Eye on Comics

Comics criticism and commentary from Don MacPherson

Wooing the Reaper

Posted by Don MacPherson on September 21st, 2012

Thanos: The Final Threat #1
“The Final Threat” and “Death Watch”
Writer/Pencils/Cover artist: Jim Starlin
Inks: Joe Rubenstein
Colors: Petra Goldberg
Letters: Tom Orzechowski & Annette Kawecki
Editor: Archie Goodwin
Publisher: Marvel Entertainment
Price: $4.99 US

Earlier this month, Marvel released a one-shot collecting the 1990 two-part limited series Thanos Quest. I didn’t pick it up, because I bought and read the original issues back … Jesus, 22 years ago. I enjoyed them, just as I enjoyed quite a bit of Jim Starlin’s cosmic super-hero comics of the time. But I’ve always wanted to read his classic Thanos story from the late 1970s from Avengers Annual #7 and Marvel Two-in-One Annual #2. I was thrilled to learn those two comics were being collected in this one-shot, separate from other Thanos stories I’ve read and already own. These 1977 scripts certainly show their age, but they’re also well-crafted in other ways. Starlin’s accessible stories are full of action and energy, but maybe what makes this reprint one-shot really stand out is the title character. Though almost cartoonish in his villainy, Thanos’ motive is oddly compelling. It’s not often a nihilist is driven to commit crimes on an unspeakable scale simply because he’s lovelorn for an abstract concept. Despite their overwrought qualities, these are great comics that every fan of the super-hero genre should experience.

Spurned by his lover, the embodiment of Death, the mad demigod known as Thanos is on a mission to catch her deadly eye once more, so he’s hatched a plan to offer her a gift: the death of billions. After capturing the power of six cosmic gems, he’s devised a weapon to extinguish stars, and it’s upon to some of the greatest heroes from Earth, led by the enigmatic and intense Adam Warlock, to stop the near-omnipotent villain.

This story is huge in its scope, and visually, it’s was a massive undertaking as well. Starlin populated his plot with not only the colorful icons of the Marvel Universe, but an army of varied alien criminals as well. He comes up with so many different designs and crams so many bodies into a plethora of panels, it must’ve been quite an arduous art assignment to impose upon oneself. It pays off, as the crowded action scenes add to the sense of immensity of the story. Furthermore, when it comes to Thanos, no one — absolutely no one — draws him better than Jim Starlin. The thick, beefy and tall frame exudes power. I really enjoyed his take on the Thing as well. It’s consistent with the portrayal of the character from regular issues of Marvel Two-in-One illustrated by its best artists, such as Ron Wilson and George Perez.

I was surprised to find there wasn’t a recoloring credit on the inside front cover, because the colors here really pop. There’s no way they could’ve been this bright on the paper stock on which the original comics were printed. Marvel’s pulled off he modern adaptation of Petra Goldberg’s colors quite well. She brings some eerie moods to bear at key times, but for the most part, the colors are vibrant and full of energy, quite in keeping with the cosmic tone of the story.

One of my favorite scenes in the book is when Spider-Man is the only hero left standing, and his reaction to the overwhelming odds against him and the inconceivable stakes of what’s happening prompt him to flee. Some might argue it’s inconsistent with his characterization, but it rang true for me. Starlin’s script emphasizes just how much the web-slinging hero is out of his element, and his desperate scramble through a massive spaceship makes for a nice mix of action and inner conflict. His fear and confusion about what to do are completely logical, as is how he overcomes his fear and realizes he must take action despite the seeming futility of the situation.

Now Starlin’s script and plot are far from perfect. The narration and dialogue are dominated by purple prose, but it works in a campy, colorful way, setting the mythical qualities of the sci-fi story. Furthermore, he employs a lot of all-too-convenient plot devices to get the players in place as the curtain rises. Gut feelings and telepathically transmitted dreams draw the heroes into the drama, and they feel like shortcuts. Still, they serve their purpose, as they allow the story to advance quickly. Spidey’s dream is a bit awkward, as it provides not only exposition from the first chapter of the two-part cosmic drama but also fills in holes from the story that didn’t unfold in the previous comic. Nevertheless, Starlin’s script, though often too verbose and overdone, establishes a thoroughly accessible tone, introducing new readers to weird characters and impossible origins.

Marvel really missed the boat by not having reprint material such as this ready when the highly successful Avengers movie was released (given Thanos’s surprise appearance). The publisher is rectifying the oversight now, getting quite a bit of Thanos material back in print in time for the movie’s home-video release next week. Regardless of Marvel’s motive, I’m pleased I finally got a chance to read this story. Hopefully, it will boost Starlin’s profile among younger comics readers and create a demand for new material from the creator. 8/10

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