Annihilator #1 from Legendary Comics is one of those rare books in the last few years written by Grant Morrison that is not set in the DC Universe. There have been a few series from him, but by and large, if you’ve wanted to read something by Morrison, it has involved DC characters.
Annihilator gives Morrison a chance to step out and work on something of his own. It also gives Morrison the chance to work with a frequent collaborator, Frazer Irving, which has led to some great comic books in the past.
Ray Spass is a Hollywood screenwriter who is looking for his next hit. He describes his new script as “the ultimate haunted house story. In space.” The issue intercuts between scenes of Ray working on his script and scenes from the actual script. The story Ray is working on deals with a man named Max Nomax, who has been sent to some kind of haunted prison on the edge of a black hole. The two parts of the story interweave with each other, each side commenting on each other while the whole story develops a very dark and foreboding mood.
Sadly, the issue ends abruptly, introducing a few elements in quick succession in the last 6 pages that may have been better served if this had been a double sized first issue. The issue cruises along at a steady pace, developing mood and introducing the characters, and then makes a mad dash to introduce plot elements and it’s a jarring transition that doesn’t help the book.
The story in Annihilator #1 is similar to other works by Grant Morrison, namely Joe the Barbarian (from DC/Vertigo) and Happy (from Image Comics). All of these stories dealt with main characters who interact with their own fantasies, but where Joe the Barbarian views this from the innocence of childhood, Annihilator and Happy view it from the jaded cynicism of adulthood. It is always interesting to see a creator trying to work through a theme that you can tell is weighing on their mind. Morrison has always gone back to the well to examine how people interact with their fantasies. It is one of the major subjects of his career.
Frazer Irving continues to be a fantastic artist, and I hope that folks won’t miss out on his work here because this is coming out from a smaller publisher (or at least a not as well-known publisher). Irving’s style is reminiscent of Richard Corben here, with wildly expressive characters and a focus on moody atmosphere. Purples and blues continue to dominate the color palette that Irving likes to use, but he also makes use of a different set of colors, mostly oranges and reds, for the “real world” section of the story. He then makes solid use of blending the two color schemes to indicate when the fantasy world is blending into the real world. Irving has always excelled at the use of color in his work — it is what makes his work so distinctive — and this may be some of his strongest work yet.
The bar is very high when you’re reading a Grant Morrison book, because he is simply one of the best writers working in comics. Even a bad Morrison book is better than many other writers’ best efforts, so it’s easy to recommend giving Annihilator a look. If anything, this is worth buying for Frazer Irving’s art, which is always a pleasure to read. Annihilator #1 is not the greatest thing Morrison has ever done, but the first issue sets up enough that I want to see what happens next.