Waiting for the Trade – Negative Zone

Waiting for the Trade
By Bill Miller
Escape from the Negative Zone
by James Asmus; and Nick Bradshaw, Ibraim Roberson and Max Fiumara
Collects Uncanny X-Men Annual #3, Steve Rogers: Super Soldier Annual #1 and Namor: The First Mutant Annual #1
Why I Bought This: I love me some Negative Zone and I love me some Captain America so you put those two together you’re getting my money. Plus in a wider sense it’s a chance to see a whole bunch of heroes in the Negative Zone who, to my knowledge, have never been there before.
The Plot: The short version is the X-men and Namor get accidentally stranded in the Negative Zone and Captain America has to rescue them with Blaastar playing the villain. Chapter specific spoiler recaps to follow:
Chapter 1 – So the X-men are trying to build a machine to monitor Limbo, because apparently they’ve had some recent troubles there, which tends to happen whenever Magik of the New Mutants is around (Inferno from the 80s being the obvious example). However their machine blows up and in the process accidentally sends Cyclops, Hope, Namor and Dr. Nemesis (whom I’ve never seen before but then I don’t read a lot of X-men) to the Negative Zone. Namor immediately starts to freak out because he senses there is no water in the Zone, so he goes off on his own and Scott sends Nemesis to follow him, while Scott and Hope head in the other direction. Scott and Hope soon encounter some alien marauders and the heroes are quickly defeated. Meanwhile Namor and Nemesis encounter what looks to be a hybrid T-Rex/octopus/asteroid (It has a rocky shell on its back) and Nemesis is able to use a dart gun to tranquilize it. Scott and Hope awake to find they are prisoners of Blaastar.
Chapter 2 – With the X-men unable to fix their machine, White Queen heads to NY to get the Avengers to help. Before she finds them Blaastar broadcasts video of his prisoners and demands that Reed Richards surrender himself in return for their freedom. We cut to Steve Rogers, who is currently running SHIELD and letting Bucky be Cap (but I’m still going to call him Cap for the rest of the recap because seriously). Cap informs the President that Richards is off-world right now but if Blaastar is configuring the portal to only let one person through then he’ll go himself. Meanwhile Nemesis surrenders himself to another alien so he can get inside Blaastar’s prison (which ironically the Negative Zone prison built by Iron Man in Civil War). Back to Cap who comes through the portal and is immediately attacked by Blaastar’s army, but he evades them and begins to look for the X-men. Hope meanwhile has already freed herself and she gets Scott loose as well. Cap meets up with Scott and Hope and the trio attacks Blaastar only for Namor to arrive, now completely out of his mind. Namor severely injures Hope.
Chapter 3 – Namor attacks Cap only for Blaastar to recover and attack Namor. Cap takes Hope to safety while Scott turns the Namor-Blaastar fight into a three way battle. Cap bandages Hope and gives her a pep talk. Meanwhile Nemesis steals some tech-gizmos from wherever and is being pursued by the aliens when the T-Rex creature shows up again and he leads it to the main battle where it eats Blaastar. Namor takes out Nemesis, so Scott removes his visor but even that doesn’t put Namor down! Cap tries to talk sense into Namor and gets his arm broken in the process. Finally Hope copies Namor’s powers and is able to engage him long enough for Nemesis to reopen the portal and Hope flies Namor to the ocean to restore his sanity. We get a wrap-up with everyone in the hospital and Namor thanks Steve for being his friend all these years in a nice moment. Finally we see Blaastar kill the dinosaur thing from the inside and then vow revenge on the Earth.
Critical Thoughts: There’s a lot to enjoy here. For one thing Cap is the man in this and I’m all for that. The scene where he strides into the Negative Zone alone is bad ass (as is his comments to Emma before he departs). He shines again in the fight scenes with the vastly more powerful Blaastar and Namor. And we see him get a level of respect from characters like Hope and Namor that Scott for all of his own leadership abilities can’t command. I even liked his comment of “I can’t wait to see this place destroyed,” as a nice call back to Civil War.
I do find it irksome that the writer has Cap call Blaastar a “terrorist” in his briefing with the President. Marvel’s latest shtick seems to be having Cap running around calling the villains “terrorist” (Bendis did it with Kang recently too). Marvel may think it’s dramatic, but I find it silly especially when it doesn’t apply. Cap fights real terrorists all the time: Viper, Flag Smasher, Hydra, etc. Blaastar is not a terrorist. In fact he’s the sovereign ruler of the Negative Zone: recognized as such by the Kree, the Nova Corps and the Pan-Galactic Council. He’s even led his troops as part of galactic coalitions for the greater benefit of the universe in both Annihilation Conquest and Thanos Imperative. My point is Cap should know the difference and if he’s briefing the president he should be presenting accurate information.
The art starts great but devolves as the story goes along as each chapter is by a different artist. I love the art in chapter one. Bradshaw creates an exotic look for the Negative Zone and his T-Rex monster is really unique looking in a good way. Chapter 2 by Roberson has a much richer look to it, almost painted in parts. It carries a nice depth that resonates well with Cap’s attitude in the story. Unfortunately chapter 3 by Fiumara is what I would consider sub par at best. Namor’s face looks really weird and everyone is kind of angular. Although in fairness to the artist the scene where Scott takes off his visor still looks cool as does the final shot of Blaastar.
Speaking of Blaastar, I liked his portrayal in the story as well. We see he’s not the smartest ruler but his power is still fearsome. His reaction to Cap in the portal is great, as is his final line at the end. I even like how he refuses to work with Cyclops against Namor, instead vowing “I’m just killing the strongest of you first.” I will say it seems odd that Scott would survive one of Blaastar’s power blasts (and he takes a direct shot). In prior appearances Blaastar claims his blasts can shatter mountains, and I’m fairly certain I’ve seen him defeat the Hulk with his blasts in an old issue of Marvel Team Up. We saw in Conquest what happens when Blaastar turns his power on a human and the result isn’t pretty. So unless Scott has armor in his costume that I’m not aware of since I dropped Xmen he should be dead. (Or maybe Blaastar and Havok use the same energy, their blasts are usually drawn the same color in which case Cyclops would be immune but if that was the case Scott should have a thought balloon realizing it). Not that I expect Cyclops to die in a one-off story like this but then writer should have him dodge if he’s not going to explain why he’s still alive.
Grade: B-. This story delivered exactly what I wanted it to. I got to see a bunch of different heroes in the Negative Zone, Cap shows why he’s the man and we even got a nice moment with Namor and Cap and a few humorous moments with Emma. This is a perfectly acceptable comic. The story is probably a B+ but the art in chapter three forces me to downgrade it a little.
Special Bonus Comment: In my last review of FF Into the Breech, one of the posters asked if Annihilus was always an A-list threat prior to Annihilation. I’d say if you really look Marvel had been building to Annihilation since the early 1970s: in that anytime Annihilus showed up everyone was like ‘If he ever makes it into our universe we are all doomed.’ Two examples that spring to mind: In the earliest issues of Marvel Team Up (somewhere in Essential MTU Volume 1) Spidey and Torch are battling the Frightful Four in the Baxter Building and in the process the Negative Zone portal opens. Wizard is smart enough to realize ‘oh crap’ and the heroes and villains unite to close that portal before he can get out. And in the Kree-Skrull War there is similar incident with Vision and Captain Mar-vell where they see Annihilus trying to get out of the Zone and immediately everyone stops what they’re doing to contain him. Because even the Kree-Skrull War isn’t half as dangerous as Annihilus busting loose, and we finally saw that in Annihilation.