GUARDING THE GALAXY: EXPLORING THE MARVEL COSMIC UNIVERSE
Part Nine: Assimilate or Die
by Ben Smith
Previously, a technological race called the Phalanx have taken over the Kree empire, enslaved the minds of the people, and cut off that section of space from the rest of the galaxy. Former heroes and allies have already been turned to the Phalanx cause by the transmode virus, becoming members of their elite Select. The new Quasar, the mysterious Wraith, Nova, and Starlord do what they can to fight the Phalanx invasion.
There’s a lot to get to, so let’s get started.
Annihilation: Conquest — Quasar #2. Writer: Christos Gage; Penciler: Mike Lilly; Inker: Bob Almond and Scott Hanna; Editor : Bill Rosemann
While battling an alien monster in space, Phyla loses control again, killing the monster and then attacking Moondragon.
After resuming control of her emotions, Phyla is ashamed about losing control and hurting her beloved. Moondragon comforts her by retelling the tale of her descent into madness. As a young student of the Priests of Pama, she came into contact with an ancient evil as the Dragon of the Moon. She thought she had defeated it, but the encounter had a lasting effect on her, ending with her eventually attempting to kill the Defenders. She died, but was reborn, with a second chance at life.
Phyla has traced the savior’s energy signature to a remote sector of Kree space, but the Select Super-Adaptoid has followed them. He uses a blast from Quasar’s Quantum Bands to create facsimile bands of his own. Now that he has the ability to track the savior himself, he departs, leaving a squadron of Phalanx soldiers to finish off Phyla and Moondragon.
Buried beneath a pile of Phalanx warriors, Moondragon emerges as an actual dragon.
My brain thoughts: Moondragon always was kind of a jerk, but I suppose that will happen to you when you have an evil dragon burrowing into your soul.
Annihilation: Conquest — Wraith #2. Writer: Javier Grillo-Marxuach; Artist: Kyle Hotz; Editor: Bill Rosemann
The Chief Phalanx Subjugator reports back to leadership about the status of several prominent individuals that have been identified to become Select warriors. The assimilation of Praxagora, the Super-Skrull, and Ronan are all in various stages of progress.
The captive Nameless One talks with the Super-Skrull. Kl’rt reveals that the last stage of becoming a Select, involves the individual submitting to the Phalanx of their own free will.
Ronan tortures the Nameless One in an attempt to learn his secrets. No matter what he does, the Nameless One will not submit, and he does not die.
Because he feels no pain and shows no emotion, like a ghost, Ronan names his captive "Wraith." Wraith decides to tell Ronan his tale, as proof that he will never become a slave like him. Long ago, when Wraith was a small boy, his father was a prominent Kree scientist that had created a power source that could have brought light to the entire galaxy. A death squad, led by a man with a signet ring, killed his father because of this, and then killed his mother as well. Boy Wraith was able to escape in a spaceship, but a wormhole sent him into the Exoteric Latitude, the “Space of the Nameless.” Ancient Kree scientists had found themselves stranded there throughout the ages, a place where parasitic entities named Exolon feed on the immortal souls of living beings. The black membrane that covers the body of the Nameless is a collection of Exolon plasmoids, granting the wearer strength, healing, immortality. That is what drives fear in the Phalanx, the sight of the exposed soul of a living being.
But the price of this power is a loss of time, of sentience, and eventually the Nameless spend their immortal lives inflicting agony upon themselves. Wraith maintains his connection to his former life by remembering the death of his parents, and the signet ring worn by their killer.
Enraged by Wraith’s continued refusal to submit, Ronan fits him with the Select technology, determined to make him a slave to the Phalanx.
My brain thoughts: I’ll admit, I was fully prepared to be bored by this series after reading the first issue, but that is one helluva origin story.
Nova #5. Writers: Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning; Artists: Sean Chen and Scott Hanna; Editor: Bill Rosemann
Gamora and her team of Phalanx warriors track Nova to the fringe world where he crash-landed. She sends her soldiers out to hunt him down. They are met and defeated by newly designated Nova, Ko-Rel.
Worldmind insists that it is imperative she safeguard the body of the Nova Prime, where the Worldmind itself is stored. She returns to her platoon, and checks on the status of the slowly healing body of Richard Rider.
The Phalanx invade their location, and her people are getting slaughtered. Against the recommendations of Worldmind, Ko-Rel flies off, hoping to draw the invaders after her. The soldiers follow, but hidden in the shadows, Gamora remains.
Gamora stealthily makes her way through the building, killing everyone in her path. She finally reaches the body of Richard Rider, and giving him a kiss, downloads the transmode virus into his system.
Nova has made a full recovery, but as a puppet of the Phalanx.
My brain thoughts: Call me a horndog, but I love the way Chen draws Gamora in these issues.
