If you want to skip to the long review (and possible spoilers), skip down to the bottom (Look for the cover as your signal to start. I have a shorter abridged review.) Otherwise stick with me.
One of my friends, who is a comic sage, has been loaning me some of his favorite story arcs and with his knowledge of the Marvel Universe eclipsing mine, it has been quite enlightening. The first arc he has introduced me to is the Annihilation Wave. I have to say that this story is pretty intense. Unfortunately my review of this first volume doesn't quite fully encompass the scale of this story until reaching the end. The first two books follow a variety of characters as the Annihilation Wave occurs and then all of their paths converge in a satisfyingly epic ending. However, the story has to be told from the beginning to make the reader really appreciate the ending
The story picks up first with Drax the Destroyer being shown on a prison transport. The prison transport crashes on Earth leaving Drax and other prisoners stranded. A majority of Drax's perspective is pretty much him brawling with two psi-bonded brothers while the other two castaways attempt to figure out a way to get off of earth without having to alert Earth's Mightiest Heroes. Drax starts out as the Drax that we know from the cinematic Guardians of the Galaxy, thick and dull-headed, which filled me with dread wondering if I would have to put up with incompetency throughout the entirety of the story. Fortunately, due to varying circumstances my fears were alleviated. Drax gets a fatal lobotomy to say the least.
Aside from this and a couple of other points, this story isn't too crucial to the final part of the story except for the change that occurs in Drax. It is a foil for important things that happen later. By the end of it, it puts Drax in a position to end up being connected to Nova. On another note, there is a girl that ends up traveling with Drax and honestly, she didn't seem too important for the story along with the fact that we weren't given any real reasons for liking her in the first place. She ends up tagging along with Drax as he gets picked up in another spaceship. It just felt like another episode of Doctor Who. Hey you, stranger. Wanna be my companion and join me on my travels to see all of time and space? There's even a blue phone box to boot. No joke. I can see it now...Doctor Drax and the Magical Blue Box.
The next part is a brief prequel that introduces what the Annihilation Wave and the destruction it brings which then ties into Richard Rider as part of the Nova Corps. This is the part that really sucked me into the high stakes of the story. I've always known that the Nova Corps is the Marvel version of the The Green Lantern Corps which helped me to correlate the strength of the Corps as a whole. The Annihilation Wave appears and tears through the Nova Corps with little to no resistance. Richard Rider ends up being the only Nova Corps member to survive inevitably promoting him to Nova Prime and putting the entire power of the Nova Corps at his disposal (not to mention all the knowledge and calculations of the Worldmind too). Richard Rider spends the rest of the arc trying to balance his recklessness, rage and duty with self preservation of himself and the Worldmind and his inexperience.
One of the strongest points of this story is the fact that characters die and they die easily. Now this isn't just for kicks and giggles to try and kill off as many characters as possible, it affects the tone and direction of the narrative. I remember reading in shock as the Nova Corps were dying. That really put things into perspective. This conflict is a serious and deadly one. It is not one of the trite and petty squabble on Earth. Thor aptly portrays this in Marvel's The Avengers when he calls his teammates petty...and tiny. There are larger and more important things that occur in the galaxy rather than many of the story arcs we see on Earth. The tradeoff is it helps to give a greater sense of nobility and sacrifice as well, especially looking at the battle where Quasar helps to hold off the Wave with Nova as people try to escape. They reach Annihilus, leader of the Annihilation Wave, and try to stop him. Things, needless to say, head south pretty quick as Annihilus devours the energy of the quantum bands destroys Quasar takes the bands for himself. He almost devours Nova as well, but using the Worldmind and the temporary hive connection through Annihilus, he forces the Annihilation fleet to turn on itself. The story is not done however as we are left with Nova being picked up by Drax in a spaceship. Here Drax agrees to teach Nova how to fight and how to destroy (which is a good thing Drax is all smart and tactical now)
For Drax's story arc, the art was not my favorite. For the most part it was technically sound but whenever I viewed the style, it makes me feel strange and unpleasant. The arms....especially the arms. Some people may like it but not necessarily my cup of tea. The other thing that I had problems with were the faces at times. Granted, some of the faces were alien which could account for strange features, but many times I felt there was a lack of consistency. Sometimes certain features or characteristics were included but then later omitted.
