Marvel A-Z: Abell and Abnett

Welcome to the third installment of Marvel A-Z, the project/hobby/punishment I’ve inflicted on myself where I read through the Marvel Unlimited collection alphabetically by author. Previously, we ran through the many many many comics of Jason Aaron, and today, we’ll look at Abell and Abnett. There will even be some pictures involved. After 321 comics from Aaron, it’ll be nice to take on something a little more manageable, with 4 from Abell and… 248 from Abnett. Sigh. Let’s get to it.

 

Dusty Abell‘s Marvel work can be summarized in pretty quick fashion. He did the cover for X-Men and Dr Doom Annual 1998, and interior pencils for one third of issue 2 and one half of issue 4 of a Star Wars Chewbacca miniseries from 2000. The idea of the Chewbacca miniseries is that he recently passed away through some means not mentioned in these issues, and Threepio and R2D2 are interviewing subjects regarding their memories of him; it’s essentially a platform for telling Chewbacca-centric short stories. It’s fine, though Abell’s art generally suffers from comparisons with the others. (Coming after Dave Gibbons in issue 2 doesn’t help.) I remember the X-Men and Dr Doom annual fondly; the plot is that a Doom from the past has become aware of the Phoenix, and travels through time watching its history with the X-Men. It turns out to be pretty nonessential in the grand scheme of things, but as a very early perspective on X-Men history, my younger self really dug it.

Dan Abnett is going to take a bit longer. Abnett has long been a writer on British comic titles and franchises, notably Doctor Who and the Warhammer universe. His Marvel work spans twenty four years, most of it with his co-writer Andy Lanning. Together, the two have worked on many B-list Marvel teams and characters, though the biggest impact is probably their Guardians of the Galaxy relaunch. As with Aaron, I’m not going to go into each issue here, but I will give some highlights. And some pictures, as this is the point in the project where I started taking screenshots.

Punisher. 1992-1993. Abnett and Lanning start with Doug Braithwaite on art, and a 12 issue Punisher run. The plot is essentially that Kingpin is attempting to set up an international criminal alliance in Europe, and Frank embarks on a Eurotrip to stop him. It’s goofy, but genuinely fun, if you’re a fan of the character’s high violence.

Scarlet Witch. 1994. Four issue mini, with John Higgins on art. Nightmares lead Wanda into an ambush set by a de-babyhanded Master Pandemonium, but it’s a bait-and-switch with a greater foe waiting in the wings. There’s some nice bits where Wanda has to face down demonized versions of her teammates (Force Works, at the time), but once the big universe-devouring baddie behind it all isn’t particularly interesting.

Force Works. 1995-1996. 22 issues, plus crossover runs into War Machine and Iron Man. The set-up idea here is that the West Coast Avengers have parted fairly acrimoniously from the Avengers, and now operate as a Tony Stark-funded team. Scarlet Witch led the team, and it also had Spider-Woman, USAgent, War Machine, Wonder Man, and lesser knowns Century, Moonraker, and Cybermancer. I’m kind of fond of Century, an amnesiac alien, and I think Cybermancer got a good three issues or so before disappearing back into the obscure character void. The overarching plot involves time travel and alternate universes and Tony Stark behaving in an increasingly shady manner. It’s rough, but there are some nice touches (Moonraker, for example, is introduced ala Dawn from Buffy, with almost everyone remembering him as always being there) and it demonstrates the writers’ developing abilities towards team book management.

