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.

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Final Crisis

Final Crisis

NOTE:  So to be clear, I only read the Final Crisis hardcover.  There are supplementary collections which have a lot of stuff by people I like but… well, those aren’t the main story and even if they are, what the hell are they doing in some other book?  Crossover bloat is bad enough when it happens on the stands.

Final Crisis is the culmination of plot threads which start in Morrison’s Seven Soldiers (about which more later) and keep building through 52 (again; more later) right on up to here, the Summer Blockbuster Event Comic To End All Summer Blockbuster Event Comics.  The DC Universe faces its weirdest, most devastating conflict that rocks its core with the whole of Creations at stake with everything filtered through metanarratives and playing with the nature of the comic book and all those other things Morrison’s so fond of talking about.

So right up front, the ambition level’s high.  A sure way to win you points in my book.

But does it work?

As a hardcover, it works a lot better than it did in floppies, not only because I feel like the story benefits from a bit of immediacy but also because in its original run, three of the chapters—two of which are necessary for understanding the end of the story and one which drove home what the rest of the book had made explicit only to set up a narrative arc that never went anywhere—were offered as optional tie-ins, something which irked me to no end.

But does it work?

Well… mostly.

Continue reading

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