To quickly recap, last time on Marvel A-Z, we started on the Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning pairing, going through some of their miniseries and runs before starting on their lengthy bout with the Marvel Cosmic properties. Annihilation: Conquest saw a Phalanx invasion that gave us the modern Guardians of the Galaxy, and War of Kings showed that Abnett and Lanning could handle a conflict with multiple opposing factions. This post, we’ll see if we can put the Cosmic part to bed, and dip into other Abnett efforts.
After the War of Kings, Abnett and Lanning enter into a period called Realm of Kings; it’s basically two miniseries, a one shot, and a storyline or two in Nova and Guardians in the Galaxy. It’s more a status quo than an event per se, where everyone explores the fallout of the last war and the result of the new rift in spacetime. The two miniseries are Realm of Kings: Inhumans and Realm of Kings: Imperial Guard.
Realm of Kings: Inhumans (2009, 5 issues, art by Pabio Raimondi, Tim Seely, Sejepan Seljic, ) has a brief tie in with the Mighty Avengers (the Hank Pym-run team, I think?) and Quicksilver, Crystal’s ex. But for the most part, it pursues two storylines: Triton leads a team to investigate the rift in the hopes that Black Bolt is in there somewhere, and Crystal and Gorgon worries that Maximus, the frequently evil mad scientist brother of Black Bolt is manipulating people. In a twist, it turns out he is, but he’s under Medusa’s orders, as she’s been acting increasingly totalitarian in Black Bolt’s absence. I do like Maximus’ characterization here, and in the previous War of Kings; by playing him up as kind of wacky, it differentiates him from the more sinister but also portrayed as mentally unstable Vulcan. (It also plays into not-good stereotypes of evil and mental illness that comics dip into a lot, but that’s a post for another time.)
Also, Medusa is showing a lot of cleavage for a grieving widow (from neck to navel) but we all grieve in different ways.
Realm of Kings: Imperial Guard. (2009, five issues, art by Brian Kevin Walker) The plot here is that the Imperial Guard goes to investigate the rift (a different section than Triton, presumably, because that would be awkward) and nearly die (some probably die); a newly crowned Gladiator holds back because he’s convinced it’s improper for a leader to endanger himself. And eventually he decides being a leader means doing whatever the hell you want and feel is right thing to do,d goes to hep them anyway. If you think five issues is a lot to devote to this turn, you’re right, but I quite enjoyed it.
The Imperial Guard are frequently treated like super-powered cannon fodder; there’s Gladiator and… the rest. I don’t have enough knowledge of them to say this with full confidence, but I think that after a few times when writers mixed up which ones were dead, it was just established that when they die, each member is replaced by another of that race who’s given the same codename. They’re literally interchangeable. That’s why this sequence really got me:
It’s a page and a half, but it’s more characterization of the Imperial Guard, and more about their notions (and differing notions) of what they mean as a team than I’ve seen in twenty some years of reading comics. It even incorporates their replaceability as a plot point. It later feeds into Gladiator’s character moment: another Majestrix, one who hadn’t been their teammate and leader, would have accepted their replaceability, and let them all die. He doesn’t. To drive the point home, the series ends with this moment, where the Imperial Guard honour the fallen Neutron, and Claw lingers behind in the vault of fallen Guardsmen:
And the pullout to the final page:
The story is longer than it needs to be, but it sticks a hell of a landing.
Thanos Imperative. (2010. 6 issue mini-series, one shot prologue, one shot epilogue) While this isn’t the end of Abnett writing Cosmic Marvel, it’s more or less the climax of the story he and Lanning have been telling since 2007. Perhaps that’s why it’s more restrained in scope than the previous events, with a comparatively modest 8 issues. The big idea that unfolds is that the rift leads into an alternate universe where “life won”; the Avengers, already darker than our version, made a deal with Lovecraftian horrors to save the life of Captain Marvel, famously killed in the original Marvel universe by cancer. (The alternate universe itself is thus referred to as the “Cancer-verse, as well as indicating the way that life flourishes, but like a cancer, growing out of control.)
Image-wise, we get a lot of Lovecraftian interpretations of Marvel heroes, which is fun.
The premise allows for a lot of reversals of expectations, and a lot of upping the scale from previous events. While Annihilus, Ultron, and Vulcan had very negative effects on local population, they weren’t universe-ending threats, but these creatures are. And in terms of reversal, there’s the obvious one, where the heroes are now villain monsters, but also Galactus, as a force of entropy, leads the charge against them, and Thanos Avatar of Death, becomes key to potentially defeating Mar-Vell. It sets up a pretty good tension, where no one trusts Thanos, but they all have to work with him. (I’ll say in passing that I do like the subplot that the artificial intelligence of the Cancerverse is unaffected, and Scarlet Witch is working as a mole for Vision’s last-ditch rebellion. How many couples can say their love is so strong it trumps Cthulhu?)
It all builds to a climactic finale where Star Lord and Nova have to sacrifice themselves to keep a grief-stricken Thanos in check. Again, it contributes to the sense that this is an ending, as the two characters, via their roles in the two ongoing series, signify the end of the story-verse that Abnett and Lanning have built.
