It’s weird to think, but I’ve read Warren Ellis and Stuart Immonen’s “Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E.” more than any other comic. Sometimes instead of reading new comics, I just read it again, despite my robot brain knowing it probably isn’t the best comic I’ve ever read. There’s just a je ne sais quoi to it that makes it irresistible. Perhaps it’s the unique two-issue arc structure and the fact that it’s only twelve issues long. Maybe it’s Immonen’s absurdly great storytelling and his chameleonic abilities as an artist. Or it might be Ellis going full-on Uncle Warren as he destroys and perfects superhero comics.
I don’t know what, but that book is my jam. A big part of what makes it special is the cast, though, as Ellis and Immonen took some true B-listers and made them shine (or whatever the equivalent to shine is when the light emanates from a toilet). But which cast member brings the most to the book? Which agent of H.A.T.E. most makes me love reading that book over and over? It’s a tough question, but one I am going to dig into today.
To figure it out, I’ve created a completely unscientific yet scientific sounding method built around a comic version of the baseball statistic WAR (or Wins Above Replacement). This statistic is supposed to summarize the contributions a player brought to a team, and is considered the preeminent statistic at determining overall value for a player.
In this case, it’s value a character brought to the story, and instead of WAR, I went with the most ordinary, unexciting hero I could think of to create a new statistic: VATS, or Value Over The Sentry. To do that, I’ll rate each character in five categories, 0 to 2 points per category, and the cumulative score decides their character’s VATS score. Sounds complicated, but in this case, it isn’t. The higher the number, the more valuable the character, with zero being The Sentry level and 10 being the absolute apex of importance and greatness. Easy.
Those categories are:
1. How direct of contributions do they bring to the storyline?
2. Could you replace them with a similar character in the story and not lose much?
3. How much would removing them change things?
4. How frequent are their memorable moments?
5. How important to the overall greatness of the book are they?
Like I said, very scientific.
6. The Captain – 1.0 VATS (Role Player)
After rereading this series for the billionth time, something really clicked: The Captain is definitely the weak link of the cast. Part of that is by design – he’s a new character, and one that is a bit of a one-trick pony – but compared to his fellow cast members, his value to the book is more fleeting. Sure, there is some greatness. He does have a hell of an origin story, he is the first hero to take out a demon with a flaming head by dunking his head into a toilet, and he’s so generally overpowered that when he gets shot with a gigantic bullet, he decides that his situation provides him a good opportunity to have a nice siesta.
But you can almost tell that both Ellis and Immonen even like him less, as his highlight reel moments grow more infrequent as the series goes along. He’s basically the Bob Hamelin of Nextwave.
Standout Moment: The Captain doesn’t get his coins
As I said before, his origin story is pretty spectacular. Off drinking in Brooklyn one night, The Captain comes across two “leprechauns” (aka aliens) looking to bestow “the Heartstar of the space between the galaxies” to someone who could use it to protect his homeland. Instead of doing that, The Captain beats them up in hopes of getting gold coins and then throws up on both of them. Figures.
5. Monica Rambeau – 2.5 VATS (Solid Starter)
Also by design, Monica Rambeau never was destined to fair well in these rankings. It’s not that Rambeau isn’t great – she has her moments and she’s definitely a good leader (I mean, she did lead the Avengers once) – but she’s the parent of the Nextwave crew. She’s the one that is focused on keeping them on task and to keep them winning despite significant obstacles in their way. And she does! She leads Nextwave to victory, and even kicks up her feet in the end when faced with infinite possibilities.
But she’s the Judd Winick of Nextwave’s The Real World. She kept the house together, but let’s be honest, we were all about Puck, right?
I need to stop making 90’s references…
Standout Moment: The Dread Rorkannu vs. Monica with a Toilet Brush
It was between this and Elsa Bloodstone and her talking about the sexual proclivities of the Avengers, but there’s just something epically sassy about Monica going after the Dread Rorkannu with a toilet brush, isn’t there?
4. Dirk Anger – 5.25 VATS (Superstar)
If you’ve read Nextwave, you’re probably shocked by this ranking. Dirk Anger is pretty much amazing, but at the same time, the scoring system didn’t favor him. He was created by Ellis and Immonen as a homeless man’s version of Nick Fury, and really, they could have went a lot of different directions with a lot of different names (Rick Wrath, anyone?) and it would have still worked. Not as well, but it would have worked.
