Cosmic Marvel has been the refuge of fans weary of the constant event stunts on the 616 Earth, and the heated debates over the interpretations of beloved characters. Annihilation was fantastic and gave us an Annihilus threatening enough to eventually kill off Johnny Storm, Annihilation: Conquest took some aliens best known for schlepping around in 90s X-books and whipped them into a terrifying Borg-like force run by a revamped Ultron, and the Guardians of the Galaxy emerged from all that as a plucky band of misfits trying to take on the impossible task of keeping the universe safe from interstellar threats. Great stories, great books. Annihilators, however, has yet to capture the spirit of what's made these space-faring adventures so captivating.
On paper, it's a no-brainer – getting all these interstellar powerhouses together on one team, the marquee players instead of the third string. Cap, Iron Man and Thor instead of Stingray, Starfox and Sersi. We've got the Shi'ar commander Gladiator, the Kree magistrate Ronan, the Asgardian Korbinite Beta Ray Bill, the ex-Avenger Quasar and, of course, the Silver Surfer. Though they've banded together in the memory of Guardians founder Peter Quill, aka Star-Lord, who used the term "annihilators" off the cuff to describe the power level they needed, it still doesn't sit right that they'd name themselves after the catastrophic event that was The Annihilation War. It just seems like a forced tie-in to try and sound like the big cosmic hit.
That might be part of the problem. The whole enterprise feels a little forced, within the story and without. At least within the story, the characters seem to acknowledge this, and don't really want to be any kind of team. It seems like maybe Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning would rather still be writing the Guardians of the Galaxy, but sales weren't enough to let that happen. Giving Quasar an inferiority complex doesn't quite equate to the charm of an entire team of underdog weirdos, complete with a talking raccoon and a talking tree, struggling to deal with threats way out of their league. Ronan the former Accuser inexplicably becoming a bit of a wisecracker does not ease the loss of Quill's sharp wit. A bombastic and arrogant female spaceknight like Ikon doesn't make up for not getting to see Gamora's psychosis or Mantis' adorableness.
The spaceknights in general, however, are cool, and what's interesting is how much these first couple of issues are now delving into the mythology and continuity of a character Marvel no longer has the rights to (at least they didn't last time I checked) – that of Rom: Spaceknight. His eternal enemies, the Dire Wraiths, are who the Annihilators are racing to stop, now that the nefarious Doctor Dredd has brought back the black sun that gives the Wraiths their powers. The battle comes to Galador, home of the Spaceknights, and we see that Rom's wife Brandy Clark still reigns as a matriarch, claiming her husband is gone and she'll honor his memory by leading the fight against them. Of course, there's something going on under the surface – things that hint that there might be some return of Rom on the horizon.
If Marvel secretly bought back the rights to Rom and plan to spring him on us, this will be awesome. However, more likely is the idea that he'll be brought back using a different name, and unable to wear the trademarked armor that looked so cool during his 75 issue run in the early 80s.
Regardless of how not-GoTG it is, that's not to say the book is bad by any means. It's still cool to see these guys dishing out their power – even if it doesn't make a lot of sense for a guy like the Silver Surfer to be awestruck by the sight of Beta Ray Bill whipping up some cloud cover. Ronan gets to step up and prove he's not the weak link of the group, and we're likely to have some kind of interesting dynamic between Quasar and Ikon, who claims she can see why Rom loved an earthling, and that she wants one of her own. Come to think of it, maybe this one IS as nutty as Gamora.
Maybe this book will turn out all right after all.
And, speaking of the former Guardians, the back-up story so far has been a tale of two down-and-out vets from the last team, Rocket Raccoon and Groot. Rocket's still mourning the failure of the team and the loss of Quill during The Thanos Imperative (where Thanos was supposed to be stuck in a dead universe, but he's already popped up in the Bendis Avengers, so maybe Star-Lord will return, too. Or, more likely, Bendis will just ignore continuity and do what he wants), but he's left his mail-room job to try and rescue his old buddy from exile and imprisonment on Groot's Planet X. We get a little bit of a lesson of how a sentient race of trees maintain a society (with a form of punishment that apparently includes cyborg woodpeckers), but the best part of the whole book is this image right here.
No, I'm not going to explain that. Go read it yourself.