Sunday Slugfest - Annihilation: Prologue

A comic review article by: Keith Dallas, Michael Aronson, Michael Bailey, Michael Deeley, Shaun Manning, Judson Miers, Robert Murray, Jason Sacks, Dave Wallace
Keith Dallas

An enjoyment of Annihilation: Prologue is contingent upon two matters: (1) an already established fascination with Marvel’s cast of “space opera” characters, and (2) an appreciation of Scott Kolins’ artwork.

I am a self-professed Scott Kolins fanatic. Asking me what I think of Scott Kolins’ work is equivalent to asking Barry Bonds what he thinks of “muscle enhancing supplements”: neither one of us can get enough.

Annihilation: Prologue is the starting point of a Marvel story that will branch off into four four-issue mini-series (Silver Surfer, Ronan, Super-Skrull and Nova) before culminating in the six issue mini-series Annihilation. This structure replicates DC Comics’ “Countdown” to Infinite Crisis, but before my point is misconstrued, I am not suggesting that Annihilation is Marvel’s attempt to ride on the coattails of DC’s Infinite Crisis. I am just pointing out a similarity. (Let me also assert right now that Annihilation isn’t Marvel’s copying of Rann-Thangar War either, a truly ignorant claim advanced by many a message board poster.)

It doesn’t take long for Prologue to establish the stakes of the Annihilation event: an enormous insect-like alien force inexorably sweeps its way through the known Marvel Universe’s galaxies, annihilating everything in its path in Blitzkrieg fashion. This Prologue presents its principal cast one at a time, like ducks in a row: Thanos appears first, and then two members of the Omega Corps (whoever they are), Nova (half of this issue is devoted to Richard Rider and the Nova Corps), Drax, Ronan, Silver Surfer (in one measly page), Super Skrull and then a last page reveal of the evil menace directing this “Annihilation Wave.” These characters do not interact with each other, which unfortunately yields a fragmented story even with the Annihilation Wave affecting them all. The issue ends with five very informative text pages detailing some of the event's principal characters and providing both a galactic map of the Marvel Universe and descriptions of inhabiting races. These pages (written as if they are Nova Corps database entries) will help readers become familiar with the cast…, but they don’t help readers become interested in the cast.

With regards to the artwork, I can’t think of another Scott Kolins drawn issue that has as many long shot splash pages as Prologue does. Of course, a space invasion story demands many starship battle images, and Kolins performs a Herculean task in “cluttering” every one of these pages with starships, laser blasts, explosions, and debris. These pages are awesome displays and contain very little “negative space.” The Annihilation Wave is truly presented as an overwhelming infestation (the term used by the Silver Surfer). Speaking of Galactus’s former herald, I admired Kolins’ unique presentation of him as a serene, observant luminescent alien. It’s too bad the Surfer only appears on one page because I would have liked to see Kolins “play” with him more.

The failing of Prologue is its dialogue and captions. They don’t sufficiently connect the reader to the characters, only to the BIG event. This is true even for Richard Rider/Nova who, again, appears in half this issue. Early in the issue, Nova is engaged in a discussion with two other Nova officers of the advantages of starship drives as a more reliable method of transportation than “phase tubes.” This discussion has all the appropriate “techno jargon” that one would find in, say, any episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, but what the dialogue fails to do is help the reader gain a sense of the type of person Rider is nor does it move the story forward. Unless I’m missing something completely, it’s just a useless technical discussion.

I'm ambivalent about Annihilation: Prologue. This isn’t a bad book; it’s full of glorious space battles and intriguing revelations to satisfy any faithful Marvel reader, but unless one comes to this issue already fixated on one of the principal characters (Nova fans, your starship has arrived!), this issue is going to be met with shrugs. The issue just doesn’t adequately hook the readers to the characters, only to the event, and an event without compelling characters is called a spectacle, not a story.

I won’t complain too much though about any comic book with nearly 40 pages of Scott Kolins artwork.

