Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – The Thanos Imperative

The Thanos Imperative is a culmination of events spinning out of War of Kings and Guardians of the Galaxy.

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With 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!

The Thanos ImperativeWriters: Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning

Artists: Miguel Sepulveda, Brad Walker

Issues: The Thanos Imperative (#1-6), The Thanos Imperative: Devastation, The Thanos Imperative: Ignition

 

The creative writing team of Abnett and Lanning enjoyed a string of major successes in the 2000s. They reshaped the entire Marvel Cosmic setting through awesome events like Annihilation, Annihilation Conquest, and War of Kings. They created the dysfunctional and fun Guardians of the Galaxy. They made Nova a central hero in all things cosmic.

And they made it all come together in The Thanos Imperative.

Like previous cosmic events and series, to understand The Thanos Imperative requires a lot of set up. The plot spins right out of War of Kings, which heavily involved every major cosmic faction: the Kree lead by the Inhumans, the Shi’ar, Nova, Blastaar, the Guardians of the Galaxy – hell even Silver Surfer and Galactus have to show up. Continue reading “Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – The Thanos Imperative”

Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – War of Kings

The Marvel Cosmic event of 2009, War of Kings, is a grand payoff for several years worth of intergalactic warfare and crossovers.

With 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!

war of kingsWriters: Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning

Artist: Paul Pelletier

Issues: War of Kings #1-6, Secret Invasion: War of Kings, War of Kings: Who Will Rule?*

*I also read the following tie-ins: X-Men: Kingbreaker, Nova Vol. 5: War of Kings, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3: War of Kings Book 2

 

The cosmic side of the Marvel Universe – which is to say, everything other than Earth, had been carefully designed by the writing team of Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning for several years before War of Kings hit in the Summer of 2009.

Beginning with the catastrophic Annihilation event in 2006, the wider universe had been in a state of flux and terror. Combined with intriguing story seeds spinning out of X-Men: Deadly Genesis and Secret Invasion: Inhumans, War of Kings represents the sweeping payoff for several different factions, series, and events. It’s a hell of a lot of fun, with the same great artwork by Paul Pelletier from previous cosmic events. But fully understanding War of Kings requires several years worth of Marvel comics stories. Continue reading “Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – War of Kings”

Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Guardians of the Galaxy: The Complete Collection Vol. 1

By successfully crafting an Avengers-style cosmic team, Abnett and Lanning create a memorable and fun comic series.

With 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!

Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 1Writers: Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning

Artists: Paul Pelletier (#1-7), Brad Walker (#8-10), Wes Craig (#11-12)

Issues: Guardians of the Galaxy (2008) #1-12

 

“This is your team?”
“Yeah, great aren’t they?”
“Is one of them a tree?”
“Uh-huh.”
“I hate cosmic stuff.”

If there’s a single Marvel thing I can point to that primarily motivated my resurgence back to comic books, look no further than the 2014 Guardians of the Galaxy film. I absolutely adored it, from its wacky world, amazing casting, and wonderful balance of action and humor. I was also completely lost on who these characters were.

Now I’d never paid close attention to the Avengers or Iron Man comics either, but I was at least aware of them. The Guardians were completely new to me, and strikingly highlighted the fact that I really hadn’t read a comic book in the last ten years.

Thus I was super stoked to dive into their very well-regarded run that spanned 25 issues between 2008-2010. Of course when I began reading comics in December of 2014, I started back in the era of 2004, so it’s taken me awhile to finally catch up. I’m very glad I did, as both major cosmic events Annihilation (’06-07) and Annihilation: Conquest (’07-08) are close to required reading to really get the most out of these characters and where they come from.

Guardians of the Galaxy begins with Peter Quill, aka Star-Lord (WHO??) having already assembled his titular team. The initial active roster is introduced with fun reality show-style talking heads, and include Gamora, Rocket Racoon, Adam Warlock, Drax the Destroyer, and Phyla-Vell as the new Quasar. Groot is still growing and recovering from his explosive events at the end of Annihilation: Conquest, a nice nod to continuityThe telepathic Mantis is also an important member of the team, though her role is more like Professor X – to hang back and provide mental support and information.

