In the Marvel Universe, outer space is more than just a dark, cold, desolate place; it's also an arena full of high stakes action. For the past several years the spaceways of the Marvel U have been the setting for stories of intergalactic warfare and cosmic crises. The most recent conflagration was detailed in the recently completed "The Thanos Imperative" miniseries by writers Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning--collectively known to their fans as DnA--and artist Miguel Sepulveda. It involved a coalition of intergalactic empires and heroes standing against a monstrous threat from a parallel dimension where there is no death. The series ended with the cosmic champions of the Marvel Universe victorious, but with the spaceways still wounded and vulnerable to exploitation by dark forces. This victory, however, came with a heavy cost, one that will be explored in January's "The Thanos Imperative: Devastation" one-shot where DnA detail the fallout from the titular conflict. In March, the writing duo kick off "Annihilators," a four issue miniseries featuring two full length stories about two teams of very different cosmic champions. We spoke with Abnett about both books.
During "The Thanos Imperative," the titular mad titan was resurrected to be used as a weapon against the invading armies of the "Cancerverse," a reality where Death had been banished. As a side effect of his revival, Thanos seemed incapable of dying. At the end of the series, when the portal to the Cancerverse was collapsing and Thanos had gone berserk, some cosmic champions had to stay behind and make sure the undying Eternal stayed trapped within the Cancerverse. The two heroes that stepped up were Nova and Star-Lord.
"I think the story demanded that they make that sacrifice," Abnett told CBR News. "Given where the story was going, it seemed to be the most powerful ending to this big major chapter of what we were doing. Obviously we didn't see them die. They've just been shucked into a different corner of the universe. So there is a possibility they may return someday, but their fate seemed to make for a dramatic conclusion to the story we've been telling for about three to four years."
In "Devastation," featuring art by the returning Miguel Sepulveda, DnA focus on the fallout from the war against the Cancerverse and how that sets the stage for the events of "Annihilators." "It's certainly a big underlining of where we got off to with the 'Thanos' storyline, but it sets up an awful lot of what's going to come. It's sort of a round up [of] where everybody has gone off to." Abnett said. "Then we build from there."
When "Annihilators" begins in March, DnA will be building from a new Cosmic status quo. Unlike their previous intergalactic sagas, where one threat often lead right to another, "Annihilators" kicks off with the spaceways enjoying a rare moment of stability between wars. "Andy and I were keen for this big arc that we writing to culminate with the Thanos event. It's not that we didn't have any ideas beyond that, but we wanted to make sure we got there. Now, we've got a new chapter with new things to play around with. Obviously our continuity strands continue, but there's a whole new world of things to explore. So this is a great jumping on point for readers who have heard a lot about the cosmic stuff and like the sound of it, but don't know where to start because there's quite a lot of it get ahold of. You can start here."
The title characters of "Annihilators," Gladiator, Ronan the Accuser, the Silver Surfer, Quasar and Beta Ray Bill, are some of the most powerful characters in the Marvel Universe. They also all have their own responsibilities, so the threat that arises in the series had to be gigantic enough to warrant their immediate attention. "None of them are giving up their day to day responsibilities. For instance, Gladiator is still ruler of the Shi'Ar Empire. Silver Surfer is still Galactus' go-to guy. Back in the day, though, when Star-Lord was forming the Guardians of the Galaxy, he saw the need for a team of people ready to take on the exceptionally big threats; the "Annihilation" scale threats, as he saw them," Abnett explained. "People were too busy, didn't really listen or had their own agenda. So the Guardians he assembled were comparatively low-level renegades, mavericks and also-rans; people who believed in him. But didn't really have huge clout to bring to bear. With that ragtag mob, he actually managed to achieve some extraordinary things. They saved the galaxy on a number of different occasions. The cost was enormous, though. Quite a few Guardians bit the dust.
"So this is the rest of the universe catching on to the fact that Star-Lord had something there, and the biggest, and heaviest hitters in the galaxy agreeing to preserve his legacy and become the team Star-Lord always dreamed he would have control over," Abnett continued. "These are real A-Game, Premier League guys who are going to deal with problems, but they all have other responsibilities. Basically, they're emergency first responders. They get called in if things go horribly wrong or if there's a major incident like a 'Thanos Imperative' or an 'Annihilation Conquest.' When they get the call, they drop whatever they're doing and assemble (I use that word advisedly) to deal with whatever those threats are."