Michael Aronson

You know, it’s a shame for Marvel that just last week I reread Starlin’s prologue to Infinity Gauntlet with his Silver Surfer run and Thanos Quest mini. I feel rather bad, since Starlin is the king of all things cosmic in Marvel’s history (post-Kirby, anyway) and, well, yeah, it’s kind of like comparing Homer’s Iliad to the movie Troy. Sorry, Giffen.

I mean, am I missing something, or is there a significant reason that Death now appears to Thanos as a little girl who talks? Seriously? Does that make Thanos a pedophile now? Unless I’m the only one who missed the memo, the Marvel readers will likely also be confused, and non-Marvel readers will wonder if Vertigo plans to sue.

The purpose of Annihilation, or at least the intention of the title, is a bit clearer now, though I can’t say it answers more questions that it poses. A massive space army is going around wiping out entire civilizations – annihilating them, if you will – and it suddenly becomes a problem for the rest of the universe as soon as the Green Lan- sorry, the Nova Corps is attacked. The Nova Corps’ inclusion allows for the return of Richard Rider, Nova Lantern of Sector 2814, to become an active player in the Crisis once Oa comes under attack and –

Oh for christ’s sake . . .

I know there was a Nova Corps at some point earlier in Marvel history, but I don’t remember it playing a large role in the affairs of Rich Rider, Nova, The Human Rocket, protector of Earth and member of the New Warriors. Its inclusion here would be welcome if it didn’t simultaneously take away from the one thing that was unique about Rider and at the same time smell like a fast cash-in on the Green Lantern Corps’ successful revival. It also seems the Corps’ appearance adheres to the current popular mentality at Marvel that you can’t make an omelet without slaughtering a flock of chickens (no, that analogy doesn’t quite make sense, but then neither does the mentality).

Drax. And his pet girl. Or the other way around. Am I supposed to care? Considering she spouts nothing but obnoxious one-liners and actually makes an inane 9/11 reference, I’m guessing the answer is “no.”

What Annihilation does in forty-eight bland pages is what the Adam Strange mini series did gracefully over eight issues: set up the next big thing. The beauty about Adam Strange was that we didn’t know there was necessarily a “next big thing,” and so the mini series was thoroughly enjoyable in its own right. However, we know Prologue is just that, a prologue, but the story itself doesn’t make any attempts to suppress its intentions; they’re loud and boisterously clear. Some people might claim we shouldn’t expect anything more from such a prologue and just enjoy it as purely a setup, but like I wrote above, I’m spoiled on Starlin.

As for the art, I really expected Kolins to be perfectly suited for this type of story, but something in the execution leaves a lot to be desired. I became a huge fan of his during his Flash run, and there isn’t much out there comparable to his anti-shadows style, but I guess I was looking for a little more visual doom and gloom in a story entitled Annihilation. Kolins reminds me of Ron Lim in that both artists excel when assigned to books featuring solo characters but sink to mediocrity when juggling a larger cast, like Kolins on Avengers and Lim on Infinity War. I’m getting the latter sense so far with Annihilation; it just seems to lack a unique style. It’s competent but nothing more.

The reason I won’t be following the rest of this event is due to two problems: (1) there’s no explanation or real mystery behind the source of the event, it simply happens and we’re supposed to care because a bunch of random space-faring characters take note; (2) a bunch of random space-faring characters take note and do nothing more. I’m not now compelled to follow a solo miniseries about the Silver Surfer merely because he saw a big flash out in the distance of space and seemed curious. In fact, the Surfer himself hardly seemed bothered to find out what happens, so why should I be?

Michael Bailey

Plot: A wave of absolute destruction sweeps through the universe obliterating almost everything in its path. Even the powerful Nova Corps fall before its power. As the wave makes its way through the Skrull Empire in the Andromeda Galaxy, word begins to spread to the Kree. Other cosmic beings, such as the Silver Surfer begin to take notice as well.

Commentary: I went into this comic with a serious handicap. Being more of a DC reader, I am not as familiar with the more cosmic side of Marvel even though I’ve always felt that this was one of the few areas where the House of Ideas had it over the Distinguished Competition. I like DC’s cast of alien worlds and characters, but Marvel’s always seemed just a tad more developed. Despite not being as up on the characters as I would like to have been, this story worked for me on two levels.