Guardians of the Galaxy #2

Although this 12 issue collected volume collects two six issue trades, the stories are actually much more segmented than that. The first three issues, for example, has our team exploring and battling against the Universal Church of Truth. They’re a powerful cult that believe Adam Warlock to be a false prophet, since they have their own Warlock-like cocoon that’s waiting to be reborn.

It mostly comes down to lots of fantastic battles against giant armored guys called Cardinals who use their faith as a power source. At the end, Gamora nearly sacrifices herself by exposing herself to a star to save the rest of the team. She heals slowly over the next few issues, even sporting shorter hair when she’s fully healed – another nice nod to continuity.

We’re also introduced to the Guardians’ home base of Knowhere. As seen in the film it’s the hollowed out skull of a long-dead celestial being, and considered neutral grounds by many alien races. Its head of security is one of my favorite characters ever – Cosmo the telepathic Russian space-dog. He’s the best, and his dialogue is written just like how Chekov from Star Trek speaks.

Guardians of the Galaxy #4

Knowhere becomes the focus over the next three issues, which are also technically Secret Invasion tie-ins. The tie-in portion just means it references the invasion of Earth and involves skrulls, but otherwise doesn’t have anything to do with those events. The storyline is all kinds of cool as we focus more on the team’s inner-drama, and drama with other staff at Knowhere. I was hoping we’d get into some The Thing territory as they all start accusing each other of being a skrull while trapped in a small area, but Drax manages to supersede that by temporarily killing everyone on the station with a brain damage bomb. Yeah, he’s Drax, he does that.

While I do love the writing and dialogue, the artwork was a huge reason I instantly fell in love with Guardians of the Galaxy. Paul Pelletier has a classically exaggerated, dare I say Jim Lee-esque quality about his characters that I just adored. Action scenes were bright and flashy while still being easy to follow, and every character just leapt off the page in memorable fashion. Even the random aliens were fun, like the gigantic, chameleon-eyed Delegate Gorani.

The Secret Invasion story leads to a surprising end, involving an underground railroad of pacifist skrulls just trying to escape. Unfortunately the seeds of distrust have been sown, and it’s soon revealed that Peter had Mantis “slightly brainwash” each member to get them to initially join the team. Everyone is understandably upset about this, and everyone parts ways.

Guardians of the Galaxy #7

Issues #7-10 take on an interesting multi-tiered arc as our separated teams go on their own various adventures. Peter Quill returns to Hala where he’s quickly arrested by Ronan the Accuser and thrown into the Negative Zone. Gamora accompanies Adam Warlock to continue their pursuit of the Universal Church. Phyla-Vell helps Drax on his search for the lost kid from back in Annihilation, which eventually leads them to Heather Douglass, Drax’s daughter and Phyla’s lover that was killed by Ultron during Annihilation: Conquest. See how happy I was that I read those events first? I mean you should read them because they’re awesome anyway.

Surprisingly Rocket Racoon keeps the Guardians going with his own team. Joined by a newly rebuilt Groot, he brings Mantis to active status and adds in former teammate Bug and new recruit Major Victory, a future Guardian of the Galaxy lost in time that wields Captain America’s shield. Wait what?

Major Victory’s discovery was actually made back in issue #2, though his ongoing plight always took a backseat to current events and situations. He and teammate Starhawk both end up in our time, and we get a cool dystopian view of the future where they’re part of the last team of resistance in the universe against a conquering race. Starhawk believes there’s an anomaly coming up that fractures the timeline and screws everything up. Can you say foreshadowing?

Peter Quill’s odyssey becomes the most interesting, as he runs into Blastaar, now self-appointed King Blastaar of the Negative Zone. Blastaar tasks Quill with helping him take Prison 42, the superhero prison that was built in the negative zone during the Civil War, and importantly includes a portal to Earth. Quill meets up with Jack Flagg, who’s wheelchair bound after his run-in with Bullseye and the Thunderbolts (yet another awesome nod to previous continuity) and a handful of random minor villains. There’s some fun desperate moments as they try to hold off the forces of Blastaar’s army before Quill can contact Mantis and Rocket’s team teleports in to bail them out.

