The Guardians of the Galaxy movie review

 

I’ll try to keep this spoiler free though I will mention a
few surprise appearances that don’t really affect the plot in the last
paragraph.

 

Anyway overall I liked the movie. I don’t know if I was
blown away by it the same way I was by Cap or X-men earlier this year; but it
was certainly a fun night at the movies and worth the price of admission.

Let’s cut to the chase and hit the big question that fans of
this comic book want to know: Do Rocket Raccoon and Groot work? Because let’s
face it those are the two characters most readers care the most about. Did they
get those characters right? And do they work in a live action film opposite
real actors. Thankfully the answer is a resounding yes. Rocket Raccoon carries
the film and is just written so well throughout. Perhaps the best anecdote I
can tell here is my wife, who typically rolls her eyes when she sees me talking
about Rocket Raccoon, leaned over and halfway through (right after the prison
break scene) and said “I see why you like him so much now.” Groot is also a
remarkable CGI effect. So on the most important front Marvel studios hit a
homerun. 

As for the others: Batista is really good as Drax straddling
a nice range of emotion and comedy throughout. I think Star Lord’s character
journey in the film works. Yes, he’s a lot more of a goofball than he is in the
comic but I think tonally for this film the changes are fine. I would have
liked to have seen Gamora be a bit more badass but that’s more of a quibble than
a criticism.

The movie’s villains work. Yes there are changes from the
comics, particularly with Ronan but for the story the film is telling
everything is coherent. I mean this film has to juggle five villains yet unlike
the recent Spider-man monstrosity that was a mess with three villains Guardians
actually uses the villains to make the world seem bigger by knowing when to
focus on a couple primary threats and then using as others as supplemental
threats that we know we will see again in the sequels.

I will wrap up by saying what made me happiest were the
little touches (This is the spoiler paragraph, you are warned). I love that we
saw Thanos on his flying throne. I love the prison was called the Kyln from the
Thanos Redemption trade. I was
absolutely agog in a good way that Knowwhere and Cosmo showed up: I loved that
concept in DnA’s series but I thought it was far too out there for mass
audience film—so thank you Marvel, and hopefully Cosmo joins the team in the
sequel. Also having Nebula present for an assault on Xandar that could destroy
the planet was a nice nod to her first appearance that I thought made the
outcome of the battle questionable. Of course as a Nebula superfan I enjoyed
her appearance throughput—and while I would prefer her to be a mastermind in
her own right, I fully understand she hasn’t been portrayed at that level in 20
years. That they at least kept the characters ruthlessness and her ambiguous
relationship with Thanos intact and she got out of this film alive which means
she may still get her big moment when they do the Infinity Gauntlet movie and the prospect of that makes
me quite happy. And overall that’s my review in a nutshell: this film made me
happy.

Waiting for the Trade’s best of cosmic Marvel

Waiting for the Trade’s Cosmic Countdown

 So today Guardians of
the Galaxy
hits theaters and I cannot wait to see it. I have been giddy for
this movie since it was announced two years ago. I love cosmic marvel in
general and I greatly enjoyed DnA’s run on the Guardians a couple years ago. So in honor of the film I present a
countdown of Marvel’s best cosmic trade paperbacks and because the Guardians
are such an unusual team I am doing a top 15 rather than a top 10. Furthermore in
honor of the obscurity of the Guardians since many of the stories in the
countdown are super famous already I will recommend a second story in the same
vein of each primary pick throughout the countdown. So without further ado
click below.

 

 

 15 – Star-Lord: Annihilation
Conquest
– While the entire Annihilation
Conquest
event was collected in a pair of trades years ago the story as a
whole is good not great. With the Guardians
of the Galaxy
movie this smaller trade was released a few months ago
collecting the four best issues of that event. This is genesis of the Guardians
team as the Kree recruit Star-Lord to go on a no technology suicide mission
against the Phalanx and assign several prisoners from a Kree prison to assist
him—all of whom were marginal cosmic characters who had not appeared in years:
Captain Universe, Death Cry, Groot, Mantis and—best of all—Rocket Raccoon. The
book has a total Dirty Dozen feel to it, and given the minor nature of these
characters no one is safe (though based on the Guardians movie line-up you can probably guess which ones
survived). This is the beginning of Rocket Raccoon’s ascent to awesome-ville.