The cast of "Annihilators" are all incredibly powerful so the dynamic amongst the team is initially uncomfortable and often confrontational. "This is quite a fun story because being part of a team is slightly unnatural for most of these characters. They're mostly solo heroes because of their power levels," Abnett stated. "In fact leadership of the group is going to be a point of contention because they're all either fiercely solo or leaders of men. So there's going to be some debate as to which one will actually coordinate their efforts. It's quite a difficult task."
The "Annihilators" will have to learn to trust each other quickly, because they'll be up against an enemy that's a master of subterfuge and sorcery--the shape shifting aliens known as the Dire Wraiths, who were banished to the dimension of Limbo in Marvel's 1980s sci-fi series "Rom." "They're immensely cool," Abnett remarked. "They're a very distinctive and very unusual threat that we've been thinking about for a long time. Their return comes about not only because they're this enormous, hideous problem, but also because the very nature of the way they return causes such a problem that it warrants the Annihilators attention. So bringing them back seemed like an ideal thing to do."
The supporting cast of "Annihilators" includes both individual Dire Wraiths and their old enemies, the cyborg Space Knights from the planet Galador. "There is a pretty interesting character we're bringing in who is the go-to-guy for the Dire Wraiths. He's responsible for getting them back into play," Abnett revealed. "Also, inevitably, the Space Knights will be involved in this because they were always enemies of the Wraiths. Although we can't touch on Rom by name because he belongs to another company, the Space Knights legacy (which Marvel owns) is part of this and will certainly continue to be explored in this story."
"Annihilators" is unusual for a Marvel Comic series in that the battle against the Dire Wraiths isn't the only story being told. Each extra long issue of "Annihilators" also features an issue of DnA's previously announced "Rocket Raccoon & Groot" miniseries. "It's a wonderful value to have both comics there in a double-sized issue. So we've got the heavy duty action of 'Annihilators' and sort of the rag-tag, strange end of the spectrum with 'Rocket and Groot,'" Abnett remarked. "Between them, there will be other continuity strands from our previous cosmic books like 'Nova' and 'Guardians of the Galaxy.' We haven't forgotten about all those characters."
At the end of "The Thanos Imperative," Rocket Raccoon was taking the disappearance of Star-Lord and the dissolution of his team, the Guardians of the Galaxy, very hard. "The 'Annihilators' series and 'Rocket & Groot' both spin out of 'The Thanos Imperative.' On the one hand, you have the big heavy hitters teaming together to make up for the fact that they maybe should have done this earlier. Then, on the other hand, you've got two down on their luck ex-members of the Guardians," Abnett revealed. "Everything is sort of dismal for them. They don't know what their future holds. They get involved in a story that's comparatively light-hearted and has some very silly moments in it, but is essentially serious. It takes a serious look at the backgrounds of both characters. I think its one of those stories with potentially bigger implications the further you get into it. It starts small, but grows."
Since "Annihilators" and "Rocket Raccoon & Groot" are two very different stories, they'll be drawn by two different artists. "Tan Eng Huat is drawing the 'Annihilators' story, and he's a great artist. We're just about to get his first few pages in, so we're very excited to see what he's done. We've given him some really big things to draw, as you can imagine," Abnett said. "And Tim Green is doing a fantastic job with the art for 'Rocket & Groot.' It's not only beautifully drawn, but genuinely funny. He does body language and expressions so well that it makes me laugh before I've even seen the jokes written on the page."
DnA have had a blast telling both stories in "Annihilators" and would love tell more cosmic tales, but whether or not this happens is ultimately up to fans. "At the moment this series is a wonderful way of extending our tenure on the cosmic books and exploring two facets of that line that we found particularly appealing. If either or both do really, really well and there's enough of a response, then I can see this opening up some more things we can do,"Abnett stated. "If people like this series, then there are plenty more places we can go with it and a lot of other characters we can bring back into the fold."