Friday, January 04, 2008

Hello Cosmic Part 20: Thanos #1-6

[Another post in my look at Jim Starlin's cosmic work at Marvel. This time, I'm looking at Thanos #1-6. New posts Monday, Wednesday and Friday.]

The first six issues of Thanos are the final comics Starlin has done for Marvel involving these characters (although, he did the cover to issue seven) and, appropriately enough, Starlin's time at Marvel ends (for now as he could return at some point in the future) with a Thanos solo series. Okay, Adam Warlock shows up quite a bit, but the focus here is Thanos, arguably Starlin's greatest creation and the character he's most known for.

This story, "Epiphany," continues Thanos' journey to redemption while also maintaining his core personality. He survived the resurrection of the universe in Marvel: The End, but did so without telling anyone. Instead, we find him sitting on a dead planet, all alone, contemplating his life. Warlock shows up right away, drawn by some strange energy source and Thanos reveals that the planet they're on was destroyed in the pages of Thor by one of his clones (I believe portrayed AS Thanos there, but a little retcon by Starlin to further the idea that only the stories he tells with the characters are actually canon), but he nonetheless feels responsible. Since the planet is part of a collection of planets, he heads to the main planet to surrender himself and offer any assistance he can provide. They, of course, attack him and then, when convinced he's sincere, put him to work. It seems that Galactus has been standing around on one of their planets and they want Thanos to get rid of him. So, Thanos decides to kill him.

Thanos first confronts Galactus telepathically and we learn that Galactus has discovered a way to sate his hunger once and for all with the Infinity Gems and he's there because that is the spot to obtain one of the Gems. He didn't immediately do this as he wanted to give the residents of the planet time to evacuate. Obtaining the Infinity Gems, however, allows this black fluid-like entity called Hunger to enter the universe--and seeing how he feeds on universes, this is bad. Before this happens, though, Galactus attacks Thanos, Warlock, Moondragon and Pip to get Adam's Soul Gem, resulting in Thanos taking on Galactus--and holding his own.

When Hunger manages to get into our universe, all seems doomed until Thanos causes the dead planet from the first issue to collide with this planet, adds some nukes and basically kills Hunger and nearly kills Galactus in the process. Thanos and Galactus then have a discussion that alludes to Thanos' past as he warns Galactus next time to not allow his ego to drive him on without thinking, that if he really does want to sate his hunger, there are many who would help him--but acting like he is above everyone else will result in his death sooner or later. Both characters want to transcend who they are, but both must first set aside their pride and arrogance. Galactus is his typical "You had your say, now fuck off" self, and Thanos continues on his road to redemption, mentioning that Titan will be his next stop.

These issues have a few interesting narrative and stylistic tricks. In the first issue, Starlin actually shows the growth/emergence of Hunger throughout the entire issue, but in a very interesting manner. On page three, at the top left is a a small black square surrounded by white space, contained in a very small panel. It appears in the corner of another panel and looks very much out of place. Over the course of the issue, this black panel keeps showing up, just planted on top of other panels, either at the bottom or in the corner and, each time, it's a little larger until grows beyond the white space and eventually takes up the entire bottom tier of a few pages--and then the glowing yellow/orange eyes of Hunger gradually open until, on the second-last page, the eyes proclaim "IT HAS BEGUN!" I love how the initial bits of Hunger just look like misprints--sometime like caption boxes with no words.

When Hunger eventually narrates for us, he addresses the reader directly. We also get the origins/pasts of Thanos, Warlock and a little bit of Galactus. One of my favourite sequences comes in issue four where it's just four or five pages of text basically as Hunger provides background information with each page containing just one picture, the first from The Infinity Gauntlet and the second, my favourite, is Starlin depicting the Magus--but he copies Ron Lim's cover for The Infinity War #6. This is the second time a Starlin project has directly aped a previous Starlin project (the page layout that Angel Medina copied from an issue of Warlock in an issue of The Infinity Watch being the first--aside from montage images of previous stories--of which there are MANY).

Mostly, what this story (as well as The Infinity Abyss and Marvel: The End) demonstrates is Starlin's style of telling a story that very few (if any) modern creators use. He has characters directly narrate events, usually from a point in the future (the last issue of the story). Or, he'll just spend a few pages giving you a character's entire history. Or fight pages that contain just the characters in a variety of positions. This last technique works very effectively in issue two here where Warlock fights a squadron of men, all identical, so the two-page spread gives the sense of how overwhelming the squadron would be as we have six Warlocks throughout, but twenty squadron members. It creates a lovely effect.

After these issues, Starlin was basically fired off of the book (or quit because of creative differences) and I can see why Marvel wouldn't necessarily be comfortable with Starlin's work. It does seem outdated in many ways and he does approach the stories with a very strong, forward-thinking perspective in that every story leaves the characters and, usually, the world quite different. Starlin is not interested in maintaining the status quo, which doesn't work in mainstream corporate comics unless you're heading the latest crossover event (which Starlin did a few times in the '90s). Ironically, not too long after Starlin left Marvel, Thanos was killed off and put on equal terms with Death--a resolution to the character that makes a lot of sense, but also one that will almost certainly be undone.

Now, you must think we're at the end of our little Starlin journey, but, next week, I'll be jumping back to Starlin's run on The Silver Surfer from the early '90s where he first resurrected Thanos, Warlock, and Drax, and provided the lead-in to The Thanos Quest and The Infinity Gauntlet. I would have liked to do these stories in the proper order, but when you're trying to hunt down this many comics, it's a little difficult. Ah well, see you then.