Waiting for the Trade’s best of cosmic Marvel

Waiting for the Trade’s Cosmic Countdown

 So today Guardians of
the Galaxy
hits theaters and I cannot wait to see it. I have been giddy for
this movie since it was announced two years ago. I love cosmic marvel in
general and I greatly enjoyed DnA’s run on the Guardians a couple years ago. So in honor of the film I present a
countdown of Marvel’s best cosmic trade paperbacks and because the Guardians
are such an unusual team I am doing a top 15 rather than a top 10. Furthermore in
honor of the obscurity of the Guardians since many of the stories in the
countdown are super famous already I will recommend a second story in the same
vein of each primary pick throughout the countdown. So without further ado
click below.

 

 

 15 – Star-Lord: Annihilation
Conquest
– While the entire Annihilation
Conquest
event was collected in a pair of trades years ago the story as a
whole is good not great. With the Guardians
of the Galaxy
movie this smaller trade was released a few months ago
collecting the four best issues of that event. This is genesis of the Guardians
team as the Kree recruit Star-Lord to go on a no technology suicide mission
against the Phalanx and assign several prisoners from a Kree prison to assist
him—all of whom were marginal cosmic characters who had not appeared in years:
Captain Universe, Death Cry, Groot, Mantis and—best of all—Rocket Raccoon. The
book has a total Dirty Dozen feel to it, and given the minor nature of these
characters no one is safe (though based on the Guardians movie line-up you can probably guess which ones
survived). This is the beginning of Rocket Raccoon’s ascent to awesome-ville.

            If you like
this story also check out: Thanos
Redemption.
While reading the second Annihilation
Conquest
trade will give you the ending of the story; and any of the DnA Guardians trades carry the Rocket &
Groot banner nicely Thanos Redemption
is a bit of lost classic by the same author as the Star-Lord trade above and is
the story that brought Star Lord back to the mainstream Marvel Universe. It too
has also only recently been collected in trade thanks to the movie as Thanos Redemption collects a short-lived
12 issue ongoing Thanos series from about 10 years back. The first six issues
are by Starlin and see Thanos and Warlock attempting to help the Rigellians
evacuate their planet when Galactus arrives. It’s a perfectly good Starlin
Thanos story although it doesn’t tread much new ground. The next 6 issues are
by Keith Geffen, and while the change in tone is on first read jarring I
actually like it better than the Starlin issues. Geffen shows us the Crunch,
the sight of the birth of the Universe where cosmic energies are used to bind
rogue cosmic entities. Furthermore the Shi’ar and Xandarians have built a
prison planet there for hardcore threats they have no intention of ever
paroling. However because of what the Crunch represents it is considered a holy
site by many alien races and thus the prison has to deal with a constant flow
of pilgrims. Thanos decides to become one of these pilgrims. He soon finds
Death waiting for him and for the first time in decades she deigns to speak to
him directly. He also discovers heroes Gladiator and Star Lord are in the
prison (among many villains). Best of all Thanos encounters the Beyonder in
this prison and we get a fairly epic Thanos vs. the Beyonder confrontation. The
aftermath of their fight sees the prison damaged and a few galaxy class
villains escape including a previously unknown first herald of Galactus. This
just piles on the fantastic and needs to be read (and in some ways it is a shame
the series got cancelled because they were building to Gladiator and Star Lord
forming a task force to take down Thanos once and for all).

 14 Hulk: Heart of the
Atom –
Famed Science Fiction writer Harlan Ellison penned this story of
Hulk being shrunk into a subatomic world where he finds a John Carter-esque
world of monsters and alien barbarians who happen to have green skin and thus
accept Hulk as a savior. Hulk meets their Queen Jarella and begins a
surprisingly tender and bittersweet love affair with her that ultimately ends
in tragedy.

            If you like
this story also check out: I’m sure Planet
Hulk
is the obvious successor to this one but I’ve never read it so I can’t
recommend it. I will say the recent Captain
America: Castaway in Dimension Z
is really good story of Cap trapped in
another dimension with subjugated alien races fighting a cruel tyrant giving it
some similarities to the Hulk story above. But if you want another Hulk story
then let’s go with Hulk: Pardoned which
while mostly earthbound reprints a chapter of Hulk on Rocket Raccoon’s home
world and a few other alien threats from Bill Mantlo’s nearly forgotten yet
really strong run on the title.

 (13½) Silver Surfer
the Herald Ordeal
(issues 70-75 of his second solo title) is not in trade. If
it was it would rank here as the art is superb, Morg is an excellent villain
and it has the spectacle of every former herald of Galactus teaming up.

