an expert degree. Ellis picks some of the screwiest concepts out of the Marvel Universe for a good razzing and then skewers them all neatly. Even Irving Forbush goes grim and gritty for this series and it's hilarious. Stuart Immonen knows how to play along, too, emphasizing the shadows for Forbush in that scene, while maintaining a deadpan seriousness in most of the rest of the series. When things need to be ridiculous -- anything Dirk Anger does, for example -- he can draw a character chewing up the scenery like nobody else, this side of Will Eisner.

Besides, any series that makes monsters repeat choreography from "West Side Story?" Pure gold. And let's not forget the killer koalas, Elvis MODOKs, upside-down villains, Fin Fang Foom and Boom Boom versus Irving Forbush. There's a giggle on every page.

"NextWave: Agents of H.A.T.E." is available in two Premiere Edition hardcovers or one big trade paperback, released recently, that includes the original series' hilarious letters columns and the even funnier "Story So Far" pages from each issue.

In a way, this series is Ellis' natural progression from Keith Giffen's "Justice League" style of comic. If you like one, I think you'll like the other.

KICK-ASS: THE COMIC

Dean White's coloring sure was pretty.

Yeah, that's about all I have. Having read the comic now, though, I'm at ease about not having seen the movie. The comic has some cute bits, but it's all washed over in a tidal wave of blood and violence and sex and swearing that, right now, aren't all that appealing to me. Ten years ago, I might have loved this. But I've read Punisher comics that were more entertaining in their gleeful mayhem and creative violence than "Kick-Ass." Frank Castle just didn't swear in every panel and fewer eyeballs were shown popping out of heads. As I get older, I find myself happy to have the violence happen off-panel and to let myself fill in the blanks, or choose not to.

Yeah, I have a kid at home. I'm a compete wuss now. But I'm fine with that.

This isn't necessarily a bad book, but I'm not the right one to judge it right now, is all. If you're looking for this kind of thing, you'll like this kind of thing.

But I loved Dean White's coloring. It fit in beautifully with John Romita Jr. and Tom Palmer's art. I love the subtle textures and the desaturated look so many of the scenes had. It's beautiful stuff. It was very difficult to pick out a representative panel or two of the art to scan in that wouldn't require me to throw black bars over dialogue, though.

PETER PAN

Going completely off-topic for a second here, I watched the classic 1950 Disney animated "Peter Pan" movie last weekend. I haven't seen it since I was a little kid and was shocked at what I saw.

Basically, Tinkerbell is a jealous thing with a mad crush on the jerk, Peter Pan. She is so jealous of Wendy for capturing Peter's attention that she attempts to kill her and then later sells her out to Captain Hook. Yeah, that cute little sprite who opens up your Disney movies today with a smile and a wave of the wand? She's a Single White Fairy.

Peter Pan is a jerk who doesn't appreciate the people around him, doesn't ever mature (kinda the point, I know) or grow as a character and likes to pick on people, rather than resolving his issues.

And the Indians aren't Native Americans. "Heap big" time!

I asked on Twitter if there was a single likable character in the movie. The best response that came back was, "The crocodile." It's so true I laughed out loud. The croc has his own theme music, is clearly having fun and doesn't pretend to be anything other than what he is: a hungry carnivore. He gets the job done, off-screen.

And my daughter kept her eyes glued to the screen for 75 straight minutes. It was glorious.

If your daughter or niece is into the friendlier modern version of Tinkerbell, don't forget to look up the Papercutz line of comics from NBM, where you can pick up "Disney Fairies." There are two volumes so far, translated from original Italian material, it looks like. I haven't read them yet, but the cartooning sure is pretty. The lettering bothers me, but it won't bother your eight year old fairy fan, so who am I to judge?

See? I brought it back to comics, after all!

POINT OF CLARIFICATION

I got called out on the Pipeline Message Board after a column a few weeks back for a bit of poor phrasing. I thought I'd take the moment here to clarify, because I don't think I expressed myself clearly. It happens; when you know what you're talking about, you sometimes take the shorthand way of conveying it, not realizing that the reader may not necessarily follow you, agree with you, or have the capability of reading your mind.

I wrote:

"I've long said that expecting back issues to be available for 99 cents digitally is asking too much. The numbers likely aren't there. But, the more I think about the idea, the more I like it. I'd be more likely to buy digital comics in bulk at that price than I would be even at $1.99."

Yeah, buying more comics at a buck than at two bucks is almost self-evident. I suppose it's not necessarily true: I might only have ten books I want to buy, in which case the price difference would be appreciated, but might not lead me to buy an eleventh, twelfth, or twentieth. But I'm a fan of comics. I'd take the lower price as an excuse to buy more.

Here's the crucial difference that I didn't spell out: At a dollar a comic, the internal walls between my brain and my wallet start to fall apart. For a dollar, I'd sample almost anything. I think I'd wind up spending more money on more comics without thinking about it. I'd spread my money around more and spend more of it, period. I've seen that happen with my iPhone at the App Store. I don't think twice about buying programs priced at 99 cents. The $1.99 programs -- even as cheap as they are -- require extra thought before clicking that "Download" button.

At $1.99, $20 gets me 10 comics. At 99 cents, I could buy 20, but I'd likely buy more on impulse or, as I said in the column, in bulk. At 99 cents, you're getting more value for your money than in a trade paperback. So that mental block is removed and some of those spending inhibitions might be removed.

The only thing blocking that is time. But "Want" often overrides "Time."

Last week marked the third anniversary of Mike Wieringo's passing. Twitter was glowing with love for the man for a day or two and it was all very nice to see. Last year, I wrote a Pipeline column that summed up everything I had written about the man and his work and I thought I'd link to it this year in remembrance.

How to get in touch: Twitter @augiedb || E-mail || Pipeline Message Board

Where else I hang out: AugieShoots.com || iPhone Photo Blog || VariousandSundry.com

TAGS:  pipeline, nextwave, peter pan, kick-ass, warren ellis, stuart immonen, mark millar, john romita jr, dean white

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