Recently, an epic war waged for control of the Marvel Universe and many of its inhabitants didn't even know such a conflict occurred. The conflict was known as "Annihilation" and was fought out in the cosmos of the Marvel U. But what if the Annihilation War went differently? What if Annihilus and his forces brought their war to Earth? Writer David Hine and artist Mico Suayan explore these questions and more in the November one-shot "What If? Annihilation". CBR News spoke with Hine about the book.
Each year the "What If?" books have a different theme and this year the one-shots will take a different look at some of Marvel's recent big events like "Planet Hulk," "Civil War" and "Annihilation." Hine was one of the writers invited to work on this year's round of books. "Editor Justin Gabrie asked nicely. That did it for me," Hine told CBR News. "Justin liked what I did with 'Deadly Genesis' for last year's 'What If: Event Horizon' so he offered me a shot at 'Annihilation.' The obvious appeal of these books is that you can mess with characters in an insanely cavalier fashion with scant regard for the consequences. The biggest frustration working on books for Marvel is to be told 'You can't do that.' Here, once a year, the rules go out of the window and we get to ride roughshod over continuity. Which is a long-winded way of saying 'It's fun.'"
Hine's story comes about when a critical point in the original "Annihilation" story goes the opposite way and places the Marvel U in dire peril. "Our point of departure from the original 'Annihilation' story occurs in the 5th issue when Drax kills Thanos. In our version, he fails to free Galactus, instead causing an uncontrolled release of Galactus's energy, which kills Drax, Galactus and The Surfer," Hine explained. "Only Moondragon escapes to warn Nova that Annihilus plans to eliminate all life in the entire Universe. And he's heading for Earth."
When Nova arrives on Earth to rally its defenders for the battle against the approaching Annihilation Wave, much to his horror, he discovers another war raging right there on his home planet. "The Wave hits right in the middle of the climactic battle of the 'Civil War,'" Hine said. "I had sworn to stay away from big crossover events for a while because they can be creatively restricting, unless you're writing the key books, but the idea of throwing two massive events together was irresistible. We have basically turned the amps up to 11 on this one.
"The Annihilation Wave puts the Civil War into perspective," Hine continued. "Nova arrives and gives the heroes a good slap for wasting their time kicking the crap out of one another, when there are bigger issues to deal with."
Since it combines elements from two of Marvel's biggest events, "What If? Annihilation" is a sweeping tale with a huge cast. "It looks like I set out to drive Mico insane with the number of characters he has to draw. He's gone way beyond the call of duty on the art," Hine said. "The detail is awesome. I saw a new page today where you could take a single panel and blow up sections to make about a dozen really spectacular individual panels. I was very aware that the sheer numbers can overwhelm a story though, so I've also zeroed on a few key characters. The challenge was to create an entire event and condense it into 22 pages without (literally) losing the plot. So we move from spectacular battle scenes to intimate moments.
"The characters I've chosen to focus on are Nova and Phyla from 'Annihilation,' Captain America and Iron Man from 'Civil War' and Black Bolt and Medusa from 'Silent War,' while the Watcher provides his usual philosophical overview," Hine said. "The major character is Nova, though. He's the focus of the story. He is the voice of reason who tries to bring all the warring factions together to battle the real threat. All the other disputes seem like petty squabbles when you're faced with a creature like Annihilus. He makes Doc Doom and Galactus look like boy scouts by comparison. Rule the world? Eat a planet? Kid's stuff! Annihilus is out to eradicate all life in the Universe. Now, that's what I call a bad guy."
It won't be just the Earth bound heroes who take up the fight against Annihilus's forces. "This is a battle for survival for the entire human race so the villains join in, too," Hine explained. "That was just to give Mico a few more characters to draw and turn a few more of his hairs grey."
The battle for survival in "What If? Annihilation" has two central fronts - New York and the Moon. "Part of the action takes place inside the Watcher's pad in the Blue Area of the Moon," revealed Hine. "Way back in 'Uncanny X-Men' #137, Wolverine goes into the Watcher's house, which is crammed with all kinds of hi-tech gizmos. We were looking for a piece of alien technology to play a key part in the plot and Justin suggested going back to that setting. There are also some nifty shots of planetary destruction in deep space and a few flattened cities on Earth, too, but I'm afraid Manhattan takes the brunt of the action again."
Hine said "What If Annihilation?" is a story with numerous plot twists, resulting in some spectacular battle sequences and emotional moments for all characters involved. "I don't want to give away any of those plot details but I can say that the theme of the book concerns the nature of true heroism and the pointless destructiveness of war. I guess I'm having my cake and eating it here - war is ugly, but it does make bloody good comics.
"It's by far the most action-oriented book I've written and in some ways the most upbeat too," Hine continued. "It has some very dark moments though and enough reversals to keep you all guessing how it's going to end. I suppose you could categorize it as an uplifting, dark, superhero, action, sci-fi, suspense epic."
Hine is very pleased with the way Mico Suyaan has brought his uplifting, dark, superhero sci-fi, suspense saga to life. "I'm seeing new pages every couple of days and each is more breathtaking than the last. Mico has really gone for broke on this book," Hine stated. "If I can mix my sporting metaphors for a moment, I bowled him a googly and he hit it out of the ballpark. This book needed someone who can capture the epic scale of interplanetary warfare and Mico has done a fantastic job."
"What If? Annihilation" is just the first in a number of projects Hine is developing with Marvel. "There is one project I'm itching to talk about," Hine said. "The first script was completed a couple of weeks ago and the artist should start drawing it right about now. But it isn't scheduled yet so I can't talk about it. I think it should be appearing in the middle of next year.
"The other one is of course 'The Inhumans,'" Hine continued. "I have pitched the plot for a mini-series to round up the story begun in 'Son of M' and continued in 'Silent War.' There are a few complications to sort out regarding the disposition of a couple of characters and what exactly the new status quo for the Inhumans should be. Once that's sorted out, I'm hopeful that it will be green-lit for next year. If the book goes ahead it should be the same team on board. John Watson is up for the covers and Frazer [Irving] is keen to produce art again. I love working with those guys so I have my fingers firmly crossed."
"What If? Annihilation" proved to be a difficult, but immensely satisfying book to write for Hine and he hopes fans will walk away from the story with the same sense of fulfillment. "In many ways this was the most challenging book I've written. 22 pages is not a lot to tell a story of this scope but I think we succeeded, thanks largely to the hard work Mico has been willing to put into it," Hine stated. "You'll see from the preview art that this book is definitely worth your three bucks. The big problem for me is deciding where to put the balloons and captions. I feel like I'm going to be defacing that gorgeous work by slapping my words all over it. Maybe we should put out a special 'silent' edition. 'Silent War?' That has a certain ring to it."