Guardians of the Galaxy #9

All four stories happen intermittently over the course of four issues, but that method is dropped for the final two issues of the Volume. Issues #11-12 focus solely on Phyla-Vell and Drax, recently “killed” by Mentor and wandering a limbo-like world. They fight a dude named Maelstrom, meet up with the old Quasar Wendell Vaughn, and rescue Heather from inside a giant dragon. It’s kinda neat but very weird to focus two entire issues of the main trade on just their straightforward story.

Sadly Pelletier only worked on the first seven issues. Brad Walker’s work is close and a reasonable facsimile. I can’t say the same for Wes Craig’s work on the final two issues, where the characters looked too childish for my tastes. Anytime the artist changes so often is cause for cringing, but credit to the creative teams involved that everything still retained a very consistent tone and style to it.

By successfully crafting an Avengers-style cosmic team, Abnett and Lanning create a memorable and fun comic series. They were able to effectively plant the seeds for future conflicts like Starhawk and Major Victory’s future time-crisis and the Universal Church of Truth’s mystery cocoon, while still putting their new cosmic team through their own fun stories and adventures.

Splitting the team up halfway through seems crazy but I’ll be damned if it wasn’t a lot of fun, and a chance to see different characters interacting together. Guardians of the Galaxy also helps bridge together the next cosmic event – War of Kings, while the second Volume does the same with Realm of Kings, then finally to the Thanos Imperative. Basically the Guardians are Marvel Cosmic, and I couldn’t be happier about it.

Guardians of the Galaxy #1

Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Annihilation: Conquest

If Annihilation made me a fan of Marvel’s cosmic universe, then Annihilation: Conquest sealed that marriage and my love of these characters and the outstanding creative team of Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning.

With 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!

Annihilation conquest omnibusWriters: Dan Abentt, Andy Lanning, Christos Gage, Keith Giffen, Javier Grillo-Marxuach

Artists: Mike PerkinsPaul Pelletier, Tom Raney, Timothy Green, Mike Lilly, Kyle Hotz, Sean Chen

Issues: Annihilation: Conquest Prologue, Annihilation: Conquest – Star-Lord #1-4, Annihilation: Conquest – Quasar #1-4, Annihilation: Conquest – Wraith #1-4, Annihilation: Conquest #1-6, Nova #1-12, Nova Annual #1

 

Large-scale, blockbuster sequels are not solely in the realm of Hollywood movies. After the successful kick-start to Marvel’s cosmic universe via the epic Annihilation event in 2006-07, Marvel immediately responded with an equally epic and far-reaching special event called Annihilation: Conquest (2007-08). Building upon the characters and consequences from Annihilation, Conquest manages to be the rare sequel that keeps up with and even in many ways surpasses its predecessor thanks to superior limited series tie-ins, fantastic and consistent art, and a Game of Thrones-style plot with multiple cosmic heroes on varying missions to stop Ultron and the Phalanx.

In terms of these Final Thoughts I’ll be covering the entire event, as I did with Annihilation. That’s 30+ issues! A new omnibus (releasing this Summer) includes the ridiculous amount of issues I listed above, yet like its predecessor it’s still a refreshingly self-contained event compared to the Earth-bound stuff like Civil War. So strap yourselves in for my biggest Marvel Comics Final Thoughts yet!

The only ongoing series that was born out of Annihilation was a new Nova solo-series. The first two volumes (12 issues + annual) tie in to Annihilation: Conquest, and they’re utterly fantastic. Nova (Richard Rider) quickly evolved from a hero I really hadn’t even heard of (being completely unaware of most Marvel Cosmic stuff before I read Annihilation) to one of my new favorite Marvel heroes. He’s selfless, brave, and compassionate. Like the MCU Captain America, he also exemplifies the average human who was given extraordinary powers, and uses them solely to help others.