13 – Avengers the
Contest –
I’ve reviewed this book before but to recap the Grandmaster makes
a bet with Death and pulls all the heroes of Earth into a contest on their
behalf. Then when Grandmaster loses he pulls both Avengers team into Death’s
realm giving us a pair of excellent fights as first the East and West Coast
Avenger teams square off and then when Grandmaster wins and takes over Death’s
realm he forces the Avengers to fight the Legion of the Unliving for the fate
of the universe in perhaps the greatest fight scene Tom Defalco ever wrote. The
story ends with my all time favorite Hawkeye moment.

            If you like
this story also check out: Avengers vs. the
Legion of the Unliving
is an excellent anthology collecting all of their
battles against various groups of characters who were dead at the time. You get
two Immortus stories in here, a really creepy Grim Reaper story as he becomes
an Avatar for Death (the Avatar concept played a key role in other cosmic
titles like Quasar and Thanos Imperative), the last chapter of
the story above, and a really good Busiek and Perez story. Speaking of which if
you like the Grandmaster he plays a key role in the very strong Busiek-Perez JLA/Avengers intercompany trade as well.

 

12 – Essential Marvel
Two In One volume 3 –
By far the most obscure choice on my list this series
primarily serves as a prelude to Mark Gruenwald’s superb work on Quasar in the 90s (most of which is not
in trade). This book collects 26 comics (three of which are double sized) and
surprisingly the vast majority qualify as cosmic stories. For those unfamiliar Marvel Two In One is a Thing team up
series from the late 70s/early 80s. Gru kicks us off with Quasar’s first
appearance under that name (the character had appeared a few times before as a
SHIELD agent in Captain America) and
makes Quasar head of security for Project Pegasus. The six part story that
follows (also collected in the full color trade Thing: Project Pegasus Saga)
see Thing, Quasar and Bill Foster (Giant Man v2.0/Black Goliath) deal with a
series of sabotage attempts by Roxxon Oil that ends up pulling in the time
traveling Deathlok, the extra-dimensional Thundra, the alien Wundar and
ultimately leads to the birth of Nth Man—a cosmic class villain that would
trouble Excalibur 10 years later. The other major reason to buy this trade (and
why I recommend it over the color version) is the double sized Thing & the
Avengers in the Negative Zone story by Tom Defalco that sees Annihilus,
Blaastar and Super Adaptoid all team up. I often say Defalco is the best
choreographer of fight scenes in comic history and this is a prime example of
his excellence in that regard. Other cosmic tales include: a three parter with
Thing, Her, Moondragon (both of whom Gru would use again as love interests for
Quasar) and Starhawk (revealed in the 90s to be the son of Quasar and Her)
trying to resurrect Adam Warlock and in the process running afoul of the High
Evolutionary and the Beyonder; A two part tale that sees Thing, Mr. Fantastic,
Sting Ray and the Inhumans taking on Maelstrom (who Gru would later elevate
into an enemy of all life in the universe in Quasar), a three part story
featuring Thing, Sting Ray, Triton and Scarlet Witch preventing the Serpent
Squad using the Serpent Crown to take over the world (this is the first
appearance of Sidewinder and a few others that would go on to become the
Serpent Society in Gru’s Captain America
run, while the Set’s Serpent Crown would be one of the major threats Quasar
dealt with when he became protector of the universe). Other one off stories in
here with cosmic characters are: Thing & Black Bolt vs. Graviton, Thing
& the Impossible Man, Thing vs. Hyperion, Thing & the 30th
century Guardians of the Galaxy, Thing & Quasar in the Savage Land, and
Thing & Hulk vs. The Stranger.

            If you like
this story also check out: Quasar
Classic volume 1
. Quasar was for my money Marvel’s best ongoing series of
the early 90s—a time when they published 60 to 80 books a month. While the
book’s best issues are in the second year and not collected in trade, this
volume will give you Quasar’s origin, his appointment as Protector of the
Universe, the set up of his supporting cast status quo, and some fun fights
with Terminus, Absorbing Man and Living Laser as part of the “Acts of Vengeance”
crossover.

        

11 Infinity War – This
is one of my favorite crossovers but unfortunately it does not have a good
trade paperback. The existing trade collects only the parts written by Jim Starlin:
The six issue main series, a few tie-in issues of Warlock and the Infinity Watch and a four part Thanos back up story
from Marvel Comics Presents. Worse it
doesn’t even intercut those stories in order. It just reprints each of the three
series it collects one after the other even though the Warlock issues
specifically say what issues of the main series they occur after. While like
any crossover some of the tie-in issues are extraneous I feel not including the
issues of Quasar, Dr. Strange and Silver Surfer do the story a real
disservice—these are all cosmic level heroes whose tie-in issues were key to
the main event. The Spider-man and Guardians of the Galaxy issues are also a
lot of fun and it is a shame not to have them even if they don’t add much to
the narrative. Besides a story called “Infinity War” should be big and
sprawling. The full story would likely make #5 on this list. Still even in
diminished form this is a trade worth picking up. The Magus has one of the best
plans of any villain ever in this story—from preemptively attempting to destroy
all of Earth’s heroes in one blow by taking out just five key heroes, to hiding
his fortress in another reality several dimensions removed so that even cosmic
level powers cannot get to him without great difficulty to the big plot twist
in issue five on his end goal. This is a rare smart villain executing a well
thought out plan so it is worth reading for the core six issues alone. Also the
story is crazy fun on a cosmic fanboy level because you get to see all the big
cosmic weapons pitted against each other: the Cosmic Cube, the Infinity Gauntlet,
the Quantum Bands and the Ultimate Nullifier are all utilized in one key
chapter of this story. Also it does collect Infinity
Watch #8,
which is a really strong comic featuring an extended flashback of
how Thanos raised Gamora as his foster daughter.

