THE EVOLUTIONARY WAR (1988 Annuals): Super Skrull, Jocasta, Giant Man revived; 1st Speedball, X-Babies, Matthew Plunder; Crystal quits FF; Hercules dies

I’ve been pretty clear on this site that I’m avoiding annuals unless they “matter” because, in my view, most Annuals are…Bad.  But in 1988 Marvel tried something interesting: Almost all their annuals tied together into one big story.  Several of these annuals didn’t tie in heavily, but all had a dog-eared corner banner and all related to it in some way.  Yes, even Punisher.  Even Alf!

Note: Each annual has back-up features, some of which are completely unrelated to the War.  Unless there’s a good reason, I’m not discussing them here.

In reading order, this post covers:

  • X-Factor Annual #3
  • Punisher Annual #1
  • Silver Surfer Annual #1
  • New Mutants Annual #4
  • Fantastic Four Annual #21
  • The Amazing Spider-Man Annual #22
  • Uncanny X-Men Annual #12
  • Web of Spider-Man Annual #4
  • Alf Annual #1
  • West Coast Avengers Annual #3
  • Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man Annual #8
  • Avengers Annual #17

X-Factor Annual #3

It starts with X-Factor Annual #3, where we see some of The High Evolutionary’s “Purifiers,” led by two scientists (we know that because they’re in white lab coats) leading a hostile sterilization of Mole Man’s Moloids.  Suddenly, there’s a psychic blast and we see a bunch of Marvel’s psychic characters feeling it.

X-Factor are drawn to the moloid melee and meet Val-or, a pink-skinned, unique moloid, who has evolved into a psychic moloid.

Meanwhile Apocalypse, who also felt the blast, goes to High Evolutionary to accelerate the moloid mutation—since Apocalypse is all about mutating the mutants—but High Evolutionary wants to allow the natural evolutionary process to do its work uninterrupted.  Apocalypse convinces him, and he begins to shorten the evolutionary process.

As a result, over the course of the story, Val-or becomes a hero (see how his name works, there?) to the moloids as he learns to use his powers and, with the help of X-Factor, fight off the Purifiers.

Thus begins the event.

As I was updating this post I did a little research and learned that this issue is the first appearance of Ka-Zar’s son.

You can barely see him.

This issue also has some hype for the X-Terminators miniseries.

Punisher Annual #1

Next comes Punisher Annual #1, written by series writer Mike Baron and drawn by what might be the first Marvel work by Mark Texeira.  Punisher has largely (and for good reason) been a self-contained series, and the results of his inclusion in this event are mixed.

Overall, this is a typical Mike Baron Punisher tale: He’s in a foreign country (Columbia) tracking down coke dealers, but instead he runs into a High Evolutionary cult that uses “evolved” (high tech) weaponry.  Yeah, it’s a bit of a stretch—Marvel’s clearly trying to pull in readers here.

Silver Surfer Annual #1

Silver Surfer is next, and he’s not even on Earth—but he still gets into the event.  First, he fights Super Skrull.  That’s kind of a cool villain for this event, since’s he’s basically an augmented/evolved skrull.

Also, we see High Evolutionary go to Olympia to see if The Eternals will help him crack Silver Surfer’s genetic code so he can make a super race of Surfers.

The Eternals agree to help, and kidnap Surfer during his fight with Super Skrull, thus enabling The Eternals to experiment on both of them.  In the end, both captives escape and go their separate ways—thus leaving us with an Annual that has little to no impact on the overall Evolutionary War or, frankly, on much of anything at all.  Which is typical for annuals (and absolutely expected for Punisher), but I would expect that a cosmic tie-in series would have had more continuity with Silver Surfer.

As part of the adventure, to get Surfer to participate, it’s necessary to once again shatter the barrier that was intended to keep him on Earth (but now prevents him from entering it).

The destruction of the barrier frees Super Skrull from a “radiation prison” (we all thought he was dead). Here’s how it’s explained:

Surfer’s participation ends when he finds out Galactus is dying and has to try to save his life because, you know, Surfer is a bleeding heart. That occurs in the back up feature.

P.S.: The Eternals are kind of dicks in this Annual.

New Mutants Annual #4

Next comes The New Mutants annual #4, which is by the books’ regular creative team.  As you might expect, this ties directly to the X-Factor annual because Louise Simonson wrote both of them—it’s the clearest connection so far between all of these loosely related Evolutionary War annuals.

High Ev has decided that mutation is not the same thing as evolution, so he’s kidnapping mutants and trying to cure them.  He puts his sights on Magma, which leads Empath (of the Hellions) and White Queen to recruit Magneto and The new Mutants to help save her.  (Empath and Magma have been having a thing going for a while now.)