Iceman. 2002. Four issue miniseries, with Karl Kershl on art. Bobby is contacted by his ex Opal in Japan and told he has a son. (A two page scene at the series’ end establishes it is not actually his son.) Also, it turns out her boss is an evil scientist scheming to create super-powered child soldiers, and wants Bobby’s DNA. A highlight of the series is the local hero Foe Dog, though as the name suggests, aspects of the character have not aged well. Probably the most noteable thing about the series now is that it’s used in arguments concerning Bobby’s homosexuality, both for and against. On the one hand, the emphasis on his ex-girlfriend and potential fatherhood is used to argue for his straightness; on the other hand, he seems pretty disinterested in Opal throughout (perhaps understandably so, given he’s under the impression she hid his son from him). My two cents no one asked for is that Lanning and Abnett were probably not writing him as gay here, but it fits pretty nicely with the later concept of his character as a man who came out as gay later in life, after having a string of girlfriends and relationships that he could never make work.

Bloodstone. 2002. Four issue miniseries, with Michael Lopez on art. Eliza learns of her estranged father’s legacy of monster hunting, and takes up the family mantle. Warren Ellis will radically reimagine the character’s backstory in Next Wave, but I kind of like the version here, which is essentially a mash-up of Indiana Jones and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Unfortunately, the cheesecake factor in the way Eliza’s body is presented is so high that it’s kind of cringey.

Next is what Abnett and Lanning are probably best known for, at least in Marvel comics circles, the revitalization of Marvel’s Cosmic line. They didn’t start it off–that credit goes to Keith Giffen and the Annihilation miniseries and spin-offs. But they took the idea and ran with it, for the next six years. The comics are pretty interwoven–essentially, there are a bunch of mostly sequential miniseries (ie, one starts a few months after the previous has ended) but there’s also a Nova series that is ongoing up till the last big crossover event, and a Guardians of the Galaxy series that continues throughout and starts in the aftermath of Annihilation: Conquest.

I have absolutely no idea how to handle that in a reasonable manner, so let’s try for a focus on each major crossover, and the two core series, and see where that gets us. (There’s also a few series outside of that set too, but we’ll get there.)

Annihilation: Conquest. 2007. 6 issue miniseries + Nova tie-ins. The idea behind the original Annihilation series is that Annihilus from the Negative Zone (long time FF villain) invades the Marvel cosmic scope; the result is wartorn galaxies struggling to rebuild. Annihilation: Conquest picks up a little while later, with the Phalanx launching a sneak attack on the Kree that leaves them conquered and assimilated. (Kind of in the Borg sense, but they retain more of their original personalities.) They place a forcefield around Kree space while they consolidate their power and launch a wider attack. Ultron is revealed to be in charge of the Phalanx, which is a big upgrade for him, but he does a nice job as a grandstanding villain.

We’ll get to Nova’s part in the end, and there’s a lot of miniseries for this one by other folk so I won’t be touching on them here. IN terms of this book, the main threads are:

  • Quasar (Pylla-Vel, daughter of the original Captain Marvel) and Moondragon recruit an amnesiac, reborn Adam Warlock, but run afoul of the High Evolutionary, whose own allegiances are very suspect.
  • Ronan the Accuser and the Super Skrull try to ally themselves with what remains of Annihilus’ armies, to mount a counter-attack.
  • A rag tag team formed by Peter Quill featuring some familiar faces (Mantis, Groot, and Rocket Raccoon, as well as Captain Universe and Bug) invade the Kree homeworld Hala and attempt to sabotage the Babel tower there, as it’s what keeps the Phalanx-infected under control.

All the groups’ efforts come to a climax, the final battle is waged, some not particularly significant characters die, and Moondragon does do. All in all, it’s an impressive outing. The miniseries bloat notwithstanding, Abnett and Lanning do a great job presenting an epic scale with some comic beats. Admittedly, they’re not starting with a blank slate, thanks to Giffen and Annihilation, but as an “event” comic it still compares favorably to the big events of Marvel and DC, both at the time and now. Plus, Tom Raney’s art is real nice.