            If you like
this story also check out: Thanos
Imperative.
While Infinity Crusade
is the sequel to Infinity War it is a
badly told bloated story. And while the Magus’s first appearance may be a more
obvious choice to recommend here, Thanos
Imperative
has more in common with Infinity
War
structurally. Both stories see Thanos forced to act alongside a group
of heroes to defend the universe from a threat worse than him. Both see him
working alongside Gamora, Drax and Moondragon while Quasar, Silver Surfer and
Galactus have a separate side mission in the crisis. In both the threat is an
alternate evil version of a great cosmic hero. Thanos Imperative also brings DnA’s four year run as the architects
of cosmic marvel to an end and has the added bonus scene of Rocket Raccoon
standing down Thanos. It’s not the A+ homerun I wanted from DnA but it is a
solid B that holds up on multiple readings.
10-Avengers: The Kree
Skrull War
– While this story is less cosmic than you’d expect—only one chapter
takes place in space;–it does maintain a tense build and for its time period
stories of this scope were very rare. The cliff notes synopsis: first the
Avengers have to deal with the Kree who want to detonate a bomb that will
devolve all of humanity back to Neanderthals. Then as the follow up on the Kree
threat, the Skrulls make their move by taking the place of politicians and
members of the media to turn the public against the Avengers and later imitate
the big three (none of whom were on the active roster at the time) in order to
disband the team. The Avengers also have to battle both races major champions: Ronan
the Accuser and the Super Skrull. The story also pulls in the Inhumans, Captain
Mar-vell and (briefly) Annihilus until the Avengers fly into space to bring the
war to an end. It also contains a famous Fantastic
Voyage
inspired story of Ant Man traveling inside the Vision’s android body
to repair him. Unfortunately by today’s standards the ending with Rick Jones
comes out of nowhere and is far too part. Still that does not negate all the
good that came before.

            If you like
this story also check out: Avengers:
Operation Galactic Storm
a 19-part epic (collected in two trades) wherein
the Avengers get pulled into a Kree-Shi’ar war that manages to remain
remarkably coherent given the number of titles involved and in which the bulk
of the action is in deep space. Also Avengers
Forever
which is more time travel than cosmic but follows up on the Rick
Jones Supreme Intelligence finale of Kree Skrull War in a far more satisfying
way and also gave new relevance to the third Captain Marvel (the original’s son
Legacy).

9-Guardians of the
Galaxy volume 3: War of Kings –
Really the entire DnA run of Guardians is
worth reading as I would consider it the best ongoing series of the past 10
years. But if I had to pick just one trade to highlight this is the best one as
it features the culmination of two different year long subplots: the rupturing
of reality that Warlock and Star-Lord warned all the major alien races about
and no one believed and Warlock being reborn into the Magus in absolute shocker
of a scene that shows just how deadly that character can be. To stop the Magus
the story spins off into a full on time travel epic involving the 30th
century Guardians, Kang the Conqueror and the Cosmic Cube. This is as good as
it gets. (Also paid off in this trade is the “I am Groot” joke in one of the
funniest pages of any story on this list).

            If you like
this story also check out: Guardians of
the Galaxy volume 2
is the next best DnA Guardians trade as it has Quasar and Maelstrom in it, although
volume 4 has Thanos and volume 1 is pretty damn good  too. Also Nova: Knowhere by DnA has the first appearance of Cosmo the
telepathic Russian dog and the Guardians headquarters which is crazy fun. So in
honor of the movie go buy them all, you won’t regret it.
 


8 – Secret Wars – There
are times I consider Secret Wars my favorite crossover ever but I was not sure
whether to even count it as a cosmic story. On the cosmic front it takes place
on alien world, Galactus is in it and it is the first appearance of the
Beyonder but at its core this is a story about Dr. Doom, Magneto and the
earth’s greatest heroes engaging in big old fight scenes more than it is about
a cosmic threat. Still there is no more fun comic story ever published than
this one; it is the ideal primer to bring kids into the Marvel Universe. It is
also deserves historical credit for being first event crossovers– plus it gave
us Spider-man’s black costume which makes it a watershed moment for Marvel’s
flagship character. I would also argue Shooter’s subtle yet distinct characterizations
throughout the entire cast is often overlooked because the story has so much
spectacle in it.

