Annihilus, ruler the Negative Zone, attacks our dimension, claiming that our universe is destroying his. Annihilus recruits the crazed titan known as Thanos to aid him in his destruction. Thanos is happy to oblige. He led his forces with the intent to destroy every living being to save his realm. Nova and several other cosmic heroes (Silver Surfer, Drax, Firelord, as well as some Kree warriors) stop Annihilus before his "annihilation wave" reaches the Milky Way galaxy.
In this reality, however, this did not happen.
The Watcher sets the tone for the story. He describes how all cultures tell a story of a final battle between good and evil. This final war could be over any facet of life: survival, ideology, or in this case, a single piece of paper.
The story then shifts to a pivotal scene from Civil War #7 in which Captain America is embroiled in a fight with Iron Man over the Superhuman Registration Act. As Cap stands poised to kill his old friend, something appears in the sky that stops all the combatants in their tracks.
As they look up, they see Nova firing upon on of Annihilus' scout ships. He ultimately directs it away from the streets, toward a building where it demolishes the upper stories, but saves their lives.
As he reaches the ground, Nova quickly learns that they were fighting over the mandates of the SHRA and is absolutely stunned at their behavior. When he asks if they are aware of what is coming, Reed Richards answers flatly that they don't. Perhaps he needs to enlighten them.
Nova explains that this started in the center of the universe. An area being referred to as "The Crunch", the site of the original Big Bang, that contains the matter from which our universe is made. The problem arises when they discover that this matter is being pulled from the Negative Zone, home of Annihilus. As our universe expands, his contracts. He is none to pleased at having his "land" stolen and decides to kill everything in our universe to regain what is rightfully his.
Nova continues to describe Annihilus' ships - known as the Annihilation Wave - have all but destroyed the Kree and Skrull races. The Nova Corps was sent against him but failed. He describes how the Worldmind (central computer of the planet Xandar, home of the Nova Corps) transferred the knowledge and power of the Nova Corps into him.
He recounts how he had tried to free Galactus and the Silver Surfer, both prisoners of Annihilus. With their help, they could have defeated Annihilus. They were able to convince Thanos to help them since he was re-thinking his allegiance. Just as Thanos was about to free the captives, another ally - Drax the Destroyer - decided to kill Thanos when the opportunity arose. This had fatal repercussions as they quickly learned that Thanos had been siphoning energy from Galactus. Drax's efforts to free Galactus caused an energy feedback which ultimately killed Galactus, the Surfer, and Drax as well.
Now the annihilation wave his headed for Earth. Nova convinces the entire superhuman community - hero and villain alike - to put aside their differences and work together to stop Annihilus. As they make preparations for their last stand, the rest of the world waits with baited breath. When Annihilus arrives on Earth the battles are bloody and costly. Many lives were lost trying to defend their race from extinction. With their ranks decimated, Nova looks to the skies for inspiration and sees the moon.
He quickly makes his way to Attillan in the Blue Area of the moon, home of the Inhumans, and asks for help. He asks that they too put aside their differences for the greater good. He reminds them that if Earth is destroyed, the moon will follow. With the Inhumans' help, they are successful in driving away the invading armies, allowing them to find any survivors and distribute much needed supplies to those who need them most.
Eventually the next approaching fleet of Annihilus' army is detected on interstellar scanners. Judging from the raw number alone, this will completely destroy the planet and everything on it. The remaining heroes make a visit to the Watcher and beg for help. He agrees to help them, offering the Terminus device as a way to send Annihilus and his armies to an empty void.
The heroes lured Annihilus to the moon where they detonated the Terminus device. The forces unleashed by the device that sent the invading armies into an empty void also destroyed the moon, reducing it to smaller particles which formed a ring around the planet due to the gravitational pull. As what remains of humanity emerged, they look into the sky. The collective emptiness moves the Watcher to show them an inspirational moment to restore hope.
Before the Annihilation Wave arrived on the moon, Reed Richards informs everyone that Annihilus will arrive in enough time to deactivate the device. Nova volunteers to hold them off for as long as he can. Before leaving, Nova transfers the Worldmind into the Watcher for safekeeping. This also de-powers him, leaving him unable to hold them off for very long. Following Nova's lead, Captain America and Iron Man volunteer for the suicide mission.
The Watcher provides them with an iconic moment to inspire them whenever they feel all hope is lost: (a two-page spread of) Iron Man, Nova, and Captain America racing to confront Annihilus and his army of over 200,000 soldiers.
I had always wondered if something could happen that would make the heroes put aside their differences over the SHRA. I'm glad that the demise of their planet can unite people that were previously at each other's throats.
Now that I think about it, I wish that this HAD been the resolution to the Civil War crossover. I mean the "heroes uniting to save the planet" part of the story. Not the "Earth is destroyed" part.
This is a very well written story interweaving two major crossovers by using the basic "what if" principle. The artwork is incredibly detailed and really brings this epic story to life. Especially the last pages with Iron Man, Nova, and Captain America. That image alone is worth framing.
Since I now want to read the original issues of Annihilation, I have to give this team a high score.