Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Review: Annihilators: Earthfall

Last week I wondered about the packaging of the Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning-written Annihilators miniseries, which was serially published with the title feature drawn by Tan Eng Huat and a Rocket Raccoon/Groot back-up story drawn by Timothy Green II.

In that original format, perhaps the pairing of the stories made sense, as Annihilators followed Abnett and Lanning's canceled Guardians of the Galaxy series, and these two features each captured a component of that: The straight-faced cosmic superhero-flavored space opera, and the funny, off-beat characters appearing in an unlikely grouping.

For the trade paperback collection, they just put "Annihilators" on the trade and featured that team on the cover, with a little, diagonal strip of text in the lower right corner reading "Plus Rocket Raccoon and Groot!" The book was essentially a trade version of a flip-book, only without the flipping; the title story ended about half-way through, and then the unannounced back-up fills up the remainder of hte pages.

For the second Annihilators trade paperback collection, Marvel tried out a different, even worse strategy: Re-printing the comics exactly as they appeared when originally published. So you read one 20-page chapter of "Annihilators: Earthfall" by Abnett, Lanning, Huat and kinker Andrew Hennessy, then five-pages of Rocket and Groot in "Batteries Not Included" by Abnett, Lanning, Green and inker Victor Olazaba, and repeat until you hit page 100 and the back matter.

So if the first book seemed to contain a Trojan second half (for the casual reader like me who didn't already know the contents, anyway), this one features two unrelated stories constantly interrupting one another.

Me, I probably would have put the Annihilators stories together in a trade entitled Annihilators and the two Rocket Raccon and Groot stories together in a second trade entitled Rocket Raccoon and Groot, but what do I know? I just read the damn things. There's probably a reason Marvel is hiding the stories of the two most popular characters in these trades, the two that will be beating all of the Annihilators (save The Silver Surfer) to the big screen (Actually, I think I woulda called that second trade Guardians of the Galaxy: Rocket Raccoon and Groot).

The title story takes the team of outer space super-guys—Quasar, Gladiator, Beta Ray Bill, Ronan The Accuser and Ikon, Spaceknight—from their usual jurisdiction of outer space to Earth (hence the name of the comic), hot on the heels of an enemy force encountered in the canceled Guardians of the Galaxy series that Abnett and Lanning's Annihilators minis followed.

Because that enemy, The Universal Church of Truth, is collaborating with human beings in a planned, religious community, and because they can and do disguise themselves as human, it looks like a bunch of alien invaders (some of whom, it should be noted, have repeatedly come into conflict with Earth heroes) have landed and just started wrecking a city. The Avengers—Captain America, Iron Man, Ms. Marvel, Red Hulk, The Thing, Valkyrie (?) and, of course, Spider-Man and Wolverine—arrive and start fighting them before anyone gives anyone else a chance to explain themselves, because this is the Marvel Universe (In the 1960s, the fight and team-up formula resulted from first meetings of weird-looking super-powered beings meeting for the first time, now whole teams of people who know each other at least as well as players on rival sports teams do, regularly repeat the pattern because, um,  because Avengers Vs. X-Men sells better than The Only Difference Between Avengers And X-Men At This Point Is The Spelling Really probably would).

The main problem with this story is the same one that plagued the previous Annihilators story. There are too many characters to give them all enough to do, or even identify anything unique about themselves in contrast to their peers. The title team fares a bit better, as The Silver Surfer is gone and Gladiator, who had little to do in the previous series, has much more to do here. Of the title characters, Ikon seems to have the least to do, but that's fine; at least they're taking turns.
Okay, most of those guys can fly or survive a great fall (and are assuming appropriate action poses), but what, exactly, is Captain America doing? Is he floating down or what? 
The Avengers seem more-or-less randomly assembled, with Captain America the only one really necessary in terms of plot or conflict-driving. Most of them are merely there for a functional reason: Spider-Man to tell a joke or two, Iron Man to do science stuff, Wolverine to boost sales a tiny big. The rest are more-or-less wallpaper, offering characters for Huat to draw during fight scenes (The Avengers hold their own remarkably well, and that might be why some of these particular Avengers were chosen; otherwise, The Annihilators really should be able to, um, annihilate pretty much any Avengers assemblage, shouldn't they?).

As for the conflict, the one driving the plot is that the space bad guy has embedded his personality first into a group of children, where he feels safe from any heroes killing him to get rid of him, and then he spreads himself into some 30% of the American population, if I've got that number right (I may be mistaking it for the infection rate of the Senegal Flu in SST: Deathflight, which I watched between reading this comic and writing this review; anyway, it's a lot more than most of the characters feel comfortable killing).

Then the characters can bicker about how many Earthling's its acceptable to kill in order to save the many (which is also the conflict at the climax of SST: Deathflight!); Cap says none, Ronan says a ton, others fall in between, there's some argument for Quasar regarding the difference between collateral damage on alien worlds vs. on Earth (In Ronan's defense, the Avengers go kill-crazy against Skrulls occasionally, with little regard for collateral damage when that damage doesn't involve human life).

The conundrum that Abnett and Lanning have their villain cook up is a clever one, and the inter-character conflict regarding their ethical decisions is compelling (much more so than the fights, which all seem sorta rigged to keep The Avengers in the game). They do a fine job continuing to fine-tune the purpose of this team and what sets them apart from others in the Marvel Universe.

Although I can't help but wonder if they actually last. Marvel's doing some space stuff now in Infinity, and I imagine some of these characters show up—are the Annihilators still a team? They also relaunched Guardians of the Galaxy, which starred the team that the Annihilators were supposed to replace, did the Guardians thus replace their replacements? (I don't know; I read most of these things in trade now, so I'm quite a way's behind most of the Marvel Universe's goings-on).

The Rocket/Groot story again features the superior artwork, but is an all-around inferior story—both to this volume's title story, and to the Rocket/Groot story in the previous volume. It's a story I've read a few times already, with the protagonists swapped out for new ones. It's a Mojo story, which is basically all one needs to know to know almost everything about it.

I was pleasantly surprised by the return of the Timely Inc. Shipment Processing and Analysis Device from the previous storyline, though:
And the Build-A-Groot colelctor's figure, a piece of which is available with each of the various Rocket Raccoon variant figures like Camo-Attack Rocket Raccoon and Sea-Ops Rocket Raccoon, is a toy I actually wouldn't mind owning.
By the way, this story apparently takes place during the time the Fantastic Four characters were all wearing white instead of their regular blue, and, for Ben Grimm, that meant a pair of white shorts:
Is it just me, or does it look like he's adventuring in his underwear? I know he's often worn a costume consisting of just shorts, often ones that are much shorter than these shorts, but when they're white shorts, they just look so much more underwear-like than when they're blue or black.


Akilles said...

Wisdom you speak about Ben Grimms shorts.

garik16 said...

Basically after this trade I believe, Marvel just straight out rebooted Cosmic Marvel and set about ignoring everything DnA had done. Hickman wanted the inhumans, so Black Bolt was suddenly alive and the inhumans were suddenly back in our solar system, with little explanations for his resurrection.

The Guardians were wanted for a movie because of thanos, so Bendis took them and didn't explain why Peter Quill was now alive. Etc. etc. Etc.