            If you like
this story check out: Never read Secret
War II
as its awfulness is inversely proportional to the original’s
awesomeness. Beyond and Spider-man and the Secret Wars are both
okay looks back at the original concept, but for an actual good story that
picks up where this one leaves off go with Spider-man:
Birth of Venom
. Not really cosmic
other than the alien costume but damn it is both excellent and awesome.
 

 7-Essential Silver
Surfer volume 1 –
In interviews Stan Lee often cites this book as his
favorite thing he ever wrote. When you read it you will understand why. It
collects the entire Silver Age Silver Surfer series as Surfer endures his exile
on Earth. Stan Lee uses the Surfer’s outsider status to make poignant comments
on human nature that remain just as relevant today as when he wrote them 50
years ago.

            If you like
this story also check out: Essential
Silver Surfer volume 2
– Written two decades later by the vastly
under-rated Steve Englehart the Surfer’s second series sees him escape from
exile and make peace with Galactus. The treasure to be found in this volume is
a lost Infinity Gem story arc as the Elders of the Universe gather the gems in
an attempt to assassinate Galactus and remake the universe.
 6-Avengers: Legacy of
Thanos
– Another recent trade we can thank the Guardians movie for as Marvel finally collects the first appearance
of my favorite villain Nebula in trade. Written by the incomparable Roger
Stern, Nebula proves herself every bit the tactician her grandfather is as she
claims his Death Star like space ship Sanctuary II and uses it to position
herself into a Skrull Civil War with a plan that would make her their empress.
She ironically runs into Captain Marvel v2.0 as the first Earth hero she meets
but soon her plot drags in the rest of the Avengers including Thanos’s brother
Star Fox. Aside from the Skrull Civil War the trade also features cosmic
threats Terminus, the Beyonder and Firelord.

            If you like
this story also check out: Spider-man:
Am I an Avenger?
which has an even better Nebula story. The only reason I
am not ranking this trade on the countdown is it is an anthology with plenty of
non-cosmic stories such as Spidey’s first meeting of the Avengers vs. the Hulk
(by Stan Lee), Spidey and the Avengers dealing with a Moonstone led prison
break at Project Pegasus (by Stern), and a few forgettable stories with
Sandman, Rage and the New Avengers. But the five part Nebula story collected
here is fantastic with her both destroying and conquering the universe at
different parts of it and taking on a host of the most powerful Avengers and
the Stranger. It is in fact my single favorite Avengers story of all time and
this trade would by very high on my desert island list.

 
5-The Life and Death
of Captain Mar-vell.
Speaking of first appearances, this would be the first
appearance of Thanos and his first big epic plot with the Cosmic Cube. Also
starring the Avengers, Thing, Rick Jones, Super Skrull, Controller, the first
appearance of Drax and Mar-vell’s appointment as Protector of the Universe this
story is everything it has ever been billed as. In addition it also collects
Mar-vell’s battle with Nitro and his subsequent death by cancer on Titan.

            If you like
this story also check out: Marvel
Masterworks Warlock volume 2
which is Starlin’s second big Thanos story and
also the first appearances of Gamora and the Magus—who is so damn evil Thanos
is forced to recruit heroes to oppose the Magus’s plans because even Thanos
isn’t willing to face him one on one!

 

4-Essential Fantastic
Four volume 3 –
This is here primarily because it collects “The Coming of
Galactus” in which we meet Galactus and the Silver Surfer for the first time and
it is as tremendously excellent as history says it is. Also included is perhaps
the greatest single issue Stan Lee story of all time “This Man, This Monster”
featuring the Thing in the Negative Zone. If for some reason you need more
reasons to buy this it also collects the wedding of Reed and Sue, the first
appearance of the Inhumans, the first appearance of the Black Panther, the
first appearance of Blaastar, a multi-part Frightful Four story and the classic
story wherein Doom steals the Surfer’s powers and conquers the world. Nuff
said.

            If you like
this story also check out: Fantastic
Four Trial of Galactus
which features Galactus coming to feed on Earth and
being confronted by the FF, Avengers and Dr. Strange in a heck of a fight, a
follow-up plot involving Doom teaming with ex-Herald Terrax and ultimately the
Shi’ar putting Reed on trial for crimes against the universe.

 (3½)  Quasar: Cosmos in Collision (issues 19-25
of his solo title) is not in trade. If it was it would be ranked in this spot as it
features Quasar taking on the end of the universe level threat that defined his
title with a little help from Moon Dragon, Ghost Rider and the Eternals and is
second only to “Cap No More” among great stories written by Mark Grunewald.
 

