I don't know if you remember "Annex". He came and went in Amazing Spider-Man Annual #27 - 1993. The early 90's are perfect fodder for our Worst of The Worst reviews, and the '93 annuals are a perfect case in point. Marvel decided they needed new characters, and we were force-fed a collection of "ground-breaking" super-types, most of which fitted into the same mold - the part-hero/part-villain with a tragic mysterious past.
Do you remember any of their names? The Cadre, Nocturne, and Annex. All were total failures - exercises in how to fail creativity 101. Sadly, however, Marvel were too far gone to see their own flaws, and Annex was given his own limited series - three of the four parts featuring Spidey!
Jack Harris is the guy to blame. He has this moronic Annex character on his brain. He wrote ASM Annual #27, starring Annex. He then created that horrid Annex Limited Series. Then, when given a chance to write a backup story in Spider-Man Unlmited #3, yep it's Annex once more! His only other Spidey contribution is the three part "Web Of Doom" L.S. We'll save that for another Worst of The Worst!
For now, let's go to where this madness all started. The lead story in Amazing Spider-Man Annual #27... "Look out, Spidey(tm)! Annex(tm) just hit town!
There are five features in this annual. The Annex story is the lead, and stretches over 34 pages minus whatever ads there are. So how bad can it be? Let's see, huh?
From the cover, we see that Annex is yet another of those flying armour-clad guys, packed with rippling muscles and tons of weaponry. This one has an open face-plate, making him extremely vulnerable to gas, flame, and such. Not very promising yet...
Traditional opening. Spidey is swinging around town. Spidey-Sense starts buzzing like mad. Some guy is blowing the side out of a building, below him. Luckily, his "Way-Cool Webbing" spins out a web to catch the debris. How on earth Spidey (who is higher than the level of the explosion) manages to spin twelve sheets of webbing underneath the falling debris is a mystery to me - but he does.
So, Spidey heads into the building to see who is blowing bits out of the walls. Meets Annex. Annex does his "initiate" thing, and creates some weapons. They scrap. Spidey does his babbling routine. He askes Annex who he is, and gets... "I don't know! Out of memory! Out of memory!" yep, Annex is a robot. Well, he talks like one. But that makes no sense, because the suit isn't robotic. There's no real reason why he should talk wierd like that.
Annex says "You are not providing accessible data! This confrontation is ineffectual." Then "Schema Mode... Initiate!", and he creates a jetpack on his back out of thin air, and he's gone. Why a machine that seems to allow him to create whatever device he can imagine requires him to talk, I have NO idea.
Thank goodness that's over. Now we're up to CHAPTER TWO, "Annex Strikes". Mary-Jane is at home. She's in her smoking phase (remember that?). She's stressed about Peter, worried about what might happen to him. Peter calls. "Hi Honey, I'm not home." Ooops, turns out Peter forgot about the photo-journalism award ceremony tonight. Peter himself is up for the Dunson award - but with JJJ as one of the judges, he isn't optimistic. Anyhow, he's got to track down this Annex guy, so his gonna flush his marriage down the toilet. Fair enough, that's what Peter would do.
Meanwhile, Annex is down town, reading newspapers and spouting mega-lame dialog. Heaps of "You are ineffective. I must access information" and "You are ineffective. I have not accessed the needed information." Man, this script is pretty damned ineffective if ya ask me! Oh, he keeps doing the "Scheme Mode. Initiate!" think, like when he changes his head to some sort of X-Ray thing so he can read the whole newspaper without opening it. The photo-journalism awards are on the front page, by the way. Can you see some massive co-incidence coming up?
But, enter Spidey. Fighting. "Schema Initiate!" and "Holee---! His strength quota just quadrupled!" His what did what? What the heck is a strength quota. And how do you tell when a guy you just met has had is strength quadrupled? Are you quite sure it wasn't quintupled? Still, obviously Jack thinks that details like this are important. Annex throws Spidey at the passenger door of a bus.
