**** (four of five stars)
En route to Hala, Nova encounters a group of Sentries who attempt to kill him. Worldmind comes under attack from a viral program and, upon analyzing it, realizes that the Phalanx have taken over the Kree Empire. He advises Nova to flee to a neighboring galaxy to secure assistance to fight the Phalanx, but Nova continues heading to Hala. The Phalanx, meanwhile, have corrupted Gamora, who uses her (ahem) knowledge of Nova to direct an attack, sending a thousand Sentries after him at once via teleportation. The Sentries box in Nova, who’s forced to open a stargate to incinerate the Sentries and escape. Wounded, Nova takes Worldmind’s advice and attempts to leave the Empire, only to run directly into the “wall” that the Phalanx established around the Empire in “Annihilation: Conquest Prologue.” His body crashes onto Drez-Lar, a Kree outworld. He’s discovered by Ko-Rel, a Kree Captain leading a group of soldiers stranded on the planet after they covered the retreat of the other inhabitants during the Annihilation Wave. Worldmind deputizes her as a member of the Nova Corps to protect Richard while he heals. Meanwhile, Gamora and her hunters arrive on planet. Ko-Rel dispatches one team easily before returning to the ship to plan strategy with her crew. She considers leaving Drez-Lar to go get help, but Worldmind pushes her to stay there to protect Richard. (She has also learned of the fall of the Kree Empire to the Phalanx, contributing to her desire to leave.) Suddenly, the Phalanx invade the base, slaughtering many of the Kree (including Ko-Rel’s three closest confidantes). Ko-Rel tries to distract the Phalanx by fleeing the base, but Gamora sees through the ruse and finds Nova, infecting him. Ko-Rel returns to base to find her crew obliterated and leaves Drez-Lar seeking revenge. Worldmind directs her to Nova, ordering her to kill him lest the Worldmind itself becomes infected. Meanwhile, Gamora and Nova hunt down Drax, infecting him. Ko-Rel arrives shortly thereafter, attacking Nova. Worldmind guides her in the battle, and she manages to disable Nova with the help of some trickery in a central thermal-processing core. She hesitates before killing him, which gives Gamora the opening to kill her. Nova continues to work on behalf of the Phalanx while Worldmind continues to resist the transmode virus, though he is losing the battle. Nova is eventually roused from the collective consciousness by Worldmind, who manifests a Free-Richard personna to convince Phalanx-Richard gestalt to resist. (Worldmind’s efforts to fight off the virus are represented by avatars of the Nova Corps.) Richard rebels, freeing himself of the Phalanx’s control and escaping. Drax and Gamora pursue him while Worldmind directs him to a neutron star. By flying through it he escapes the enclosed Kree space, but finds himself on the “far side of the universe.” He also accidentally dragged Drax and Gamora with him, who resume pursuit.
DnA continue to have a great knack for pacing and an even better ear for dialogue. Moreover, I really could not predict outcomes in this book. The Drez-Lar crew getting slaughtered, Nova becoming part of the Phalanx, Gamora stabbing Ko-Rel: it was all just one shock after another! One of the things I think DnA really capture here -- as they did in "Annihilation: Conquest Prologue" -- is the emotional and physical toll bouncing from crisis to crisis must take. You don't really see it in other superhero books; the Avengers and the X-Men always seem fresh as daisies when the newest crisis presents itself. Instead, Richard looks and sounds totally like a man on the verge here. It's what makes the story believable, different, and memorable.
1) In terms of the Drez-Lar part of the story, I found it particularly impressive that DnA managed to create a whole group of believable and interesting secondary characters in just a few pages. Ko-Rel’s crew were distinct, funny, and real. DnA even manage to differentiate her confidantes, giving us three characters with clear personalities and strengths. By doing so, DnA actually convinced me they were going to be key to the plot of the arc, so you can imagine my surprise when they were Ensign Jones-ed. Their deaths imbue the issue with an emotional gravity that it wouldn’t have had if DnA hadn’t so carefully crafted the characters.
2) Holy crap, I think I forgot to breathe for most of issue #6! The fight between Nova and Ko-Rel was intense. Moreover, as I said above, I totally didn’t see Gamora stabbing her coming. I understand why she had to die, to inspire Nova to fight off the transmode virus, but, I have to say, I was sad to discover in issue #7 that she had actually died. (In retrospect, it made Nova crushing of the image of her son all the sadder.) Ko-Rel was a cool character and I hope Nova does find her son.
4) Phalanx-Richard’s narration over the first few pages of issue #7 about the wonders of being a member of the Phalanx was downright creepy.
5) Along those lines, the conversation between Phalanx-Richard and Free-Richard was pretty awesome. Having Worldmind use the Nova Corps – including Ko-Rel – as his avatars in the fight against the virus was seriously clever. I also liked how Free-Richard acknowledged that Ko-Rel was going to weigh on his conscious for a long time. Again, DnA did a great job really creating her character, even if it was only really for two issues, and I’m glad to see it acknowledged that her death meant something.
6) I loved when Worldmind got cranky!
1) Pet Peeve #2: Seriously, issue #5 was almost a textbook case! We learn about the Select here and we also learn that Ko-Rel isn’t the new Nova but, instead, just a deputized Nova guarding Nova while he heals. I’m pretty sure we could’ve been told that in-story. If that wasn’t enough, we get confirmation that Ko-Rel is dead in the introduction to issue #7, killing my hope that she might have survived. My delusions should be ruined by the issue, not the introduction to it!
2) Frankly? Gamora’s breasts were INSANE in issue #6. I mean, I get that artists are usually straight guys drawing for straight guys, but, seriously, if Gamora’s breasts were really that big, she could never have become the Deadliest Woman in the Galaxy. She’d be practically tripping over herself or, at least, injuring herself every time she swung a knife. I mean, draw all the skimpy costumes you want, fellas, but let’s at least stick to some sense of biological reality.