Writer: Keith Giffen
Artists: Andrea DiVito, Laura Villar (colours)
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Last issue’s cliffhanger is resolved in perhaps the only way it could, as the heroes find themselves unable to counter the Annihilus/Thanos axis' latest offensive, and are soundly defeated, leading to the break up of the alliance and desperate times ahead. It's beautifully conveyed stuff; Civil War frequently makes use of its cast to tell us how high the stakes are, and how devastating the conflict is, but we don't get to see it, and the event doesn't feel at all like the war it's supposed to be. Annihilation directly shows us the conflict, not in detail, as such detail would perhaps get tedious, particularly as the armies are somewhat faceless, but enough that we as readers do get a feel of a real battle going on, with real repercussions. Strip away the cosmic superheroics, and there's nothing here that couldn't work just as well in a WWII setting, such is the success of conveying the sense of world-shattering conflict.
Part of this success, I think, is the simplicity of the story being told. Civil War has pretensions of profundity which aren't explored well enough to satisfy those looking for something meaningful, and only distract from approaching it as a more simplistic superhero punch-up. Annihilation, in contrast, sets its sights much lower by largely avoiding the politics behind the war and focusing almost purely on the conflict itself; perhaps some more background on the causes of the war would be nice, but it's not a fatal omission by any means.
Such a focus also allows more room for exploring the characters, and there's some fascinating characterisation going on here. Giffen has, pleasingly, eased off on making Nova a grizzled veteran but is still developing his maturity as a hero, Drax continues to be an enigmatically complex personality, and Ronan surprises the most by revealing himself as a well-rounded character full of seething frustration. After thirtyish years of knocking around the Marvel Universe, it's about time he got some character development. Not every member of the cast receives such attention, as Gamora seems to hover around doing little except popping up sporadically to argue with Nova, and we get yet another pointless repetition of Annihilus asking Thanos what he's doing, only for Thanos to tell him to be patient. To be fair, Annihilus' motivations are clear, and his place in the story is simply that of a powerful conqueror, so we don't strictly need more elaboration of his role and personality, but Thanos remains frustratingly ill-defined for such a major character, especially given his involvement at ever stage of the crossover; we should by now have some idea of what he's up to.
Andrea DiVito is more than up to the task of conveying the sweeping and unpredictable events of the battles, not to mention the many and varied locales, and all in a satisfying level of detail. Lesser artists would take shortcuts through use of extreme close ups or dropping backgrounds or somesuch, but DiVito draws it all, and with admirable clarity of storytelling too. There's nothing really distinctive about the art, but I feel a tad churlish for criticising that aspect when everything else is done so well. The sequence depicting Drax’s heroic/suicidal rear guard action, for example, is absolutely spot on.
I'm astonished that Marvel, after the past couple of years of ill-judged event stories and crossovers, and the current squandering of their main event, have managed to produce something so well balanced as this. Using the war as a backdrop for strong characterisation and turbulent plotting has resulted in a solid miniseries with modest ambitions but considerable creative success. If all crossovers and events were so well done, I wouldn't get a sinking feeling every time one is announced.
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