He’s also the last surviving member of the Nova Corp after the galactic peace-keeping armada was completely obliterated by the Annihilation Wave. In the process he absorbed the consciousness/super computer of the Xandarian Worldmind – basically his JARVIS that constantly gives him advice, berates him, and generally acts as a fun foil and unwitting partner in their galactic adventures.

Nova #3

In his first issue Nova is trying his best to be a one-man army, zipping around the universe with his boosted powers from the Worldmind, helping refugee colonies and defeating pockets of annihilation forces. Finally he pushes himself to near exhaustion, and Worldmind suggests he take a little break and return to earth.

Issues #2-3 are technically labeled as Initiative tie-ins, syncing them up with the post-Civil War era of Marvel continuity. In other words when Nova returns to say hi to his parents (who are not too pleased to see him), Iron Man shows up at his door and gives him 24 hours to register. Nova catches up on the Civil War shenanigans, and it’s a fun perspective to see such a major event reduced to a blip when compared to the insane galaxy-destroying event that Nova was just a part of.

Nova gets to talk a bit to his former New Warriors teammates and even briefly fights the Thunderbolts. He quickly realizes that Earth is not the place for him and returns to his life in space where things make sense, in their own way.

Issues #4-7 directly involve the events of Annihilation: Conquest, or at least the prologue. In the prologue issue Peter Quilll a.k.a. Star-Lord, man (Who?) arrives on the Kree Homeworld of Hala to upload a new defense system. The Kree want to be more pro-active in preventing anything like Annihilus’ sudden and devastating invasion from happening again. Unfortunately for everyone the system is really the Phalanx in disguise – a technorganic race that’s obsessed with assimilating everyone into its ranks.

The Phalanx’s invasion of Hala is nearly instantaneous as citizens either run or quickly become assimilated (denoted in this case by static-colored eyes and yellow-outlined dialogue bubbles). The prologue does a great job setting up the immediate threat of the Phalanx along with the various lead-in mini-series of Star-Lord, Quasar, and Wraith. A forcefield is erected around Kree space, keeping everyone in and out and while the Phalanx spreads and builds, leaving a nice sense of urgency and desperation to our few heroes caught inside.

Nova is busy responding to the Kree distress call when the forcefield is created. He’s forced to flee to prevent becoming infected in the battle, and runs headlong into the new forcefield before he can stop. Critically injured he falls to a remote Kree outpost on another planet that had been stranded since the Annihilation War. Reduced to a smoking crater, the Worldmind actually abandons ship and gives its power to another – Ko-Rel, the captain and leader of the survivors.

nova #10 coverWhile Nova is healed by the Kree medical facilities, the newly minted Nova Prime Ko-Rel immediately has her work cut out for her as a small war party of Phalanx attack the outpost, lead by an infected Gamora. Gamora acts as the primary antagonist throughout Nova’s volumes, an interesting twist considering their former romantic and competitive history.

Gamora sneaks into the medical lab while Ko-Rel fights off the Phalanx, murders a bunch of poor Kree soldiers and kisses Richard Rider, infecting him with the Transmode Virus that turns people into slaves of the Phalanx. Interestingly, we find out later that the Phalanx purposefully leave in a modicum of free will, as they find that organic life is much more willing to accept assimilation and be more effective if they have it. Considering most of our advantages over such robot/hive-mind type enemies are our free will, it’s a frightening though that the Phalanx are willing to be so adaptive.

Worldmind freaks out and orders Ko-Rel to now go kill Nova so the Phalanx can’t get their hands on it. The two have a fun battle of dueling rocket-powered people before it looks like Ko-Rel has the upper hand – before she’s stabbed in the back by Gamora. I was pretty bummed as they were giving just enough backstory and personality to make Ko-Rel a likable character, and I was hoping she’d become the first recruit to the new Nova Corps.

Instead her death releases the rest of the Worldmind back to Nova, where its able to put the virus in remission and allow him to regain control. Fly away, Nova! Gamora continues her hunt along with fellow Phalanx-infected warrior Drax. Drax unfortunately suffers from Too Many Characters syndrome (see Game of Thrones). His role is greatly diminished from the previous cosmic event into Gamora’s partner in hunting Nova.