Level number one: there was enough information about the characters involved that a reader coming in from the cold (i.e. me) is brought up to speed rather quickly. It wasn’t a smooth process, and there were certain areas where things got a tad muddled, especially the introduction of the Super Skrull, but Giffen more than made up for it with the manner in which he introduced the Nova Corps. This was my first experience with Nova, and so far I rather like the character and the concept of a whole Corps of Novas who serve as the Marvel Universe version of the Green Lantern Corps (which probably drew inspiration from E.E. “Doc” Smith’s Lensman series, but that’s just an educated guess on my part).

As big as this series is and as much hype as Marvel has been dishing out, it was important to not only provide the exposition but to make the reader feel something for what is happening to them. Whether it’s Drax and his friend or the fate of the Nova Corps, Giffen does what he does best: mixes characterization with humor and drama to deliver a good page turning read for the audience. I also appreciated the little fact sheets at the end of the book that give a who’s who of the major players and locations as well as the checklist. Information combined with hype. I love it.

Level number two: something really big happened, and it felt like something really big happened. I have always enjoyed the type of story where the villains are introduced in such a way that you know that the heroes are screwed from the beginning. Whether it was DC’s Invasion! mini-series from 1988 or the introduction of the Borg on Star Trek: The Next Generation, I get a certain thrill from becoming so lost in the story that when the something big finally happens, all I can think is, “Oh my God, did that just freaking happen? This does not bode well.” This issue had one of those moments involving the Nova Corps and if anything sold me on the story, it was that scene.

By setting up the story in this fashion (complete with a somewhat surprise reveal at the end) Giffen makes me feel that this is a series I need to follow. For me this is a sign of a well written story that has a lot of potential. Sure it could end horribly, but half the fun is the journey and with Keith Giffen involved, I have a feeling it will at least be a really fun ride.

In The End: Here is where Marvel starts to turn it around in my eyes. DC pretty much handed it to Marvel last year with the set-up for Infinite Crisis because House of M seemed to be a decent enough story that came from a truly bad idea. Between Civil War and Annihilation Marvel seems to be stepping up to the plate in terms of making their events matter in the eyes of the reader. Giffen delivered a story that played to all of his strengths as a writer and creator, and the art by Scott Kollins and Ariel Olivetti gave that story an epic scope. There are some funny moments, but they only served to lure the audience into a false sense of security before hitting them with something tragic. This is one of those rare instances where I had absolutely no interest going in and have nothing but interest coming out.

Michael Deeley

In a word: Eh.

Insectoid armies start tearing through the galaxy destroying all in their path. The maximum security prison/power generators, the Kyln, is the first to fall. The intergalactic peacekeepers Nova Corps are wiped out. The Skrull empire is under attack. The Silver Surfer, Thanos, Drax, Ronan, Super-Skrull, and Rick Ryder, last of the Novas, will all play a part in protecting this universe.

The good: An old villain is redesigned to look more like a scary bug. His armies and “concubines” reflect his political power in the Negative Zone. So he’s a big, bad scary mother-raper again. Keith Giffen gets the chance to follow up on his short-lived Thanos and Drax series from recent years. And the man behind DC’s Invasion gets to do another alien invasion. The book’s end notes give very helpful information about the cosmic powers in the Marvel universe and the key players. Scott Kolins and Ariel Olivetti do a great job creating truly alien worlds and disgusting invaders.

The bad: This is the ump-teenth time the bad aliens were giant bugs. Too many fight scenes reminded me of Starship Troopers; never a good thing. And the whole “aliens from another universe” story? How many times have we seen that? Let’s see: There was the last Legion series, a 4-part Star Trek novel crossover some years back, the recent Space Ghost
mini, (also drawn by Olivetti). Really, it’s been done. To death!

