For years before Keith Giffen, Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning and the like came around, Marvel's "Cosmic" properties were as dead as a derelict space freighter. This offered the creative teams who tried to tackle them a lot of freedom, but a bit of a problem. "Annihilation" is ultimately a six-issue miniseries. But to get there, nearly every character - practically all pre-existing - needed to be built back from the ground up.
Their solution was a collection of miniseries, a one-shot prologue and a preceding mini that reintroduces Drax the Destroyer. Drax had gone through big changes over the years. Introduced by Jim Starlin as a fairly intelligent creature hell-bent on destroying Thanos, Drax's mind gradually became as weak as his body was strong. When a prison ship carrying him and several low-level but familiar villains (to me, at least) crashes in Alaska, he gains a new body and the outcast young girl Cammi as a friend. The grim series, written by Giffen, makes for an excellent setup. It's easy to grasp on to the characters, and injects humour at the right times.
The prologue introduces the story's main threat, the Annihilation Wave: a large series of warships under the command of Negative Zone-master Annihilus. As a villain, Annihilus is a bit hit-or-miss. Here, it's a home run. His armada storms across the galaxy destroying everything in its wake including the galactic police force known as the "Nova Corps." A timely move by Marvel, as it was clearly infringing on the Green Lantern Corps which was being rebuilt by Geoff Johns at the same time. Classic Nova Richard Rider is the sole surviving member and - merged with the Corps' AI "Worldmind" - is now extremely powerful. The other survivors from the wave's attack on the Kyln prison? Drax and Cammi. The pieces begin to fit together.
With the wave threatening the galaxy, different planets and species need to band to together and it's through the set of miniseries where we're introduced to the major players of the United Front. They go 3-for-4 in terms of quality: Rider and Drax try to rescue a planet - an effort that gets a former Avenger killed; Silver Surfer learns of an Annihilus plot to kidnap and harness the power of Galactus' former heralds, revealing an evil alliance with Thanos(!); Ronan the Accuser, a Kree justice trying to clear his name. finds a powerful exiled Kree camp and does battle with a group of elite spacewomen led by future-Guardian Gamora. All of these are excellent. Super-Skrull's story with its weak art and predictable narrative... not so much.
After all that build, we are treated to the main event of the United Front - Nova, Drax, Firelord, Gamora, Ronan, Star-Lord and many others - taking on the Annihilation Wave head-on in an all-out space war. The action comes fast and furious. Former Galactus heralds are controlled by Annihilus using creepy-as-hell mind-control bugs under their skin; Galactus is defeated by two beings equal to his power and appropriated by the wave as a mindless weapon; Thanos does what we all expect and betrays Annihilus... but things do not end for him as he anticipated. It's an onslaught of fun, made sweeter by its various moments of revenge. C'mon... pissing off Galactus? You KNOW there's going to be hell to pay.
However, I can see the reason why fewer fans have flocked to this event series: its size. Without the prologues, a lot of the scope of "Annihilation" is lost and takes away from some of its bigger moments. Still, collected now as an omnibus that can be picked up for about 80 dollars, you get a lot of great stories for a relatively fair price. It's the perfect form for this out-of-this-world collection.