Waiting for the Trade – Cosmic Marvel

Waiting for the Trade
By Bill Miller
Annihilators: Earthfall
by Dan Abnet and Andy Lanning; art by Tae Eng Huat & Timothy Green II
Collects Annihilators Earthfall 1 – 4
Why I Bought This – By now everyone should know that I love me some cosmic Marvel and especially Quasar, who is featured prominently on the cover. I also loved DnA’s writing on Guardians of the Galaxy which this book grew out of. It also stars the Avengers so I was all over this.
The Plot: The Annihilators sense a cosmic threat is about to manifest on Earth and head our way to stop it, leading to the usual superhero misunderstanding fight and team-up formula. Also in a series of backup stories Rocket Raccoon and Groot are kidnapped by Mojo. Spoilers ahead.

Chapter 1 – The Universal Church of Truth is having a civil war since the death of the Magus in Thanos Imperative which is destroying entire planets as collateral damage. The Annihilators (Quasar, Ronan the Accuser, Gladiator, Beta Ray Bill, Cosmo and Ikon) intercede and disable both armadas with relative ease. Cosmo’s telepathy on one of the faction’s leaders reveals a universal class threat is about to manifest on Earth and he sends the rest of the team to stop it. SWORD detects the Annihilators arrival but they come in so fast it reads on their monitors as several alpha class alien threats so they send a general distress call to the Avengers and Fantastic Four. In Colorado we see what appears to be a board room of business-people but it’s actually a front for shape-shifting members of the Church. The Annihilators take the fight to them, leveling half the town in collateral damage when the Avengers arrive.
Chapter 1.5 – Rocket Raccoon and Groot are battling the Badoon in hand to hand combat. They retreat to their ship and attempt to flee only to discover there is no star drive. We see the situation has been orchestrated by Mojo (longtime X-foe who presides over a TV dimension) for ratings.
Chapter 2 – The Avengers (Cap, Spidey, Iron Man, Wolverine, Red Hulk, Thing, Ms. Marvel and Valkryie) order the Annihilators to stand down (since the alien shape shifters still look human). We get the big superhero brawl while Quasar and Ikon go looking for the head alien (thus taking Quasar out of the main fight since as a reserve Avenger he could probably clear things up in a sentence or two.) It’s a fun fight scene as despite the heavy hitters on the Avengers they are still outclassed in power with Ronan and Gladiator, which is an unusual dynamic for them in these types of friendly brawls. Spidey follows Quasar and in a nice nod to their history tries to talk things out and accepts it at face value when Quasar leads him into the alien throne room. Once revealed the Church troops attack both teams. Quasar’s crew finds a cocoon but when they open it, it’s empty. They turn only to see the Magus reborn in the body of child and possessing an army of other children to confront them.
Chapter 2.5 – Rocket and Groot make their way thru several virtual reality worlds representing different television shows Mojo is casting them in. Rocket clues in to what’s going only to get wounded as Mojo reveals that TV show or not the stakes are still life and death.
Chapter 3 – The Avengers imprison child Magus and quarantine him from the kids he possessed. Quasar clues them into the danger level, while Ronan favors just killing him even if he is a child and being done with it. In a wonderfully eerie scene baby Magus rises from his chair without saying a word, smiles at the prison surveillance camera and not only blows himself free but sends out a wave of power that converts 30-percent of the U.S. population into purple gene-coded Magus slaves. Ronan again favors killing everyone to stop the contagion much to Cap’s horror and we get a cool standoff as they debate what it means to be a soldier. That’s broken up by things going from bad to worse as the entire fleet of the Universal Church of Truth arrives to invade Earth. We get a major battle, while Iron Man, Quasar, Gladiator and Ronan try to use their combined science knowledge and energy/matter rearranging powers to reverse things. Ronan then calls in the entire fleet of Kree Sentries and informs the heroes that if the reversal plan fails he’s given the order to the Sentries to blow up the planet to stop the Magus from spreading into the universe.
Chapter 3.5 – Rocket and Groot continue to battle through Mojo’s television shows, while Rocket’s stolen postage machine (from the last Annihilators trade) pulls a gun on Mojo and shuts down the VR program.