Annihilation could restructure and reinvent the alien races in the Marvel Universe. But they haven’t played a big role in Marvel comics lately. Between House of M, “The Other,” and the upcoming Civil War, Marvel comics have focused almost exclusively on Earth. Aliens haven’t played a big role in a Marvel comic since Grant Morrison’s New X-Men. So Annihilation Prologue isn’t a bad story, but it’s not a great story either. It promises big changes that could ultimately be ignored. We’ll have to wait and see.

Shaun Manning

The universe is going to hell in a handcart, as the Annihilation Wave presses through the galactic power station and maximum security super-prison called the Crunch and decimates the Nova Corps. As the Kree assess the threat through Skrull-colored glasses, Silver Surfer discovers a clue about the true nature of the destruction.

Lots of stuff going on here, plenty of explosions, several noble deaths. Annihilation: Prologue brilliantly sets up the threat as something everybody ought to be worried about, as the destruction rivals that seen in many post-apocalyptic films or some of the more action-packed moments from the Star Wars movies. Sometimes it’s fun to just see wide swaths of planets torn up by an unstoppable force.

Casting such a wide net, though, this issue is necessarily scant on characterization. The appendices in the back give a good indication of who certain persons, races, and agencies are, and also a map of the relevant cosmos. Drax and Nova stand out as the most intriguing characters at this point; Drax for the “honorable monster” thing he’s got going for him and Nova for the gallows humor and futile heroism. Ronan also gets a page to shine, and his situation looks to be full of intrigue.

A weakness of “cosmic” stories, though, is that they like to employ pseudoscientific jargon to denote that space is not a human-dominated domain. Giffen does a fair job of reining this in, though certain aspects (like the actual function of the Crunch) remain bogged in tech-nese.

Visually, Scott Kolins and Ariel Olivetti have packed this comic with intricate details and widescreen action. Their work is incredibly kinetic, with the tension of menace an active presence in each panel.

As a prologue, this should do wonders to build anticipation for the four miniseries to follow. So long as the future installments remember to provide readers with a more solid point of empathy for the alien characters, Annihilation may well bring back the wonder of cosmic comics.

Judson Miers

In my review of Drax #1, I didn’t ever take much stock in the MU that was galactic in nature. In fact, I hadn’t even heard of Drax until that point. What did intrigue me was the whole “backstory behind the most powerful destructive force in the universe” living in the being of Drax. Well, it appears that there has been an invasion of intergalactic proportions that is wreaking havoc and destroying whole solar systems. Actually, the Silver Surfer referred to it as an infestation, connotating some sort of parasitic or overwhelming attack of low-intelligence beings like a weed or insect swarm.

This alien invasion of Galactus-like proportions heads for the Xandar, the home “world” of the Nova Corps, and this issue takes place at the intersection of the demise of the Nova Corps and Drax being jettisoned from the space craft onto Xandar.

Overall, I think I’m a little intrigued, though this sounds like something akin to the destruction of the M’Krann Crystal or even the coming of Galactus. I see foreshadowing from the likes of Thanos, Ronan, Silver Surfer, and Drax. I see Earth being the last stronghold for the survivors of the Skrull, Shi’ar and Kree Empires.

I’m really kinda skeptical about this whole thing after the DCU shake-up. It seems as if both the MU and the DCU are playing a “me-too” type of game with each pulling out of the same collective creative pool. IF IF IF IF the DCU and the MU actually have a change that actually sticks, this may be a very good thing. If it’s not, I (and many other comic fans) will just simply skip all of the “hype” stories and pick things back up after the switcheroo and have less and less respect for their stories and hype…

Robert Murray

This series seems to be Marvel’s answer to both Infinite Crisis and Seven Soldiers. First, we have a threat of universal destruction by a force from beyond this universe (N-Zone, Antimatter; potato, potatoe) that looks almost unstoppable. Secondly, this series is constructed from four (really, five) mini-series’ that will interlink and produce a supposedly greater breadth of storytelling than the normal limited series. One problem, though, is that Giffen might have chosen the wrong elements to focus on in this introduction to the series. Being a nerd, I have already checked out the four mini-series’ resulting from this issue, and the two that sound the most promising, namely Silver Surfer and Super Skrull, are given almost no role in this prologue. An exclusively fanboy problem, but still annoying!

