Marvel A-Z: Abnett the Third

Welcome to Marvel A-Z, the project where I read through Marvel Unlimited alphabetically by creator. This is the third post on Dan Abnett, long-time collaborator with Andy Lanning. Together, they were the architects of a lengthy run of Cosmic Marvel stories, playing a part in the revitalization of those properties that gave us the modern Guardians of the Galaxy. The first post looked at their early Marvel work and the Cosmic events up to War of Kings, and the second half focused on the latter part of the Cosmic events. This time, we’re going to cover… as much as the later stuff as we can, from series that were going concurrent to the Cosmic events to Abnett’s solo work.

Iron Man/Thor. 2010, 4 issue miniseries, with art by Scott Eaton. The plot is that the High Evolutionary has decided that what humanity really needs is a new, 21st century god, and so he has Diablo steal the Asgardian Destroyer armor which he plans to use in the god’s birth. Thor is naturally involved and Iron Man is helping with the reconstruction of Asgard (I don’t really remember what happened there; is this post-Dark Reign?). The plot is actually irrelevant, except for how it resonates with the series’ big idea, which is exploring the ideological overlaps and contrasts between Thor’s faith in magic and his people and Tony’s science-based skepticism. Diablo and the High Evolutionary are good picks for that, I think, even if neither are traditional villains for these characters; Diablo’s alchemy is medieval super-science and thus heavily steeped in superstition and mysticism; the High Evolutionary’s approach to evolution has always been steeped in his own notion of creationism and godhood. I don’t think they stick the landing–the last issue is basically a slugfest–but the idea is there.

The glib (and mean) interpretation would be that Abnett and Lanning got around to reading Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, but this idea of needing new gods for a new world is one that Abnett will return to in more detail with his final (to date) Marvel series, Hercules.

Heroes for Hire / Villains for Hire. 12 issues/4 issues, plus two one-shots. The general idea here is a rotating cast of heroes doing missions for Misty Knight, with Paladin as her on the ground operative. The overall plot is a little hazy in my mind, but I think the gist of it is that Misty nearly died after a miscarriage and the HoH is something for her to focus on while she heals, physically and mentally (in a not particularly sutble bit, she has the operatives call her “Control.” Paladin eventually figures out she is being controlled herself by Puppet Master working for Purple Man to use her against his crimelord competition, and the latter half of the series is her employing a team of villains against Purple Man for revenge. That side of things is a bit iffy; it feels a bit exploitative to put Misty in that position to begin with. I think it might work better with Colleen Wing swapped with Paladin, so we get less of a “damsel in distress” scenario.

That said, I’ve had a soft spot for Paladin ever since he showed up in a random issue of Generation X; I find I tend to imprint a lot on characters I remember from starting to read superhero comics in the 90s. (Hence why favorite X-Men include Marrow, Reyes, and Maggott.) The friendship and budding romance between him and Misty is sweet. The other highlight of the series is that it gives Abnett and Lanning a chance to have fun with mishmashing Marvel properties: going off of just the covers, we get Punisher, Ghost Rider, Iron Fist, Elektra, Spider-Man, Silver Sable, Falcon, Gargoyle, Shroud, and Black Cat over the course of the first 12 issues. It’s like they looked at Marvel Team-Up and decided to go weirder. The series does feel a bit slight at times, but it’s generally fun.

Art’s pretty good too. This Ghost Rider splash page in issue #2 comes from artist Brad Walker.

Annihilators. 2011, two 4 issue miniseries, with art by Tan Eng Huat (backup by Timothy Green II). These eight issues serve as an epilogue of sorts to the Cosmic Marvel events Abnett and Lanning started. Starlord formed the Guardians of the Galaxy so a team would be on hand to deal with galaxy-level threats; Cosmos the talking dog formed the Annihilators out of the galaxy’s heaviest hitters to stop the problem before it became a threat. It’s the premise for your basic edgy antihero team, but with the power maxxed out. The team here is Ronan the Accuser, Quasar (original flavor, and the POV character), a female Space Knight, Silver Surfer, and Beta Ray Bill, aka what if Thor looked like a horse.

AKA Beefcake Ray Bill. More seriously, I like the juxtaposition Bill offers, of a traditionally heroic figure, but a monstrous visage.

Theoretically, it’s an interesting reversal; as I said last time, the constant point about the Guardians series is that they’re characters over their heads but doing their best. So, what if you had a team so overpowered that virtually nothing short of a Beyonder was over their heads? In execution, it never quite reaches those heights; the two series have them take on Direwraiths and a child-possessing Magus on Earth, but neither feels entirely epic (despite an Avengers slugfest in the latter). In a way, that’s dealing with the series’ premise: they are indeed dealing with issues before they become more serious threats. But after the Thanos Imperative it definitely feels more like an epilogue than a next chapter.

