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The Nextwave series features a collection of minor Marvel superheroes, including Monica Rambeau, the former Captain Marvel; Tabitha Smith, formerly of X-Force; Aaron Stack, the Machine Man; monster hunter Elsa Bloodstone; and new character The Captain, previously called Captain ☠☠☠☠ (The obscured words being so horrible that Captain America allegedly "beat four shades of it out of [him]" and left him in a dumpster with a bar of soap in his mouth.). These individuals are assembled by H.A.T.E., the Highest Anti-Terrorism Effort, to fight Unusual Weapons of Mass Destruction (U.W.M.D.s). The Nextwave team learns that H.A.T.E. is funded by the Beyond Corporation©, an organization run by H.A.T.E.'s terrorist enemy S.I.L.E.N.T.; as a result, the heroes leave H.A.T.E., stealing a vehicle called the Shockwave Rider. They destroy the U.W.M.D.s that the Beyond Corporation and H.A.T.E. have hidden around the United States, while pursued by H.A.T.E. Director Dirk Anger, a parody of Nick Fury. The U.W.M.D.s include Fin Fang Foom, Broccoli Men, Ultra Samurai and the Mindless Ones. Using the Shockwave Rider as a mobile base of operations (the vehicle is larger on the inside than without, much like the TARDIS of Doctor Who), Nextwave is able to rapidly mount missions in widely separated locations including central Illinois, Wyoming, North Dakota, and Nevada.
Nextwave consistently features extreme violence and comedy, and simultaneously satirizes and celebrates Marvel's superhero comics. The series frequently uses flashback scenes in which existing Marvel characters such as Captain America, Ulysses Bloodstone and the Celestials act grossly out of character for comedic purposes. In an interview, Ellis said, "I took The Authority and I stripped out all the plots, logic, character and sanity." "It’s an absolute distillation of the superhero genre. No plot lines, characters, emotions, nothing whatsoever. It’s people posing in the street for no good reason. It is people getting kicked, and then exploding. It is a pure comic book, and I will fight anyone who says otherwise. And afterwards, they will explode."
The consistent way Nextwave portrays established Marvel characters behaving in uncharacteristic ways has given rise to speculation as to whether the stories should be seen as occurring in the main Marvel continuity or not. In a 2005 interview, writer Warren Ellis commenting on his Nextwave stories stated: "I think it has to be a self contained universe. It takes from Marvel history, but I wouldn't necessarily want to drag mainstream Marvel into it for fear of what I would do to it.” In 2006 Marvel Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada stated that "for the time being" Nextwave was to be considered set in an universe separate from the main Marvel continuity. In contradiction to these earlier statements, recent Marvel publications such as Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe and Civil War: Battle Damage Report (February 2007) seem to portray Nextwave's activities as occurring in the mainstream Marvel continuity. To further complicate matters, Nextwave's entry in Civil War: Battle Damage Report states: "Recent intelligence suggests some or all Nextwave members unknowingly had their memories and/or personalities altered by their new employers (H.A.T.E.)". The Nextwave entry in Civil War: Battle Damage Report may be evidence of an editorial decision to include the Nextwave team in the main Marvel continuity in a way that provides a plot device to explain away inconsistencies caused by the previous editorial position that Nextwave was set in an alternate universe.