Before the Guardians of the Galaxy movie became a world-wide hit in 2014, casual fans likely didn’t realize that Marvel Comics contained a rich, vibrant catalog of amazing “cosmic” characters and decades of astonishing stories set in the vastness of space.
Sure, casual fans likely had a passing understanding that Iron Man or Captain America sometimes battled aliens and Thor didn’t grow up in Spider-Man’s friendly neighborhood, but most had their minds’ blown by the likes of Rocket Raccoon and Groot.
Indeed, Marvel Comics has a galaxy of characters rivaled perhaps only by the Star Wars franchise. So, this article (and one that will follow it) will take you issue-by-issue through the preeminent modern Marvel cosmic storylines, which are incidentally the stories and characters that came to life in the Guardians of the Galaxy movies.
Marvel Cosmic Reading Order
The big cosmic event that earned Marvel cosmic acclaim was Annihilation. Operating on the fringe of Marvel Comics, Annihilation wasn’t a huge seller at release. But word of mouth brought in an audience who were hooked after reading.
Here’s the reading order for the Marvel Annihilation event:
- Drax the Destroyer #1-4 (2005)
- Annihilation: Prologue #1 (2006)
- Annihilation: Nova #1-4 (2006)
- Annihilation: Silver Surfer #1-4 (2006)
- Annihilation: Super-Skrull #1-4 (2006)
- Annihilation: Ronan #1-4 (2006)
- Annihilation #1-6 (2006)
- Annihilation: Heralds of Galactus #1-2 (2007)
- Nova Vol. 4 #1-3 (2007)
- What If: Annihilation Reached Earth? #1 (2008)
The above is over 30 comic books and you’ve undoubtedly noticed the pattern: A bunch of 4-issue miniseries converged into a 6-part core event comic.
Alas, the issues are hard to track down. Marvel cosmic was flying under the radar at the time, so the 4-issue series had low print and poor sales. Normally you may be able to find comics like like in dollar bins, but positive word of mouth meant popularity later soared, so good luck curating them issue by issue now.
Marvel did print the entire event in two paperback volumes – Annihilation: The Complete Collection Vol. 1 and Annihilation: The Complete Collection Vol. 2 – but a (pricy) deluxe hardcover omnibus releases soon.
A reader’s best bet is Marvel Unlimited, where a monthly fee allows you to read tens of thousands of back issues, including, of course, the entire Annihilation cosmic event.
But I know you. You’re a busy nerd and likely won’t read the Annihilation event straight through, even if it’s conveniently on Marvel Unlimited. No, you’ll pick and choose. Well, what follows is a brief synopsis of each part of the saga, plus my recommendation on its skipability. You’re welcome.
Drax the Destroyer
Movie watchers know Drax as a being with reflexes so fast he can catch sarcasm as it flies over his head. But Drax was entirely different in his first couple of decades in comics.
This 4-issue series tells the story of the “resurrection” of Drax into the character the world knows from the MCU. Why read about how Drax was born to kill Thanos when we already know that from the movies? Besides, he’s featured enough in the Annihilation comics to come.
My recommendation: Skip it.
This single issue sets the stage for the event to come and provides an introduction to most of the major characters. The art is poor but the story told is important to the entire event. Sure, you technically can come in fully cold, but this prologue issue is integral.
Although other writers handle duties for the miniseries, Keith Giffen is the overall architect of Annihilation. He’s best known for his work with DC, including Justice League and being the creator of Lobo, but he does solid work here.
Also helpful in helping readers understand the characters, worlds, and entities of Marvel comics are pages in the back of issues called “Nova Corps Database,” which are akin to the old Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe. The database pages in the back of this prologue issue are particularly helpful to readers brand new to Marvel cosmic stories.
My recommendation: Read it.
I mentioned that Keith Giffen was not alone in penning Annihilation. Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning (oft referred to as DNA) were the writers of the Nova miniseries. And it is excellent.
Fans of the New Warriors will recognize Richard Rider, but this is him all grown up and serving in the Nova Corps. Of the many miniseries that lead up to the 6-part event, Annihilation: Nova is the most integral and also the best.
My recommendation: Read it!
Annihilation: Silver Surfer
The Silver Surfer sensed the disturbance created by the Annihilation wave. He was met by the forces of Annihilus when he investigated, which spiraled into a story that involved Galactus and many of his Heralds.
It’s a good miniseries with plenty of action and fine art. But you can also fully enjoy and understand the core 6-part story without it. Read it if you’re a fan of Silver Surfer stories or have interest in the “pantheon” of Galactus’ Heralds. Skip it if you are eager to just get the core story.
My recommendation: Read it?
Long-time comic book fans might remember Super-Skrull as a foe of the Fantastic Four. In fact, Super-Skrull was enhanced by the Skrull military with the combined powers of the Fantastic Four specifically to do battle with them.
The miniseries was an attempt to write the Annihilation story through his perspective, giving him his own cast of characters and mission. It’s full of navel gazing and simplistic plot points meant to examine the “nature of a hero.” The whole things wraps up extolling a very Huey Lewis the “power of love” vibe. Skip it and just roll with Super-Skrull randomly showing up in the main event.
My recommendation: Skip it!
Since the Kree play a central role in Annihilation, it’s understandable that Ronan would play a role in the event, being that he’s one of the most recognizable individual Kree characters, for what that’s worth.
The miniseries takes place on a backwater world where for 4 issues, Ronan monologues about his love for the Kree and pledges his allegiance to them despite their banishment of him.
Note: despite the fact that a reader going back to this material would never expect the comic book to match the characters exactly as they appeared in the MCU, the appearance of Gamora in this miniseries is jarring. She is depicted so wildly different in this comic that it’s difficult to reconcile.
My recommendation: Skip it.
Nova forms an army, which includes Drax, Gamora, Ronan, the Heralds of Galactus, and Peter Quill, to oppose the Annihilation Wave. With the aid of Thanos, Annihilus plots against Galactus.
The story includes Quasar and Moondragon. Galactic prisons are a key factor. Ravenous hordes are unleashed upon whole planets.
And those are just the things I can mention with out spoiling it.
It’s *ahem* cosmic in scope. It’s action packed and filled with twists and turns. The stakes are high, yet readers really get to dive in close with many of characters. The artwork is stunning.
In short, it’s excellent.
My recommendation: Read it. Obviously.
Annihilation: Heralds of Galactus
Two filler issues that aren’t necessary unless you are a completionist.
My recommendation: Skip it!
Nova Vol. 4 #1-3
Written by Abnett and Lanning, the 4th volume of the Nova solo series is a must read for a variety of reasons, the first of which is because it is excellent.
These three issues are also a great tie-in to the events that are occurring on Earth. The Annihilation event takes place during the events of Marvel Civil War. While the Annihilation wave was ravaging space sa hero vs. hero conflict was ravaging the superhero community. Think how the Guardians of the Galaxy movie and Captain America: Civil War were happening at roughly the same time in the MCU.
These issues are also a wonderful call back for fans of the New Warriors. They are a painful reminder of how Nova’s team sparked Civil War and how Nova had always struggled with his relationship with his father. A lot happens in three issues.
Finally, Nova Vol. 4 #1-3 is an excellent lead-in to the sequel to Annihilation. Yes, there indeed was a sequel. The event was so good that it would’ve been a shame not to follow it up.
Likewise, this article has a sequel! Click here for the reading order for Annihilation: Conquest.