Chapter 4 –The Avengers (including Quasar) are less than pleased with Ronan’s contingency plan. Valkryie considers killing the Magus (in his child form) put can’t do it. The Church fires up its belief engines (they convert the faith of their congregation into pure energy that can be manipulated to do just about anything, usually draining up the life-force of the believers in the process). Gladiator notes his powers are also belief-based and flies into the belief engine to see if he can override it. Magus then uses that moment to dissolve his child form and ends up possessing Gladiator and manipulating the faith energy combined with Gladiator’s Superman-level strength. The heroes begin to fall until Quasar stands up to him long enough for Ikon to stab Gladiator in the back. Gladiator regains control temporarily and asks his teammates to kill him to stop the Magus threat and while Quasar falters, Ronan does not. Ronan then uses his hammer to manipulate the faith energy and trap the Magus’ spirit back in its cocoon, which Iron Man has wired into a Sentry. The Church retreats and Gladiator comes back from the dead.  Quasar and Cap debate Quasar’s role on this team and just what the Annihilators jurisdiction should be, before Cap agrees to turn Magus’s cocoon over to them. The Annihilators take the Cocoon back to Knowhere and jettison it outside the universe in hopes the Church will never find it again.
Chapter 4.5 – Rocket and Groot take the fight to Mojo. Rocket kills him only to find out he’s a robot. Major Domo confesses to being responsible as Mojo has gone missing and he needs to run things in his absence. Rocket and Groot negotiate a financial cut for the television show Domo produced with them and then head back to space happy with their wealth.
Critical Thoughts: Not a perfect story but I liked it overall.
On the good front, Quasar, who is the primary character I bought this book for, is presented exactly as I would expect him to be and in a similar way from his dearly departed solo title. I really liked the conversation with Quasar and Cap at the end. Those two heroes, both of whom are the most identified with Mark Gruenwald’s tenure in Marvel, were always shown to have a relationship of strong mutual respect and it ends with Quasar clearly defining role on the team to be the moral line between undertaking missions for the greater good of the universe yet being the moral center to hold harder-edged characters like Ronan and Gladiator from going to far. Also his fight with Magus possessed Gladiator is bad-ass, I just wish we got to see more of it.
 Cap in general is also portrayed very well in this story. I loved his scenes with Ronan in this.
I’m also glad to see the Magus back, although I’d prefer him in his more traditional form. To me the biggest disappointment with Thanos Imperative was the casual killing of the Magus in the first chapter since he’s 1) a much more interesting villain than undead Captain Mar-vell & his Lovecraftian tentacles, and 2) the entire 25-issue Guardians of the Galaxy was all build-up to the Magus’ big return and then he gets jettisoned in the opening chapter of the conclusion, which makes for a very poor payoff. So in that sense kudos to anything that puts the Magus back on the board and gives him a more fitting send-off for now.
On the more critical side, while I appreciate the need for exposition, the idea that Quasar (or anyone) has to tell the assembled heroes how dire a threat the Magus is, is laughable. He was the primary villain in the Infinity War crossover in which he came damn to close to both killing every hero on Earth and conquering the Universe—although if anyone in this story should take the threat of the Magus seriously it is Quasar since he was killed by Magus in Infinity War.
Also while I appreciate the effort of trying to keep Quasar away from the big superhero brawl, he could still end it in seconds while searching for the Magus as his Quantum Bands have long been programmed to talk on Avengers frequency from across the Galaxy so he could easily talk into them while flying to find the Magus and clear things up.
I also don’t buy that Valkyie, who is an Asgardian avatar of death, can’t bring herself to kill Magus because he’s in child form, but that’s a minor criticism.
To me the biggest flaw of this story is Gladiator’s casual resurrection at the end cheapens what was a strong heroic finale to the story. Yea, he’d probably come back anyway no matter what, and it seems this is the end of DnA’s cosmic run so I can see not wanting to kill off a semi-important character when there’s no future story plans in this sector of the Marvel Universe but it’s still a lazy out even in an era of frequent resurrections. 
Finally there is absolutely nothing to the Rocket Raccoon story, which is unfortunate because after Guardians of the Galaxy he’s another favorite character of mine. Each mini-chapter is so short that it is just a waste of pages that could have gone to the main story instead.
Grade: B-. While I have some criticisms, I bought this for Quasar and he takes center stage in it (which is fairly rare since the 90s) and is presented in role that suits him. Hopefully DnA will tackle the character again one day, since they clearly had long-term plans for him based on Immortus’ comments in the prior Annihilators trade.