Living in the Shadow of Nextwave: A Look at the Making and Magic of a Comic Book Cult Classic

“It’s like Shakespeare/But with lots more punching.”

So begins the theme song to Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E., a 12 issue Marvel series from 2006-2007 by writer Warren Ellis, artist Stuart Immonen, inker Wade von Grawbadger, colorist Dave McCaig, letterers Chris Eliopoulous and Joe Caramagna, and editor Nick Lowe. Just because of that, you know this isn’t your average comic book series. I mean…it has a theme song. Fans of the book know this isn’t just throwaway track either; it’s a mission statement of sorts, representing the fervor the series inspires in readers. Take The AV Club’s comic critic Oliver Sava, for example, who immediately mentioned the song when asked what he loves about the series.

“It has a theme song. That’s only a semi-joke,” Sava told me. “Nextwave’s theme song tells you that it’s not just different from other superhero comics, it’s special.

Nextwave is an atypical series for any publisher, but for Marvel Comics, a publisher that’s arguably the first thing people think of when they think of the word “superheroes,” it’s especially odd. It’s a superhero comic that simultaneously perfected and made fun of the genre, with both of those knobs turned to 12 because 11 is just not enough. That’s a huge part of what makes it special to Farmhand’s Rob Guillory.

The scene from Nextwave #9 that Guillory mentioned

“I just love how it celebrates so much about what I love about Marvel Comics, while also poking fun at how ludicrous it all is,” Guillory said. “I mean, what other comic has even given Captain America’s urine screen time? That’s fantastic.”

It’s the perfect comic book; with the essence of everything great from superhero comics boiled down to its purest form and then fed to us through a fire hose powered IV drip over a series of 12 issues. While its plot is ostensibly about the classic of good versus evil, as a cadre of C-list at best superheroes team up to take out their former employer who happens to be funded by a rebranded terrorist organization, it’s secondary to the comic in a way few ever are. It’s really a delivery device for insanity, firing madcap ideas at us as rapidly as a human could handle them. That made – and continues to make – it stand out amongst its peers.

Nextwave came out at the height of my superhero addiction, when I was making enough money in college to buy way too many superhero comics for my own good. When you’re caught in the spell, you don’t realize how similar everything is until you’ve experienced something different,” Sava told me. “Nextwave gave me what I didn’t know I needed: a gonzo superhero book that gave no fucks as it threw a gang of misfits into increasingly insane scenarios.”

It’s the closest the medium of comes has to a true cult classic. While it was never a top seller or even one that did big enough numbers to allow the series to survive beyond 12 issues, creators hold it close like a Holy Bible of insanity while readers evangelize it to anyone who will listen. I should know. There’s no comic I enjoy more, and I am not shy about making people aware of that fact.

It’s also the rare Marvel comic with a passionate fan base that has never seen a second volume, even with a vast chasm of 12 years since we last saw it. 7 In a medium that loves playing back the hits, no matter how small of one they were, that makes it even more unique. 8

So what went into making this wondrous and absolutely mad comic book? How did the industry’s biggest purveyor of superhero wares get into the business of publishing a comic that was said to be “Like Titanic/But the boat’s still floating/No it’s not!/The motherfucking boat is exploding!” 9 if only for a year’s worth of issues? Let’s find out from some of the people who made it.

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  1. Slapstick has had a series since then! Slapstick!

  2. Again, Slapstick has had a series since then!

  3. According to its own theme song.

  4. Slapstick has had a series since then! Slapstick!

  5. Again, Slapstick has had a series since then!

  6. According to its own theme song.

  7. Slapstick has had a series since then! Slapstick!

  8. Again, Slapstick has had a series since then!

  9. According to its own theme song.