The best thing about Annihilator is the subtextual revelation that legendary comics writer Grant Morrison worries if his work is any good.
Grant Morrison’s one of the most revered, acclaimed comics writers alive. He’s done defining runs on many of the biggest superhero franchises around like Superman, Batman and X-Men. He’s also turned out genius-level original material like We3, The Invisibles and The Filth. You’d think a guy like him would have tamed the worries and insecurities that come with being a professional storyteller. But a recent collection of his Annihilator miniseries seems to indicate that the superstar writer is just as human as anyone else in that regard.
The main character in Annihilator is Ray Spass, a screenwriter whose last big hit is long in the past. Spass—who pretentiously insists on the pronunciation “space”—is working on the big tentpole project that could turn his career around but the only problem is that he’s been working on it for years. Things get worse when Spass gets diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. Then, things get crazy when Max Nomax, the nihilistic super-thief antihero of the Annihilator screenplay, shows up in Ray’s house. Nomax says that all of reality will die if Spass doesn’t finish his project, which looks like it might be his last when other super-beings from Nomax’s reality show up.
On one hand, Annihilator is a bombastic, darkly humorous send-up of the way that the Hollywood movie-making machine grinds up and destroys hopes and dreams . It’s got an agent who chirps in the latest therapy-speak, lurid moments of objectification, a crazy road-trip and a mansion where some fucked-up stuff happened a long time ago.
The typical mix of Morrison flourishes is in full effect in Annihilator: high-minded science-fiction premises that flirt with transgressive overreach, a gothic fascination with the abyss, characters that fall somewhere in between broad archetypes and specifically individualized personas. Frequent collaborator Frazer Irving turns in some of the best art of his career here, moving from smoothly impressionistic near-realism to jagged nervous breakdown linework in the space of a few panels, all done in masterful hues that show that Irving has some of the best color sense in the comics business.
But the most fascinating thing about Annihilator is how it’s a funhouse mirror portrait of what it means to be a “success” in a system where creators are disposable. When I interviewed Morrison about Annihilator last year, he said that the real-world inspirations for Ray Spass were people he met, and that the creative angst in the series wasn’t drawn from his own life. But it feels like Morrison must also have felt the way that Ray Spass does.
Whether it’s movies, books, TV or music, creators and creations are linked in a life-or-death symbiosis. You’re only as good as your last work and if a work is going to be your last, then it better be good. Annihilator gets at a sort tension that few people will ever know: the pressure to create entire universes and the wait for a judgement that deems them either worthy or not. Yeah, existence goes on if an artistic endeavor flops but Annihilator drives home the idea that life may not feel worth living if your work isn’t appreciated.
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