Right now the Marvel Universe is a war torn place. On Earth, costumed champions are locked in a “Civil War” over the right way to serve and protect society. Meanwhile, across the galaxy another war rages. In this conflict all that stands between the nightmarish forces of the Annihilation Wave and their goal of obliterating all life in the universe is the MU’s cosmic powered characters and a ragtag alliance of alien races. The opening shots of the battle were fired earlier this year in the “Annihilation Prologue” and the “Silver Surfer,” “Super Skrull,” “Nova” and “Ronan” mini-series. In August, things escalate into all out war in the pages of “Annihilation,” a six issue mini-series by “Annihilation: Prologue” and “Silver Surfer” writer Keith Giffen and artist Andrea Divito. CBR News spoke with Giffen about the series.
When “Annihilation” begins, several months have passed since the end of the four preceding mini-series. Giffen isn’t sure of the exact amount of time, his editor Andy Schmidt is in charge of the overall timeline of events in “Annihilation.” “Believe it or not all those ‘Annihilation Day’ captions, none of the creative guys touch them,” Giffen told CBR News. “Andy Schmidt is the one who fills all those in. He is the one who has the over view and is keeping track of all the time lines because he’s also the guy who is keeping track of all the mini-series and knows whether or not the ‘Silver Surfer’ series happened over a week and that maybe ‘Nova’ happened in a month. But a substantial enough time has passed that a firm alliance has been pulled together.”
That alliance that has been assembled is a diverse group known as the United Front. “It’s really made up of whoever can pick up a gun and point it,” Giffen explained. “One of the things I’m really trying to do in ‘Annihilation’ is really get the feeling that this is a war, not just battles between super powered beings. So I kind of took World War I style trench warfare and extrapolated it into science fiction terms. That’s the point of familiarity for the fans because if you really tried to think how science fiction races would fight, it would be like magic to us.
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“And of course you have to consider things like it’s a three dimensional war,” Giffen continued. “Sure they’re hunkered down behind their positions and the Annihilation Wave is behind theirs. There is a no man’s land, but what about being struck at from orbit? What about the more exotic weaponry that can be brought to bear? We touch base on that. The first issue of ‘Annihilation’ is, I hope, the comic book equivalent to the opening couple of minutes of ‘Saving Private Ryan’ in terms that we establish it’s a war, it’s ugly and there are ramifications.”
When “Annihilation” opens, many of the survivors of the mini-series will be in the thick of the action of the ugly war. Nova is now the leader of the United Front and Drax the Destroyer and Cammi are members. Ronan is also on the front lines. However one survivor won’t be involved in the fighting. “The Silver Surfer is not at war,” Giffen stated. “The Silver Surfer is once again Galactus’s Herald. I don’t want to spoil the first issue of ‘Annihilation’ so let’s just say he’s probably in the worst place of any of them.”
The Surfer won’t be the only Herald involved in “Annihilation.” The surviving beings who served as Galactus’s Heralds in the past will also have parts to play in the story. “The Heralds play a huge role,” Giffen said. “They are headed in a specific direction and we’re going to have to stop calling them Heralds because, as far as I’m concerned, when the Silver Surfer picked up the mantle and said, ‘I’m Galactus’s Herald.’ He’s Galactus’s Herald! That’s all there is to it. Galactus repowered him and made him more diligent about his job. The Silver Surfer is now somebody you should be really frightened of if he comes to your planet.
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“As to the other Heralds, each one has their specific role and Andy Schmidt came up with this wonderful idea as to where they wind up after the fact and how we deal with the surviving Heralds. It’s great. It moves them away from Galactus. It’s been like here’s Galactus and he has a Herald. Now he has two! Now he has three! Now he has four! That dilutes. Every time you add something it dilutes. Like Superman. He’s the last son of Krypton but there are super dogs! Super monkeys! Then Argo City comes by and you want to go, ‘Why don’t you just move the whole planet in?’ It’s the Silver Surfer and Galactus. It shouldn’t be freedom of choice where you choose one from column A and two from column B.”
One civilization that won’t have the freedom to choose the role they’ll play in “Annihilation” is the Kree. “The battlefront is taking place in the Kree Empire,” Giffen said. “Of course the Kree being a race of born warriors, they’re capable of mounting a stronger defense or at least mounting any kind of defense against the Annihilation Wave. The Kree aren’t just going to roll over and we sort of pick up on that. We’re in the Kree system, but there are a lot of different things at work. There are things that happened in ‘Ronan’ that plays into the way the Kree are fighting. The whole geopolitical climate in the Kree Empire is very fluid right now.”