This tale has some impact: During the battle with High Ev, Mirage finds that her power to create illusions evolves and now she can actually create physical manifestations instead of just illusion.

That’s a substantial power-up.

Amazing Spider-Man Annual #22

Mark Bagley’s first work for Marvel is in this annual, as is the first appearance of Speedball.  Spider-Man is mistakenly accused (again) of being a criminal, and Daredevil teams up to help him foil Kingpin.  High Evolutionary is involved because Kingpin is upset with him for screwing with one of his drug sources—in the Punisher annual—so Kingpin goes after High Evolutionary’s Purifier team.  Also, H.E. has a plan to sterilize everyone in New York who doesn’t suit his view of what people should look like.  Kingpin doesn’t like that, either, because the only person allowed to f*(! up New York is him.

We also see bystander Robbie Baldwin, who becomes the hero Speedball.  He’s just kinda dropped into the action without much explanation. Weird origin.

Then Speedball gets his own story as a back-up feature.

Fantastic Four Annual #21

On to The Fantastic Four Annual #21, which is written by Englehart, the series author, and drawn by Kieron Dwyer.

In the FF tale, High Evolutionary is looking to steal The Inhumans’ Terrigen Mists.  So a theme is developing: Kidnapping moloids, Silver Surfer, Super Skrull, mutants…Kinda cool.

We haven’t seen much of Uatu lately, but he randomly pops in and says he won’t be interfering with Ev’s appearance on the blue area of Earth’s Moon, where The Inhumans live.  But there’s also another Watcher with him—not sure why. It’s Aron the Watcher.

The Inhumans fairly easily rout Evolutionary’s troops and the Terrigen Mists remain protected.

After the story, Black Bolt orders Crystal to stay with The Inhumans rather than return to Earth as one of the Fantastic Four.  He can talk, apparently, in soundless space and only minimal impact occurs.

So, this ends up being pretty significant: Crystal quits the FF.

And now…

Uncanny X-Men Annual #12

The X-Men go to The Savage Land, which was destroyed by Terminus in Avengers #257, where High Evolutionary had planned to “reboot” The Savage Land only to learn that Terminus in fact survived the events of Avengers #257.

I do like how he claps to smush H.E.

The X-Men essentially team up with High Evolutionary and, in the end, Terminus is defeated and the Savage Land begins to evolve back to life.

(Actually, it’s not Terminus, it’s a villain who was piloting Terminus’ armor.)

Ka-Zar returns to his revived land to be “lord” again.

It’s a little ironic that The Savage Land evolves back to where it was, complete with dinosaurs, since dinosaurs were killed off during the “normal” evolution process on Earth.  High Evolutionary usually doesn’t have empathy for species who fail to survive.  But I’ll overlook this plothole because it’s cool to have a Marvel area with dinosaurs again.

There’s a pretty funny back-up story featuring Mojo and the X-Babies…

In which there are some interesting High Evolutionary experiments…

Alf Annual #1

And now the oddest part of this event…T.V. tie-in comic Alf’s Annual #1 has a sequence with High Evolutionary.  It turns out to be dismissed as a dream, but it’s worth mentioning because, you know, Alf was truly a classic 1980s TV show.

West Coast Avengers Annual #3

Picking up where the X-Men left off, High Evolutionary is still regenerating the Savage Land.

Scientist and former Black Goliath Bill Foster finds out about the newly revived Savage Land and heads out to investigate.  He learns that High Evolutionary is building a bomb that will weed out the week and evolve the strong, and that he will need Wakandan Vibranium to complete it.

Not sure why we needed a black character to find out about a threat to Wakanda, but it is nice to see Bill Foster again.

Foster tells the West Coast Avengers, who go to Wakanda to help Black Panther fight off H.E.’s army.

After they win, they go to The Savage Land to the source of the problem, and confront High Ev about his bomb.

As part of my ongoing gripes, I will say that Moon Knight is not designed for The Savage Land and is useless—except that Steve Englehart is really (over) emphasizing his connection to the Moon God Koshnu, which is turning Moon Knight into a supernatural character.  I don’t like that.

Anyway, they foil High Ev’s bomb-making attempt, but he does manage to score some vibranium.

During this issue, Foster gets a new growth serum and gets big again.  So, this marks the return of Giant Man.

It also marks a lineup change: Vision and Scarlet Witch join, Tigra, Mockingbird, Hank Pym and Moon Knight quit.

Bobbi’s leaving is the most dramatic.

Web of Spider-Man Annual #4

OK.  So, Web of Spider-Man Annual #4 is just weird.  Wait a second…It’s written by Steve Gerber!  No wonder!