In Nova’s second volume, “Knowhere,” Rider had opened an emergency stargate to escape the forcefield, and ended up at the edge of the universe. Specifically the gigantic celestial head of a dead god known as Knowhere (seen in the 2014 Guardians of the Galaxy film). The first few issues chronicle Nova’s little side adventure in Knowhere, involving an evil zombifying creature known as Abyss and an Avengers-style team from another planet. It’s a bit of a departure from the ongoing story of Annihilation: Conquest, and indeed Drax and Gamora don’t even catch up to Nova until he leaves.

nova #8

“Knowhere” introduces us to the best Marvel character ever – Cosmo, the thickly Russian-accented telepathic half Labrador/half Golden Retriever mix. Yup, a talking dog in a little space outfit. In his first ever appearance Cosmo is hilarious and wonderful (and surprisingly powerful) and I was devastated that he didn’t become a permanent sidekick of Nova’s, opting instead to remain on Knowhere where he’ll become an awesome addition to the Guardians of the Galaxy series that launches after Annihilation: Conquest. You’re the best, Cosmo.

From Cosmo Nova learns the location of the home planet of the Technarchy, the race that created the Phalanx. At this point the virus has been wrecking havoc on Nova’s systems, and it’s taking more and more of the Worldmind’s power to keep it at bay (leaving Nova weaker and weaker). The sense of urgency and hopelessness reaches a tense level of crescendo just as Nova reaches the nearly abandoned planet of Kvch.

If you’re reading Nova on Marvel Unlimited, make sure you read the Nova Annual issue between #10 and #11, it’s really fantastic. The Annual provides both a fun backstory or Nova’s origin as well as a What If that catapults us decades into the future as Nova, with a new Nova Corp armada, attempts to liberate a fully infected Earth from the Phalanx.

nova annual

The whole issue ends up being a mindfuck as the virus was fully attempting to gain control by attacking Richard’s mind, and was a wonderfully emotional and informative ride. Likewise issue #10 is also a bit isolated as it centers on Nova’s and Gamora’s relationship as the two fight their way out of a cosmic monster that’s eaten them on their way to Kvch. Their love-hate camaraderie is intensified thanks to Gamora’s constant “give in to the Phalanx” spiel. I like Gamora as a character but I can’t say I’m a fan of her ridiculous bathing suit outfit that barely covers up the naughty bits. Cool hooded cape though.

Dying on Kvch with the virus taking hold things look bleak for our hero when a blast from the past is able to heal him. Warlock, technarch and former member of the New Warriors welcomes Nova to his home planet. Having never read New Warriors I actually recognized the character from that one episode of X-Men: The Animated Series that also involved a Phalanx invasion. Warlock is on Kvch having found and raised a child, attempting to impart the more pacifist style that Warlock’s mutant strain (and time on Earth) had imprinted upon him.

Nova tries to get Warlock to aid him and help fight the Phlanx but he refuses. Gamora and Drax catch up only to be turned into a spire and summon an elder Technarch to the planet, a giant and powerful monstrosity. Nova tries to keep it at bay while the others escape. Warlock sacrifices himself to fully heal Nova of the virus that had been killing him since issue #5 while his son Tryo escapes, only to return and charge right at the monster. The plan works and Tyro takes over the creature’s body, restoring Warlock, Gamora, and Drax back to full health and free of the virus. Healed and bolstered with new allies, Nova and company return to Kree space to mount an assault on Hala.

nova #12All of this happens concurrently with the events of Annihilation: Conquest’s lead-in mini-series and event itself. Nova’s issues can be read independently as he only shows up in the final issue of Conquest. By giving him his own side adventures while still tying it altogether with the greater event, Nova’s series becomes an exciting ride that gets to keep the desperation surrounding the event while expanding the Marvel Cosmic Universe into new and exciting places. Both Knowhere and Kvch are fun new locations, and it was wonderful meeting new characters like Cosmo and seeing old characters like Warlock used in meaningful and logical ways.

But wait, there’s more! Like Annihilation before it, Conquest includes several four-issue limited series based on the major characters of the event that take place between the Prologue and the event itself. Unlike Annihilation, they’re all pretty good!