While the Kree are in a fight to maintain their civilization when “Annihilation” begins, it looks like the empire of their ancient enemies; the Skrulls has fallen to the onslaught of the Annihilation Wave. “Fragmented is not the word I would use to describe the Skrull Empire,” Giffen said. “If the Skrull Empire was just fragmented that would be a good thing. By the time ‘Annihilation’ is done I think the Skrulls are going to be on the endangered species list.”
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With the Skrulls seemingly doomed, and the Kree fighting for their survival some readers might be wondering if the Shi’ar, another one of the Marvel Universe’s prominent galactic empires will be involved in “Annihilation.” “We touch base of the Shi’ar. When Nova is getting a report he’s told, ‘The Shi’ar promised us three combat battalions but you know what they say about a promise from the Shi’ar,'” Giffen stated. “We were pretty much told, ‘Don’t touch the Shi’ar.’ I guess the best way to describe the Shi’ar is like they’re Peru looking at World War II. They don’t really feel the need to get involved but they might be looking out just in case it bumps into their space.
“I was kind of disappointed that I couldn’t use the Shi’ar,” Giffen continued. “Because I thought they were major cosmic players, but I can certainly understand the X-Men group wanting to maintain as much control over their properties as possible. So they do not have to deal with things that are coming from the outside.”
The Shi’ar are not the only alien race sitting out of the fighting in “Annihilation.” To involve all the alien races of the Marvel Universe would have made the story simply too big. “Annihilation got huge. So we had to deal with it like how in World War II not every country in the world fought,” Giffen explained. “That’s what we’re using as our cop out for questions like, ‘Where’s the Brood? And where’s the Shi’ar?’ We mention the Brotherhood of the Badoon, but they don’t really show up. As the war rolls across the galaxy people either get involved or don’t get involved. Even on Earth there’s no real sense of urgency to send people out there. There’s the Titans, too, what happened to them? They have kind of a wait and see attitude. While the Kree, the Skrull, and Nova and his ragtag band of survivors of every alien race that has been ripped to pieces by the Annihilation Wave are fighting to try and hold them back, in a way the whole rest of the universe is playing the role of Chamberlain in World War II.”
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“Annihilation” will also reveal more details about the seemingly unstoppable force the rest of the universe is sitting back and allowing to gobble up planets, the Annihilation Wave and their master Annihilus. “‘Annihilation’ starts exposing a lot of nasty little motives for this invasion that weren’t readily apparent before,” Giffen explained. “And when you find out Annihilus’s final master plan you’re going to realize that everyone should have jumped him the minute he walked through the door.”
Readers might also be wondering what the role of Annihilus’s apparent ally; Thanos is in “Annihilation.” “Thanos is always a player but we’re not going to fall back on the standard Thanos, ‘I’m now in charge’ thing. He’s not going to take over,” Giffen said. “But Thanos serves death and Annihilus is certainly good at dealing out death. So, there’s a certain amount of curiosity there. But also Thanos is not an idiot. He sees this going on and he thinks, ‘Let me just align myself with this for awhile, so I don’t have to deal with it. Let’s see which way the wind is blowing and how I can capitalize on it.’ Plus, he’s still trying to talk himself into believing he can be a more benign presence in the universe and that’s just delusional.”
When Thanos was last seen at the end of “Silver Surfer” #4, he was allying himself with the mysterious beings known as Tenebrous and Aegis. Giffen revealed that these two enigmatic characters would have a role to play in the first issue of “Annihilation.” He said they will then be picked up again after the mini-series.
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Tenebrous and Aegis first appeared in “Silver Surfer” #3 and they won’t be the only new characters to be featured in “Annihilation.” A multitude of characters will make their debut in the mini-series. “We’ve got about a hundred and I’m not being facetious,” Giffen said. “There are new characters in ‘Annihilation.’ We want to repopulate. Yes you’re going to see some old, familiar faces but there’s going to be a lot of new faces floating around. I don’t think you should go through an event like this and not repopulate the pool. It’s about time special events stopped trafficking only in death and started trafficking in renewal.”
There will be lots of renewal in “Annihilation,” but because of the epic scope of the story many deaths will be involved, too. “It’s a war. People die in war,” Giffen stated. “But we’re not just going to sit back and go, ‘Okay who can we kill that will have the fans buzzing?’ We’re not that cynical yet. The characters that die will die because it furthers the story. They’ll die because if you go back and look at their histories they were meant to die. It was predetermined. We’re not in the business of killing characters because, ‘Oh god! He’s such a horrible character! Let’s kill him and be rid of him!’ First, we consider can we fix him? If we can fix the character then we’re certainly not going to kill him because he becomes a viable character.”
