By: Grant Morrison (story), Frazier Irving (art)

The Story: If you haven’t learned this by now, stay away from deep, dark pits.

The Review: I’ve been at this gig for nearly four years and so I consider myself fairly deep in the comic book biz, but one of the ways in which I’m still a comics rookie is the fact that—are you ready for this?—I have never once read one of Morrison’s non-mainstream works.* It’s true. I always meant to get around to it; The Invisibles and his Vertigo works are right there on my reading list. But my time has mostly been occupied keeping up with what’s new rather than looking back at the past.

In this sense, Annihilator is perfectly suited to me because while it presents as a very different kind of Morrison work, it’s as obsessed with the intersection of fiction and reality as everything else Morrison does. Here, that intersection manifests as a black hole in space—2492.Sagittarius A, “the Great Annihilator”—which connects to a sinkhole on a Hollywood hone purchased by Ray Spass (pronounced “space”), a screenwriter working on the project that’ll top his past successes and seal his fame.

All the while, Ray seems to be feverishly channeling through that hole the twisted, futuristic world of Max Nomax, a mad scientist whose current residence is Dis, a floating prison outside the Great Annihilator. There’s a chicken-egg quality to Nomax’s existence in that you can’t tell if he’s a product of Ray’s frantic imagination or merely the inspiration. An FBI agent refers to Nomax as a “fugitive” and Nomax himself declares to Ray, “You called. I came.” But in the Morrison worldview, story draws upon reality to produce its own reality which gives birth to still more stories and so on. This may be the cannibalistic cycle behind Nomax, whose very name feeds on itself.

Paradox and contradiction are at the heart of Annihilator. Nomax is described as “a genius or a lunatic,” a criminal punished for causing the death of his lover yet whose greatest crime is to find a cure for death. Both he and Ray share a perverse taste in the sordid, to sink themselves ever further into the abyss. Told that his new home is the site of Satan worship, murder, mysterious deaths, evil spirits, drugs, and sex, Ray replies eagerly, “The weirder, the creepier, the more wrong—the better I like it.” Nomax reacts similarly to the grim tales of Dis’ previous occupants: “Everything you say just makes the whole thing more attractive.”

But Nomax’s scientific brilliance is better equipped to deal with the void than Ray’s drug-fueled bursts of creativity. At one point, Ray calls out for a roomful of hookers, pumping them with lines of cocaine and alcohol, demanding a black mass and orgy, but at the same time he hysterically demands they all leave him alone to work in peace, to denigrate a photo of a past lover that he can’t stop gazing at. If he can’t seem to make up his mind, blame the black hole that’s opened up in his brain, perhaps the true annihilator of the series. Could this be why Nomax suddenly appears, asking, “What can you and I do for one other [sic]?” To maintain his existence long enough to find his death cure, Nomax may need to use that cure to keep Ray alive—but which is it?

In the pantheon of comic book artists, Irving is the god of horror and the supernatural. While certainly capable of lighter fare, his figures tend toward the twisted: faces tend towards the haggard and drawn, smiles toward grimaces and Jack-o-Lantern sneers. Paranoia radiates from the pages; it may be the shadows creeping across his monochromatic panels or the way characters always seem to be seeing something you’re not, but Irving’s art leads you to believe in the existence of the vague and formless other, to glance over your shoulder for the terror just out of sight.

Conclusion: A roiling mass of fiction, metafiction, and realism that threatens to gnaw itself to death, if only to yield new, even more potent life.

Grade: A

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: * Also, aside from Watchmen, I’ve never read anything else by Alan Moore. I may be the worst.

– I don’t know what this says about her, but I’m pretty sure I have a friend who’d love to have one of those “Bug-Eyes.” “Artificial emotional companions” sound about right.