Sunday, 3 November 2013 in , , ,

Annihilation: Silver Surfer

Annihilation: Silver Surfer #1-4

The Eeyore of the Marvel Universe, Norrin Radd aka The Silver Surfer, becomes involved in Annihilation when the former heralds of Galactus - the ones who search out new planets for Galactus to eat - are hunted down by agents of Annihilus. I have a very sketchy knowledge of Silver Surfer and virtually no knowledge of the other heralds or their rather odd relationship with Galactus, so I found parts of this miniseries hard going. Yet, overall, it was enjoyable and there are some truly epic moments. One of the key things we learn is that Annihilus has launched his Wave in response to the (positive) universe encroaching on the Negative Zone - there's some sort of cosmic imbalance caused. Also, another aspect of Annihilation opens when Tenebrous and Aegis, two beings like Galactus are freed from the Kyln.

Surfer stumbles across Gabriel Air-Walker, a former herald of Galactus being attacked by a gang of Annihilus' henchmen led by a creature called Ravenous. Surfer escapes with the fatally wounded Gabriel and, after some soul-searching, decides that he stands against the Annihilation Wave. Later he meets Red Shift and Firelord, other heralds - who have declared war on the Annihilation Wave - and is recalled by Galactus himself.

The part of this series that I totally enjoyed was seeing Thanos ally himself with Annihilus. There's some very clever writing in the second issue where the two villains meet for the first time: Thanos evades Annihilus' questions diplomatically, attempting to give the impression that he admires Annihilus but is unconcerned by anything the Negative Zone Lord is interested in. Later  we see Thanos allying himself with Tenebrous and Aegis. (Incidently, this is classic Thanos behaviour. If you look back to Starlin's run on Warlock in the 1970s, Thanos attempts to ally himself with Adam Warlock in order to defeat Mags.).

While this isn't as engaging as the Annihilation: Nova series, it reads very well and is recommended. Renato Arlem makes a pretty good job as artist.

Saturday, 2 November 2013 in , ,

Annihilation: Nova

Annihilation: Nova #1-4

Awesome! Awesome! Awesome! I'm already a great Abnett and Lanning fan; they've produced some great runs recently but most notably The Hypernaturals, one of my favourite series from the last year. Annihilation: Nova just blew me away. It's dramatic, action-packed, humorous and tells a fantastically engaging story.

It picks up after the destruction of the Nova homeworld of Xandar where the only survivors are a badly injured Richard Rider plus Drax and Cammi. Rider is the sole Nova in the universe and has to download the World Mind, the central intelligence repository and power of the Xandar civilisation, into his body. It's an impossible task and much of this mini-series is about how Rider manages to deal with the burden physically and psychologically. He crosses path with Drax and Cammi and all three escape the ruins of Xandar and the Annihilation Wave there. They end up almost crashing into Nycos Aristedes and join with Quasar, a former Avenger. Annihilus turns up and Nova and Quasar join forces in a desperate attempt to destroy him.

The real strength of this mini-series is the great characterisation of Nova, Drax and Cammi. The banter between them is pure Peter Parker at his best written by Stan Lee. There are on-going jokes that remain funny - particularly where everyone recognises Drax and he simply keeps repeating "I'm not that Drax" (you have to read it to see the humour - and you will, I promise). Cammi often plays the role of the reader, often saying things you're thinking at the time - for instance when Cammi sees Quasar, a costumed superhero from Earth, she says: "Wow. I didn't think it was possible... but he's even cornier-looking than you." It doesn't in any way detract from the story-telling or the dark nature of what's actually happening (essentially, Annihilus is intending to kill all life in the universe!) but throws the unfolding tragedy into starker relief.

Apart from the utterly brilliant scripting, Annihilation: Nova is drawn by the fantastic Kev Walker. It's a tour de force of action-packed art. Even down to the panelling. In the second issue there's a scene where Nova goes underground and finds Annihilation bugs eating spaceships. As he goes deeper, the panelling gradually changes from tight, neat regular panels to crude, roughly drawn shapes. It's brilliant and absolutely adds to the impact of the scene. There's so much to enjoy about this comic that whatever I write just doesn't do it justice.

