Joe Quesada was hesitant to green-light the original Annihilation, Keith Giffen’s sweeping space opera that solidified Annihilus as a top tier threat and molded Richard Rider’s Nova into the universe’s greatest hero. He thought the whole thing taking place off-Earth made it unrelatable, and nobody would care. Just like that huge flop from the ’70s no one remembers; I think it was called War of the Stars, or something.
You can see where he was coming from, though. Marvel has always been a “world outside your window” place, with one of its main distinguishing factors from DC being that it put superheroes in real cities, not fictional analogues. Thor got brought down to Earth with the alter-ego Donald Blake, the Silver Surfer once got stranded here, etc.
Matthew Rosenberg and crew try to split the difference in Annihilation: Scourge, a six-issue, pseudo-sequel to the original that features The Thanos Imperative‘s Cancerverse taking over Annihilus’ beloved Negative Zone, on its way to finally extracting revenge on Earth and the rest of the positive universe.
And the first issue doesn’t waste any time, throwing the reader headlong into the Negative Zone catastrophe, making you feel for Annihilus and Blastaar as they reluctantly team up, and the mastermind of the invasion is revealed on the final page. The dialogue’s a little heavy-handed (I don’t know how many times the characters have to shoehorn the word “scourge” into their conversations), but Nova’s status quo is established well. The frenetic style of Juanan Ramírez establishes the tone in the first part, and while Cian Tormey’s take on Nova is a little less detailed, there are some fun panel layouts, and Federico Blee’s colors tie it all together.
The second issue, featuring the Fantastic Four, may be the volume’s standout. Christos Gage loves diving deep into continuity, and it only makes sense in this story that he’d lean heavily into Johnny Storm’s time as king of the Negative Zone. It’s an experience that’s hard to reconcile with the Human Torch’s carefree “core characteristic,” but Gage blends the two ideas well. There are some genuinely heart-wrenching moments here, brought to gruesome life by Diego Olortegui and Erick Arciniega.
Next comes the Nova issue, by Rosenberg again, who does Herculean work wading through Rider’s past to explain how he got to today — in only three pages! Nova and Annihilus have to work together (can you imagine!), and of course it breaks down by the end. Ibraim Roberson’s art is beautiful and somber when it needs to be, and Carlos Lopez’s colors are just bright enough to be engaging without detracting from the mood.
Dan Abnett’s Silver Surfer issue feels a bit different, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s hard to imagine what Marvel’s cosmic characters would look like without his influence, but it’s even nicer to see how he addresses someone else’s work, as this is in keeping with Donny Cates’ Silver Surfer: Black. It’s a great lesson in old-school storytelling, as a set-up early in the issue pays off in the climax. Paul Davidson is no Tradd Moore (who is?), but he still draws expressive figures and three-dimensional spacescapes that evoke the grandiosity of it all. Matt Milla’s colors complete the journey from cold void to fiery combat.
Up until this point, Annihilation: Scourge is amazingly tightly-plotted, with threads carrying between issues and a mostly consistent tone that belie the fact that numerous creators, and not just a single team, contributed to putting this thing together. That hits a bit of a bump in Michael Moreci’s Beta Ray Bill issue, which kind of feels like it exists on its own, and the end is a little confusing as a prelude to the finale. Alberto Albuquerque’s art is a little more angular and more tightly focused on the characters than in the rest of the volume, but Jay David Ramos’ colors are there to establish some ties.
It’s only downhill from there, as Rosenberg’s ultimate Omega issue feels rushed, scattershot, and anti-climactic. It’s cool to see a bunch of characters jump into the fray, but we’re never given a reason to care why they’re there. And yeah, a finale is almost always going to be action-heavy, but in something that was previously so character-driven, the poor follow-up on those threads is disappointing. Manuel Garcia’s art makes faces look kind of tortured (and not for story reasons), and the fact that Blee needed help from Rachelle Rosenberg and Erick Arciniega on the colors paints a picture of a book that got behind schedule, and was pushed out the door before it was really ready.
Annihilation: Scourge starts out great on all fronts before sputtering and finally crashing in the last issue. It’s frustrating to see the landing not stuck like that, but if you’re a fan of Gage, Rosenberg, and/or Abnett, it might be neat to just take in their spins on these beloved characters and not worry about what it all means in the end.
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