3-Annhilation – By
far the best crossover of the modern era it rightfully sparked a renaissance of
Marvel’s cosmic line. It is the story of what happens when Annihilus finally breaks
into the positive matter universe—something that had been foreshadowed since
the Silver Age. (“The Kree Skrull War” opens with Annihilus trying to break
through and the Avengers and Captain Marvel are immediately like this will be
the end of the world if we don’t stop this now. Ditto the earliest issues of Marvel Team-Up have Spidey and the Torch
battling the Frightful Four in the Baxter
Building and in the
battle the Negative Zone portal opens and the Wizard immediately recognizes how
awful Annihilus is and tells his teammates to just stop fighting and help the
heroes close the portal). Indeed I would argue this story opens with the best
prologue ever: the opening page has Death meeting Thanos at the Crunch and she
tells him “something wonderful” is about to happen—when Death says something
wonderful is going to happen you know sh*t is about to get real; and the
exchange ends with her telling Thanos that this one is someone he could learn
from. What happens next delivers on every bit of that 40 years of foreshadowing
(warning spoilers ahead) as Annihilus
punches through the Crunch freeing the rogue cosmic entities and killing the
Beyonder. Next he hits the Xandarian home world and wipes out the entire Nova
Corps in minutes with only Earth’s Nova Richard Rider surviving. Nova meets up
with (Thanos foe) Drax the Destroyer and (Protector of the Universe) Quasar to
take the fight to Annihilus: that ends with Annihilus killing Quasar (arguably
the most powerful hero in the Marvel Universe) and donning the Quantum Bands
making Annihilus exponentially more powerful. Next Annihilus decides he wants
the Power Cosmic and he begins capturing, killing and dissecting former Heralds
of Galactus until things get so bad Silver Surfer reenters Galactus’s service
and that still doesn’t make a difference as Galactus is defeated and strapped
to a star cruiser so his hunger can be used as a planet destroying Death Star
like weapon! And that is just the half way point of the story! If you have not
done so do yourself a favor and read this thing as it is indeed “something
wonderful.”

            If you like
this story also check out: While Annihilation
Conquest
is the supposed sequel, it is really a sequel in name only with
just Nova, Star-Lord and the Kree being the only common characters in the two
stories and it doesn’t have nearly the punch of the original. The best
follow-up story to the plot threads here is Fantastic
Four: The New Fantastic Four
in which the FF learn Surfer has rejoined
Galactus, Galactus is mighty unhappy with how Annihilus treated him and wants
to replenish his power by eating the cosmic entity Epoch—who is in charge of appointing
Protectors of the Universe and with Quasar dead doesn’t have a protector. If
you want another Annihilus story the next best one is in the MTIO trade I
recommended earlier but you could pick up The
Greatest Villains of the Fantastic Four
a 1995 anthology trade collecting
stories on the FF’s top five villains. The Annihilus story therein is a
two-part 80s tale drawn by John Byrne so he’s never looked better and it is yet
another example of the stop Annihilus getting into our universe no matter what
decades long build-up as Reed sacrifices his life to stop him. For something
similar and more recent you could go with Jonathan Hickman’s Fantastic Four volume 4 trade in which
Torch sacrifices himself to stop Annihilus and you see more of the fallout of Torch’s
death than in the Reed trade.



2-X-men Dark Phoenix Saga – If you
are reading this column you probably don’t need me to tell you about Dark Phoenix
Saga—a story of unparalleled scope and emotion. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a
list of the best comics of all time in which this story was not in the top five,
and it would go in my top five ever too. If you haven’t read it do so. If you
don’t care for the X-men it doesn’t matter this is as good as comics get.

            If you like
this story also check out: X-men Rise
and Fall of the Shi’ar Empire
is a year long trek of six X-men in space by
famed Captain America scribe Ed Brubaker
as the X-men try to prevent long lost Summers’ brother Vulcan from destroying
the Shi’ar Empire and in the process learn a little bit more about the Phoenix
Force.
1-Infinity Gauntlet
– For my money this is the greatest story Marvel has ever published. Jim Starlin’s
writing make the stakes never feel higher than in any other crossover. The art
by George Perez and Ron Lim is superb. The fight scene in issue 4 may be the
greatest of all time, although damn if issue 5 doesn’t give it a run for its
money. Thanos, Nebula and Captain America all get great moments to
shine. This story is perfection.

             If you like this story also check out: Silver Surfer: Rebirth of Thanos shows
how Thanos gets the Infinity Gauntlet and features writing and art of equal
standard to the main story. Marvel also recently published Infinity Gauntlet Aftermath which shows what happens to the
Infinity Gauntlet after this story and it is pretty good too.

 

So that’s all folks. Questions? Comments? Death threats?
Leave them below.