            If you like
this story also check out: Thanos
Redemption.
While reading the second Annihilation
Conquest
trade will give you the ending of the story; and any of the DnA Guardians trades carry the Rocket &
Groot banner nicely Thanos Redemption
is a bit of lost classic by the same author as the Star-Lord trade above and is
the story that brought Star Lord back to the mainstream Marvel Universe. It too
has also only recently been collected in trade thanks to the movie as Thanos Redemption collects a short-lived
12 issue ongoing Thanos series from about 10 years back. The first six issues
are by Starlin and see Thanos and Warlock attempting to help the Rigellians
evacuate their planet when Galactus arrives. It’s a perfectly good Starlin
Thanos story although it doesn’t tread much new ground. The next 6 issues are
by Keith Geffen, and while the change in tone is on first read jarring I
actually like it better than the Starlin issues. Geffen shows us the Crunch,
the sight of the birth of the Universe where cosmic energies are used to bind
rogue cosmic entities. Furthermore the Shi’ar and Xandarians have built a
prison planet there for hardcore threats they have no intention of ever
paroling. However because of what the Crunch represents it is considered a holy
site by many alien races and thus the prison has to deal with a constant flow
of pilgrims. Thanos decides to become one of these pilgrims. He soon finds
Death waiting for him and for the first time in decades she deigns to speak to
him directly. He also discovers heroes Gladiator and Star Lord are in the
prison (among many villains). Best of all Thanos encounters the Beyonder in
this prison and we get a fairly epic Thanos vs. the Beyonder confrontation. The
aftermath of their fight sees the prison damaged and a few galaxy class
villains escape including a previously unknown first herald of Galactus. This
just piles on the fantastic and needs to be read (and in some ways it is a shame
the series got cancelled because they were building to Gladiator and Star Lord
forming a task force to take down Thanos once and for all).

 14 Hulk: Heart of the
Atom –
Famed Science Fiction writer Harlan Ellison penned this story of
Hulk being shrunk into a subatomic world where he finds a John Carter-esque
world of monsters and alien barbarians who happen to have green skin and thus
accept Hulk as a savior. Hulk meets their Queen Jarella and begins a
surprisingly tender and bittersweet love affair with her that ultimately ends
in tragedy.

            If you like
this story also check out: I’m sure Planet
Hulk
is the obvious successor to this one but I’ve never read it so I can’t
recommend it. I will say the recent Captain
America: Castaway in Dimension Z
is really good story of Cap trapped in
another dimension with subjugated alien races fighting a cruel tyrant giving it
some similarities to the Hulk story above. But if you want another Hulk story
then let’s go with Hulk: Pardoned which
while mostly earthbound reprints a chapter of Hulk on Rocket Raccoon’s home
world and a few other alien threats from Bill Mantlo’s nearly forgotten yet
really strong run on the title.

 (13½) Silver Surfer
the Herald Ordeal
(issues 70-75 of his second solo title) is not in trade. If
it was it would rank here as the art is superb, Morg is an excellent villain
and it has the spectacle of every former herald of Galactus teaming up.

13 – Avengers the
Contest –
I’ve reviewed this book before but to recap the Grandmaster makes
a bet with Death and pulls all the heroes of Earth into a contest on their
behalf. Then when Grandmaster loses he pulls both Avengers team into Death’s
realm giving us a pair of excellent fights as first the East and West Coast
Avenger teams square off and then when Grandmaster wins and takes over Death’s
realm he forces the Avengers to fight the Legion of the Unliving for the fate
of the universe in perhaps the greatest fight scene Tom Defalco ever wrote. The
story ends with my all time favorite Hawkeye moment.