Annihilation: Conquest – Star-Lord begins with Peter Quill’s recovery from having been brutally attacked on Hala during the invasion. The Kree resistance patches him up, removes all his goofy cyberware, and tasks with him taking a team of criminals and prisoners into the heart of the Phalanx spire to destroy it from the inside. Star-Lord recruits his team that would eventually become the Guardians of the Galaxy later on. For now it consists of Bug, Mantis, Deathcry, Rocket Racoon, Groot, and Captain Universe.

The team goes through the typical drama of folks of wildly different backgrounds being thrust together. Deathcry is even killed by friendly fire from Captain Universe as she goes feral for, to put it in gamer terms, kill-stealing. The series is action-packed but the art isn’t very good and I didn’t find the overall plot all that interesting. It mostly serves to introduce us to this freedom-fighting team on Hala and it’s surprisingly the weakest of the mini-series.

Quasar’s series centers around Phyla-Vell, daughter of Mar-Vell, the former cosmic hero Captain Marvel. I’m wholly unaware of her family’s adventures and drama but thankfully the series focuses less on her history and more on her present situation. Adorned with the powerful quantum bands she had taken from Annihilus at the end of Annihilation (can you tell you really have to read Annihilation first), the new Quasar and her lover Moondragon (Heather Douglas, daughter of Drax and powerful telepath) live in a secluded temple in Kree space. When the Phalanx attack, she’s given a mysterious message to find the savior.

Quasar and Moondragon’s quest quickly resembles a Dungeons and Dragons style adventure as they fight giant space monsters and help defend outposts from the Phalanx. During a particular exciting moment, Heather’s incessant headaches reach a climax during a pitched battle, and she permanent transforms into a literal dragon! The plot isn’t too heavy though we are given a fun villain in the form of a Phalanx-infected Super Adaptoid, a robotic foe that can mimic the abilities of any of the Avengers.

quasar #4

Phyla-Vell’s quantum bands are running out of power thanks to the forcefield cutting her off from the Universe’s energy, give a nice sense of desperation that I enjoyed from Nova. The real treat, however, comes from the incredibly fun artwork. Seemingly more suited for a fantasy epic rather than a comic space opera, artist Mike Lilly does a fantastic job drawing giant two-page spreads of exciting battles and events.

The plot does become integral to setting up Conquest as Quasar and Moondragon defeat the Adaptoid and awaken Adam Warlock, the supremely powerful cosmic being that’s gone toe-to-toe with Thanos, and plays an important role in the upcoming liberation.

With the third lead-in Marvel attempted to introduce an entirely new character – Wraith. Wraith could be described as Goth Clint Eastwood. Looking like a vampire-dark elf wearing a poncho, he’s got a powerful weapon that can change form and a motorcycle that flies through space. Basically he’s that dorky kind of cool that was very prevalent in the 90s, but doesn’t seem entirely out of place here.

His backstory as an orphaned child is uninteresting and his powerset of a weird negative fear energy is confusing. Luckily his comic quickly throws him headfirst into the Phalanx and the war on Hala, making his lead-in the most directly involved in the grand event. He’s captured and tortured by the Phalanx-infected Ronan, then breaks free and escapes with Annihilation stars Super-Skrull and Paxagoria. The three of them join up with the resistance on Hala to mount a full on attack on the Phalanx armada. Their goal – to stop Ronan and the Phalanx from sending out a psychic wave (from their semi-dead god/super computer) that will shut down all the Kree.

wraith #3

Wraith is a goofy character who even has the black dialogue boxes a la Venom, but his supporting cast is fun. The mini-series is almost as much about Ronan as it is Wraith, as we see him struggle with enslavement and the semi-freedom he’s afforded. It ends up being another fun, short, action-packed story, and I was pleasantly surprised with how much I enjoyed it.

