In the deepest reaches of space, the former assassin/occasional Guardian of the Galaxy, Gamora, zips through the void, recounting the tale of how she came to be raised by Thanos. This is her story...
Years earlier, a younger Thanos wages war, exterminating life everywhere he finds it. He has in his employ a vast army, but also hand-picked mercenaries and killers such as the Ebony Maw and Proxima Midnight - still years away from being the threat they will pose as members of the Black Order. These warriors form Thanos' butcher squadrons.
The butcher squadron grows restless, and rumors begin to swirl as members of their caste slowly disappear one by one - often followed by the receipt of orders from their captain, Thanos. What they don't know is that Thanos is the one doing the killing, with the hope that it will calm him and entice his love, Death, to make herself manifest before him.
But Death is a fickle thing, and no mere single demise will lure her out. So Thanos presses on with his planet-wide genocides, in the hope of appeasing her and winning her favor. But Thanos knows there are challengers to him in the cosmos: primarily Magus and his Universal Church of Truth, whose zealots are legion and able to fight with a ferocity to match Thanos' armies. Deciding to forego the mutually-assured destruction that direct conflict would bring, Thanos instead wreaks death and destruction upon the planet next targeted for Magus' "conversion" to his church, reasoning that killing them all before Magus can convert them would be a far more severe blow. Little does he know, though, that Magus intuits the attack, and arrives on the planet first to meet him in combat!
And hidden among the corpses of her people is a little green girl who can see Death just as easily as Thanos can...
If you’re overly familiar with Thanos, his mythos, backstory, and so on, this issue probably won’t be for you. Thanos does pretty much what we’ve come to expect him to: kill, moon over Death, and kill some more. But writer Tini Howard does use a lot of subtleties to convey that this is a younger, somewhat less experienced Thanos, and to her credit it works. He still hasn’t quite figured out a master strategy for wooing Death, and certainly hasn’t embarked upon his quest for the Infinity Stones, so instead he’s just killing lots and lots of people. It’s crude and ineffective in its aims, but exactly the type of thing a younger Thanos would think to do before his thought processes became better attuned to matters of galactic import.
The inclusion of ’70s cosmic stalwart villain Magus was a nice touch, too (though my inner Bronze Age geek was wishing he had his little ‘fro).
The inclusions of Proxima Midnight and the Ebony Maw are nice touches too; it’s cool to see them before their full-on conversion to Thanos’ inner circle of fanatics. They actually act like relatively normal people (well, for space murderers anyway), rather than the one-dimensional brutes they eventually become.
Ah, but this is Gamora’s story, despite the comic’s title. (“Thanos” sells better than “Gamora,” doncha know? Also there’s a certain movie prominently featuring Thanos fixing to come out. I forget its name.) It’s a good thing Tini Howard thought to include her in the prologue, because otherwise readers might not realize the story even has anything to do with her until the tail end. But, again, this is ostensibly a Thanos story, so…
This comic just didn’t quite gel like I’d hoped, though. It’s not particularly fair to compare a current writer’s work to past writers of the same character as a means of critique, but when the previous two writers were Jeff Lemire and Donny Cates, those previous writers’ shadows are long indeed. So, through absolutely no fault of her own as a storyteller, Tini Howard’s opening installment of Thanos’ adventures can’t help but feel smaller by comparison. And maybe it’s meant to: ultimately, despite Thanos being book’s ostensible lead, this is in fact Gamora’s story.
Ariel Olivetti’s art came off a bit flat, too. He tends to go all-out in the details and rendering when it comes to big, sexy splash pages, but then skimps on the details when scenes are more intimate. It’s not necessarily a bad way to go – very European at its core – but it does create an imbalance in the art that throws everything a little askew. (For the record, the sparser pages remind me a lot of Aaron Kuder, and that’s a definitely favorable comparison.)
Ultimately, Thanos #1 isn’t a bad comic. It’s just not a great one, and that’s no sin. I think there’s a lot promise, especially in showcasing Gamora’s formative years and perhaps leaving the door open for Proxima Midnight and Ebony Maw’s conversion into full-blown Thanos acolytes. And as for ol’ Purple Puss himself? Well, as long as Thanos keeps being Thanos, I suspect we’ll all be happy.
While getting off to a relatively quiet start given that this comic is about Thanos, by focusing on Gamora's formative years in the Mad Titan's "care," it holds a lot of promise for some definitive character moments promise to flesh out her backstory and give readers greater insight into her motives.
Thanos #1 (of 6): Angel of Death
Writing - 7/107/10
Storyline - 6/106/10
Art - 6.5/106.5/10
Color - 7/107/10
Cover Art - 6.5/106.5/10
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