Annihilation: Conquest Wraith #1-4
Written by Javier Grillo-Marxuach
Illustrated by Kyle Hotz
Colored by Gina Going
Lettered by Cory Petit
Cover art by Clint Langley
On the edge of Kree space an entire Phalanx armada is defeated by a single man with no name. This mysterious stranger is possessed by the Exolon, alien parasites that feed on his soul and grant him strange powers that the techno-organic alients just can't cope with. Will the Phalanx be destroyed by this unholy wraith, or will his secrets be discovered their newest servant - Ronan the Accuser?
Wraith is a bit of a mixed bag. I like the character - essentially a sci-fi version of "The Man With No Name" with some neat slithery visuals - but revealing most of his origins and resolving all of his long-term goals in his first appearance sort of ruins his uniqueness and long-term viability. The story is also a bit rushed, with plot points rushed out, characters not given sufficient space to develop, and expository speeches taking the place of well-timed reveals.
It's not a good sign that major continuity problems start to pop up in the first miniseries. Assimilation by the Phalanx is presented as a process that takes days, if not weeks or months and can be shut off by the destruction of an outside entity, when in the prologue (and previous Technarchy appearances) it's a near-instantaneous infection that can be transmitted by touch and can only be thrown off from within. Hala appears to be the only world that's been direclty conquered by the Phalanx, when the prologue makes their influence clearly felt across the entire Kree galaxy. Large swaths of the population appear to be uninfected, though the prologue also clearly showed huge masses of infected Kree. The Supreme Intelligence, killed off at the end of Annihilation, is brought back to life just so he could be killed again.
Plus, there are some weird mystic things going on here that I'm not entirely comfortable with. Sure, Marvel's cosmic characters have always had a bit of a mystic side to them, but Wraith features creatures that feast on souls, vllains who try to conquer the universe from the "psychic plane" and a hero who absorbs the "Kree godhead" into himself. It feels less like science fiction and more like Warhammer 40K.
On the plus side, I like the concept of "selection," where the Phalanx allow assimilated creatures a degree of autonomy that increases their effectiveness as tools. It allows the villains to have a degree of individuality that the Technarchy really haven't had in previous appearances. It's half collaboration and half enslavement, which raises the question of where the Select's true loyalties lie. It also raises some additional questions about why the Phalanx are acting differently than usual...
And I really like the work Kyle Hotz is doing here. He's able to make Exolon and the Phalanx seem genuinely alien and unsettling. Plus, he's got a weird sort of Jack Davis thing going on which I enjoy. Plus, he's an effective storyteller.
This is a simple but effective way to make a talking heads sequence more interesting. Typically, when drawing a face, it's best to leave more space in front of the eyes than behind them. It prevents things from feeling claustrophobic or alienating. Hotz does the opposite here, to good effect as the odd compositions help drive home the mutual suspicion between Wraith and Ra-Venn.
While I'm at it, here's an annoying technique I've seen in a lot of Marvel comics lately...
A scene like this cries out for a sound effect, but there isn't really any way to slap a normal sound effect over top of the picture witout obliterating the original art, so they use the outline sound effect. You get your sound effect, and you can still see the art through it. Problem solved, right? Except the sound effect is barely readable. And those extra lines run counter to the shapes and thrust of the original image, which totally torpedoes the image comprhenension.
Now, this isn't a terrible technique - it actually works for simpler panels where a solid sound effect would still obscure important parts of the image. But the letterers have a bad habit of slapping it on top of complicated images like this one. Of course, if the original art left room for sound effects, the letters wouldn't have to resort to tricks like this...