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Sunday Slugfest - Annihilation: Conquest: Wraith #1

Posted: Sunday, July 8, 2007
By: Keith Dallas

“Wraith: Chapter 1”

Writer: Javier Grillo-Marxuach
Artist: Kyle Hotz

Publisher: Marvel Comics

Editor’s Note: the first issue of the Wraith limited series arrives in stores this Wednesday, July 11.

Average Rating:

Michael Deeley:
Luke Handley:
Nicholas Slayton:

SPOILER WARNING: The following reviews discuss plot developments of the issue.

Michael Deeley

We’ve been here before. The furniture is new, but it’s still comfortable.

The mysterious Wraith has come to the Kree Empire looking for a man to kill. He doesn’t know the Phalanx have conquered the Kree until one of their ships tries to capture him. Wraith destroys them easily with his shape-changing gun and his cape of living darkness. Days later, he meets up with a resistance group, turns down their membership, and is captured.

Once again, we get an anti-hero with a secret, reluctantly joining someone else’s cause to get revenge. It’s Mad Max in space. The Wraith will turn out to be far more important and powerful than even he realizes, as he holds the key to destroying the Phalanx. Reluctant hero with a great destiny. Yawn.

I was more interested in the Phalanx occupation. I always understood the Phalanx to immediately assimilate all organic life into their collective. But this comic shows them conquering and enslaving the populace. Why allow these organics to go on living? Why not infect everyone? What is achieved through ruling a people that cannot be achieved by absorbing them? I hope the rest of the crossover can answer these questions. The resistance makes a point of mentioning that they can only use primitive and technology-free weapons. Anything more advanced would be infected by Phalanx. So we get rebels with crossbows and swords (Mad Max again) against living robots. Yeah, this is going to be a tough fight.

The real draw here is Kyle Hotz’s artwork. It’s still as fascinating as ever. Hotz’s aliens are truly organic yet non-human lifeforms. They live in dirty cities with history etched on every wall. Take the time to slowly scan the panels to appreciate the detail, depth, and motion that went into creating this work. This book is more fun to look at than it is to read.

Which is kid of sad, really. I prefer to read a comic than just look at it. Wraith looks like a great comic, but reads like a cliché. At least it’s a cliché done well. And it hints at the possibilities for the rest of the Conquest story. Let’s hope they’re fulfilled.

Luke Handley:

Marvel’s newest cosmic character is introduced, and he’s a mystery wrapped up in an enigma. Though Wraith is the name on the front of the book, the protagonist doesn’t go by any appellation in the story. He’s a “good” guy, in that he rescues a damsel in distress and punishes her aggressor and only disarms a bar full of people who draw on him. Having said that, he doesn’t really seem to give a damn about the enslavement of the Kree race, of which he would appear to be a part.

So, Wraith, as we’ll call him, is a space-faring gunslinger with a conscience who gets reluctantly involved with the Kree Resistance against the invading techno-organic Phalanx. It’s a tried and tested formula, one perfected by Clint Eastwood, transposed to a cosmic setting. Though unoriginal in some ways, he is something new in the current Marvel Universe, and as such, I’ll be interested to see where he goes from here.

This issue is only the second to ship as part of Annihilation: Conquest, following the Prologue. Though the Prologue did a good job of setting the scene and establishing the threat level, the reveal of who or what was behind it all was kept until the last page. Given that I’ve read both of the previous Phalanx stories in the X-books, I managed to guess the attackers’ identity and the assimilation part of the assault made perfect sense. But I can’t help but think that a reader who has never heard of these techno-organic menaces before might feel a bit lost as to why and how they’re doing what they’re doing. This issue opens with the Phalanx already firmly in control of the Kree Empire, and though they chant “assimilate, assimilate” at length (Dr. Who fans won’t fail to draw the parallels here), their goals remain unknown. This is not the writer’s fault as such as he’s writing about a drifting loner who gets caught up in the struggle, and this series is probably not the best place to go into an analysis of what drives the Phalanx, but some further explanation would be welcome soon, and I find it intriguing that Marvel decided to ship this limited series first.

Wraith’s ultimate weapon, that proves incredibly effective against the invaders, and incredibly valuable for the Resistance, is Fear. He can release some sort of black cloud that engulfs his foes and, you guessed it, makes them very afraid. In the Phalanx’s case, this leads to a system shutdown, as the cybernetic life forms cannot understand or cope with the feeling. The idea of machines being defeated when confronted with human emotions is a tried and tested sci-fi concept. However, the “fear” powers tie in well with the rest of Wraith’s character, and given that the Phalanx assimilates living organisms, one could suppose there might be some vestige of emotion buried somewhere deep down within the programming.

Kyle Hotz does a competent job on the art. Unfortunately, he is somewhat miscast on this title. The dark, mysterious character that Grillo-Marxuach is obviously aiming for, as illustrated by the cover, doesn’t come across so well in the actual story. It’s not a complete failure on Hotz’ s behalf, but he’s not helped by a rather vivid colouring, and I can’t help but feel that this would benefit from a more brooding art style.

Even if some of the concepts are clichés, there is still a certain amount of charm to this new addition to the Marvel cosmic pantheon. Though the series could benefit from a more suited art form, the identity of the Phalanx’s interrogator that Wraith faces on the final page should make for an interesting second issue.

Nicholas Slayton:

The Conquest has won. The Phalanx now rule the Kree Empire, having sealed it off from the rest of the universe. They all inhabit technology, and in the hands of a technologically advanced society, this is not good. As a resistance starts, an unknown figure enters the scene.

That’s the premise for this limited series, and I'll admit, it is definitely cool. Science fiction stories almost always involved high tech stuff, and when the technology is the enemy, it leads for some extremely interesting possibilities. The Phalanx are everywhere, ever watching. The great Kree fleet is now at their disposal, and it all looks pretty grim.

And that’s there Wraith comes in. He looks like a Kree, but Phalanx scanners say he is not a lifeform. He’s got a space-faring motorcycle and a polymorphic weapon that can be a gun, a sword/whip, or a camera. What’s interesting is that his technology is immune to the Phalanx, which soon makes him the target of a large group of the baddies. And all he came to do was kill a guy. Wraith feels like an homage to Clint Eastwood’s Man with No Name, from his quiet demeanor, skill with a weapon, and poncho like outfit. He even claims to have no name. In terms of homages, this is a pretty good one.

The problem with this story, however, is the execution. Our taciturn hero is not even aware of the entire Phalanx invasion, instead he’s here focusing on trying to kill someone. The mix of him and the Phalanx does not really blend that well, with some aspects feeling tacked on to fit into the event. Wraith meets up with the Kree resistance, but it comes off as rushed and cliched in the dialogue. And while mystery men are interesting, there is really nothing revealed about Wraith, so he’s not really much of a factor. Instead of driving the plot, it feels like the plot is driving him.

Kyle Holtz’ art is adequate, but not great. The anatomy is average, and the entire look reminds me a little too much of the early nineties. However, when it comes to the title character, Holtz displays amazing skill. The Eastwood-like outfit, the face hidden by the long white hair, Wraith’s entire look is amazingly drawn. The action is also quite smooth and fluid, and the opening fight with the Phalanx was the artistic highlight of this issue.

To quote Dom DeLouise, Wraith is nice. Not thrilling, but nice. While there is not really a central plot going on, only a subplot or two, the main character does kick butt, and the action sequences are awesome. Hopefully the next issue gives us some more information.

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