Published by: Marvel Comics
Writer: Jeff Lemire
Artist:Mike Deodato Jr
Colorist and Inker: Frank Martin
Letterer: Clayton Cowles
Thanos #1 is the first issue in the new ongoing series by Marvel comics. And is a part of Marvel Comics second wave of the Marvel Now! branding/relaunch. Similar to Marvel’s previous All New All Different, Marvel Now seeks to relaunch titles and broaden its readership with new appealing entry points for new and returning readers.
In the wake of his involvement in Secret Wars and Civil War II, Thanos finds himself returning to his seat of power, The Black Quadrant, to deal with his former minion turned usurper. Thanos is not pleased that Corvus has created a new Black Order and is from Thanos’ moon conquering planets. During this, the Champion of the Universe is enlisting Starfox (Thanos’ brother) on behalf of Thane. Thane, supposedly Thanos’ only living child, is now aligned with Mistress Death (long time object of Thanos’ affection and, more recently, his lover) to work against his father.
I have incredibly mixed thoughts on this series; in truth, I was very close to passing on it all together. I have been a fan of Thanos ever since I started reading Comics. One of the first issues I came across was Silver Surfer #34, which reintroduced Thanos after his defeat by Adam Warlock in 1977’s Giant-Size July: Marvel Two-In-One Annual 2. Being more than slightly intrigued by the creepy tale, I was led to my first major crossover event (barring The Death of Superman) that I would read, being The Infinity Gauntlet Miniseries.
Thanos was a fascinating figure; having done horrible things throughout the story and becoming deranged. But little hints made his motivations evident and showed that he was more than a madman bent on power. He was a powerful and godlike being, though in the end he was a just a man trying to impress the woman he loved. It just so happened that he was in love with the living embodiment of death- and you don’t impress Death with flowers. Over the course of The Infinity Gauntlet, Thanos loses everything he had striven for, but comes to the realization that ultimate power and destruction were not what he really craved and he ends up better for it.
From there, Thanos’ creator Jim Starlin and author of The Infinity Gauntlet miniseries followed up on Thanos character development across multiple series. He, in a strange fashion, became a frequent ally to The Silver Surfer as well as a friend and sort of teammate to Adam Warlock. This is actually where Thanos became the most interesting. No longer a straight up villain, he would find himself working to stop others who were attempting to gain the sort of power or destruction he once sought- out of self-preservation as much as anything.
But Thanos at his absolute best ends up in anti-hero anti-villian territory. He would work alongside the Avengers and other Marvel heroes but he had his own methods and goals. He was not trustworthy and would manipulate them to his own ends. In a way, it’s comparable to how Vegeta from Dragon Ball Z was most interesting during the Namek and Freiza arcs. It’s fun to watch the heroes work alongside someone violent and unpredictable out of necessity. This worked as well as it did when Starlin wrote the Magus story arc, though now Thanos wanted a more peaceful life, rather than planning genocide.
Eventually Starlin was given a chance to write a full Thanos ongoing series in December of 2003. The short-lived series had Thanos continue his personal journey of self discovery and personal growth, questioning if it’s even possible for someone who has done things as horrible as he to redeem themselves- and if so, how would they?
Shortly after, Thanos played a major role in Marvel comics 2006 cosmic crossover event Annihilation by Keith Giffen, the creator of Lobo. Here, Thanos allies with the villain Annihilus out of a mixture of boredom and curiosity in regards to Annihilus’ plans. Upon learning Annilihius’ goals, he moved against him and died at Drax’s hands- finally proving himself to his beloved Mistress Death and joining her content in the afterlife.
Thanos had, for the most part, a consistent run and story arc spread from the 70’s to mid 2000’s. Granted there were bumps, Jim Starlin really guided the character and writers like Peter David and Keith Giffen stayed true to his characterization.
This was largely possible because Thanos was, for the most part, a minor character in the larger perspective of Marvel. He showed up and did big things from time to time and was fairly popular around the time of The Infinity Gauntlet miniseries. But he was never really respected or used as much as, say, Dr. Doom or Magneto. When marvel had splash art of it’s major villains and heroes, he was often left out or forgotten. This meant Starlin was, for the most part, the only writer who used Thanos. When other writers used him, they wrote him as if he was in the 70’s- in which Starlin usually had the leeway to retcon it away. It wasn’t always perfect, but Thanos managed to have something few characters in mainstream superhero comics have: a clear, consistent character arc where choices and events mattered. Thanos the Mad Titan got to grow up and change.
Thanos would later be revived and given an excuse for a change in personality in 2010’s Thanos Imperative. His resurrection having been incomplete left him unhinged. This more or less came and went. Then, The Avengers came out and a post credit scene skyrocketed interest in Thanos. With Marvel being Marvel, they wanted to take advantage of this. Therefore, Thanos was once again to be a pure evil conqueror set on gaining ultimate power; destroying everything in his path and oddly focused on Earth for the first time in his existence. In effect, undoing nearly 40 years of character growth.
