When is a parody not a parody?
The short answer is “when it’s Nextwave”.
The brainchild of comic writer and social media sensation Warren Ellis and artistic superstar (and if he’s not, he should be) Stuart Immonen, Nextwave was intended to be, by Ellis’ own words, a remix comic. In this, personally think it succeeds quite handily. And that success is why I’m always hesitant to just slap the “parody” label on it…
But between all the manic action, the callbacks not only to some of the sillier aspects of superhero comics (both generally and specifically) but some previous actively parodic takes on the genre, it’s hard not to admit that parody—or at least a piss-taking—is at the core of the story.
And no matter what high-concept stuff is tossed forward to obscure the fact, Nextwave does, indeed, have a story.
Also a peppy theme song.
Is the story deep? No. It’s not meant to be and that’s pretty obvious from the moment our motley band of superheroes from diffuse corners of the Marvel Universe (oh and also rock-stupid Superman-esque generic superhero The Captain) encounters and, in short order eviscerates, a much-beloved symbol of early Marvel continuity. And if that didn’t tip you off, the fact that a lot of the humour comes from characters acting either in exaggerated versions of themselves or varied archetypes or in total opposition to previous characterization should probably help tip you off.
But what the story does have is a refreshing honesty about the bog-stupid id of the genre that’s rarely seen.
And let’s be clear: that is a good thing.
Nextwave isn’t the id, necessarily, of its audience—which thankfully keeps it from becoming a T&A murderfest—and by focusing on the id of the genre (explosions! short bursts of drama! one-liners! more explosions! facekicks! vague moralizing!), it frees itself up to laugh at itself and at the genre and to invite the audience to do the same.
Because Nextwave knows one thing that the big superhero comics seem to have forgotten in their race to emulate Watchmen’s tone and gritty contents (guh, I’m gonna have to talk about that’n, aren’t I? It really is too big to ignore except that everyone’s already said everything about it so…) without also emulating its quality; superheroes are stupid.
Don’t get me wrong, I love superheroes. They’re great as symbols, as adolescent wish fulfillment, as ways to understand ourselves and our worlds. But the idea of a demigod putting on tights and giving speeches to bank robbers is as bananas as the idea of a demigod putting on tights to evaporate bank robbers with his laser eyes is frightful.
In Nextwave, superheroes are stupid. They exist in a parallel reality where you can get attacked by a horde of broccoli robots who work for a dinosaur who wants to destroy the world but isn’t forward-thinking enough to imagine that in a world where giant space dragons wear purple underpants, there might be someone capable of doing him harm. The superheroes bicker like children and no innocent people die on-screen. Worlds are saved, people are beaten up and quips are exchanged and in the end there’s an impression that Everything Could Change for our heroes.
Except that it doesn’t.
Which is the real trick of the genre. Nine times out of ten, everything changes but nothing does. Costumes and names change, relations shift and in six months it’ll all reset unless it doesn’t and which point it might do so anyway.
And Nextwave, with its snark, crooked smiles and MODOK Elvises, gleefully gives not one single fuck.