While Spidey is getting his lumps at the hands of Annex, MJ is covering for Peter at the awards ceremony. The awards are being held at Abner Duncan's Adarco Corporate Headquarters. Actually, that's a typo, because in the next panel, JJJ introduces MJ to Abner Dunson, President of Abner Dunso Advanced Robotics Company. Hmm... robotics? Co-incidence?
Seems Mr. Dunso was an amateur photographer, before founding his robotics company. He set up the awards in memory of his son, who died in Desert Storm. The awards are to celebrate an "heroic memory". Let's not touch on the rights or wrongs of that particular skirmish, and instead lets skip back to Spidey and Annex.
Annex has suddenly stopped trashing Spidey with his quadrupled power (quadrupled from what?) He is clutching his head, yelling "Ahhh! Memory! Remember! No! No! What have I been doing?" Clearly, this guy is in line for an Oscar. Harris' writing is unforgettable. And I mean that. This is gonna stick with me for a long time.
But what is this? Spidey's impact (which just dented the passenger door) has "dazed the driver" (who wasn't even touched). The bus (which was on a flat street) is "rolling right for those people!". How can spidey stop the slow-moving bus. There's only minutes in which to act, before those people (who are actually protected by a couple of lamp-posts anyhow) are crushed! Who can save us now... is it Topless Skate-boarding Sun! No, it's Annex!
Before you can say "Schema Mode! Initiate!" (well, actually just after you he says it), Annex has transformed himself from a giant metal figure into... a giant metal figure, and has valiently jumped in front of the bus! What a hero! What a champion! What a putz.
So, now that Annex is a hero, not a villian - clearly it's time for CHAPTER THREE, "The Secret of Annex".
Hmm... Robotics Corporation? Dunson? Desert Storm? Just guessing here.
So, we're back to the building with the hole in the wall, that Annex first blew out of. Hmmm... what's this? Through the big gaping hole, some kind of laboratory? Of course, nobody has come to inspect it (even through the city has kindly cleared up the debris that Spidey left hanging there). And why the heck didn't Spidey look inside there before, since he was spending his evening investigating this Annex guy?
Oh well, let's not expect credibility from Mr. Harris, let's just get this over and done with. Spidey (with Annex under his arm) swings in. The place is a mess. And... under a pile of rubble is a scientist (you can tell, he's wearning a white lab coat). A scientist named Dr. Hillman Barto. He's part of the subsiduary R&D Team for Adarco. Wow! What a co-incidence!
"Adarco! Yes! I remember! Accessing Adarco file!" bleets Annex. "No! No! Download that file! Stop! That's what caused the problem in the first place!" yells Hillman. Well, I have no idea what the difference between accessing (bad, clearly) and downloading (good) a file is. But clearly it's very important to Mr. Harris.
Anyhow, now we all investigate the main lab. It's a huge complex. So huge, that there's only one guy working there. So huge that when a hole is blown in the lab, nobody from the main company comes to investigate. But clearly it's familiar to Annex. Well, he says "This locality has a correlating configuration." Whatever the fruitcake that means.
"Holee--!" says Spider-Man, for the fourth time in three chapters. But that's not because he's stupid. No, clearly from examining the computers, he can tell "It looks like a combination Cytology and Computer Lab". Well, he never has time to go to classes any more, but clearly he does a little light reading at home. Let's move on.
Time for explanations. Dr. Hillman informs us that the lab was supposed to create artificial limbs, but there was a "glitch". The big vat is filled with "transmittable biological material - living matter tht can be transmitted over ultra high frequency radio waves and configured into any shape."
That's right. When Annex wants something, he just thinks of it, and the material is faxed to him in whatever shape he wants.
So, this Doctor guy has single-handledly managed to invent the telekenisis of matter, and nano-technology... and he decided that the most valuable use for this all was to create an artificial leg?
And why on earth would your very first attempt (the Annex guy was the first volunteer) involve transmitting matter as well as controlling it. Surely you would start with a local source and get the shaping correct first? And how on earth can a first attempte create a Jet Pack? Complex physical and chemical devices? Of course, when creating an artificial leg, you would work on technology that was capable of creating a jet pack first, and then work backwards to legs.
