By Matthew Jent
Writer: Grant Morrison
Illustrator: Frazer Irving
Letterer: Jared K. Fletcher
Book & Logo Designer: John J. Hill
“Get this black mass on the floor.”
Annihilator begins with a black hole, but the thrust of its story concerns Ray Spass (pronounced space, as in outer), a screenwriter whose big hits are a few years behind him. He still gets “paid to be weird,” but nearly everyone he meets — his new landlord, his agent, the FBI — is gently prodding him to produce something now, something new.
But like a ray of light trapped by a black hole’s gravity well, Ray’s creative process is slow and stuck. He keeps turning in rough act ones to his agent, unable to get any closer to what his story is really about.
So Ray does what anyone would do. He moves into a haunted house.
Well, maybe. Ray’s not the most reliable point of view character, so those voices, those fleeting glimpses of figures and boots and hands reaching out from the dark? They might be real, they might be ghosts, or they might be his own imagination running away with him.
Hey, I like it when Morrison writes about the Justice League. But I’d much rather spend time in a world like this, where the personal meets the weird. That’s what Morrison does best.
Ray’s screenplay-in-progress, also called “Annihilator,” is about Max Nomax, a prisoner on the edge of a black hole seeking “the cure for death.” Ray’s girlfriend has left him (or died, or disappeared), and Ray writes his own emotional wasteland into the screenplay. When Max meets Baby Bug-Eyes, a walking, talking teddy bear and “artificial emotional companion,” he kicks him across the room.
Ray is writing a story about being trapped at the edge of a black hole from a house with a growing sinkhole in the yard. Ray thinks of himself as Samuel Taylor Coleridge, writing his own unfinished Kubla Khan. Ray’s work is interrupted by a party of prostitutes he’s invited over himself, creating his own obstacles to prevent his self-perceived work of genius from being completed. Because it can still potentially be a great work of art if it’s never properly finished, right?
The meta-masterstroke for this six-issue series would be to release everything but the final issue, freezing it in time. We’ve all heard about Dickens’s The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Gilliam’s Don Quixote, Moore and Sienkiewicz’s Big Numbers — unfinished projects with so much potential for greatness they have their own gravity. But part of their mythology is that they remain undone. They don’t have to stand up to the same kind of critique as finished projects, because their endings live in our imaginations.
Frazer Irving’s art is reminiscent of 90s Vertigo comics, but without the muddy rushwork that could populate some of those monthly books. Ray is drawn as moody and darkly attractive, with a tuft of black curls erupting from one quarter of his otherwise shaved head. The art loops and curves, drawing the eye, possessing a gravity of its own. Sometimes it’s like looking through a distorted peephole or an iPhone panorama picture. Sometimes it’s like being on a rail or a rollercoaster that pulls you along. Sometimes it’s like a shifting floor, using your own sense of balance to push you in the direction you should go.
Irving’s style is a nice mashup of some of Bernie Wrightson, ghost-bear-style Bill Sienkiewicz, and Jim Starlin at his cosmically most alluring, especially when Max Nomax flashes his spooky smile. Even without Morrison’s big ideas, that’s a visual space opera I would sign up for. With Morrison, I’m trusting that Annihilator is going to get even weirder, and I’m excited to see what Irving can do.
Sinkholes. Black holes. A black mass. This is Morrison’s best, most confident book in years.
Maybe the “cure for death” sought by Max Nomax is actually an eternal pause button, becoming frozen in space and time, at least to the perspective of an outside observer. We see the light slowing down, but to the light itself? It crosses over that point of no return. Do you want to be frozen, or do you want to see what’s on the other side?
The light knows things we do not.