As for strengths however, when the panels weren't rushed or distorted, they looked really good. I don't know why there wasn't a consistent level of execution. Inconsistency really bothers me. As for linework, it was simple but effective while incorporating subtle line weights-barely noticeable at times. The color choices were more prominent in this particular style. Most of it was pretty dull and muted giving less of a sense of wonder and awe to the world known as Earth. I don't know if this was intentional, but it helps to make the galactic worlds seem so much brighter, unique and worth saving when we see them later.
Nova's prequel took on a little more of a cartoony style with numerous, heavy lines and bright colors which slightly undermined the seriousness of the situation but was subverted by the fact that the colors and lines served a purpose to make things really chaotic as death and destruction was being serviced to the Nova Corps and Xandarian people. After the prequel though, Kev Walker takes over as penciller and really brings justice to who Nova is and who he will become. Many of the pages are filled with beautiful and well thought compositions in how Nova was depicted. It made me really appreciate him as we follow him being thrust into this new role.
As this series was being introduced to me, my friend mentioned the only disappointment he had in Guardians of the Galaxy was how Drax was portrayed. He felt that Drax (being bio engineered to fight Thanos) was downplayed in his abilities and strength. So for the introduction of Drax, he felt very much like the cinematic character that we have seen. Things change very quickly as Drax is killed and thrown over the side of a cliff. His body becomes a shell/husk which he breaks out of suddenly alive. This new Drax is smaller and incomplete but smarter, faster and dangerous to boot. We get a nice little foretaste of his abilities as he ends the life of an enemy in a flash-step animes are notoriously guilty of. (I'm not complaining as it is always fun to see)
Nova get his fair share of epic moments to show off as well. One of the coolest moments happens to be when Nova meets the Worldmind which the sole archive of all Xandarian culture i.e. art, history, philosophy, science, and a bio template of the Xandaran race. We find out that it also controls the Nova force bestowing nuggets of power to all members of the Nova Corps. Being the only member left alive, the Worldmind convinces Richard to download its entire self into him. The result is a stronger (and more reckless) Nova. Despite the tragedy that had occured, it is a really exciting moment to see happen.
I was blown away with the gravity of the entire story. We get a sense of desperation and hopelessness as we see the destructiveness of the Annihilation Wave. If the entire Nova Corps can't handle this, how will the rest of the worlds and empires fare? Because of this ominous undertones it makes the sacrifices that much greater. The other thing that I really liked was despite the fact that Nova has the entire Nova Force backing his strength, he isn't all powerful. It isn't a magic bandaid that immediately fixes all the galaxy's problems. With his inexperience mixed with his recklessness, Richard Rider spends just as much time running away from fights as he does getting into them. An interesting dynamic I'd say. (Maybe our immortal Superman could take some pointers.)
The covers to all these books and individual story arcs are absolutely gorgeous. I haven't followed too much of Gabriele Dell'Otto's work, but after seeing this powerhouse cover I think I will. They really make me appreciate the the story even more as a whole and Dell'Otto's covers give a sense of greatness to these characters which is fitting starting with these characters and seeing the growth and potential into who they will become.
Annihilation Book 1 (Teen+)
Art: 7/10 Starting off with a not-so-best-foot-forward, it was a little weak to start resulting in a six. Things however gradually kicked up as Nova's arc took the reigns elevating it just a little to a decent seven.
Story: 8/10 As a standalone arc, Drax's seems weak, but knowing the future role that he plays, this is perfect. As for Nova, we feel the desperation and emotion that he feels efficiently putting us in that place of wanting revenge just as much as he does. It makes for a great moment in which the reader can become emotionally attached to the character.
Dialogue: 9/10 With such a large range of characters, they did well to reflect the different personalities and cultures that plays throughout the entirety of the story arc. An example of such is Drax before and after his transformation. You wouldn't even need an info drop to let the reader know that something is going on. My favorite was between the Worldmind and Nova. The Worldmind was analytical and tactful juxtaposed with Nova's emotional and transparent outbursts made for some ever interesting conversations.
Resonance: 7/10 I would recommend this to a friend, however there is a lot to drudge through. The characters presented are not necessarily mainstream A-list characters. Sometimes that lack of character likability can prevent a reader from being able to get through a story like this. The character foundations are necessary to lead to a very satisfying end.