Annex: Featured!

From time to time, I like to go back in the proverbial vaults and take a look at underused or underrated characters. I enjoy identifying characters that I think would enhance the comic book landscape of today. Sometimes, these characters disappeared before everything interesting about them could be explored. For others, current events or real world issues have made them suddenly relevant in a way they might not have been before. This is how I came upon the mostly forgotten hero Annex. He fulfills both of these parameters.

Well, can you call it a comeback when the character never made much of an impact in the first place?

In any case, the time is now for Annex to make an impact on the Marvel Universe.

Annex: Handbook entry
Annex towers above an inset drawing of his alter ego from a MARVEL HANDBOOK installment. (Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment)

Annex’s Intro

Debuting back in 1993, Annex aka Alexander Ellis was part of a line-wide initiative. Every book’s Annual that year introduced a new character or team of characters. The books shipped polybagged and included a collectible card in them. Why? Because in 1993 there existed a certain way of doing things.

Annex had a pretty plum spot, introduced in the pages of AMAZING SPIDER-MAN. Plus, he arrived at a very opportune time. The Spider-Man office went limited series happy in those salad days. Thus, Annex joined other more established characters like Solo, Prowler, The Shroud, and even Black Cat in getting a sweet sweet solo limited. From Annual to limited series to…almost immediately vanishing for 13 years.

In 2007, Annex reappeared as a recruit in AVENGERS: THE INITIATIVE. In retrospect this could not have felt good for a decorated Army veteran, to be treated like the rest of the mostly teenage recruits. Then, when his time with the book ended in 2009, he disappeared once more.

Nine years later, the moment is right to give him a true push.

Annex: Debut
Annex on the cover of his debut issue AMAZING SPIDER-MAN Annual #27. (Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment)

In Search of a Prosthetic

Ellis started his journey toward being Annex in the deserts of the Persian Gulf. In the midst of active combat, an enemy soldier shot Ellis and his best friend Danny Dunson. Ellis managed to get them out of the line of fire, but Danny died shortly after. Additionally, the effort to escape further damaged Ellis’s already-wounded leg, necessitating its amputation.

Back stateside, Ellis found himself frustrated by his more limited mobility. Additionally, the few prosthetics offered through the VA left him dispirited. At his lowest ebb, a corporation reached out to him with the promise of a wildly advanced prosthetic. The prosthetic — known as the Annex unit — utilized a sort of bio-organic goop know as the BREW. It enabled the user to, in essence, create a new limb on the spot. Ellis jumped at the chance without considering the consequences.

As it turned out, Danny Dunson’s father secretly owned ADARCO, the company behind the Annex unit. Despite Ellis heroically attempting to save Danny, Dunson still blamed the vet for his son’s death. While presented as a tool for helping Ellis adapt to life on the home front, the unit had a darker purpose. The elder Dunson meant it to render Ellis’s body an empty shell for a copy of Danny’s consciousness to retake.

Ironically, the process of unmaking Ellis caused Dunson to briefly lose control of him and the Annex unit. Spider-Man interceded during Annex’s mindless rampage, ensuring Ellis’s consciousness restored and Dunson defeated. This incident, combined with a later attempt by ADARCO to retake the unit from Ellis by force, inspired the veteran to become a full time superhero.

Annex: Trading Card
Annex lunges forward on a Fleer trading card that was all the rage in the 90s. (Courtesy of the Upper Deck Company)

More Relevant Now Than Then

Our feelings towards vets were considerably less complicated in 1993 than now. The fallout of Vietnam had largely dissipated and America’s armed conflicts since had been rare and brief. After what many viewed as the deleterious effects media had on efforts in Vietnam, the U.S. had learned how to fight a war on television. As a result, much of the anger and disappointment directed towards veterans of Vietnam did not get leveled at those who fought in the Gulf.

Now, however, the landscape has greatly changed. Paradoxically with two active conflicts, the violence of armed combat has become part of the background noise of American life. The average American is well insulated from the realities of life as a soldier on the ground. Gratitude for soldiers has become the thing of “thank you for your service” clichés both in-person and via corporate advertisement.

As an advocate and activist for veterans, Ellis is an alter ego with lots of depth and potential for good storytelling in 2018.