            If you like
this story also check out: Avengers vs. the
Legion of the Unliving
is an excellent anthology collecting all of their
battles against various groups of characters who were dead at the time. You get
two Immortus stories in here, a really creepy Grim Reaper story as he becomes
an Avatar for Death (the Avatar concept played a key role in other cosmic
titles like Quasar and Thanos Imperative), the last chapter of
the story above, and a really good Busiek and Perez story. Speaking of which if
you like the Grandmaster he plays a key role in the very strong Busiek-Perez JLA/Avengers intercompany trade as well.

 

12 – Essential Marvel
Two In One volume 3 –
By far the most obscure choice on my list this series
primarily serves as a prelude to Mark Gruenwald’s superb work on Quasar in the 90s (most of which is not
in trade). This book collects 26 comics (three of which are double sized) and
surprisingly the vast majority qualify as cosmic stories. For those unfamiliar Marvel Two In One is a Thing team up
series from the late 70s/early 80s. Gru kicks us off with Quasar’s first
appearance under that name (the character had appeared a few times before as a
SHIELD agent in Captain America) and
makes Quasar head of security for Project Pegasus. The six part story that
follows (also collected in the full color trade Thing: Project Pegasus Saga)
see Thing, Quasar and Bill Foster (Giant Man v2.0/Black Goliath) deal with a
series of sabotage attempts by Roxxon Oil that ends up pulling in the time
traveling Deathlok, the extra-dimensional Thundra, the alien Wundar and
ultimately leads to the birth of Nth Man—a cosmic class villain that would
trouble Excalibur 10 years later. The other major reason to buy this trade (and
why I recommend it over the color version) is the double sized Thing & the
Avengers in the Negative Zone story by Tom Defalco that sees Annihilus,
Blaastar and Super Adaptoid all team up. I often say Defalco is the best
choreographer of fight scenes in comic history and this is a prime example of
his excellence in that regard. Other cosmic tales include: a three parter with
Thing, Her, Moondragon (both of whom Gru would use again as love interests for
Quasar) and Starhawk (revealed in the 90s to be the son of Quasar and Her)
trying to resurrect Adam Warlock and in the process running afoul of the High
Evolutionary and the Beyonder; A two part tale that sees Thing, Mr. Fantastic,
Sting Ray and the Inhumans taking on Maelstrom (who Gru would later elevate
into an enemy of all life in the universe in Quasar), a three part story
featuring Thing, Sting Ray, Triton and Scarlet Witch preventing the Serpent
Squad using the Serpent Crown to take over the world (this is the first
appearance of Sidewinder and a few others that would go on to become the
Serpent Society in Gru’s Captain America
run, while the Set’s Serpent Crown would be one of the major threats Quasar
dealt with when he became protector of the universe). Other one off stories in
here with cosmic characters are: Thing & Black Bolt vs. Graviton, Thing
& the Impossible Man, Thing vs. Hyperion, Thing & the 30th
century Guardians of the Galaxy, Thing & Quasar in the Savage Land, and
Thing & Hulk vs. The Stranger.

            If you like
this story also check out: Quasar
Classic volume 1
. Quasar was for my money Marvel’s best ongoing series of
the early 90s—a time when they published 60 to 80 books a month. While the
book’s best issues are in the second year and not collected in trade, this
volume will give you Quasar’s origin, his appointment as Protector of the
Universe, the set up of his supporting cast status quo, and some fun fights
with Terminus, Absorbing Man and Living Laser as part of the “Acts of Vengeance”
crossover.