Waiting for the Trade – Spider-man & Heroes for Hire

Waiting for the Trade

by Bill Miller

 

Heroes for Hire: Fear
Itself

By Dan Abnett &
Andy Lanning

collects Heroes for
Hire 6-12

 

Why I Bought This: As
I said in a few reviews now, a few months ago I decided to break my no event
story policy for Fear Itself because
it was allegedly Cap-centric. Of all the crossover trades this was the one I
was most interested in just because it’s by DnA and their work on Guardians of the Galaxy a few years back
earned them a ton of goodwill.

 

The Plot: Basically
two separate stories. First, Spider-man team up with Paladin and Misty Knight
to stop a smuggling ring. Then, the HforH heroes attempt deal with collateral
damage from Fear Itself.

Chapter 1 – Paladin is taking on ninjas with bone weapons
when Spidey arrives to lend a helping hand. Paladin and Spidey don’t like each
other so Paladin attempts to solve the case on his own only to be attacked by
Batroc the Leaper. Batroc wins their fight, leaving Paladin lying in the road
with broken ribs. Misty hires Spider-man to assist (although he refuses to take
any actual money).

Chapter 2 – Spidey tails the crooks to a warehouse and gets
attacked by generic thugs with hellfire guns. Paladin is forced to take a taxi
to the crime scene in a funny bit and then disobeys orders to seek medical
treatment and goes off to join the fray. Spidey is now fighting Batroc and the
bone ninjas. Batroc lures him into an arena where Spidey is attacked by
Scorpion and a pack of velociraptors. Misty decides she has to go into the
field to assist.

Chapter 3 – Paladin arrives and engages the bone ninjas while
Spidey fights the dinosaurs and Scorpion. Paladin wins his fight only for the
hellfire gun thugs to show up. Paladin then calls in Satana to exorcise their
weapons. Misty arrives and battles Batroc. Spidey begins to turn the tide in
his fight. Satana finishes her spell with the side effect of sending the thugs
to Hell. Spidey defeats Batroc giving the heroes the win. Afterwards Misty
decides someone is pulling the strings for all these villains and we learn it
is Purple Man.

Chapter 4 – We see clips of the hammers falling in Fear Itself with one landing on Yancy Street and
one on the Raft. Those are the two closest locations to NYC so Misty sends some
heroes to investigate. On Yancy
Street, Paladin meets the possessed Thing and
tells Misty he is seriously outgunned. She sends Gargoyle to assist and his
mystic powers give them a fighting chance. Meanwhile we meet a random scientist
who was working on an experiment when Thing broke the city causing him to be
doused in chemicals. At the Raft Shroud arrives and takes on some villains that
are so F-list I’ve never even heard of them. He defeats a few on his own but as
the numbers seem about to catch up on him Elektra arrives to assist—and in a
funny touch Misty has to pay her double her normal rate not to kill anyone.
Back to scientist dude who emerges from the chemical transformed into Monster:
he looks like a Venom/Ghost Rider crossbreed but later we’ll learn he shape
shifts into the greatest fear of whoever he faces. Meanwhile Purple Man is
about to kill the comatose Puppet Master when Shroud and Elektra arrive. Purple
Man takes control over the entire inmate population.

Chapter 5 – Shroud’s darkness power prevents Purple Man from
seeing the inmates to coordinate their movements so that he and Elektra can
take them all down. Back with the other two heroes where the Thing has left
(presumably to go fight Red Hulk in the Avengers
trade) and Paladin radios in how there was nothing they could do stop him from
walking off so Misty assigns them to rescue civilians from collapsed buildings
instead; and with no other heroes available due to the main crisis she decides
she will be of more help by joining them in that task. On Yancy Street Gargoyle
encounters Monster who he thinks is God condemning him for making a deal with
demons years ago to get his powers. Monster turns Gargoyle to stone then
confronts Paladin in the form of a superior superhero. Monster proceeds to beat
Paladin to a bloody pulp. Back at the Raft Purple Man forces Shroud to turn off
his darkness and then orders Elektra to kill him.

Chapter 6 – Monster is enjoying shape shifting into numerous
forms to scare off every civilian he encounters. Misty is able to cure Gargoyle
and awaken Paladin and by comparing notes she figures out what his powers are.
She orders them away from the battle so she can face him one on one. Back at
the Raft, Elektra shakes off the mind control and beats Purple Man into
unconsciousness. This frees Shroud, and she reveals she used ninja skills to
hold her breath throughout the entire fight scene last issue since Purple Man’s
power is pheromone based so he couldn’t possess her. Purple Man recovers and
escapes while she is talking to Shroud, who thinks she should have ignored her
contract and just killed Purple Man when she had the chance. Meanwhile Misty
confronts Monster and forces him to shape shift into a scared little boy as her
greatest fear is the child she lost prior to issue 1 of this series in the
pages of Iron Fist. The heroes then
go back to helping refugees.

