Thanks to Marvel’s popular and successful foray into films with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I’ve finally decided to get back into comics. I grew up a big fan of X-Men and other superheroes but haven’t really kept up since the 90s. Thus begins my grand catching-up of the last ten years of Marvel comics, events and stories.
Thanks in large part to trade paperbacks and the digital convenience of Marvel Unlimited I can make relatively quick progress, and I’ll write down my Final Thoughts for each collection here on my blog. Like my gaming Final Thoughts, this will be full of spoilers. You’ve been warned!
Writers: Keith Giffen, Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Simon Furman, Javier Grillo-Marxuach, Stuart Moore
Artists: Andrea Di Vito, Ariel Olivetti, Kev Walker, Mitch Breitweiser, Renato Arlem, Jorge Lucas, Greg Titus, Giuseppe Camuncoli
Issues: Drax the Destroyer #1-4, Annihilation Prologue #1, Annihilation: Nova #1-4, Annihilation: Silver Surfer #1-4, Annihilation: Super-Skrull 1-4, Annihilation: Ronan #1-4, Annihilation #1-6, Annihilation: Heralds of Galactus #1-2
One of the biggest reasons for my return to Marvel comics was seeing the very excellent Guardians of the Galaxy last Summer. I fell in love with the characters and setting but knew absolutely nothing about Marvel’s Cosmic Universe outside of the Thanos and Phoenix stories of the 80s.
So I was stoked to find that there was an appropriate jumping-on point into the vast, crazy world of Marvel’s expanded sci-fi setting only a few years into my initial starting point. Annihilation was the first big event to occur to the Marvel Cosmic setting in the new era of Big Crossover Events All The Time that started with Avengers “Disassembled” and House of M. It ran for a solid year thanks to a ton of tie-in limited series, from 2006-2007.
For the sake of these Final Thoughts, I’m covering the entire event: all three trade paperback books, 29 total comics over eight different series.
Book One combines two preview series to the event – Drax the Destroyer and the aptly titled one-shot Annihilation Prologue, as well as the first of the character tie-in series, Annihilation: Nova.
Drax’s 4 issue mini-series “Earthfall” stars the green, rage-happy badass (sounds familiar) on a prison convoy that crash lands in a small Alaskan town on Earth, along with a few not-so-nice alien prisoners. It has very little to do with the actual Annihilation event other than to set Drax up with a head-strong young teenage girl. The story of Drax and Cammi fighting against the other aliens is surprisingly fun, and Cammi’s a great character, but in the larger backdrop of Annihilation it’s extremely thin, and ultimately forgettable.
Annihilation Prologue is when the real fun begins. Supreme insectoid lord Annihilus invades our universe from the Negative Zone with a giant armada – think Starship Troopers but all the bugs have spaceships. They first attack Xandar, home to the intergalactic peace-keeping folk the Nova Corps (which I believe is the same force at the end of the Guardians film).
The Nova Corps are completely blind-sided and obliterated, leaving only Richard Rider, Cosmic hero from Earth known as Nova, as the survivor. It’s an utterly badass way to start a new giant event-series and I instantly fell in love with Nova’s plight, especially once he merged with the Nova supercomputer, which gave him a ton of power that he could barely control (and a funny AI he could argue with). The Prologue also has the tough job of including the starting points for all the following character-specific tie-ins: Silver Surfer, Super-Skrull, Nova and Ronan. It’s a gigantic one-shot issue and does its job setting the state for an epic event very well, though the art is the weakest of the series.
After Prologue Marvel simultaneously launched four different limited series runs of four different characters that were directly involved in Annihilation, and they acted as further lead-up to the event itself. Nova’s four issue mini-series is definitely the highlight, involving his aforementioned supercomputer merging as well as meeting up with Drax and Quasar and eventually even fighting Annihilus himself (briefly; everyone knows you can’t fight the Big Bad too early, and usually ends up with a minor good guy dying. Sorry, Quasar). It was a fantastic story that felt like a natural extension of the epic events in Annihilation Prologue.