I have to say that Annihilation: Nova is a rare comic that I struggle to find any faults in. From start to finish it's a great adventure. I'd even go so far as to say that it's one of those comics that deserves wider recognition... perhaps even the status "classic comic" (I guess that what prevents this is that it's part of a bigger story and, really, doesn't make a lot of sense in isolation). You can see that I really enjoyed it. On to... The Silver Surfer!

Friday, 1 November 2013 in ,

Annihilation Checklist

The collected editions of Annihilation group the various mini-series together which gives the impression that they happen concurrently. How should I read them? Follow the checklist or follow the trades?

Thursday, 31 October 2013 in , ,

Annihilation Prologue

Annihilation: Prologue (2006) one-shot
Prologue is a fast-paced opening to the cosmic event. We know it's a Marvel Cosmic (with a capital C) event when Thanos appears on the first page and within the next few pages the Kyln maximum security prison and power station is destroyed as the first of the Annihilation Wave come through through the interstellar energy cascade nearby.

Quickly introduced are Richard Rider and the Nova Corps, Drax and Cammi (remember the little girl from Alaska?), Ronan the Accuser (Kree), Silver Surfer and Super-Skrull (though he's not named in the issue). The home planet of the Nova Corps, Xandar, is realised excellently with the immense size and power of the Corps shown off. Very quickly Xandar is attacked and devastated. The pages where the Annihilation Wave suddenly appears and the Corps overwhelmed are epic. We're shown glimpses of the Kree and Skrulls before the reveal of who is masterminding the Annihilation Wave... Annihilus, the insectoid ruler of the Negative Zone.

It's a great single issue and sets up the event incredibly dramatically. I much prefer Keith Giffen's scripting here on a cosmic scale than the close-up Drax mini-series. The art is great by Scott Kolins and Ariel Olevetti (some dynamic panelling though there are some awful computer-generated blurs that really detract from the visual storytelling) and there's definitely a nod to Moebius in the spaceship and alien city designs. I really like the time-stamping at the start of each scene so we get to know the timespan of events: it starts the day before the invasion (which is called Annihilation Day) and the Prologue ends 16 days later. I'm guessing that "day" would be some sort of inter-galactic day rather than earth day. Also, at the end of the single-issue of Prologue are some great extras: information about the Corps, Annihilus, Thanos plus a glossary and map. By the end of reading this there's a great sense that the event has been realised in great detail.
The big reveal... Annihilus is behind the Annihilation Wave.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013 in , , ,

Before Annihilation: Drax the Destroyer miniseries (2005)

Drax issue 1 (2005)

Drax the Destroyer #1-4

This miniseries precedes the Annihilation event by a few months. In the fourth issue there's an editorial in which readers are told that the comic "is just the tip of the iceberg. What we've really done is give you a glimpse or a preview of what is to come".

More or less this is a re-boot, or at the very least another "resurrection", of the Drax the Destroyer character. The story, by Keith Giffen, is fine but Mitch Breitweiser's art - helped enormously by Brian Reber's colouring - is great: he draws figures in epic poses against expansive skylines beautifully.

Drax is on board a spaceship heading for Kyln, a maximum security prison. The other prisoners include Paibok the Skrull, the Blood Brothers and a pretty menacing villain called Lunatik. The spacecraft crashes near Coot's Bluff in Alaska. The Drax who survives the crash is large and brutish: very Hulk-like and, over the course of the four issues, transforms into the Drax that Marvel seem to be using now. Much of what happens involves the Blood Brothers and Lunatik fighting with Drax, while the crafty Paibok enslaves the townsfolk of Coot's Bluff and forces them to work on repairing the damaged spaceship. Drax is befriended by a small girl called Cammi who is fascinated by the aliens she sees. At the end of the second issue Drax is stabbed through the head by Paibok and apparently killed. What seems to happen is that Drax starts to "cook" and out of the baked body, a smaller Drax climbs - with the distinctive red markings on his shoulders. When Cammi asks him why he changed Drax explains: "I am restored. Once again the Destroyer."

He finds that he has lost some of his powers - like power blasts - but he has gained a greater perception: there's a great sequence where Drax walks across a mountainside in the rain and is exhilarated by the experience. The Blood Brothers, who have a Wolverinish scent ability, claim that they smell Cammi when they find Drax. The two have "bonded" in some way. At the end Paibok sends a distress call and a second prison ship picks Drax and Cammi up.

