Marvel at 80: Annihilation
Almost all of Marvel in 2006 was focused on the Civil War. What side are you on? Team Cap or Team Iron Man? However, another event was brewing in the depths of space. Marvel had been almost wholly ignoring their outer space properties since the mid-1990s, and the characters had been left to fall into obscurity. The last genuinely cosmic book was the Silver Surfer, who kept getting canceled due to low sales. Aside from Peter David’s more terrestrial-based Captain Marvel run, characters like Nova, Star-Lord, Drax the Destroyer, the Super Skrull, and Ronan the Accuser had become little more than guest-heroes or villains in the occasional Avengers book or an old joke.
This was, of course, to say nothing of the major races in Marvel’s cosmic territory. The Skrull and Kree had become bickering in-laws, with others like the Badoon almost fading entirely from memory.
However, that didn’t stop writer Keith Giffen from coming to Marvel with an idea, one that featured an old and mostly forgotten Fantastic Four foe.
Opening with the complete desolation of the Nova Corps homeworld of Xandar, the last Nova (human Richard Ryder) struggles to assemble what remains of the universe’s defenses to prevent the universe from coming to an end against the Annihilation Wave. To build suspense, Marvel opened this event with a one-shot prologue, then had four different mini-series featuring Nova, Ronan, the Super Skrull, and the Silver Surfer all trying to survive in the opening months of the Annihilation. While they are not crucial to the main Annihilation story, they do wind up, making the reader care for and understand characters who literally hadn’t been written well for decades in some cases. Drax the Destroyer also had a reboot (literally) after a near-death experience in 2005 that was used for his interpretation in these books, and could well be included.
There was even an issue dedicated to a “Who’s Who” of the Cosmic Marvel cast, almost a requirement for anyone at the time who wasn’t in the habit of collecting comics from the back-issue bins.
With the backstory and character introductions out of the way, Annihilation goes head-long into the action. Half a year since the teaser issue, Richard Ryder is leading the last scraps of the cosmic resistance against the Annihilation Wave. With him is Peter Quill, but a man who has been battered by life rather than the Star Lord of modern Marvel. The other characters who had mini-series have also joined Quill, and the battle at the start of the first issue introduces everyone while being as grim and gritty as possible in ways not seen since the early 90s. However, there’s something here that prevents it from being as horrible as those comics: the writing is excellent, and the comic finds itself being downright enjoyable! Character development, humor, and action, both epic and awesome all are crammed into the first issue alone.
With the devourer of worlds, Galactus himself, felled by Annihilus’ forces, things begin to get grim. The cowardly heads of the Kree species also start falling in line with the Annihilation Wave, and even Thanos himself is working for Annihilus. Throughout the event, Drax does his best to infiltrate Annihilus’ forces while the rest of the free universe launch an all-out assault to buy Drax time.
Once at the door of Thanos’ lab, Drax finds out that Galactus has been turned into a weapon of ultimate destruction. Thanos has a plan to betray Annihilus and curry favor with Galactus for freeing him. So, Drax puts aside his eternal enmity with Thanos an-
Usually, I don’t mind covering how the event ends. I did it for Civil War, and for both Secret Wars, among others. This event? I simply can’t do. Guillen and his creative crew work wonders with the final two issues and craft an utterly epic ending worthy of ancient song. This is something you need to read for yourself, and the end still holds up over a decade later.
Annihilation didn’t have a significant impact on the Earth side of the Marvel Universe when it came out. It sold incredibly well at the time and made Marvel take a chance with Nova in an ongoing book once more, and they let new writers take charge in the cosmic corner of Marvel. This would result in a complete revolution of the space arena with a subsequent event known as Annihilation: Conquest. This event would drag Peter Quill kicking and screaming back into the limelight with a familiar costume and helmet:
While we will cover that event (soon), Cosmic Marvel would have another significant impact on the heroes of Earth. After being splintered by the Civil War, something new was on the horizon. The Hulk had been exiled to space, and now he was coming back. And he was mad.
World War Hulk, coming soon!