It strikes me that at the end of these characters’ runs, at least with Abnett and Lanning, it may finally be time to go back to their respective series, the two ongoing books that dipped in and out of the Cosmic Marvel Events, Guardians of the Galaxy and Nova.
Nova. (This is perhaps a good time to mention that I never read the first three issues of this run the first through Marvel A-Z; while the Marvel Unlimited indexing works great for titles, the creator info is sometimes incorrect, or absent altogether.)
“It is critical that you pay attention.” I would say there are two main themes to the Nova run: Richard Rider being recast as an experienced, war-surviving veteran, and the conflict between head and heart. The latter happens almost literally as Nova embodies the World Mind, the sentient AI(?) that comes with the Nova Force, and it has very different ideas than he does about how it should be used. That relationship becomes the core of the book, with the World Mind tending towards totalitarian control and Richard tending towards headstrong, impulsive acts of heroism. (Richard is usually proved to be in the right, but that’s pretty typical for superhero comics.)
I’m sorely tempted to go through every major arc of the series, but I’ll stick to what stuck most in my memory: the somewhat acrimonious confrontation on Earth starting the series; Nova on the run from a Phalanx-infected Gamora and Drax; a showdown with the Silver Surfer; training the new batch of Nova Centurians; the return of original flavour Quasar; the massive expansion of the Nova Centurians and tension with his brother; the confrontation with the World Mind; the team-ups/fights with Darkhawk; the fight against the Sphinx. The series ends on a bit of a false note, to be honest, because the thematic climax is clearly the Worldmind confrontation, but the Sphinx stuff is a nice nod to old New Warriors fans.
Guardians of the Galaxy. It’s funny; I liked Guardians better than Nova and yet, I find myself even harder pressed to remember individual storylines. There’s confrontations with the cops of Knowhere; some time traveling hijinx with members of the original (yet future) Guardians of the Galaxy; Quasar’s quest to bring back Moondragon and fight against Oblivion; and a lot of stuff with the Church of Universal Faith that eventually culminates in a no-holds battle against the series villain Magus, who is future evil Adam Warlock.
One of the Church’s Cathedral space ships. I am fully on board for the goofiness on display here.
I think the reason individual arcs stand out less than with Nova is that the Guardians title is much more tightly connected to the events series than Novat is; from Conquest to Thanos, they’re at the core of things, which is supposed to be the point of them; they’re the group you call in when someone has to save the universe.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe owes a huge depth to this series, for all that its Drax and Starlord are much goofier. The core team dynamics are laid in here, and they work amazingly well. The series has a number of great cliffhangers, but my absolute favorite is during the War of Kings, where one team goes to talk with the Inhumans and one goes to try to reason with Vulcan. The Vulcan team goes bad and the Imperial Guard place a tracker on them as they escape; the Inhumans team goes even worse and ends with them “accidentally” kidnapping Crystal–and forgetting the Inhumans have a teleporting dog. So both teams arrive back at headquarters, with the war’s heaviest hitters on both sides right behind them.
It’s a great stand-in for the series itself, with a team that’s punching above its weight and doing its best, but when it fails, it fails spectacularly.
The first Nova arc features Richard returning to earth, and being somewhat disgruntled with what he finds. He berates Iron Man for the Post-Civil War situation, that while billions died in intergalactic wars, Earth superheroes squabbled among themselves. It’s hard not read that as counter-programming on Marvel’s part, or at least a mission statement for the Cosmic Marvel work. While the regular Marvel characters go through the infighting of Civil War, the interminable Secret Invasion, and the edgydark Dark Reign, we’ll be over here, being heroes against all odds. That worked to start the Cosmic things (with again, full credit due to Giffen), but I think what kept it going was the sense that Abnett and Lanning could tell a complete story, something that stood apart where you didn’t have to worry about a dozen clashing narrative visions, and could instead focus on a story allowed to continue to fruition and completion.
That isn’t to say the Cosmic Marvel stuff is perfect. I don’t like the way Abnett and Lanning approach the female characters, for the most part. For example, it’s great that we had Moondragon and Quasar in a queer relationship (maybe the only one at Marvel at the time?), but most of it was spent with one or the other a dragon, dead, or evil–it’s tragic lesbians on loop. And in terms of larger narrative style, the problem with a cosmic event-based series is that it eventually feels that everything has to be at the level of cosmic event; much as I like it beginning to end, I understand the complaint that they’re just returning to the well.
It’s somewhat telling that Abnett wrote much less than Aaron, but I’ve devoted so much more space to talking about his output. In part, it’s because I have images saved from this period, which encourages slowing down. But mostly, it’s a reflection of how much I love these comics, particularly the cosmic run. For me, it’s the perfect balance between massive stakes, high concept ideas, and comedic team hijinx. It’s one my favorite superhero comics runs, and I was very tempted to re-read them all again in writing this post.
Next time: the last post on Abnett, I promise.