Waiting for the Trade – Annihilators

Waiting for the Trade
By Bill Miller
by Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning
Collects Annihilators 1 – 4.
Why I bought this: I love cosmic Marvel and my two favorites of Marvel’s cosmic heroes Quasar and Silver Surfer are both featured prominently. This was also written by DnA, who in my view are the best writers currently employed by Marvel. So when Free Comic Book Day rolled around and one of my shops was selling everything in the store at 25-percent off this was the very first item I picked up.
The Plot – In the wake of events of Realm of Kings and Thanos Imperative, the Guardians of the Galaxy are disbanded/mostly dead, leading Marvel’s most powerful cosmic heroes to decide that a new team is needed to deal with future cosmic level crises. The members of that team are Quasar, Silver Surfer, Beta Ray Bill, Gladiator and Ronan the Accuser. The idea is they will not have the usual team trappings of headquarters, meetings etc. They will only come together when there is a crisis (and correspondingly rather than an ongoing series the idea is to give them a series of mini-series). Spoilers ahead.
Chapter 1 – Doctor Dredd, a villain so obscure I never heard of him appears on a Rigellian spacecraft. (He’s an old foe of Rom: a comic Marvel published in the early 1980s based on an action figure from that time period. The copyright on Rom himself long ago reverted back to the toy company but Marvel has the rights to everyone else from his comics such as his fellow Space Knights and villains.) Dredd apparently has a force-field with sharp-edges and he cuts through the Rigellians to get scientific data from them. Meanwhile a female Space Knight joins the Annihilators on Knowwhere (the Guardians old HQ) and tests them in combat, openly wondering if perhaps they are too powerful to work as a team. Yet just when they are about to disband they learn of a plot by the Dire Wraith to return. The Wraith are more or less Pod People who kill you and take your place/memories although they can also shape-shift back to their true forms and apparently some can use magic as well. They were also the primary antagonists of Rom and the Space Knights way back when before being literally banished to Limbo in a Rom-X-men crossover I never cared to read and have stayed there the past 30 years real time. Anyway the heroes confront Dredd, whose force field keeps their powers at bay and injures Surfer and then he cuts a whole in space to bring back the Wraith home-world over the Space-Knight home-world of Galdor
Chapter 2 – The heroes help the Galdorians deal with dragon creatures and eventually subdue Dredd. Rom’s wife (widow-?) fills us in on what’s happened on Galdor since Rom’s book was cancelled, and then the heroes are attacked by the Dire Wraith Queen.
Chapter 3 – The heroes defeat the Wraith Queen (although her magic gives their cosmic powers some problems at first). Surfer realizes the Wraith must be freed from Limbo for some contrived cosmic balance reason and the heroes journey there only to encounter Immortus’ (powerful Avengers foe and ruler of Limbo) army. While the heroes are off-world Dredd cuts a hole in space from his cell and brings a cult of Skrulls to Galdor, while revealing he is a Skrull as well.
Chapter 4 –The heroes are losing to Immortus’ army, but Quasar is able negotiate a truce with Immortus in part because as a time traveler Immortus reveals he has no wish to harm Quasar as the universe will need him soon (foreshadowing). The heroes and Wraith return to Galdor and battle Dredd. The Wraith Queen eventually eats him/explodes killing them both (it’s one of those vague presumed dead with no bodies you see in comics fairly often). Quasar, Surfer and Ronan use their combined powers to close a black hole and stabilize the orbit of the two planets and the mission is concluded with the team agreeing to stay together.
Bonus Plot – The trade also includes a four-part Rocket Raccoon story, which is fine by me as he was my favorite of the Guardians. Anyway he’s working in an office now until he is attacked by a killer clown (an old enemy from his 80s mini-series). This leads to him seeking out fellow surviving Guardian Groot, who has been imprisoned by his people since that series ended and they later return to Rocket’s home-world to tie up loose ends from Rocket’s earliest appearances. This leads to battling Star Thief (an Adam Warlock villain who appeared exactly once in the 1970s in a story I have read in trade but didn’t love). After dealing with him, Rocket and Groot vow they too will continue to work together to save the universe as needed.
