Written by Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning
Illustrated by Mike Perkins
Colored by Guru EFX
Lettered by Cory Petit
Cover art by Aleksi Briclot
The original Annihilation was one of the few enjoyable comics that Marvel has released in the last few years. It was off the editorial radar and featured characters the licensing department honestly didn't care about — which gave the creators free reign to screw around with the status quo in a way that even Marvel's golden boys can't. The results were genuinely interesting, a little bit exhilarating, and blissfully liberated from the continuity quagmire of Marvel's Earth-bound heroes. And it sold pretty well, too, so now we have a sequel. Of course this time, editorial and licensing are paying attention, so the creators weren't going to have the same sort of free reign they had before, but if the new series is half as good as the original it'd still be worth checking out.
So is Annihilation: Conquest any good? Let's find out.
This prologue starts off by showing us the post-Annihilation state of the galaxy by through the eyes of two protagonists. On one side we have Phyla-Vell, who's helping the Priests of Pama distribute aid to to the downtrodden and needy. Thing is, she's on a backwater world that's not representative of the galaxy at large (and for that matter the temple she's supposed to be rebuilding doesn't seem to be damaged at all). On the other side we've got Star-Lord, who's helping the Kree upgrade their ruined defensive grid. Thing is, he's on Hala, which seems to have been completely untouched by the Annihilation Wave. Effectively, Abnett and Lanning are telling us the galaxy is in ruins rather than showing us. Strangely, their first issue of Nova did a much better job of setting the stage by showing us a harried Nova, hopping from one bombed-out planet to the next, putting out fires as fast as he could in the hopes that they wouldn't spread.
Anyway, back on Hala, Star-Lord has made a deal to update the Kree War-Net with Space Knight technology. Unfortunately, the Galadorians prove to be less than trustworthy, and Sentries start to run amok, destroying ships in orbit and bulding a big tower that somehow manages to seal off all of Kree space from the rest of the universe. One Sentry even makes it to the backwater planet that Phyla is living on and attacks her.1 As Phyla defeats the Sentry and gets a mystic vision commanding her to seek out "Kree savior," Star-Lord gets pushed off a skyscraper and the true villain stands revealed as the techno-organic Phalanx. Who look a lot different, and yet somehow familiar.
This part of Conquest actually works pretty well. There's some effective confusion as the main characters try to figure out just what's going on. There's a nice bit of misdirection with the Galadorians, and the closing sequence will be genuinely shocking to new readers but containis enough clues to tip off long-time readers. There's a definite direction — Phyla needs to go find the "savior" before the rest of the empire is assimilated. There are even a few mysteries — who's sending these visions to Phyla? Why are the Phalanx deviating from their usual M.O.?3
No, it's not Shakespeare, or even Lost. But it's enjoyable enough for disposable entertainment and intriguing enough to bring you back for more.
As for the art... well, you're going to notice a common thread over the next couple of days, which is that I think the artists are tremendous draftsmen and terrible storytellers.4 Here's a good example from the beginning of Prologue.
Now, the art team has rendered the holy living heck out of that temple. The perspective is spot on, and the inking and coloring help give the building substantial weight and volume. The coloring is suitably out-of-this world, soft and familiar yet alien, and the added detail doesn't overwhelm the pencils. There are lots of little details and imperfections that help particularize the structure — heck, there are even little snow shovels crammed off into one corner, though you can't see them at this size — and yet there's not so much detail that you're overwhelmed by it. The figures actually feel like they're standing in the space instead of just floating over top of it.
And yet this spectacular drawing is situated in the lower left-hand corner of an awkward two-page spread with no clear focal point. And that's the pattern the book follows — every time Perkins wows me with his drafstmanship he makes some awful storytelling decisions that confuse me. Here's another example from near the end of the book.
I get what that bottom tier is trying to do — our camera view remains unchanged as Star Lord plummets out of a window to his doom. But it doesn't read well, for a few reasons. First, The diagonal panels are cut at weird angles that make them seem strange rather than dynamic. The brown gutters don't sufficiently separate the individual panels. The shattered struts complicate things, because they're almost the same color as the gutters and run counter to the diagonal of the panel, which further confuses things. And there are just too many panels — you could probably get the same effect with three panels instead of five.
(Interestingly, that bottom tier works at better at screen resolution than it does at actual size, because there's less room to get lost in the details.)
- I understand that space opera often depends on unrealistic superluminal communication, but having a Sentry a) instantly show up on a planet that the Kree empire has supposedly abandoned and b) immediately attack the only two named characters on said planet is just lazy writing.2
- Strangely, though, I don't have a problem with the equally-unrealistic concept of a single spire instantly generating a completely impenetrable force field capable of sealing off a galaxy light-years across, which would require not only superluminal communications but also more power than a single star could possibly generate.
- The Phalanx's usual M.O.: a) Assimilate everything in sight. b) Build Babel Spire. c) Get eaten.
- Which is actually pretty close to the Marvel house style these days — beautifully drawn, totally unreadable.