Nova’s story is given the most play to start with, due to the cataclysmic events which are dealt with in this issue. Talk about disaster on a grand scale! The character with the next most exposure is Drax the Destroyer, who Giffen had done a pretty good job with in a recent mini-series. Why doesn’t Drax have a limited series in Annihilation? Is he going to play a major role in the Nova series? I don’t know, but I hope so. Drax seems like a compelling anti-hero for Giffen and Dan Abnett to play with, and there needs to be something compelling about this ambitious crossover. To be painfully honest, there wasn’t much in this prologue to compel me to purchase further issues of this event. First, the main characters have never been among my personal favorites at Marvel, since I’ve always gravitated toward characters that are more human in presentation. Secondly, unlike Seven Soldiers, there are four different writers working on the overall story, which might lead to unevenness overall. Lastly, Giffen, while gifted at presenting an impressive intergalactic story, doesn’t really excel at dialogue between characters. A lot of the discussions and exclamations lacked a sense of reality about them, and I just couldn’t picture anyone really saying these things. Giffen is definitely a student of the old school comic book academy, which isn’t a bad thing necessarily. He’s a safe, steady writer who is a smart editor’s choice for series’ such as Annihilation or 52. But, when you’re talking comics of today and the importance of engaging dialogue and characters, this issue falters in a big way.

I couldn’t find much fault with the art in this issue. I loved Kolins work on Flash, and I really like what he’s done here with the galactic battles and the close ups on characters. Also, the colors work well in this prologue, making the whole issue a visual feast. All of the artwork is clean and bright, which is how an interstellar saga should look, without a lot of stray lines and exaggerations to reduce the beauty of the strange objects we are witnessing. However, the fact remains that I wasn’t terribly engaged by the story or the characters participating in the story, meaning I will probably not be returning for Annihilation. This issue’s like a John Woo film: pretty to look at, but overall not too engaging in the story department.

Jason Sacks

Did you know that somewhere out in space in the Marvel Universe, there’s a group called the Nova Corps out there protecting us? They’re a lot like the Green Lantern Corps: each member looks differently from each other, and have slightly different costumes from each other, but each follows a great central authority, and put themselves on the line to save the universe from great galaxy-spanning menaces. In this case, “something just pushed through the crunch,” that something being a nasty race of interstellar killers. This Annihilation: Prologue tells the story of that valiant Nova Corps as they try to win the war. How do they do? Well, let’s just say that a certain Terran member of the Nova Corps has a reason to seek revenge on his enemies.

This is an exciting start to a big star-spanning adventure. There’s a sense of menace and threat here that’s a lot of fun. This issue sets a number of plot threads in motion. Some seem to be obvious for future exploration - for instance, what is the future of the Nova Corps - and others seem more subtle - what are Thanos’s plans here, and what is his involvement in this whole scheme?

I don’t know to what extent this story follows the Infinite Crisis problem of being too much inside the tent, of requiring too much inside knowledge to really get a lot out of the story. For instance, does the great revelation on the last story page make any sense to anyone who doesn’t already know that character? Does the appearance of the character make the story more laughable for the non-initiates, or more interesting? I’m not sure that writer Giffen does a good enough job of keeping readers up to speed on who all these characters are and what all their actions mean.

I’ve never been a big fan of Scott Kolins’ work. To me, his human characters look stiff and mechanical. Maybe it’s the influence of Ariel Olivetti or maybe it’s because he’s drawing non-human characters here, but Kolins’ work seems especially effective here. He obviously had a lot of fun drawing the diverse Nova Corps and all their different looks. Kolins’ big space battles have a hell of a lot going on in them, even if it’s sometimes seems hard to understand exactly what’s going on.

It’s hard to assess an epic on the basis of one chapter, but this is a nice, solid beginning for this one.