Critical Thoughts – I’m torn on this. On the one hand DnA continue to have a strong story-telling style and they use their cliff-hangers well. They know how to write team dynamics and they use humor in just the right amounts (there is a nice joke with Ronan being offended that the Galdorians consider him the least powerful member of the team in the first story, while Rocket has a piece of sentient stolen office equipment accompany him throughout the second story).
But on the other hand, these villains are all so obscure. And in the case of the first story I don’t buy any of them as threats to a team of this magnitude. I’m not sure I buy any of them as threats to Surfer by himself to be honest. And it’s not just that they are obscure, they are also not interesting, which is a far worse sin. From their motivations to their powers to their visual look I find nothing interesting about them.
I am also not back flips for how Quasar is presented here. It’s one of those things that I can see why a writer would make this choice, but as long-time fan of the character it rings false. The story, particularly in the early chapters, is narrated by Quasar. The writers have Quasar feeling insecure because he died in Annihilation and then wasn’t around for the next few cosmic crises. My problem with that is Quasar died three times before in his solo series. And I’m not talking Infinity Gauntlet style deaths, where everyone dies and then time is reset no one remembers it. We’re talking deader than I’ve seen any other character ever with each death some outdoing the prior one. The first time he died his hands were cut off, his weapons removed and he was chained to a wall and tortured to death; the second time he was crushed to death on an atomic level in a galaxy-sized black hole; and the third time he was nullified by the Ultimate Nullifier. (And in Annihilation he was disintegrated and the energy was then consumed by Annihlus). Given all that I think Quasar should have accepted a long time ago that he is functionally immortal. Again I can see why the writers didn’t go that way. Quasar is the only human character among cosmic demigods in this series. You have him narrate to ground the book in a human perspective. If he’s humming along about being an immortal he loses that; and the stories I’m referencing are 20 years old in a book that didn’t sell that well originally; then again the villains are 30 and 40 years old from obscure books too, so if you’re sticking to that continuity then you ought to stick to Quasar’s too. Ditto Quasar questions more than the others whether this team should exist at all but that ignores this team existed before: when Quasar’s book was cancelled in the 90s it was replaced with Star Masters of which Quasar was the team leader and the three core members were himself, Surfer and Beta Ray Bill (and I think Gladiator or his sister/cousin joined that one as well). Again I can see why the writers would want the human narrator to be insecure about his place among these cosmic demigods and not be hindered by 20-year old continuity for a title that was cancelled in six issues but as long-time fan of Quasar the portrayal seems if not exactly false, definitely a little off.
In fact I enjoyed the Rocket Raccoon back-ups quite a bit more than the main story. Anyone who has read Rocket’s 1980s series will know that it comes off much more like an acid-induced social satire than any kind of coherent narrative. I personally love how DnA portrayed Rocket in Guardians, even though it was quite different than his earliest appearances–this is a case where not being hampered by the 30-year old continuity of an obscure mini-series worked fine. That DnA managed to actually to now connect that lunacy to their modern take on the character as well as they do in this story just makes me admire their writing all the more. There are some revelations about Groot on the other hand that seem to seriously contradict story points that played out in Guardians that I’m not thrilled with, but I like the end result of Rocket and Groot united as outsiders again the world so I’m willing to give it a pass.
Grade: C+. While it’s nice to see Quasar featured prominently again after all these years in the main story, that story nonetheless feels like it’s just going through the motions of the “a team comes together” plot and the threat they face is neither interesting nor compelling. On its own it is probably a D+ (and even that would be just for having Quasar in it). Rocket’s tale is a lot of fun, even moreso if you know the older continuity. I would give it a B. So let’s average that out and we get a C+.