Both series also have back up strips featuring Rocket Racoon and Groot; the first retcons Raccoon’s backstory in a way I’m not sure works, and the second I can’t remember a lot of except the premise, that Rocket, based on his general cuteness and popularity, is being forced in a Mojo Production. They’re more comic than Abnett and Lanning usually do, and work as cute gags, if narratively a little convoluted.

New Mutants. 27 issues, 2011. Like Annhiliators, this series can be framed as a question: what does it mean to be a New Mutant when you’re not new any more and there’s been at least three younger generations since? You’re left as old news, and the remit of this team becomes cleaning up the X-Men’s old messes; rather than dealing with threats before they start, they’re dealing with the unfinished business.

At least, that’s the idea, and a lot, but not all, of the storylines come out of that: rescuing X-Man from the Sugar Man (and Nate winds up joining the team and makes a surprisingly good fit), rescuing 616 Blink, something I don’t quite remember with Hela and the Valkyries, an infernal rock concert, a Journey into Mystery crossover involving the Asgardians and Disir, and fighting evil future selves. Also, Magma dates Mephisto. It’s somewhere between the team dynamics of Guardians and the mashups of Heroes for Hire.



And again, Abnett and Lanning are helped by good art. (Their artists are almost universally good;) this, I think, is David Lopez, and I love how he handles the wackiness of Warlock while also using a Cipher design that’s slightly more understated (while still being a little cartoonish, perhaps) and conveys that he’s someone who overthinks things, and doesn’t get enough sleep.

There are two Guardians of the Galaxy cinematic prequels here; one is Rocket Raccoon and Groot doing mercenary stuff, and one is a look at Nebula as Thanos’ lesser favored daughter. The latter is very dark, and kind of makes Gamora look fairly villainous.

Guardians 3000 / Korvac Saga / Guardians of Infinity. 2014-2015, 8 issues, 4 issues, and 8 issues, respectively, and Abnett working without Lanning involved (or at least credited). Each series has its own arc, but it’s technically an ongoing story, so I’ll go over them all in one go. Guardians 3000 takes the original Guardians (the future ones) and pits them against an enemy that’s changing time and destroying history, including their own. Their flight eventually takes them into encounters with the modern-day Guardians, and the reality warper Korvac, which segues into the Emperor Doom crossover. Here, some of the members of Guardians 3000 serve as personal staff for Korvac, who is in charge of a Doom territory. However, his territory is in jeopardy, as his people are going mad and changing into strange creatures; eventually, it comes out that the disease inflected on them is Korvac’s own mind, fighting Doom’s control. In the last third, the Guardians 3000 team up with the present Guardiands and a group from 1000 to defeat a time travelling warlord who I think is the one ultimately behind the time travel shenanigans of the Guardians 3000 series.

I’m pretty sure the series, all three of them, make a little more sense if you have fondness or at least familiarity with the future Guardians and Korvac. The “reality has changed” premise doesn’t work as well if you don’t know the baseline reality. It also feels like the story got changed somewhat in the middle; for example, Geena is introduced in the original series as a POV character who can tell when time has been altered, she’s there in the Korvac Saga, but by the third series, she’s completely disappeared. It also feels a little underwhelming to have the big time travel threat be just some random warlord, former Guardian or not. Still, Abnett does a good job handling the massive cast; here’s a bit from their initial imprisonment. I like the dialogue, and the use of frame to show each of their identical cells.

H

Hercules. 6 issues, and a 4 issue miniseries tie-in with Civil War II. The Marvel version of Hercules fascinates me; he’s originally introduced as a foil for Thor, marked by being more headstrong and fond of partying. In the 80s, Bob Layton doubles down on this aspect, making him a cosmic blowhard who challenges Galactus to a drinking contest. Frank Tieri goes another step further and depicts him as washed up in a 2005 miniseries that hasn’t aged well, and Greg Pak starts his rehabilitation as the brawn in a buddy comedy with teen genius Amadeus Cho. In this series, Abnett continues that rehabilitation with a sober Hercules attempting to help other mythic heroes transition in the modern world.

Essentially, Abnett’s taking the issue he and Lanning raised in the Thor/Iron Man miniseries (five years ago for him, but earlier in this post for us, though it may feel like five years by now): what does it mean for an ancient god to exist in a modern superhero universe? Hercules is arguably a more interesting character than Thor in this regard because he’s so much more flawed; he was the greatest hero of the Greek pantheon, but a B-list superhero at best, and a joke to many. What does that say about how we regard the past? The villains of the series are the “new” gods of the 21st century (so it’s even closer to Gaiman’s work) who never quite feel up to snuff, but premise itself felt like it had a lot of merit. (Personal favorite of the series was Tiresias reinterpreted as an old gay queen, a form of queerness very rarely represented in superhero comics, if not treated great here.)

So that’s the Abnett run. I think I did the “let’s sum things up” finish last time, so I won’t go too far into that again. I’ll just end with the observation that these later series, while flawed, point to the writer’s strengths: high concept ideas, juggling large casts of characters, and fun juxtapositions between the lesser known bits of the Marvel Universe.

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