Annihilation: Conquest — Quasar #3. Writer: Christos Gage; Penciler: Mike Lilly; Inker: Bob Almond and Scott Hanna; Editor : Bill Rosemann
Lately, Moondragon had unknowingly been suffering from a spiritual infection by the Dragon of the Moon, but has won the battle of her soul, and been transformed into an actual dragon in the process.
To prevent them from interrupting the process, the Super-Adaptoid sends Phalanx warriors to eradicate a nearby town. Quasar cannot allow this to happen, and saves the locals. But, in the process, she uses up the remainder of the energy in her Quantum Bands.
My brain thoughts: Phyla hopping on her dragon-girlfriend’s back and riding off is sort of kinky, in a Marv Wolfman kinda way.
Annihilation: Conquest — Wraith #3. Writer: Javier Grillo-Marxuach; Artist: Kyle Hotz; Editor: Bill Rosemann
Re-motivated by a vision of his dead father, Wraith uses his powers to break free. He cuts a path of destruction through the prison ship, freeing Praxagora and the Super-Skrull in the process.
Agreeing to join him in his quest, the three of them escape.
Ronan discovers the horrifying weapon of the Phalanx, the resurrected physical body of the Supreme Intelligence.
The Phalanx plan to use the Supreme Intelligence to release a psychic echo across space, instantly turning everyone it reaches over to the Phalanx cause.
Meeting up again with Ra-Venn and her resistance, Wraith is reluctant to join their cause. His goal is still to find the murderer that killed his parents. Ra-Venn is able to convince him that they can help him find this killer, if only he will help them. At the same time, the Phalanx try to convince Ronan to give in the final stage of assimilation, and to become one of their Select.
Wraith agrees to join the resistance, while simultaneously, Ronan gives in to Phalanx control.
My brain thoughts: There is a seeming inconsistency between how becoming a Select is depicted between the books. Here, it is a final conscious choice by the target, but in Nova, it appears to be instantaneous. The two depictions don’t necessarily contradict each other, but they don’t seem entirely in sync either. I can see how the individual succumbing to assimilation could add an extra layer of drama to the story, but I think I prefer it as an unstoppable virus that can’t be fought off. Like getting bit by a zombie, the end result is inevitable.
Nova #6. Writers: Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning; Artists: Sean Chen and Scott Hanna; Editor: Bill Rosemann
Ko-Rel returns to find her people all slaughtered, and the body of Nova Prime missing. She mourns her epic failure, and promises her missing son to make amends.
Selects Gamora and Nova track down Drax, and subdue him.
Nova celebrates his newfound servitude, believing that nothing has changed inside him, except that he is now part of something bigger than himself.
Ko-Rel tracks down Nova and attacks him, at the urging of Worldmind. He (it?) wants her to kill Richard, to prevent them both from serving the Phalanx. A Phalanx guided by the Worldmind would be unstoppable to defeat. Right when she has him at her mercy, ready to fire the killing shot, she hesitates, and in that moment is stabbed from behind by Gamora.
With her dying breaths, she tries to reach Richard Rider through his Phalanx-controlled mind, and then calls out her son’s name as she collapses. This briefly appears to have some sort of effect on Nova. But after that moment, he crushes the holo-projector of her son under his boot, and they walk away from her dead body.
My brain thoughts: The panels of her talking to the image of her son about how she misses him were touching (and relatable to me). Also, Drax!
Annihilation: Conquest — Quasar #4. Writer: Christos Gage; Penciler: Mike Lilly; Inker: Bob Almond; Editor : Bill Rosemann
The locals band together with Quasar and dragon-ized Moondragon, and storm the Phalanx army.
Phyla goes head-to-head against the Super-Adaptoid, tricking him into coming in close, where she can re-steal the Quantum energy he had stolen from her.
The battle is fierce, but she uses the power of her imagination to unlock the full capability of the Bands. (Like an after-school special!) The Super-Adaptoid tries to counter, but his computer brain is incapable of processing the concept of imagination (like Duy!), and it leaves him open to a killing blow from Quasar.
The remainder of the Quantum power flowing back into her, she can feel the corruption taking hold again. But the essence of Wendell Vaughn, the original Quasar, appears, and helps to remove the Annihilus corruption from the Bands for good.
Returning to the battle below, she uses the power of the Bands to throw the Phalanx warriors into the sun.
Moondragon and Phyla go to inspect the cocoon. As they do, the mysterious voice addresses them both this time, revealing itself to be the spirit of the Supreme Intelligence.
It was too early for the savior to be disturbed, but now that the Phalanx have already done so, they must wake him from his sleep and try to save him from the possible madness he has endured because of their interference.
The savior emerges, revealed as Adam Warlock (Duy’s all-time favorite character!).
Moondragon senses Warlock is unwell, confused. The Supreme Intelligence praises both Quasar and Moondragon for winning battles against their inner demons, and hopes that Warlock can do the same. If he can’t, it may signal doom for them all.
My brain thoughts: Needless to say, the arrival of Adam Warlock is a big moment for the overall storyline. (No need to worry fearless readers, he’s not going to be as lame as he’s been in the past.)
