Annihilation finally gave Marvel’s cosmic universe a sense of space and plausible science. Marvel’s cosmic used to be an almost magical realm, where things just seemed to happen and pop everywhere….sometimes even a world where things seemed hopelessly separate as well. It was a world of shifting Kirby-esque ringed planets where other galaxies were only a finger snap or teleport spell away.
The Skrulls, Shi’ar and Kree all seemed to be waiting just beyond the limits of the planet Earth, and as long as someone hopped in any old shuttle a wonky and wonderful space adventure and strange worlds were just a few panels down the road. Light years were nothing, and science was something for school, not comics. (Priest’s Deadpool “Bad Wolf” arc back in the late 90’s actually gloriously made fun of this notion as well)
There was something fun about that, but there was also something naive and unrealistic at the same time.
That all took a different turn with 2006 Marvel’s classic event Annihilation with Keith Giffen, Andy Schmidt, Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning and a bevy of talented artists.
The work built off Giffen’s earlier Marvel works in Thanos and Drax, but also harkened back to some of the elements he used a decade earlier in DC’s classic event Invasion!
The concept was also heavily influenced by 2000 AD concepts like Rogue Trooper and other sci fi books that appeared in that publication
Space fleets felt like real moving parts, shifting in a real sense of space with quasi-physics and pseudo-science involved to give everything a sense of plausibility. This evolved everything from comic book fun to a harder form of graphic novel science fiction. Superheroes and space battles seemed almost more tangible and possible this way.
Annihilation introduced another pseudo-sense of spatial orientation within the framework of the Marvel Universe cosmic landscape. (meaning the actual universe) Thus, apart from fleets of destroyers and hive ships, actual space felt “real” and graspable, and not just some huge realm you entered when you jumped on a rocket into the sky, closed your eyes and said “Jack Kirby” three times fast.
Annihilation visualized the impossible. Thus, reading the comic was like watching a solid sci fi film come to comics. You could almost smell the popcorn.
I think it was the first time anyone used maps in the Marvel Cosmic Universe….but the sense of space also bled into the stories. The Nova Files companion and footnotes were a great explanation and dipped into the continuity and depth of Marvel cosmic. This was research and well thought out event crafting …this was Marvel comics at their best. Within the pages of each issue was a love letter to Marvel lore, not just something bold and new or a square peg shoved down a round hole.
Suddenly, the reader began to realize the placement of things like the Crunch and Xandar, Andromeda and the Large Magellanic Cloud. This made Earth seem small and frankly, it made the whole cosmic realm equally vast, full of potential and exciting.
It was all brilliant, new and fresh.
The effect on the event was the same as much of the art and plot; cosmic gained a gritty realistic, and cinematic quality that transcended and built upon the old Kirby/ Starlin directions and felt new and wonderful, while still retaining a sense of respect and influence of many of those older creators.
Respectful and fresh all at the same time, imagine that. Within the book, Kirby and Starlin never felt sloughed off or improperly researched…they were always warm and inextractibly set within this new vision.
It’s painfully too bad folks like Bendis never read this stuff or wrote anything nearing this level of quality. Sadly, it’s even more criminal none of the guys involved were signed to Marvel exclusives and had much of an impact on Marvel today. Most of them were let go or brushed off almost immediately after. DnA and a few of the artists stuck around longer, only to be demoted to lesser spin offs.
I also have to mention the science of Nova Prime and Richard Rider.
Rider’s interaction with the Worldmind gestalt gave his powers a sense of logic and limit, despite having near limitless power.
Nigh-Omnipotent characters are always a problem to pass off on readers and hold drama within the framework of pseudo-logic….but Giffen and DnA nailed it.
Rider was thus more like a human starship, and his interactions with his own powerset and Worldmind were reminiscent of the playful bickering between Han Solo and Chewy at the controls of the Millennium Falcon , the bridge interaction of Star Trek’s crew, or HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey, all the while building something original and unique. To top it off, the whole back and forth between Worldmind and Rich spoke of that same ode to Marvel’s past….of Rick Jones in a Starlin-esque version of Mar-vell’s head or in Peter David’s Genis-vell.
Counter this with Jeph Loeb’s and Gerry Duggan’s portrayal of Sam Alexander, who possess undefined and seemingly limitless powers which are hardly ever explained, described or articulated with that critical sense of “quasi-logic”, save for blue strokes across the page and streaking speed fit for any situation to be fast enough to resolve whatever the issue demands.
The whole powerset seems muddled and herky jerky…which, as a result, devolves the character. It is much the same issue as characters like Dr. Strange have suffered from in years past, the lack of definition of his powerset and/or abilities builds up a potential dues ex machina to escape and demean the tension of threats. This hurts the story.
Going forward Marvel needs to fix this problem among the many others Sam’s character faces…or Marvel can just write him off and give us more Richard Rider…which many of us wouldn’t mind either.