May 6, 2013

Back Issue Ben: Guarding the Galaxy, Part 13: Conquest!

Back Issue Ben is a column written by Ben Smith for the Comics Cube! See his archives here.

Part Thirteen: Conquest!
by Ben Smith

Previously, Ultron was revealed to be the mastermind behind the Phalanx invasion. Moondragon and Gabe have already fallen in the conflict. Adam Warlock and Phyla Quasar were last seen inside the headquarters of the High Evolutionary before it was destroyed in an explosion. Ronan, the Super-Skrull, and Wraith have traveled to the Ravenous-controlled territories of the Kree empire to obtain the contents of a secret room. Starlord was taken captive by Ultron in the midst of planting explosives to destroy the Phalanx Babel Spire.

Everyone good? Okay, let’s spank this monkey.

Annihilation: Conquest #4. Writers: Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning; Pencils: Tom Raney; Inker: Scott Hanna; Editor: Bill Rosemann

Ultron tortures Starlord for information on the resistance, and the location of Adam Warlock. When conventional torture methods fail to work, he uses his encephalo-ray.

Mantis uses her mental powers to try and shield Starlord from the pain as much as possible.

Blastaar meets with a Select Spaceknight, and they confirm they have removed all of the explosive charges set by Starlord and his team. Mantis mentally contacts Rocket Raccoon, and urges him to come up with another plan.

In deep space, Adam Warlock transports the High Evolutionary and an in-shock Phyla inside a sphere of energy. High Evolutionary suggests they head for Hala, to his backup lab, where he can activate the Kree warrior program to fight against the Phalanx.

Adam tries to console the devastated Phyla. She blames herself for losing control earlier, which drained what power remained in her Quantum Bands. Adam inspects her bands, and says that they remind him of a gem he used to wear (soul gem). Just when Phyla comments that he seems to be gaining more control over his new powers, Adam has another spasm, caused by his close proximity to the Babel Spire and its screaming souls, and they all go tumbling into the atmosphere.

At the Kree-Lar ceded territories, Ronan reveals the contents of the secret room. Fifteen thousand Kree Sentries, untainted by the Phalanx.

Praxagora will interface with the Sentries, and operate them off of her own system, while Wraith will cover them all with Exolon symbiotes to block the transmode virus. Ronan plans to use the Sentries to annihilate Hala, freeing his people by killing them all.

At the Babel Spire, Mantis continues to try and protect Starlord’s mind, until Ultron “sees” her and sends his Select to her location.

With Mantis out of the way, Ultron continues his torture.

Two miles above Hala, Adam recovers in time to save Phyla, leaving High Evolutionary to save himself. While he tries to locate the High Evolutionary, Phyla comments that his new powers seem to resemble magic.

They are attacked by Phalanx sentries, and Phyla breaks her sword while destroying them. She starts to get down on herself, until Adam (clearly getting over his initial confusion and anger) gives her a stern pep talk.

They find the High Evolutionary, but are a little bit too late, as he has already made a deal with the Phalanx.

Cue your best Darth Vader from Empire Strikes Back impression.
“We would be honored... if you would join us.”

The High Evolutionary apologizes before blasting Adam Warlock into unconsciousness.

My brain thoughts: Things are finally starting to ramp up now. Whining Adam Warlock was starting to get old, but he’s taking on more of an organic leadership role in this chapter, consoling and criticizing when appropriate. That’s much better than the usual “let’s just follow Adam Warlock” character development he’s gotten in the past, like in Infinity Gauntlet. One of the good things about this event, and the previous event, is that the teams introduced in each introductory mini-series actually stick together and serve a purpose throughout the event itself. Phyla and Adam work together on their portion of the story, while Ronan and the others are off doing their own thing. Starlord gets the full “Han Solo” torture treatment, in sticking with my Empire Strikes Back analogies. Mantis continues to impress.

Annihilation: Conquest #5. Writers: Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning; Pencils: Tom Raney; Inker: Scott Hanna; Editor: Bill Rosemann

The High Evolutionary watches key moments from Ultron’s lifespan on a monitor, including his first moments of sentience, and his most recent fight against the Avengers (which took place in Mighty Avengers, where he took the form of Janet Van Dyne).

High Evolutionary questions how Ultron and the Phalanx joined forces. One month earlier, the Phalanx accidentally summoned Ultron using one of their Babel receptors. Instead of the Phalanx taking him over, Ultron took over the Phalanx, by sheer force of will.

Present day, Phyla screams at the High Evolutionary for betraying them, and murdering Adam. He replies that he didn’t murder Adam, just subdued him to prepare him for the process. They turn around to see Ultron hooked up to some kind of dual containment units.

Back at the Babel Spire, Bug and Mantis try to fight their way in to free Starlord. Rocket arrives to help, and tells them that he and Groot have come up with another plan, but they need to free Starlord quickly before it’s finished.

At Kree-Lar, Ronan launches his Phalanx proof Kree Sentries, annihilating the Phalanx on that planet before heading toward Hala.

Another flashback, this time of Ultron capturing Korath, and making him his first Select. He also learns about the High Evolutionary’s mission to create a new genetically perfect race of the Kree, as well as intercepting the Spaceknights contact with the Kree about upgrading their security network.

Bug, Rocket, and Mantis infiltrate Starlord’s interrogation room and make quick work of the Phalanx guarding him.

They free him, and try to get out before Rocket’s plan reaches its climax. Groot, aided by Mantis’ biopathy powers, has been growing at an exponential rate, covering the inside of the Babel Spire. They plan to ignite him and use his burning body to bring down the Babel Spire.

With time running out, Mantis uses her pyrokinetic powers to ignite Groot, and the rest of them jump for it from one of the upper levels, to their seeming doom.