Besides speaking to the sense of placelessness many veterans experience coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan, Annex also would allow writers to specifically explore issues regarding health care for veterans. Questions around access to services, mental health needs, and suicidal ideation could all become story elements. After all, Ellis only sought outside help because he felt ill-served by the VA. How does he react then when his brothers-in-arms experience many of the same feelings but end up isolating themselves, abusing substances, or taking their own lives?

Ellis nearly lost himself to the Annex unit and yet, somehow, he is still one of the lucky ones. What might that motivate him to do? How might that impact his already present sense of guilt?

Annex: Joining the fight
Annex flies into combat, guns blazing. (Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment)

The Generational Aspect

As a vet, Annex exists in rarefied company. Teaming with Captain America can show how different their respective combat experiences have molded their view on the world. How does a national icon who fought in what many consider the last truly “just” war relate, or not, to a significantly less celebrated veteran of a less exalted war?

Additionally, both owe their superheroic abilities to enhancements granted by scientific experiments. These experiments were not replicable due to the deaths of the scientists that led them. How does it feel to be one of a kind? To have advantages not granted to the men and women they fought with? Not only could such a theme deepen Annex, but also offer us further insights into Cap. That’s a rare opportunity considering that Steve Rogers was created more than 70 years ago.

Or perhaps Annex might find himself with another famous Marvel vet, the Punisher. Their combat experiences might be more similar than, say, Cap’s and Annex’s, but Punisher’s embittered him considerably more. How does his sense of betrayal play off of Annex’s sense of just kind of being shuffled into the background?

Neither seems hesitant to bring a gun to a superhero fight, but Punisher dedicated himself to killing criminals. It is his outright stated mission. Annex, on the other hand, has shown a willingness to kill only if needed. It has never been his primary goal. What kind of friction might that cause between them? How far would either be willing to interfere with the other or try to convince them to embrace the other’s philosophy?

Annex: Unactivated
The Annex unit stands, inactivated, in its first appearance. (Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment)

A Fellow Purple-Hearted Brother

The most interesting veteran team-up that comes to mind, however, is Annex and Agent Venom. While Flash Thompson no longer draws breath currently, recent issues of VENOM have hinted at an imminent resurrection. Once he does, he seems a natural friend and confidante for Annex. Both are vets who lost one or more limbs in combat in the Middle East. Both received opportunities to restore mobility they felt were too good to be turned down. Then, after accepting, each found what they might have viewed as a tool wanted to control or erase them.

Since becoming heroes, both made errors that cost the people around them severely. A student of Thompson ended up bonding with a symbiote, too. Being Venom ruined his healthiest adult romantic relationship. Ellis’s lack of training and experience led to the death of a fellow ADARCO experiment and the altruistic scientist who first developed the annexing technology.

True, neither let these events derail their commitment to justice. Who’s to say how they affected them emotionally and psychologically, though? Could they be helpful supports to one another? Or perhaps negative influences, each dragging the other down? In either case, there is power to be found in that relationship.

Annex: Camo
Annex sports his Initiative look including the completely unnecessary but highly fashionable camo pants. (Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment)

But There Can be Fun, Too!

At the end of the day, Annex is a man with an incredible bit of technology that can create limbs and weapons out of a sort of biological soup called the BREW. That is some wild sci-fi stuff. The serious elements above give the character his backbone, his soul. However, there is no reason not to lean into the beyond-belief tech here and deliver some incredibly explosive action sequences.

Imagine the kind of fight sequences Annex could engage in against one or several super villains. Conjuring a weapon or a shield seemingly out of thin air then immediately replacing it with another a moment later. Think of Annex as a sort of organic Green Lantern in the Marvel Universe. The only limit to what he could conjure would be his imagination and his ability to focus.

Additionally, Ellis is a man coming back to life out of uniform. How will he handle interacting with civilians, with the business of being an honorable discharge? He has to find a place to live, develop friends, perhaps date. We are talking A-plus level Marvel soap opera elements here.

Marvel characters are always at their best when balancing the personal and the superheroic, the somber and silly. Annex represents an excellent opportunity to do just that. Plus he carries the benefit of being very connected to some very in-the-news aspects of modern American life. It would be a shame not to utilize him to his full potential at this moment.

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