War of Kings. 2009. Six issue miniseries, Guardians of the Galaxy and Nova tie-ins, and six issues of tie-in miniseries involving Darkhawk, an epilogue one shot, and a prologue Secret Invasion tie-in, as well as an X-Men miniseries and a Planet Hulk special by other writers. The plot is that the Inhumans come to space, seeking out their destiny with the Kree; a nearly destroyed Kree empire turns over to them, in an attempt to rebuild their forces and restart their genetic deadends. The whole thing is symbolized with a wedding between Crystal (sister to queen Medusa) and Ronan the Accuser, which is crashed by Vulcan’s forces, Vulcan being the third Summers brother who is, at that point, in charge of the Shi’ar. What follows is a series of escalation, as the Inhumans and Vulcan fight and prepare various doomsday weapons. The Starjammers are working to depose Vulcan and replace him with Lilandra; the Guardians of the Galaxy are trying to avoid escalation under the argument that the superweapons are literally tearing apart the fabric of the universe. There’s a big fight,

Even more than Conquest, this series has some wonderful cliffhangers, including the moment where the Starjammers realize their plan can’t work. My favorite comes from a Guardians issue, so we’ll address that in due time. There’s an enormous cast here–there’s four superhero teams (the Starjammers, the Imperial Guard, the Inhuman Royal Family, the Guardians of the Galaxy) and they’re all pretty well-balanced. Most of the Inhumans and Guardians get to do a few things, as do Gladiator and Ronan. They actually get me to care about the relationship bewteen Crystal and Ronan, which is a sentence that still surprises me. Maybe more significantly, this is the first time where the conflict was less against a big bad–yes, Vulcan certainly qualifies as such, but the Inhumans are escalating, and there is real doubt among their own members whether they’re in the right (and doubt on the Shi’ar side as well). Again, it’s a really well-organized event book. (I’ll eventually get tired of saying that.)

Paul Pelletier is consistently good at the art throughout; like with Raney and Conquest, Abnett and Lanning consistently get great artists for their space epics. You can clearly tell he loves drawing Lockjaw, given how many scenes he was in. I’m pretty sure the one I kept is from the Guardians series and thus is not actually by him, but it’s so good. Featuring Cosmo, the Russian astronaut dog who runs Knowhere, the Guardians’ base of operations:

2018-12-07 16.04.04

They’re such Good Boys.

The Darkhawk side of things can be explained pretty quickly, though I’m tempted to save it for the Nova section since it connects more closely to that. Darkhawk learns that he’s part of a group called the Fraternity of the Raptors, who were once protectors of the universe, particularly the Shi’ar part of it, and is offered a position by the last remaining Raptor. He agrees, in part because a series of incidents and anger management issues on Earth have made him interested in seeking a new start. He’s constantly told by the Raptor that the suit’s bond with a human doesn’t work well, which is why he needs to control his emotions. (It’s kind of similar to the Captain Marvel film, come to think of it.) However, it’s revealed that the Raptors weren’t as benevolent as they pretend, and the suit is taking over, forcing him to commit a very high profile assassination and deal with both the Raptors and those who want to see him dead for his supposed crimes.

It seems like the idea is to echo the Nova relaunch, and you can see the similarities and inversion–instead of being drafted into the cosmic do-gooders and pressed into rebuilding them, he’s tricked into joining the baddies and has to work for redemption.But if the plan was to launch another series, it doesn’t pay off; Darkhawk just isn’t as strong a character as Richard is. (As evidenced by my inability to remember his name. I keep thinking Robbie Baldwin, which I’m pretty sure is Speedball.)

A one-shot transitions into the next set of miniseries, and sets up the status quo: there’s a big hole in space where Black Bolt and Vulcan had their final battle; Black Bolt is presumed dead and Medusa is in mourning and lashing out; Gladiator reluctantly assumes rulership of a devastated Sh’iar Empire. And we’ll pick up there next time, with more Abnett. The goal is to finish up the cosmic events, circle back around for Nova and Guardians, and discuss all Abnett’s other series, including the New Mutants run, the Iron Man/Thor miniseries, Heroes for Hire, the future Guardians, and Hercules. …Maybe that’s a bit, uh, ambitious.

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