Chapter 7 – Misty is tracking down a drug trafficking
organization that has roots in Atlantis. She attacks them on multiple fronts at
once with Moon Knight in LA, Silver Sable & Paladin on Coney
Island, and Sting Ray at sea. While the first two operations shut
down their U.S.
importing operations on both coasts, Sting Ray’s fight is the key to her strategy
as it gets Namor’s attention. She tells Namor about the drug ring and that
while she can stop the human distributors the root of the problem are the
suppliers in Atlantis. Namor vows to shut them down within one week. Paladin
and Misty then celebrate a job well done as this series comes to an end (with
the already reviewed Villains for Hire miniseries
tying up the loose end of the Purple Man’s escape afterwards).

 

Critical Thoughts: Definitely
a tale of two stories here. The Spiderman half is a lot of fun and worth
reading if you enjoy a light-hearted take on the character. The Fear Itself half is your usual subpar
crossover nonsense.

For the Spidey stuff, I want to commend DnA on this. The
story has several legitimate laugh out loud moments. DnA gets the tone of
Spider-man’s banter right and captures the proper pace for a second tier
Spider-man adventure story. The art by Brad Walker also looks really good here.
I also liked the interpretation of the villains in this story. Again these are
second tier villains and I’d say they are portrayed at just about the right
threat level: way over Paladin’s league but only in Spidey’s league because
they’ve combined forces. Heck even the henchman are fun: bone ninjas, dinosaurs
and hellfire guns: now that is jsut a weird and wacky combination.

The Fear Itself stuff
isn’t completely terrible but it’s also not nearly as good as the first story.
As a longtime fan of the Defenders I liked seeing Gargoyle and I think his
portrayal, particularly his greatest fear, is very much in character for his
origins. I also think it is a credit to Misty to show she knows her team’s
limitations. They can’t fight the main threat in Fear Itself so they concentrate on helping civilians and stopping a
prison riot. Of course if you bought this off the rack because you were digging
Fear Itself you’d probably feel ripped
off since this thing is only tangentially related to the main story with hammer
Thing appearing for all of three pages.

I think the wrap-up issue does its job well enough. One
thing I liked about this series was DnA’s take on what each characters accepts
as payment to join the team per mission. While quite a few just take cash,
seeing someone like Sting Ray have his payment sent to a non-profit
oceanographic institute show’s DnA puts thought into even the C-list heroes
they use. Still if you want to sample DnA for the first time, this series never
once hits the tremendous peaks of Guardians
of the Galaxy
, so pick that up instead.

One little complaint: the back cover features Black Cat in
the art, who is one of my very favorite characters, yet she never appears in
this trade. Well, and for continuity geeks I have to point out Namor claims to
have never heard of Heroes for Hire even though he was the company’s chief
financial backer when they both had a series in the late 90s.

 

Grade: The Spidey
story is a fun B+, the rest is probably a C-. Let’s call it a C+ overall.

Waiting for the Trade – the villains

Waiting for the Trade

by Bill Miller

 

Villains For Hire:
Knight Takes King

By Dan Abnett and Andy
Lanning

Collects Villains for
Hire 0-4.

 

Why I Bought This: It
showed up the discount bin of my favorite local comic shop. I tend to like the
occasional limited series from the villains’ perspective anyway, and this one
is written by DnA, who earned a lot of points with me for their work on Guardians of the Galaxy.

 

The Plot: When
Misty Knight learns the Purple Man is putting together a crew of super-villains
in a bid for underworld dominance she decides to secretly put together a rival
crew of villains to muddy the waters and foil his plan.

 

Chapter 1 – Misty Knight has Silver Sable working for her.
Sable comes across Stilt Man (technically a woman, who has assumed the name of
the old DD villain). This version has extending arms as well making her a Doc
Ock lite. Misty calls in Black Panther for back-up and he’s able to defeat
Stilt Man after a two page fight scene. Panther then finds a cave near the
subway and follows it to a group of Mole Man’s moloids and one of his monsters
(but no Mole Man). Misty sends Damien Hellstrom to help and he easily puts the
monster down via magic. Paladin meanwhile encounters Sidewinder and takes him
down with ease. In the epilogue we see Purple Man has been watching the night’s
goings on and admires the way Misty uses the ‘deploy various heroes from a
remote central location’ strategy, and thinks the tactic could be just as
effective for super-villains.