Dave Wallace

I’ve never been the biggest fan of Marvel’s more cosmic characters – to my mind, Marvel heroes are at their best when dealing with more street-level, everyday issues – and when I looked at the first issue of last year’s Drax revamp (also written by Keith Giffen), it did nothing to convince me otherwise. Sadly, this issue doesn’t fare any better, following the model of DC’s Countdown to Infinite Crisis in presenting a prologue to four different miniseries in one single volume - yet somehow forgetting to tell a decent story itself.

The concept of Giffen’s “Annihilation” is that a huge wave of robotic-looking insectoid creatures is crashing through the universe and knocking out planets and planets at a time. Whilst this makes for some epic visuals and high concepts, for the most part the issue is a simple mix of big, bland ideas which are thrown together without any real sense of tension or drama. There are events which could be seen as epic thanks to their sheer scale, but don’t succeed in feeling meaningful thanks to the lack of setup of any real connection for the reader, or any strong characterisation to speak of. The various deaths which occur feel hollow, and events just seem to transpire for the sake of it rather than feeling particularly driven by characters or their ideals, save for a two-dimensional, cackling, and fairly predictable villain who shows up at the issue’s close.

Dialogue is fairly one-note throughout, with the only human “gateway” character, Cammi (who I recognise from the Drax mini) serving her function poorly, adding no kind of accessible point of view for the reader. The only allusion to the “real world” is a clumsy and unnatural-feeling reference to 9/11 which seems to be included for no other reason than to provide some grounding in reality, but it doesn’t really come off as it only serves to put distance between our world and the world of Annihilation. Most of the text feels like standard sci-fi blather, and the constant loglines of alien locations and dates underline this repeatedly. It’s fairly dry material which you might enjoy if you’ve got a particular love of otherworldly sci-fi and space stuff, but I just didn’t connect with it. Giffen’s writing never really achieves the emotional beats that his more dramatic scenes seem to be aiming for, whilst other lines provoke unintentional amusement, (such as the description of a Super-weapon called the Harvester of Sorrows – do you think Giffen’s a Metallica fan?).

Visually, the book is fairly successful, mixing big space battles with insectoid ships and huge explosions, and with the titular Annihilation providing for some impressive scenes of destruction. The relentless nature of the insect-like baddies is reminiscent of Starship Troopers
, as are the colossal yet ungainly spaceships and massive interstellar communities depicted under Kolins and Olivetti’s pencils. Other scenes bring Star Wars to mind, such as the address to the Nova corps before going into battle, or the zippy individual ships attacking huge city-sized vessels with their tiny lasers. However, whilst this is undoubtedly a fine pedigree for visual design, it also points to the artwork’s main failing – it’s very derivative and unoriginal. That said, it’s executed well and never unclear or ill-defined, and it does the best it can with Giffen’s script, making the most of the bigger moments with some detailed splash pages and frequent scenes which are epic in scope.

Marvel has also seen fit to provide some useful handbook-style profiles in the back of the issue for any one who’s not up to speed. It’s a nice touch which makes things slightly more clear for the uninitiated, but ultimately it’s information that the main body of the story itself didn’t see fit to provide, and this lack of concession to readers unfamiliar with Marvel’s cosmic stable definitely harms the accessibility of the story as a whole.

If this is Marvel’s answer to DC’s Infinite Crisis (and out of all of their summer events it seems most similar, both in terms of scope and format – checklist of Annihilation-related titles et al) then I can only hope that they’ve got stronger material lined up for the individual miniseries because, artwork aside, there was nothing that made me want to read any further after finishing this book. Of the four characters whose minis were set up by this one issue, at least two only warranted brief cameos in the story itself, with little or no hint as to what their individual series might entail. And only the final pages of the Nova thread suggested any kind of intrigue or strong story concept for what will presumably be one of the central titles of the Annihilation event.

Admittedly, this issue probably had the cards stacked against it as far as I’m concerned – as I say, I’ve no love for the cosmic side of the Marvel Universe – but I was expecting better than this for a flagship event. Suffice it to say, I don’t think I’ll be following Annihilation any further.

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