The whole explanation here is one of the most incredible piles of unjustifiable poop you're ever likely to come across in your entire comic-reading existance. This stuff makes F.A.C.A.D.E. seem like not such a bad idea after all!
But let's get on with it. As Dr. Hillman explains, "he (the guy in the suit) was our first volunteer, but when he accessed the command program, it automatically downloaded his original personality and memory!" Clearly, Harris doesn't have a damned clue what "download" means, but he loves using the word.
So, not only have we invented matter transumation, mental control of inanimate matter, and micro-technology, but we also have invented a device which is capable of sucking memories and personality out of your brain and putting them onto a computer. Not bad for one guy working in a lab by himself, eh?
So, Annex's memory is locked in "The Auxiliary Back-Up Drive". Not just back-up, not just auxiliary... but "Auxiliary Back-Up". Hillman tells Annex "I can restore your memory, but you have to Erase Superogotory Programming". Whatever. It's time for CHAPTER FOUR, "The Origin of Annex". Like we care any more.
So, Annex sits in this big chair thing, and the suit disappears. Out comes this guy with half a leg missing. Turns out he was a gulf-war veteran. Cue flash-back to half-page of cliched "took a bullet fighting Saddam's bullies, tried to save my buddy, but he died and I lost a leg" garbage. Sure, there are heroes in wars, but they deserve better writing than that!
So, this purple heart decorated veteran (Alex Ellis) is back state-side, down about 25% on his official legs allocation. Seems like the government wanted to make things up to him, so they tendered for this big high-tech leg creation scheme. Heh, flash to a panel of Colin Powell speaking out in favour of the scheme. Eeeew, that sure feels tacky.
Well, putting aside my doubts about the U.S. government's priorities vis-a-vis high-tech rehabilitation programs vs. funky new ways of killing people from a distance, let's move on to Alex Ellis being chosen as a prime candidate for Adarco's government-funded research.
Dr. Barto has a huge chair like thing, which contains this big metal body-suit thing. You sit in this body suit, and it can create you a new leg. Well, "it allows you to create your own leg."
Of all the pathetic excuses for getting a guy into a set of high-powered body armour that Marvel has ever come up with, this must surely be one of the... "lamest", if you'll excuse the pun. I mean for goodness sake. You can have a new leg, as long as you wear this huge set of power-enhancing armour.
Well, it works for Alex. When he puts on the new "annexing unit", by magic a new leg appears. Wow! It came from his own mind, and the high-tech ultra-wave transfered biological energy plasma whatchumacallit. Never mind that fact that a) Dr. Hillman Barto gave Alex no training whatsoever - and b) how the hell can you imagine a leg? The average guy would have no idea whatsoever how to instruct a bunch of plasma matter-creating goop to start making bones, ankles, tendons, whatever. Least of all how to connect the damn thing to the rest of their body. Oh well, moving on.
Alex isn't satisfied. Out of nowhere, he decides to say "Schema Mode! Initiate!" and he creates a ray gun. Now, ditto on the ray gun. Even if you had complete control of a bunch of matter-prototype, how would you even begin to create a ray gun? Unless you were a laser expert, you just would not know where to start. Like I said, the whole concept just sucks monkeys.
But Alex isn't bothered with the details. He just sits around like a schoolboy, creating all softs of jet-packs and weapons. And then he gets to thinking... what if there were a whole army of Annexing units... (controled by Americans, of course). "Then they could show tyrants everywhere a thing or three--!" I sure hope Mr. Harris was being ironic at this point.
Anyhow, at this stage in Annex's newly-discovered powers, he suddenly starts to yell "Memory Download! Dump current files!" What's wrong? Well, as the good scientist elucidates... "Nothing went wrong, this operating system is programmed to download your memory." Man, as a computer program, it really bugs me when morons who don't know a SCSI cable from a Level-1 cache start spouting all sorts of computer jargon without a damn clue what they're saying.
Anyhow, to spare you the rest of the phony tech-talk, it seems that the computer program had sneakily been re-programmed to replace Alex's memories with those of David Dunson, Mr. Dunson's son who was killed in 'Nam, or Iraq, or somewhere. Thanks goodness we're up to the final CHAPTER FIVE, "The Triumph of Annex".