        

11 Infinity War – This
is one of my favorite crossovers but unfortunately it does not have a good
trade paperback. The existing trade collects only the parts written by Jim Starlin:
The six issue main series, a few tie-in issues of Warlock and the Infinity Watch and a four part Thanos back up story
from Marvel Comics Presents. Worse it
doesn’t even intercut those stories in order. It just reprints each of the three
series it collects one after the other even though the Warlock issues
specifically say what issues of the main series they occur after. While like
any crossover some of the tie-in issues are extraneous I feel not including the
issues of Quasar, Dr. Strange and Silver Surfer do the story a real
disservice—these are all cosmic level heroes whose tie-in issues were key to
the main event. The Spider-man and Guardians of the Galaxy issues are also a
lot of fun and it is a shame not to have them even if they don’t add much to
the narrative. Besides a story called “Infinity War” should be big and
sprawling. The full story would likely make #5 on this list. Still even in
diminished form this is a trade worth picking up. The Magus has one of the best
plans of any villain ever in this story—from preemptively attempting to destroy
all of Earth’s heroes in one blow by taking out just five key heroes, to hiding
his fortress in another reality several dimensions removed so that even cosmic
level powers cannot get to him without great difficulty to the big plot twist
in issue five on his end goal. This is a rare smart villain executing a well
thought out plan so it is worth reading for the core six issues alone. Also the
story is crazy fun on a cosmic fanboy level because you get to see all the big
cosmic weapons pitted against each other: the Cosmic Cube, the Infinity Gauntlet,
the Quantum Bands and the Ultimate Nullifier are all utilized in one key
chapter of this story. Also it does collect Infinity
Watch #8,
which is a really strong comic featuring an extended flashback of
how Thanos raised Gamora as his foster daughter.

            If you like
this story also check out: Thanos
Imperative.
While Infinity Crusade
is the sequel to Infinity War it is a
badly told bloated story. And while the Magus’s first appearance may be a more
obvious choice to recommend here, Thanos
Imperative
has more in common with Infinity
War
structurally. Both stories see Thanos forced to act alongside a group
of heroes to defend the universe from a threat worse than him. Both see him
working alongside Gamora, Drax and Moondragon while Quasar, Silver Surfer and
Galactus have a separate side mission in the crisis. In both the threat is an
alternate evil version of a great cosmic hero. Thanos Imperative also brings DnA’s four year run as the architects
of cosmic marvel to an end and has the added bonus scene of Rocket Raccoon
standing down Thanos. It’s not the A+ homerun I wanted from DnA but it is a
solid B that holds up on multiple readings.
10-Avengers: The Kree
Skrull War
– While this story is less cosmic than you’d expect—only one chapter
takes place in space;–it does maintain a tense build and for its time period
stories of this scope were very rare. The cliff notes synopsis: first the
Avengers have to deal with the Kree who want to detonate a bomb that will
devolve all of humanity back to Neanderthals. Then as the follow up on the Kree
threat, the Skrulls make their move by taking the place of politicians and
members of the media to turn the public against the Avengers and later imitate
the big three (none of whom were on the active roster at the time) in order to
disband the team. The Avengers also have to battle both races major champions: Ronan
the Accuser and the Super Skrull. The story also pulls in the Inhumans, Captain
Mar-vell and (briefly) Annihilus until the Avengers fly into space to bring the
war to an end. It also contains a famous Fantastic
Voyage
inspired story of Ant Man traveling inside the Vision’s android body
to repair him. Unfortunately by today’s standards the ending with Rick Jones
comes out of nowhere and is far too part. Still that does not negate all the
good that came before.

            If you like
this story also check out: Avengers:
Operation Galactic Storm
a 19-part epic (collected in two trades) wherein
the Avengers get pulled into a Kree-Shi’ar war that manages to remain
remarkably coherent given the number of titles involved and in which the bulk
of the action is in deep space. Also Avengers
Forever
which is more time travel than cosmic but follows up on the Rick
Jones Supreme Intelligence finale of Kree Skrull War in a far more satisfying
way and also gave new relevance to the third Captain Marvel (the original’s son
Legacy).