Inside, the High Evolutionary’s work reaches fruition, as the Ultron-controlled body of Adam Warlock emerges from the second containment unit.

Ultron had come to appreciate the fusion of techno-organic design in his last encounter with the Avengers. Adam Warlock, the “perfect human,” represented the ideal form to host his consciousness. Now, with Ultron having been successfully transferred into the body of Adam Warlock, he moves on to the next phase of his plan, transferring the Phalanx into the bodies of the perfect Kree soldiers the High Evolutionary has created.

My brain thoughts: Groot is always dying to save the day. Ronan launches a “nuclear strike” against his own people. Why is it that there is always a character trying to wipe out everything and everyone to end a situation, and they’re always unwilling to listen to reason?

Annihilation: Conquest #6. Writers: Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning; Pencilers: Tom Raney and Wellinton Alves; Inker: Scott Hanna; Editor: Bill Rosemann

Outside the energy barrier blocking Kree space, a fleet of ships from all over the galaxy, carrying a wide array of different species, tries over and over again to pierce the barrier, or make contact inside. Nova arrives, with Gamora, Drax, Warlock, and Tyro in tow.

With the barrier already weakened from the efforts of Starlord and his team, Warlock and Tyro are able to pierce the barrier and let everyone through. With the Babel Spire in flames, Starlord and his team continue falling to their deaths. Mantis calls out to Groot for help one last time, and with his dying effort, he sends out a stream of branches to catch their fall. (Rocket still has a twig of Groot, that they can use to hopefully regrow him later.)

Starlord is happy they were able to cripple the spire, but laments the cost of losing Groot and Gabe. Mantis comments about how she had forseen the events, but didn’t say anything because she knew Starlord would not have gone forward with the plan if he had known it would cost the lives of three friends. Initially not catching the three friends part, Starlord catches it in time to ask Mantis who the third friend is. With a look of sorrow on her face, Mantis says “this is the part where Ultron teleports in and hits me.”

Ultron teleports in, deals a devastating blow to Mantis, and takes out Rocket and Bug with ease.

Starlord prepares to face Ultron, but Nova comes flying in, ramming into Ultron.

Warlock, Drax, and Gamora follow right behind, and the battle begins.

The High Evolutionary takes that opportunity to escape, and Phyla is woken up by a vision of Moondragon.

The vision tells her that with the barrier down, the power is returning to her Quantum Bands. Also, Adam Warlock had used her bands to house his soul when Ultron ousted him from his body.

On the edge of Hala space, Ronan and his armada of Sentries continue on their path toward Hala. Down on the surface, the battle continues. Warlock interfaces with the Adam Ultron, sharing his non-aggressive strain of the transmode virus with him. Ultron’s consciousness flees from the body to escape Warlock’s touch.

Phyla arrives to restore Adam Warlock’s soul to its rightful place.

With Adam restored, they all rejoin the battle.

Up above, Ra-Venn views the battle in progress on the video monitor, and pleads with Ronan to call off the strike. He refuses.

The Sentries are diverting off course anyway. Ultron has taken control of Praxagora, and in turn, taken control of the Sentries.

Having taken control of the armada, Ultron leaves Praxagora, but not before overloading her internal fusion core, causing her to explode. The Super-Skrull saves himself, Ra-Venn, Wraith, and Ronan with a force field, but Praxagora does not survive.

The Sentries swarm down upon the surface of Hala, fusing into a giant Ultron.

Adam Warlock and Phyla engage the giant Ultron.

Adam prepares to channel the lost souls pouring out of the damaged spire into Phyla, reforging her sword. Ronan and his crew arrive, and Wraith uses his Exolons to trap Ultron inside of his current form. Phyla lets loose with a massive blow, devastating Ultron and causing him to explode. This time, they feel, they have destroyed him for good. (They didn’t.)

With Ultron gone, the remaining Phalanx cease functioning. Over the next several days, the Kree people try to recover in the aftermath. Warlock, Tyro, and Wraith work to purge all remaining traces of the Phalanx. Bug watches over Mantis on life support, while Rocket works to regrow Groot.

Adam Warlock visits Phyla to inform her that Starlord has a venture he would like to propose to all of them. She joins Adam on their way to meet with Starlord, after delivering one last note to her beloved Moondragon.

My brain thoughts: I seemed to recall Praxagora doing more throughout all of these stories, but she gets offed pretty easily. Wraith didn’t turn out to be that important either. I wonder if him housing the soul of the Supreme Intelligence was ever followed up on anywhere.

My final brain thoughts: Perfect humans, burning tree people, the Empire Strikes Back, ill-advised “nuclear” strikes, and useless Praxagora.

This was it, the pulse-pounding conclusion to the massive follow-up event to Annihilation. The overall coordination seemed a little less tight this go-around. Wraith ended up being fairly unimportant in the grand scheme of things, much like Super-Skrull was last time around. The other characters introduced, primarily in the Starlord series, were the highlight of this second event. Groot and Rocket Raccoon are worth the price of admission alone. Nova’s tie-in issues ended up being fairly important to the ending, as well as keeping him away from the majority of the main story and giving other characters a chance to shine. I know some probably complained about how he swooped in at the end with those other characters, making those tie-ins issues essential for the overall storyline, but I know I didn’t read them the first time out, and I still make it through okay. I can see both arguments, I guess. I felt like the bad guys needed a central figure leading the way, and Ultron served that role capably. There was almost too much emphasis on Ultron once he’s introduced, with the rest of the Phalanx becoming little more than cannon-fodder.

Annihilation: Conquest marked the second major milestone in the rejuvenation of the Marvel Cosmic universe. Nova would return to starring in his own solo series. While the rest of them, well, wouldn’t it be great if there was an ongoing series with all of these great characters in it?...

Next time, the all-new, all-different Guardians of the Galaxy.

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