And now, finally, we reach the main six issue event. Annihilation: Conquest’s first issue ends with a massive HOLY CRAP moment, as it’s revealed that the mastermind behind the Phalanx’s sudden power upgrades and efficiency is none other than Earth-born Ultron! Considering my previous experience with Ultron was when he awkwardly took over Iron Man’s body and turned female in Mighty Avengers, I was pleased to see him in full traditional robot regalia, and menacing as all hell.

annihilation conquest #1 ultronThroughout the adventure our various groups that were introduced in the lead-ins are separated and all fighting the war in their own way. Star-Lord and the proto-Guardians team remain on Hala as an insurgency force, pretty much fighting Phalanx forces nonstop. Wraith, along with the freed Ronan and the rest of their group travel to a world that had been ceded to the remaining Annihilation forces to ask their former foes to join with them against the Phalanx. Quasar and company meet up with the High Evolutionary (who created Adam Warlock) and end up directly battling Ultron on several occasions. Nova has his own crazy adventures as he searches for a cure to the virus.

There’s a lot going on and interestingly none of their paths actually cross until the final issue or two. Like their lead-ins, Star-Lord’s story is again probably the least interesting, as they continue the good fight on Hala. They do manage to take down the giant spire with a plan involving Groot growing to massive proportions and then blowing up. The team is given only the bare minimum of growth and character development, and Peter Quill is just not a super interesting character yet. The team is also given the role of Most Character Deaths to make the situation more dire, as the incredibly dorky Captain Universe goes down, while Mantis is severely injured (and the aforementioned Groot explosion).

Quasar’s adventures become the most interesting. The High Evolutionary is a powerful figure in the Marvel Universe, neither good nor evil but very interested in biology. There’s a large battle when Ultron attacks, and he ends up punching Moondragon through the chest as she dives to protect Phyla-Vell. Noooo! I loved that character, but it’s nice to see a villain that actually kills people (at least to the extent that people can be killed in comics).

Near the end Ultron is able to get the High Evolutionary to help him download himself into Adam Warlock’s body, creating a near unstoppable union of robotic and organic abilities. This new view of organic life being useful instead of loathed by Ultron and the Phalanx is what makes them so formidable and frightening.

annihilation conquest #6 endIt all comes down to an exciting finale as Nova shows up in the nick of time. Warlock (the afro-sporting technarch dude) infects Ultron with the mutant virus strain that makes him unique, shutting him out of Adam Warlock’s body. Ronan and company then screw everything up by planning on taking Hala down to wipe the Phalanx out using a virus-proofed sentry army, but it goes horribly wrong, Paxagoria is taken over and killed by Ultron, and he proceeds to add the sentries to his body, growing massive in size.

In the end it takes a combination of Adam Warlock harnessing the freed souls of Hala (freed by the spire’s destruction), Wraith using his weird energy trapping powers, and Quasar focusing the souls into her Diablo-esque energy sword and killing Ultron. Yep, Quasar gets the killing blow. Seeing as she lost the person most important to her, it was a satisfying moment of badass revenge.

As a direct sequel to Annihilation, Conquest does kind of rehash the concept of a group of disparate heroes fighting against an unstoppable force. It would also be tricky to jump into it without first reading Annihilation, as most of the characters and the overall situation of the universe are directly referenced throughout. Ultimately I found Annihilation: Conquest even more satisfying than its predecessor, and one of my favorite Marvel events.

The multiple story approach remains logical and exciting, showing the devastating events from multiple angles and situations. The lead-ins are also very well done, and unlike Annihilation are all pretty integral into the main story. As the sole extra series tie-in Nova is probably the best part of the whole experience, which is not usually the case for solo character tie-ins. Ultron is a fantastic villain with logical motivations and suitably menacing dialogue and even more enigmatic characters like Adam Warlock are explained well enough to bring newer Marvel Cosmic converts like myself up to speed.

If Annihilation made me a fan of Marvel’s cosmic universe, then Annihilation: Conquest sealed that marriage and my love of these characters and the outstanding creative team of Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning. Now, bring on the Guardians of the Galaxy!

annihilation conquest #2

Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Annihilation

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!

Annihilation_Prologue coverWriters: 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).

annihilation prologue

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.

annihilation draxSo 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.

annihilation issue 2

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).