The other character tie-ins were not so fortunate (all three make up Book Two of the Annihilation trades). Silver Surfer was okay, and one of the few Cosmic characters that I’d actually heard of. Essentially he returns to Galactus to serve him once again and become a herald (I didn’t know he was an ex-herald at the time) in order to fight the newly-dubbed Annihilation Wave. It doesn’t go well as the Wave had destroyed a kyln, a fancy space prison (like the one in Guardians) that held two ‘proemial gods’ (like Galactus). Aegis and Tenebrous were super pissed off and after some smooth words by Thanos, they attacked Galactus and Silver Surfer along with Ravenous, the only real villain given any substance under Annihilus (and he basically looks like Drax).
It’s not terrible and actually has a ton to do with the main event going on, but I’m just not a big fan of Silver Surfer and his whole situation with Galactus, thus the series didn’t really do it for me. Even worse was the Ronan series – here’s a character I only recognized from the recent movie (like Drax) but took place on an alien planet with minor Cosmic characters that were completely lost on me. At one point he and Gamora fight because reasons and that’s about it. Side note: Gamora is VERY different from her on-screen counterpart, she’s basically the token ‘hot chick that also kicks ass’ – very disappointing. The four issue story had very little to do with Annihilation and left me with such a bitter taste that I actually just completely skipped Annihilation: Super-Skrull (assuming it to be similarly fashioned) to get right into the main Annihilation trade.
So if you’re paying close attention, the actual six issue event series Annihilation doesn’t start until Book Three of the trade paperbacks! The main event is thankfully fantastic as all our various heroes and anti-heroes come together to battle the vast armies of Annihilus. Thanos becomes a bigger player as he strikes a deal with Annihilus, and the two capture Galactus after the events of Annihilation: Silver Surfer and weaponize him to create a Death Star style planet-destroying beam. Cool! Ronan, Gamora, Super-Skrull, Starlord, Nova and Drax all fight together against the onslaught of swarms of alien insect creatures. Awesome! Ronan and the skrull get to team-up as an intergalactic odd-couple (skrull and kree hate each other) to overthrow the current ruling kree and use the army to attack the Wave. Nice! Nova and Gamora have a fling. Nova and Starlord are good buds (and Starlord is pretty funny, though older and more cynical than his lovable on-screen persona). Drax punches Thanos through the chest and rips out his heart. Wow! They free Galactus and he destroys the Wave, woo! Nova fights a weakened Annihilus and rips his spine out through his mouth. Holy crap!
If you’re going to do a giant epic Cosmic event, Annihilation really delivers with so many crazy fun and over-the-top moments that I couldn’t help but fall in love with it. Nearly every issue was like Act Three of a big budget space opera, and it was amazing that the relatively large cast all had interesting things to do, from joining forces to survive to splitting up when it came time to fight back.
Book Three also includes the two part Annihilation: Heralds of Galactus, which serve as mostly unnecessary epilogues to a few loose threads involving Silver Surfer and the other ex-heralds. As I mentioned before I don’t really care about Silver Surfer and his goings-on, so these stories really didn’t do much for me.
Due to the way Marvel structured the various limited series tie-ins and the eventual trade paperbacks, I felt coerced to read everything involved with Annihilation compared to the events back on Earth, such as House of M, where I could simply pick and choose which character tie-ins I was interested in. For that reason, Annihilation as a whole comes off as a very mixed bag.
Trade paperback wise I would recommend completely skipping Book Two (unless you’re really into those particular characters). If you can pick and choose (such as on Marvel Unlimited) I would read the massive and awesome Annihilation: Prologue and spiffy Annihilation: Nova before diving into the six issue event itself. The actual event is pretty awesome, and I appreciate putting together all these various Cosmic characters, but most of the tie-ins just ended up pretty flat.
Unfortunately looking ahead it looks like Marvel would do the exact same thing with the next Cosmic event which starts up almost immediately afterward – Annihilation: Conquest. The good news is, Conquest paves the way for the Guardians of the Galaxy comic run, and I’m super excited to get there (especially as I already bought the first trade paperback).