High Evolutionary believes that he has to shut down the nexus of realities, which is located in the Florida Everglades where it is protected by Man-Thing.  He sends his troops down there.  Peter Parker happens to also be down there on assignment.

Also, the crimelord Slug is down there.  Kingpin calls him, fat crimelord to fat crimelord, to help deal with the drug shortages due to High Ev and Punisher’s meddling in the Punisher Annual.  Everyone ends up in the swamp fighting, and H.E. gives up on shutting down the Nexus.

The Nexus of Reality is involved and somehow it creates a new superhero, Poison, who never really catches on.

I’m a fan of Steve Gerber, but this is a non-story.  I think it just sets up a big arc he writes for Marvel Comics Presents, later.  Nice to see him getting paid for working Marvel again, though, especially with Man-Thing.

Spectacular Spider-Man Annual #8

Gerry Conway returns to Spider-Man for this episode of Evolutionary War, and he revives the character he’s most famous for killing…Gwen Stacy! And revisits the story for which he is most reviled–Clone wars!

In the ongoing PPTSS #143, Gerry brought back the Gwen clone created by Jackal.  High Evolutionary has been trying to snatch her up because he’s interested in Jackal’s methodology.  In this annual, Spider-Man interferes with HE’s plan and we learn that Gwen is not actually a clone.  She’s a “real person” who Jackal altered to appear like Gwen and have her memories.  By the end of the issue, High Evolutionary restores the human to her original form, with her original memories—so Gerry basically ties up this loose end from his decade-old Spider-Man run.

There’s a lot of emotional hand-wringing as Peter Parker wrestles with seeing his former love again, and it involves him telling the story to Mary Jane, etc.  But he seems to have all but forgotten that he already knew this clone existed from all the way back in clone wars, so this seems unnecessarily melodramatic.

Gerry Conway also uses this annual to bring back The Young Gods, last (and only) seen when he wrote them into a brief Thor arc way back in 1972.

There’s really no good reason to bring these guys back, but maybe he thought they’d catch on.  So he ties up the Gwen thing, but brings this one back.  The back-up story to this issue is just about The Young Gods—Spider-Man isn’t in it—and we’re promised that they will return to the pages of Spectacular Spider-Man.

They won’t.  Instead, they’ll be relegated to eight issues of the Marvel Comics Presents anthology, four years from now.  And that’s the last we’ll ever see of them.

Anyway, Spider-Man beats up H.E.’s troops and the dangling Gwen clone issue is resolved.

Avengers Annual #17

And now, the grand finale…

And this is the best of the bunch, mostly because I’ve always loved Jacosta.

High Evolutionary pulls her pieces back together and tries to use her to tell him secrets about The Avengers, so that Earth’s mightiest heroes don’t interfere with his plans.  She gets loose and brings in the Avengers to take down H.E. and stop him from exploding his evolution bomb.

In the battle, Hercules gets “high evolved” and takes on High Ev mano-a-mano and both characters “die.”

I have to say, having Walt Simonson kill off the Greek version of Thor is perfect.

Thor and Hercules are the biggest—and really the only significant—reps of their respective pantheons at this time in Marvel history, so having the guy who transformed Thor from the book that was about to be cancelled to one of Marvel’s biggest must-read titles kill Hercules feels right.

Anyway, he’s not really dead.

There’s an epilogue story at the end where High Evolutionary devolves into nonexistence, and then is reborn again and swears to continue his battle for genetic supremacy.

Honestly, it kinda makes all the preceding stuff feel pointless.

Creators and Grades:

X-Factor: Louise Simonson, Terry Shoemaker.  Grade: B
Punisher: Mike Baron and Mark Texeira.  Grade: C+
Silver Surfer: Steve Englehart, Joe Staton.  Grade: C
New Mutants: Louise Simonson, June Brigman.  Grade: C
Amazing Spider-Man: Tom DeFalco and David Michelinie (script), Mark Bagley (art).  Grade: C-; Roger Stern and Steve Ditko (Speedball backup).  Grade: C
Fantastic Four: Steve Englehart, Kieron Dwyer.  Grade: C
X-Men: Chris Claremont, Art Adams.  Grade: B-
Alf: Michael Gallagher, Dave Manak, Marie Severin.  Grade: C-
West Coast Avengers: Steve Englehart, Al Milgrom.  Grade: C-
Web of Spider-Man: Steve Gerber, Cynthia Martin.  Grade: C-
PPTSS: Gerry Conway and Mark Bagley.  Grade: C-
Avengers: Walt Simonson, Mark D. Bright.  Grade: B

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