Still, he does have a lot of hilarious moments, most based around his desire to kill himself being outweighed at the eleventh hour by his even greater passion for killing the Nextwave team. He may be an incorrigible sellout with a penchant for suicide, but god dammit, he’s our incorrigible sellout with a penchant for suicide. And we love him.
Standout Moment: Dirk comes back from the brink
So many greats to choose from, and while it was hard to resist the one where he was attempting death by enormous, bizarre pistol, I had to go with this. It’s a moment that speaks to how brilliantly Immonen and Ellis work together, as it’s a sequence that is all about comic timing. Who knew one of the best examples of the magic of comics was a Nick Fury analogue eating a breakfast of corn flakes and cyanide?
3. Tabitha Smith – 5.5 VATS (Superstar)
“ZOMG Boom Boom at #3? What’s this guy smoking?”
I know, I know. This is likely the controversial pick, but hear me out! Without Tabby, the story doesn’t work. Quite literally in fact, as her kleptomaniac nature is what leads to the team acquiring H.A.T.E.’s Marketing Plan that triggers the entire story. Sure, you could have anyone do that, but it just makes more sense with her. Beyond that, her generally airheaded nature is the key to their survival in their most trying of times. In short, Nextwave doesn’t even happen without Tabby.
Plus, she has her fair share of standout moments, and she is one half of the players involved in the greatest moment in the series (Fin Fang Foom nearly puts her in his pants). That’s a pretty legit combo.
Standout Moment: Tabby gave him the explodo because she is clever
This was mentioned above, but no one could resist Forbush Man’s prodigious mental powers, save for Tabby, who apparently lacked the required parts to submit to his will. ZOMG he did not see that coming.
2. Elsa Bloodstone – 5.75 VATS (Superstar)
Maybe the character I miss the most from Nextwave – tell me you wouldn’t read an Elsa Bloodstone solo series from Kathryn and Stuart Immonen and I will call you a liar because that is what you are – Elsa’s a complicated, sassy and completely badass character who is hyper capable and often hilarious. While everyone else in the cast is at their wits end with the events of the book – and even Elsa is at times – there’s just something special about someone who takes so much joy in the art of killing broccoli infused redshirts. Plus, her backstory is incredible (and sad…and hilarious…) and there’s no one else like her in the Marvel universe.
And her Forbush Man driven fever dreams gives Stuart Immonen a reason to channel Mike Mignola! Elsa Bloodstone is a gift, people. A gift.
Standout Moment: Elsa’s life takes on new meaning
As I said, the joy Elsa gets in raising hell is a unique and amazing characteristic. When she finds out the Mindless Ones explode when shot? It made up for all of the Christmases she missed at old Bloodstone Manor. Bonus points because Immonen is so damn good at bringing those moments to life.
1. Machine Man/Aaron Stack – 9.0 VATS (MVP)
As if it could have been anyone else. As much as I love Elsa, Machine Man – or Aaron Stack – is the no doubt MVP of this series. While most of the other characters have a highlight reel moment every couple issues, if Aaron doesn’t have multiple in an issue, it’s a stunner. They aren’t all him doing crazy things with his robot brain, as him getting dressed down by the Celestials is maybe the only thing that can match Fin Fang Foom’s threat to Tabby, but the majority of them are him making us fleshy ones laugh and laugh.
It makes sense, though. A robotic character that no one cares about is a perfect vehicle for Ellis to channel his particular brand of dark humor. The character’s a mean-spirited yet sensitive quip machine designed for destruction and hilarity. He’s so perfect.
Standout Moment: Pray to Your Fleshy God
Maybe not the best of the best, but Aaron’s repeated usage of “fleshy” for humans is a catchphrase of sorts that never ceases to entertain. And it’s hard to pick just one moment for Aaron as they’re all so spectacular.
0. The Dread Rorkannu – All of the VATS
He doesn’t count, but let’s be honest, we could have used more of the dread Rorkannu, couldn’t we have?
Did you enjoy my scientific breakdown of the Nextwave cast? Would you like to see this for more books? Let me know in the comments, and if you have any specific requests, please share that as well.
All art in the piece from Stuart Immonen, Wade Von Grawbadger and Dave McCaig.