Annihilation: Conquest — Wraith #4. Writer: Javier Grillo-Marxuach; Artist: Kyle Hotz; Editor: Bill Rosemann
The resistance is able to acquire information that the Phalanx are preparing for a galaxy-wide penetration of the psychic plane in two hours, at the closest point between eight solar systems called the Kirvati Pass.
Select Ronan commands the fleet massed at the Kirvati Pass, and greets them with extreme force. The resistance fleet takes heavy losses and retreats, but not before leaving Praxagora, the Super-Skrull, and Wraith behind undetected. They make their way inside the ship.
Praxagora and the Super-Skrull keep the enemy at bay, while Wraith continues on. He makes it to their super weapon, the assimilated body of the former Supreme Intelligence. A vision coalesces from the body of the Supreme Intelligence, of Wraith’s dead father, the same vision that has been pushing him along on his quest.
From his living death, Supremor reached out to task heroes with the survival of the Kree (see Quasar above). Wraith is angry at having been deceived, even though the vision assures him that the murderer he seeks is still out there.
The Supreme Intelligence brought him there because of the Exolon. When the Phalanx activate their weapon, the soul of the Supremor will be released from its living death, but the Exolon have the power to absorb his soul, and free him from the Phalanx machinery. Wraith, still angry, can choose to do nothing and the man that killed his father will surely fall under Phalanx control, a fate worse than death, or he can become the bearer of the Kree God.
Ronan arrives and attacks, just as the weapon is activated. Wraith decides to do as the vision described, and absorb the Supreme Intelligence’s soul into his Exolon. At the same time, the energy that is released completely obliterates the Phalanx fleet, including the ones holding their Select in bondage, freeing Ronan from their control.
Ronan is despondent over having betrayed his people, and begs for Wraith to kill him, even attempting to force his hand. Wraith does not, insisting that the Kree people need their emperor.
A few days later, Ronan has joined the resistance. Nobody knows that he begged Wraith to end his life only a few days before, and certainly nobody suspects that Wraith carries the soul of the being they worship as a God.
He believes that soul he carries will be a source of hope in their darkest hour, and with the Phalanx in control of the galaxy, that darkest hour is sure to come.
My brain thoughts: An unexpected turn of events. I know I’ve read all these comics before, but I have absolutely no memory of where all this is going. (Sometimes, I have the worst memory when it comes to remembering comics I know I’ve read before. That’s about 22% of the reason why I do these retrospectives, and the rest is I want to share the joy of great comics with all of you. All three of you.)
Nova #7. Writers: Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning; Artists: Sean Chen, Brian Denham, and Scott Hanna; Editor: Bill Rosemann
Nova revels in his new role as a Phalanx Select, admiring the Babel Spires that seal the Kree empire off from the rest of the galaxy. He returns to Gamora, but the last words of Ko-Rel echo in his mind. He hears a faint voice say to him, “Why aren’t you screaming?”
He talks to Gamora, but again he hears the voice, “Why aren’t you screaming?”
Suddenly, everything has gone white. He has stepped inside his own mind for a moment, and is addressed by himself, the way he used to look. Old Nova asks new Nova why he isn’t fighting the transmode virus. Despite new Nova’s claims that the virus is a gift, old Nova reveals that they are, in fact, fighting the infection (in symbolic fashion).
Old Nova represents the tiny fragment of his psyche that the Worldmind was able to protect from the transmode infection. He has been fighting the virus from the very beginning, but the power given back to them by Ko-Rel when she died was enough of a boost to turn the tide.
The virus cannot be removed, but they can get it under control, in remission, like a cancer. All it takes is for new Nova to ask himself, “Why aren’t you screaming?”
With that, Richard Rider is back in control. He blasts anyone and everything around him, and rockets off into space. Having been linked to the Phalanx intelligence, Worldmind knows how to get past the force shell barrier. They are going to open a stargate inside a neutron star and teleport outside of the barrier.
Selects Gamora and Drax suit up to chase him down. After hesitating, Nova speeds toward the star, opening the stargate on Worldmind’s command. Drax and Gamora are pulled along in his wake.
On the other side, Nova and Worldmind find themselves on the far side of the universe, in uncharted territory.
A few light years away, Drax and Gamora have appeared too, and begin the hunt to find Nova and silence him.
My brain thoughts: I like the way they used the “why aren’t you screaming?” text boxes in those beginning pages. That was very effective. There is a location coming up in the next issue that will be very important to the Guardians of the Galaxy series.
My final brain thoughts: Dragon-lovers, soul suits, half-naked Gamora, emotional absent parenting, gooey cosmic deities, and Adam Warlock, the good version.
It was a long one this week, filled with emotions, and feelings left unsaid on both sides. I still love you readers, but I’m not sure I’m “in love” with all of you. It had to be said.
The story is moving along, adding more and more characters, until we eventually reach the exciting follow-up, Annihilation: Conquest!
Next week, the Guardians of the Galaxy!