Writer: Grant Morrison
Artist/Cover artist: Frazer Irving
Letters: Jared K. Fletcher
Editor: Bob Schreck
Publisher: Legendary Comics
Price: $3.99 US
In recent weeks, writer Grant Morrison returned to the forefront of mainstream super-hero comics with the launch of his long-awaited The Multiversity event title from DC Comics. It boasts a bunch of elements that I loved: a diverse array of colorful characters, an affection for and tribute to past super-hero comics for which I hold a great deal of nostalgia, and the challenging qualities of a weird, wild Morrison plot. The Multiversity #1 was a good comic book, but Annihilator #1… it’s a great one. The premise revolves around a somewhat familiar trope, but the sheer madness Morrison brings to the two main characters is mesmerizing as it tickles the funny bone and morbid cartilage. The surreal style of Frazer Irving, Morrison’s artistic collaborator on Seven Soldiers: Klarion the Witch Boy a few years ago, is an ideal choice to bring this mind-trip of the story to life. Given that this title is being released by a lesser-known comics publisher, Annihilator #1 is likely going to fly under the radar of a number of comics readers, and maybe even missed by Morrison fans.
Screenwriter Ray Spass is in need of a hit to keep his career going, and he’s decided to buy a purportedly haunted, tainted house in Hollywood to serve as his inspiration. He loathes the studio execs whom he must always please, but he’s driven, obsessed with writing something new, something dark, something powerful. In a drug- and sex-laden haze, he begins to craft a script about Max Nomax, a rogue imprisoned on a doomed space station orbiting an unimaginably immense black hole at the centre of the universe, a gravity well dubbed the Great Annihilator. But is the script Spass’s great masterpiece, or somehow the birth canal for the impossible?
Irving’s characters, with their elongated faces and dark eyes, easily convey a sense of the dark and the bizarre without even having to rely on the weird backdrops in which they find themselves. The muted and twisted colors further reinforce the weird atmosphere of the worlds and people Morrison has developed here. I find it particularly interesting that the more grounded setting, the Hollywood mansion, is portrayed as weirder than the black-hole space station. The sci-fi setting looks more plausible than the flowing, distorted lines of Spass’s new home, his new muse. Seemingly taking something of a cue from Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’s Watchmen, a recurring visual element here are circles — the sphere of the Great Annihilator, an eye, an ashtray, the mouth of a coffee mug, a seemingly bottomless pit. Morrison and Irving keep presenting the reader with images of various holes, perhaps meant to reflect the voids to be found in the two main characters.
The notion of a writer meeting a creation isn’t exactly unheard of in literature or even pop culture, but the story is nevertheless appealing, given its dark leanings and the questions the refined, intelligent and angry plot elements. Perhaps what’s most odd about this comic is that despite the unlikable qualities of both Max Nomax and Ray Spass, one is still drawn in by their story arcs. It would be easy to hate them, really, but they’re nevertheless compelling, given their intellects, their drives, and their willingness to push boundaries and rebel.
It’s a bit surprising that this comic includes so many criticisms of the pop-culture machine that is Hollywood. Studio chiefs are presented as soulless creatures, and we see our morose and angry protagonist immerse himself in debaucherous excesses that seem more like a path to Hell than any source of pleasure. The reason I find it unusual to find these elements in this comic is the fact Annihilator is published (and co-owned) by the comics division of a Hollywood movie powerhouse, Legendary Pictures. Morrison’s unconventional script hardly seems like the kind of fodder in which a company in the business of big-screen blockbusters would have any interest, so that leads me to believe the larger operation is leaving its comics arm to do as it pleases, to recruit top talent and develop great storytelling rather than churn out the latest cookie-cutter movie pitch.
Annihilator actually shares more than a writer in common with the afore-mentioned The Multiversity. Both comics explore the notion of writing as a reality-altering force, as tapping into unknown powers. In the DC event book, Morrison’s script casts the audience in the role of power, as the script begs the reader not to take the characters further down toward a path of decay and corruption. In Annihilator, the story is about the written word given birth to something dark and menacing, or perhaps it’s the creation using the writer to craft its gateway into existence. It’s weird and intense and entertaining. 9/10
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