I have a lot of confused feelings and even confused thoughts about Issue #5 of Annihilator, one of my favorite comics out right now. This is because the first half of the issue was practically a pleasure cruise compared to the weighty conflicts of the second half.
But what did I expect? This is the story of a cosmic fall from grace. A friend of mine likes to say that the worst tease in life is hope, and life itself is much easier to take without hope. Hope's the bitch, so to speak. I can see where they are coming from, though I'm not sure I feel the same way. It reminds me of Olympia in her egg—you can see her, she looks peaceful and lifelike but Schrodinger-style unless you open the egg, you don't really know for sure if she's dead or alive. In this issue we learn that such distinctions may be irrelevant anyway.
[*Spoilers for Issue #5 of Annihilator below!]
Nomax, Spass, and Luna have lived in a state of grace so far in the series. In retrospect it seems magical, almost playful, and certainly visually appealing in the hands of Frazer Irving. Likewise, dialogue is witty, funny, silly, always keeping the energy fairly high as Ray Spass attempts to pen the screenplay that reconstructs Max Nomax's life. They are in a state of grace because no one knows the one thing that would affect them so drastically it would change their course of action or most likely make them give up on their efforts. For Nomax, that's what he actually did the past and what has happened to him. For Spass, it's the fact that he really is dying and no amount of writing is going to change that. For Luna, that's a little less clear, though I suspect it affects her too. She's reached a place of peace in her life, it seems. What if she knew that it was going to be destroyed? Would she go any further? That's just speculation, but I am a little worried for her. She, like Olympia, exists in an uncertain balance.
Issue #5 of Annihilator rips away layers of hope in quite an alarming way, but part of you wants to kick yourself for ever forgetting that's where things were headed. It was always in plain sight—in the comic itself—and in interviews Grant Morrison has done—that Nomax may well be the devil, that Ray Spass may well be doomed, and that simply coming to understand the nature of the anti-hero might be a lot of the point of the comic. What I'm suggesting, and I may well be wrong on the whole, but right only in part, is that we've already sailed by the purpose of the comic's narrative somewhere between issues #4 and #5. Like when you've been on a long road trip to several locations and only later, looking back, you realize that the best and most significant one happened in the middle, not actually at the end. But it's not all going to become clear in what is probably not going to be a "Hollywood ending" like in Spass' last film, until the end. What purpose might that be? Examining the ambiguity of good and evil at full tilt. Gradually disarming your tendency toward snap judgments long enough for you to learn something about human beings and the way we think—and even deconstructing a little what a "conflict driven story", so common in comics means.
You can't read Issue #4 without feeling some sympathy with the childish, vengeful, yet strangely emotional Nomax, but here in Issue #5, Spass starts to challenge him directly. It's a pretty neatly laid reversal. In Issue #4, Nomax looked "good" and Spass looked repulsive, whereas in #5, Spass turns around and calls foul on Nomax in a decidedly high-minded and judgmental tone. He calls him out repeatedly for considering his conflict with Vada so important that he'd be willing to destroy Olympia just to "win". Luna, listening to all this, pronounces them both "disgusting". It rings true. She's the only one who can cast a stone and she has pretty good aim.
In this issue, we see shades of evil or "the Devil himself" in Nomax, so why doesn't that feel like the last word? Do we believe what Spass says happened in Nomax's life when he's the only one who really "knows"? Can he be mistaken? Can his interpretation of events be skewed, even if he knows the events? Or is it just that we can understand, even if we know it's "disgusting" that someone might do something terrible to someone they love. As Nomax might have indeed loved Olympia (and his reaction to the egg so far supports that).
Max Nomax has always been '"fallen", but from what? We don't really know much about Vada, but creating a Utopia where people are like automatons seems questionable (isn't that just another way of looking at the Garden of Eden though?). If he rebels against Vada is that really a "bad" thing? When does Nomax fall? When we stop believing in him? When Ray Spass stops believing in him? Actually that last one may hold some water. In this "Creation Story", let's not forget who is actually the one telling the story. And he's telling us, now, that Nomax is beyond redemption, beyond sympathy. We're paused in mid-fall for Nomax until the series conclusion in Issue #6.
This has been one of the most rewarding comic reads for me of the past few months, drawn in by Irving's gorgeous use of color and sculptural dimensions, his wicked facial expressions being a big highlight. It's a comic designed to make you think, "Wait, what?" about anti-heroes and whether they deserve our adulation and sympathy. And to what degree we are or aren't them. There could be quite a wicked ending for Annihilator coming up. But will there be any sympathy for the Devil?
Annihilator is published by Legendary Entertainment, and #5 was released on February 4th.