In many ways, Grant Morrison’s story idea for “Annihilator” #1 feels almost like Morrison-by-the-numbers, with numerous themes that Morrison loves to explore running through it. But with beautiful art by Frazer Irving, you certainly can’t ignore “Annihilator,” and the remaining five issues will no doubt pull out some surprises and beautiful twists.
“Annihilator” #1 introduces two characters: Ray Spass the Hollywood screenwriter, and Max Nomax the intergalactic hero. Max is the main character in Ray’s new unfinished script, one last desperate attempt to bring Ray’s career back to life. But as Ray discovers that he has an inoperable brain tumor and with limited time left to live, things turn upside down when Max appears and wants to know what happens next.
Morrison’s love of blurring the barriers between reality and fiction is certainly well documented; one only has to look as far back as the recent ads for “Multiversity” #1 to see that, but the trail of course goes much further. (His work on “Animal Man” and “Seven Soldiers” are two obvious and well-known instances, but even then there are many other instances from over the years.) Here he’s mashing it up with a time limit — used in great effect in “Joe the Barbarian” — to add a certain level of anxiousness that might not otherwise exist. He can’t wait to finish the project up, because the tumor’s going to shut him down sooner rather than later.
The problem is, in this first issue, there’s not much else besides Morrison’s usual story tics. I’m not worried in that regard, because Morrison’s mini-series as of late have enjoyed a leisurely, almost languid opening segment that then build on that foundation in future installments. It’s probably what he’s doing here. But judging this first issue entirely on its own, with no advance knowledge of what’s to come, it ends up coming just average. Ray Spass actually comes across as quite the Hollywood stereotype, ordering up an evening of debauchery and talking about how living in a home next to a never-ending sinkhole inspires him. It feels a bit lazy, the ultimate shorthand for someone who doesn’t enjoy all that life has to offer until it’s almost too late. There are some nice bits here and there — the parallel of the bottomless sinkhole to the Great Annihilator black hole in the science fiction script, or the comment on how Ray’s name means light appearing alongside a panel of pure darkness — but Morrison hasn’t kicked into high gear yet.
Irving, on the other hand, hit the ground running and doesn’t let up in “Annihilator” #1. His art is always excellent, and it’s great to see him paired up with Morrison again after their successful “Seven Soldiers: Klarion the Witch-Boy” mini-series a few years ago. His use of darkness on this page is just amazing; for instance, look how frames the windows of the house (with Ray standing in them) using the dark negative space. The windows are almost floating in the darkness, providing an unearthly look at Ray while the light in the room is a beacon that guides the reader in. Darkness is clearly a major component of this mini-series, and Irving uses it perfectly.
The similarity and differences between Ray and Max are also great. They both have the same basic facial structure (which I’m sure is a deliberate choice of Morrison’s, not just a coincidence) but Max has a strong, confident swagger in his step that is absent in the slightly neurotic, second-guessing nature of Ray. Even something as simple as the half haircut of Ray contrasting with the full head of hair on Max makes a huge difference; Irving takes this visual cues from Morrison and brings them to life in an almost explosive manner. Even something as simple as Ray’s vision blurring when he passes out looks fantastic here; it reminds me a lot of Bill Sienkiewicz’s more experimental comics, as everything devolves into broken down, iconic images instead of reality.
“Annihilator” #1 looks fantastic, and Irving’s already bringing his A-game to the comic. Will the story catch up? I suspect so. I’m not worried about Morrison easing us into the mini-series, since these days it’s become a more and more standard operating procedure of his. There’s enough to hook you for “Annihilator” #2, but it’s also not a full “wow” script just yet. Are we going to get there? There’s one way to find out.