If “crisis” is the buzzword that signals a DC Comics event is something bigger, more important than the average summer crossover, the equivalent in Marvel Cosmic terms is, of course, “annihilation.”
The modern Marvel Cosmic age began with that eponymous 2006 event and even as the Guardians have become a billion-dollar movie franchise and A-list comics property, Marvel has not gone long without referencing that era-defining event.
“The Last Annihilation” is the latest big space crossover to follow in that tradition, but its central villain, at least for now, is not that pesky bug, Annihilus. It is none other than Dormammu, lord of the Dark Dimension and Possessor Of Many Ridiculous Names. (A sampling: The Dread One, Eater of Souls, Lord of Darkness, Lord of Chaos…shall I go on?)
As we learned at the end of last issue, he’s managed to bond himself with Ego the Living Planet. Now wearing Ego’s shell “like the skin of a snake,” Dormammu is set on taking over the Guardians’ “frail universe.”
As the first salvo in a big, summer crossover, you cannot ask for much more than this. Dormammu, whose planet-sized makeover has him looking like a pumpkin set aflame, certifiably chews up the scenery. Almost every line Ewing gives him reads as if it came from some rejected B-movie script. “I scream blood and murder at your weak stars!” he intones. “And my screams are the armies of hell!”
Ewing’s Guardians has always been a delicate balance of slick action and deft character work, more indebted to Annihilation and the early Steve Englehart comics than anything in the movies, which rocketed the Guardians to popularity while deviating in significant ways from their original characterization. Even when forced to cross over with Empyre and King in Black, Ewing has used the events as ways to shore up his plans for characters like Rocket Raccoon and Star-Lord.
This issue is no different. Ewing makes time for Dormammu’s antics while serving up a thoughtful scene between Nova and Star-Lord, who debate the wisdom of Krakoa claiming Mars as its own. Crossover events so often demand the kind of lunacy that leads to, well, Dormammu merging with a planet, but Ewing is too good of a writer to let bald theatrics dominate each page.
The drama of Ewing’s early issues on the book was, at least, thematically consistent with the movies: how to keep a team together that fundamentally is at odds with itself. Gamora wanted a break from endless superheroics. Star-Lord wasn’t ready to abandon that life. His death splintered the team, forcing them to work against each other until he returned, fresh off a polyamorous trip through Cosmic Paradise.
Beginning with issue #13, Ewing ushered in a bigger team and a bigger mission. Instead of an ad hoc group of mercenaries and reformed villains, the Guardians became the Avengers of space with a mandate to match their expanded roster. Doctor Doom joined their ranks, as did Emperor Hulkling and Wiccan, and the Guardians were united in purpose…just in time for Krakoa to show up and reset the boundaries of Marvel Cosmic again.
Ewing, the steward of both Guardians and S.W.O.R.D., has inched both series closer together ahead of their team-up in The Last Annihilation. The last issue of Guardians saw Nova come to blows with Magneto while in S.W.O.R.D., the Guardians are forced to reckon with the mutants’ takeover of Mars.
Even if the Guardians are relatively united now, their ties to Marvel’s other heroes are considerably more fractured. How they fare alongside the mutants, Black Panther, Doctor Doom, Cable, and the rest of characters slated to show up in The Last Annihilation will be a thread worthy of far more interest than whether Dormammu manages to subdue our frail universe. (Sorry buddy, I don’t think it’s happening!)
Some other, scattered thoughts on this issue:
- Artist Juan Frigeri had a tall task coming on this book with issue #13 and having to succeed Juann Cabal (who is now on Black Panther). But four issues in, the transition has been nearly seamless. I miss Cabal’s inventive panel layouts, but Frigeri ably manages the book’s sprawling cast and cosmic fights. That is no easy thing, especially in an issue like this one where the villains (outside of Dormammu) are the visually bland Mindless Ones.
- I’ll self-censor a bit because of the constraints of this review (which, like other early reviews, has to be spoiler free), but it sure seems like Ewing is setting up a certain, romantic reunion of sorts. I’m sure that won’t pose any problems with team unity.
- The Kree-Skrull alliance, itself a tenuous union between competing factions, is quite the apt metaphor for this Guardians team, no?
- Only a comic this good can make me forget until nearly halfway through the issue that, yes, Doctor Doom is part of this book.
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