Well, now we know what went wrong. The whole thing was a set-up! But wait... didn't Alex try to save his buddy, but he didn't make it. Could that be the same David Dunson whose memory Mr. Dunson was trying to restore? Of course, that's a mighty huge co-incidence, and jolly convenient of Mr. Dunson Sr. to back-up his son's brain before sending him overseas to get shot. Of course, if he had sufficient technology to analyze and store the human brain, he could have sent a robot off to fight instead of his son. And what's more, how come after wiping Alex's brain he decided to back it up somewhere nice and safe? But all of those points only serve to distract us from our desperate need to get to the end of this story!
Annex heads off the awards ceremony to confront Mr. Dunson, who is raving some rubbish about life, death, honor, etc. as part of the prizegiving. In fact, he seems to hold Alex personally responsible for the death of his son. In fact, he has a photo of Alex (with wounded leg) attempting to drag Dunson Jr. to safety. Now, why the hell the guy who took the photo didn't offer to help the wounded guy I don't know. I guess it was somebody from CNN, and he didn't want to get involved with the story. But anyhow, Annex comes busting in.
"His memory's downloading, but David's mind is not coming up. What went wrong?" I think what's going wrong is that you don't have a bloody clue what "download" means, Mr. Harris - in spite of having used the word on every page since the start of this story. Spidey is on the chase. Because MJ is at the photo awards! Co-incidence number 3,012 for this story, if you're keeping count. But now Abner has a helmet on that looks remarkably similar to Annex's helmet. And now he has a big gun type thing that he can turn to all sorts of different weapons! Woohoo! So now Abner Sr. is demanding that Alex download his son's weapons files!
Looks like we're in for a big scrap. But just one more question. Clearly, Abner dicked with the program to a) Give Alex access to all of the weapons files, and b) download his son's memory as an override to his own. But why for the love of Mike did he do a) before he checked that b) had worked? Let's see - you're planning to steal somebody's life, and really piss them off, so why give them access to an infinite variety of weaponry while there's still a chance that your plan might not work? For a super-genius, this Abner guy isn't thinking straight.
But now, look out! Annex is "downloading more and more personality to access weapons". Man, Harris is setting a world record for the number of ways to mis-abuse one word in a single story. What he is trying to say is that he is over-writing personality in order to download weapons. He's becoming more and more robotic. Yeah, right. We only use around 20% of our brain capacity. There's heaps of space left. But that would screw the story. So let's just go with the flow. One of them has "put up a schematic force grid", so Spider-Man will have to... do something with some electricity... and then Dr. Barton can "Download David Dunson's data without uploading Alex's".
Somehow, this causes Alex to have all of David's memories. Except that makes him talk like David, and ask his "Dad" why he's doing what he's doing, which makes Abner shoot at him, blowing up the computer terminal, causing Abner's helmet to explode, downloading millions of bytes of gibberish (like a high-res scan of this story?) short-circuiting Abner's brain.
No, it makes no sense to me either.
But in summary. Dunson Sr. is history, Alex and Barto are on the road again. JJJ blames Spidey, but MJ is forgiving... but reckons that Spidey takes too much of the load. Spidey reckons that maybe the city will have some more help, because... "I'm sure we haven't heard teh last from... Annex!"
Jack Harris... he's right up there with the worst of the worst!
This story is an absolute shocker. Other than featuring twenty-three different to abuse the word "Download", it also features one of the most clumbsily contrived plots you're likely to see in a long, long time of comic-reading. Add a handful of predictable stereotyped characters, and some inane dialogue writing, and you're well on the way to a tragedy in the making.
Tom Lyle's pencils are the traditional 90's rush-job rubbish, and Bob Sharon's colors feature a ton of neon oranges, pinks and greens that make me wonder what on earth he thought he was working on... Spider-Man, or the interior decorations for Mardi-Gras at a gay bar?
I was thinking of giving this half a web, but I need some room left to go further downhill on that glorious day when Worst of The Worst features the Annex limited series. But don't mis-understand me... this story truly smells like somebody just down-loaded a fresh core dump!