 

Chapter 2 – Purple Man’s first recruit is Shocker, who he
has black out the city. Avalanche then creates a mini earthquake on a bridge
just as an armored truck is crossing it, causing it to fall of the bridge and
on to a boat, where Death Stalker is waiting. He kills the guards but as he is
about to make off with the money, Tiger Shark uses his super strength to stop
the getaway boat. Avalanche attempts to assist only to be hit with a bomb by
Bombshell. Death Stalker has a kill touch and figures he can take on both rival
villains but then Crossfire sniper rifles him through the head. Purple Man and
his assistant Headhunter call in Scourge to take down the rival crew. While
he’s enroute Bombshell blows the truck open and gets the loot to a plane
piloted by Nightshade. Scourge engages Crossfire, as Death Stalker’s corpse
pops back up and sneaks aboard the plane. He uses his death touch on Nightshade
causing her skin to melt off and reveal a Terminator like robot underneath, who
then self-destructs the plane causing the loot to fall in the water for Tiger
Shark to recover. In the aftermath Purple Man fumes about the rival crew. He
tells Headhunter to both buy more serious villains to fight them and to try to bribe
some of them to his side. Purple Man meanwhile sets about investigating who is
running the rival crew. Over at Crossfire’s headquarters the main prize is a
mob PDA with access to off-shore accounts. They make contact with their
benefactor, who is computer distorted to their eyes, but whom we see is Misty
Knight.

Chapter 3 – Bushmaster is working for Team Purple and
battling Stilt Man from Team Misty. In another battlefront Team Purple sends
Death Stalker and Monster after Crossfire and Bombshell. Bombshell gets
whatever MacGuffin they are fighting over this time to Speed Demon, who of
course whisks it away at super speed. Following their second loss, Headhunter
posits Misty Knight is running the rival crew, but Purple Man refuses to
believe it because of the tactics the villains on her crew are using. At the
Bar With No Name Headhunter and Shocker approach Tiger Shark and Bombshell. We
get a brief fight until Headhunter offers the rival villains 50k to meet with
Purple Man and he bribes them into switching sides. They reveal they don’t know
who hired them but they do have an address. Team Purple dispatches Scourge to
that address and he indeed finds Misty Knight. He attempts to sniper rifle her
from across the rooftops but as he watches Paladin is confronting Misty about
going too far and she responds by killing him.

Chapter 4 – Purple Man reconsiders killing her after last
issue’s finale and instead sends all of Team Purple to her location. Misty
meanwhile has added Man-Ape to her team (which is down to four after the
defections). Her security cameras pick-up Team Purple so she calls in Team
Misty while the building’s defenses keep Team Purple at bay. The two teams
fight to a stalemate but when Tiger Shark reveals who is in Control for Team
Misty everyone but Crossfire defects. Scourge then shoots Crossfire in the
back. Shocker makes it inside to challenge Misty but apparently her bionic arm now
has Stark-tech and she uses it to override Shocker’s costume. She fights her
way through a few more villains but Tiger Shark proves too strong for her and
rips her bionic arm off. They then bring her to Purple Man and he starts to
gloat, only for Puppet Master to reveal himself as being aligned with Misty.

Chapter 5 – Puppet Master gives his reasons for hating
Purple Man and then possesses every member of Team Purple except for Headhunter
(apparently her power is being immune to mind-control). Misty Knight reattaches
her arm as all hell breaks loose with the villains when Purple Man attempts
counter-mind control. Eventually Bombshell blows the place up and most everyone
scatters; although Scourge shoots a few people (non-fatally it turns out) and
Death Stalker loses an arm courtesy of Head Hunter. Misty manages to win a
rematch with Tiger Shark but gets captured by Head Hunter only for Scourge to
unmask as Paladin and save the day. Misty finally defeats Purple Man. And then
we get the big flashback scene typical of a heist movie that shows how Misty
and Puppet Master hooked up months earlier and came up with a plan for Paladin
to impersonate Scourge. Puppet Master goes state’s evidence to help ensure Team
Purple’s conviction. We close with Misty and Paladin sharing a romantic moment.

 

Critical Thoughts:
I enjoyed this. For one it has a lot more tension than typical super hero comic
since really everyone but Shocker could realistically be killed off in this
since most of these are lower tiers villains or enemies of heroes who haven’t a
solo title in years. The narration does a good job of introducing the numerous
players and what their powers are; while the action scenes themselves are for
the most part fast-paced and fun.

I also liked the villains’ sensibilities and how they differ
from heroes. When Purple Man asks Tiger Shark why he is willing to switch
sides, his response is “Your money is money, right?” And in fact a good deal of
these villains have shown in the past to be very profit-oriented; specifically
Shocker and the former Serpent Society members stand out here.

The heist movie series of reveals is also well-executed at
the end, which in a story like this it is key those scenes work. Having Paladin
imitate Scourge is a fine stroke both for the deception and because it made
absolutely no sense for true Scourge to be working with a group of villains.

My only criticism is I’m not sure I buy Misty as able to
take these many villains at once in the finale even with the Stark Tech upgrade
explanation, but from the few HforH
trades I’ve picked up I’ve decided I really don’t care much for Misty anyway.

 
Grade B+. Overall
I enjoyed this much more than the Heroes
for Hire
series it spun out of.

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.

Waiting for the Trade – Annihilators

Waiting for the Trade
By Bill Miller
Annihilators
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+.