There's not a great deal of Annihilation in this series. It's more of a prologue to the Prologue. Presumably the purpose was to rebirth Drax and give him a child to defend against the Annihilation Wave.

Monday, 28 October 2013 in , , ,

Before Infinity there was Annihilation

Marvel's current event, Infinity, has the Avengers deep in space fighting the Builders - who seem to be the original architects of the universe - while the mad Titan, Thanos, attacks a seemingly defenceless Earth. There's a lot more to this event as it appears to involve the fall-out from Age of Utron, Uncanny Avengers and New Avengers. For a lot of casual readers Infinity is too rich, too complex and involves far too many characters. It requires a good deal of concentration and - like many of Hickman's titles - the payoff may be a little time coming. It has an incredibly fast pace and draws on long-running cosmic history that goes right back to the early 1970s.

It's not the first time that Marvel has involved its universe in an all-out cosmic war. Perhaps the first one was the Kree-Skrull War in the pages of The Avengers in 1971-2. In the 1990s the various Infinity  conflicts involving Thanos and Adam Warlock plunged regular Marvel heroes into vast intergalactic events.

The big question for me, someone who wasn't reading Marvel at that time, is whether the 2006 Annihilation storyline and its 2007 sequel are connected to what's currently happening in the Marvel Universe. Over the next few weeks I'm going to discuss the various titles that constituted Annihilation and ask the question: does it stand up today as a decent comic series worth reading?

Wednesday, 12 June 2013 in ,

Man of Steel Countdown - For Tomorrow (2004)

For Tomorrow (2004, FROM SUPERMAN #204-215)

I certainly remember this as being better the first time I read it. Perhaps I was (and still am) wowed by Lee and Williams' art - which, for me, is how I envisage a modern Superman looking. Brian Azzarello's story, however, is a real clunker. I'm not sure why this was called "For Tomorrow". Was it an attempt to suggest that this version of Superman is how the creators saw him developing? Is it that it's about Kal-El's concerns about how he wakes up to the prospect of being Superman every day and how he manages to remain optimistic and up-beat?

The premise - in which a million people across the Earth including Lois Lane disappeared mysteriously a year earlier - is great. The problem is that the execution of the story is agonisingly convoluted and, ultimately, becomes pretty boring. What is central is a highly contrived narrative about Superman modifying a Phantom Zone projector to send people to a paradise and then mind-wiping himself so he fails to know where all the millions of people have gone. There's also various sub-plots, including involving a villainous OMAC prototype called Equus, who actually looks like a 1990s Wildstorm character.

Incredibly introspective and broody, it has the feeling that a four-issue story is stretched out beyond all proportions with lots of odd elements added that make it an unsatisfying read. Azzerello creates a morally ambiguous world for Superman to inhabit. All the way through it's impossible to know who the bad guys are because the good guys aren't really much better. Equally, some of the dialogue is pretty awful (there's one sequence between Batman and Superman that made me feel awkward - almost like reading a Hollywood scriptwriter's attempt who just doesn't "get" the idea of DC Universe).

Like I said, I remember this being better when I read it about 5 years ago but I think that the single thing that really doesn't work here is the character of Superman. He's far too introspective and angst-ridden (ok, I realise he's literally lost his wife and, somehow, he's responsible but he lacks the dogged, boy scout-ness that makes Superman Superman). The first half of the story has a pretty passive Superman who spends his time visiting a priest (although he does go into space to save Green Lantern - who, uncharacteristically, seems to shout "Save me!").

Much of the narrative is actually heavy-handed moral dilemmas: Superman musing about his role in the world, warfare, a priest dying of cancer and so on... To me they feel artificially forced and out of keeping with the sort of thing a Superman comic should be. I can see how DC could look at a comic like this and think it was time for a re-boot. It is, however, Jim Lee's art that I think is stunning. Whenever he draws members of the Justice League they look epic. Here, we get Batman and Wonder Woman in particular looking awesome.

I'm hoping that this "darker" angst-ridden Superman isn't the character we get in the Man of Steel movie. Personally, I don't think we need an intense, Batman-type personality. Or an intense, autistic character concerned about his discomforting alien-ness. Or an average joe who reflects on his desire to be ordinary when putting on the cape. I'm hoping he's the "Big Blue", the up-beat, inspirational symbol who saves the day because he is a super man. When Superman gets complicated we end up with a story like For Tomorrow.