To facilitate this, Marvel eventually retconned Thanos’ history and personality considerably. Thanos Rising 2013 by Jason Aaron (Thor, Scalped) and Simone Bianchi (Wolverine, Astonishing X-men) was a miniseries that was to retell Thanos’ origin. In reality, it was a complete re-imagining that seemed to exist just to create plot threads for Jonathan Hickman’s 2013 crossover Infinity and perhaps create a new, more streamlined take for the movies to follow. In a way, it was very typical of Jason Arron as he is a talented story-teller, though he cannot seem to work on an established character without making substantial changes. His work on Punisher Max changed details of Garth Ennis’ run, particularly in regards to Franks motivations. Honestly, it would have worked better as its own unique take within its own world than an ending to the most well-received run in the characters’ history. His work on Thor played pretty loose with the rules of character, as well as Thor’s personality. Though, the God Butcher arc was pretty great.
With Thanos, he completely changes his motivations and history. Yes, he is still a nihilist in love with Death, but now Mistress Death may be a hallucination (never mind the many characters who have encountered her) and she speaks directly to him (something that, to his great dismay, he was denied nearly all his existence). Instead of being a powerful demigod mutant who enhanced his considerable natural abilities with science and magic, he simply made weapons and was strictly sci-fi. Where he was an eloquent, intelligent but brutal warrior who enjoyed to test his abilities, he was now an emotionally unstable serial killer. Instead of a being that was versed in the arcane who studied the greater mysteries and who gleaned the true workings of the universe, in death he was now a whimpering brute who drags corpses to his bed and begs them to touch him.
Aside from all those unpleasant changes (and the massive inconsistencies in his home-moon of Titan and its people), as well as the fact that it is almost a point-by-point run through of serial killer clichés, the series added the element that Thanos had fathered many children, and had a pact with Mistress Death that he would kill all of them in order to gain their favor. This was a particularly odd retcon, given how poorly it meshes with Thanos’ previous history and the existence of his granddaughter, Nebula.
It’s also an odd note that after Thanos Rising, but still while this new-take Thanos is running around the Marvel universe, Jim Starlin was given the chance to work more on the character over several series. Across some one shots, a Hulk-arc-turned-miniseries, Hulk vs Thanos, and the Infinity trilogy Starlin simply wrote Thanos as he has since The Infinity Gauntlet; though he does seem to make some veiled dismissals in regards to recent use of the character. Making things even harder to reconcile, he added some rather large developments to Thanos’ story: having Mistress Death appoint Thanos the leader of the armies of the dead, as well as putting a final note on their relationship. It felt like there were two entirely different characters named Thanos…almost like the New 52 Lobo, just in this case they looked alike.
Retconned or expanded takes on origins are nothing new; they come and go, and many end up ignored. Others more rarely, like say Books of Doom (highly recommended), manage to take the established origin and turn it into something greater and give more depth to the character. I have a feeling that was what Jason Arron thought he was doing, but the result was anything but. The end result was a character only superficially the same. But sadly, since Thanos Rising seemed to exist at least in part to pave the way for the Infinity series that followed it, its take has stuck around. Writers like Brian Michael Bendis (Daredevil, The Avengers), Jonathan Hickman (The Avengers, Secret Wars) and Jeff Lemire (All New Hawkeye, Moon Knight) have used this take on the character.
And Thanos 1 follows suit. So, as a long time Thanos fan, it really doesn’t appeal to me. Now I imagine many new Thanos fans may not have the same issue, similarly brand new readers may not care for the ruminations of long-term fans about the relation of new and old characterizations. This raises the question: On its own, is the issue good?
I would say its serviceable, at best. The issue is almost entirely setup and it assumes some previous knowledge of the characters and history at play. It moves by with relative speed and is not particularly burdened with any major fault beyond not being very engaging.
One area that is iffy is the art. Mike Deodato Jr (New Avengers, Incredible Hulk) is a well known and fairly well-respected comic artist. But in truth, I have never been particularly fond of his art. In this issue some of the paneling
choices seem strange and somewhat disrupt the flow of the story. What’s more, I dislike his scantly clad take on Mistress Death and Contest of Champions game inspired redesign, particularly in Thanos’ face (for contrast Ron Lim and Esad Ribic).
It’s only one issue, and honestly that’s not much to go off of. It ends on a cliff hanger and may or may not bare interesting fruit. I can’t say I really enjoyed this issue, but my love of what the character once was and hope that there may be some return to his old self may be enough to convince me to give a few more issues a try. It’s not the worst Thanos story I have read, but then again it’s barely Thanos at all.
Purchased At: Vista Comics single issue hard copy format