Because it was whether or not a character can be fixed that determined the deaths in “Annihilation” and not his personal preference, Giffen will miss some of the characters that perish in the series. “I have a few darlings of my own in the book that I’ve had to put the axe too,” Giffen said. “So it’s not just, ‘All the characters Keith doesn’t like he kills.’ No, there’s a couple that I did like that Andy said, ‘Kill him.’ Because it worked in the context of the story. You’ll notice in ‘Annihilation’ it’s not about trumpeting who dives. It’s about trumpeting how they lived.”
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Readers will see many of the established characters in “Annihilation” living their lives to the fullest. “They’ll get involved in the mini-series and get pointed in specific directions and a lot of people are going to realize their destinies,” Giffen stated. “A lot of traveling plot lines have been moving through these books for a long time. If ‘Annihilation’ was ‘New Gods’, Darkseid and Orion would finally have it out over the fire pits. A lot of the stuff that’s been hinted at and dragged on for years, we’re finally going, ‘Let’s just do it and get it over with and take a new direction.'”
A lot of established characters will be realizing their destinies in “Annihilation” and many more will be making cameo appearances. Giffen could only hint at the host of familiar and semi familiar faces popping up in the series. “We even have a cameo by the Spaceknights. Remember Rom and the Spaceknights? Yes, you’re going to see certain characters that maybe you had forgotten about or you thought, ‘They’re not part of ‘Annihilation’ because I haven’t seen them yet.’ Cameos abound. I also wonder how many people understand that the Peter Quill character we’ve been using is Star-Lord?”
The established and new characters that survive “Annihilation” will find themselves in a changed and radically different cosmic landscape. “I always look at the death of Ted Kord/Blue Beetle,” Giffen said. “That had a lot of impact among the fans but could be undone with one panel. So, we’re operating in good faith. At the end of ‘Annihilation’ the layout and power structure of the Marvel Universe will have been radically changed and there’s a lot of stuff still going on. There is a richness that can be plundered at will. We throw a lot into the communal pot. That said if a writer comes along and goes, ‘Then all the Skrulls come back and the universe is restored.’ They can do that. Than it becomes their story to tell. But we’re operating in good faith. We said sweeping change and we mean sweeping change. Heroes are going to become villains. Villains are going to become heroes. Characters that you thought you would never see again are going to resurface and maybe have major roles. Characters that you thought would have major roles are going to drop out of the book very soon. It’s a war and war is chaotic.”
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Giffen credits Andy Schmidt for keeping the crafting of a huge story like “Annihilation” from becoming chaotic. “I’ve rarely worked so closely with an editor on a project in terms of give and take because ‘Annihilation’ was Andy’s baby,” Giffen explained. “It’s been a pleasant experience because normally I tend to be bristle around editors. I feel like, ‘I’m telling a story and you just can’t wait until you can destroy it with your blue pencil.’ Here, though, the input and the back and forth was much more organic. I’m actually enjoying the process. I don’t know if I could have handled a project this huge and unwieldy at the same time as handling ’52’ over at DC if Andy wasn’t there to make it easy and just really create an environment that was conducive to doing your best creative work.”
The work that Schmidt, Giffen and his fellow creators put into “Annihilation” has paid off because tales of Marvel’s cosmic characters will continue in some form after the mini-series. “‘Annihilation’ is obviously doing well enough that apparently Joe Quesada had been making noise about how the events in ‘Annihilation’ will continue in one way or another, which means we’ve accomplished our goal. We’ve renewed interest in these cosmic characters and whether the books continue with me or without me I can still look at them and be really glad I did ‘Annihilation’ simply because we accomplished our ultimate goal and that is bringing these characters back into prominence and to restore their viability. Even if just one book comes out of ‘Annihilation’ and continues that’s a victory. Somewhere along the line I think fans and certainly most of the professionals, except for Jim Starlin who never lost faith, forgot about these characters and forgot how really great these characters are and how primal they can be if you just play them the way they are supposed to be played.”
Ultimately, Giffen hopes that readers find his tale of reinvigorated and reintroduced cosmic Marvel characters a satisfying one. “We’re just trying our best to live up to all the blathering we did about it while we we’re putting it together,” Giffen said. “Hopefully we’ll have told a rousing, good story and at the end of the day and no one is going to feel like we screwed them out of $2.99.”