9-Guardians of the
Galaxy volume 3: War of Kings –
Really the entire DnA run of Guardians is
worth reading as I would consider it the best ongoing series of the past 10
years. But if I had to pick just one trade to highlight this is the best one as
it features the culmination of two different year long subplots: the rupturing
of reality that Warlock and Star-Lord warned all the major alien races about
and no one believed and Warlock being reborn into the Magus in absolute shocker
of a scene that shows just how deadly that character can be. To stop the Magus
the story spins off into a full on time travel epic involving the 30th
century Guardians, Kang the Conqueror and the Cosmic Cube. This is as good as
it gets. (Also paid off in this trade is the “I am Groot” joke in one of the
funniest pages of any story on this list).

            If you like
this story also check out: Guardians of
the Galaxy volume 2
is the next best DnA Guardians trade as it has Quasar and Maelstrom in it, although
volume 4 has Thanos and volume 1 is pretty damn good  too. Also Nova: Knowhere by DnA has the first appearance of Cosmo the
telepathic Russian dog and the Guardians headquarters which is crazy fun. So in
honor of the movie go buy them all, you won’t regret it.
 


8 – Secret Wars – There
are times I consider Secret Wars my favorite crossover ever but I was not sure
whether to even count it as a cosmic story. On the cosmic front it takes place
on alien world, Galactus is in it and it is the first appearance of the
Beyonder but at its core this is a story about Dr. Doom, Magneto and the
earth’s greatest heroes engaging in big old fight scenes more than it is about
a cosmic threat. Still there is no more fun comic story ever published than
this one; it is the ideal primer to bring kids into the Marvel Universe. It is
also deserves historical credit for being first event crossovers– plus it gave
us Spider-man’s black costume which makes it a watershed moment for Marvel’s
flagship character. I would also argue Shooter’s subtle yet distinct characterizations
throughout the entire cast is often overlooked because the story has so much
spectacle in it.

            If you like
this story check out: Never read Secret
War II
as its awfulness is inversely proportional to the original’s
awesomeness. Beyond and Spider-man and the Secret Wars are both
okay looks back at the original concept, but for an actual good story that
picks up where this one leaves off go with Spider-man:
Birth of Venom
. Not really cosmic
other than the alien costume but damn it is both excellent and awesome.
 

 7-Essential Silver
Surfer volume 1 –
In interviews Stan Lee often cites this book as his
favorite thing he ever wrote. When you read it you will understand why. It
collects the entire Silver Age Silver Surfer series as Surfer endures his exile
on Earth. Stan Lee uses the Surfer’s outsider status to make poignant comments
on human nature that remain just as relevant today as when he wrote them 50
years ago.

            If you like
this story also check out: Essential
Silver Surfer volume 2
– Written two decades later by the vastly
under-rated Steve Englehart the Surfer’s second series sees him escape from
exile and make peace with Galactus. The treasure to be found in this volume is
a lost Infinity Gem story arc as the Elders of the Universe gather the gems in
an attempt to assassinate Galactus and remake the universe.
 6-Avengers: Legacy of
Thanos
– Another recent trade we can thank the Guardians movie for as Marvel finally collects the first appearance
of my favorite villain Nebula in trade. Written by the incomparable Roger
Stern, Nebula proves herself every bit the tactician her grandfather is as she
claims his Death Star like space ship Sanctuary II and uses it to position
herself into a Skrull Civil War with a plan that would make her their empress.
She ironically runs into Captain Marvel v2.0 as the first Earth hero she meets
but soon her plot drags in the rest of the Avengers including Thanos’s brother
Star Fox. Aside from the Skrull Civil War the trade also features cosmic
threats Terminus, the Beyonder and Firelord.

            If you like
this story also check out: Spider-man:
Am I an Avenger?
which has an even better Nebula story. The only reason I
am not ranking this trade on the countdown is it is an anthology with plenty of
non-cosmic stories such as Spidey’s first meeting of the Avengers vs. the Hulk
(by Stan Lee), Spidey and the Avengers dealing with a Moonstone led prison
break at Project Pegasus (by Stern), and a few forgettable stories with
Sandman, Rage and the New Avengers. But the five part Nebula story collected
here is fantastic with her both destroying and conquering the universe at
different parts of it and taking on a host of the most powerful Avengers and
the Stranger. It is in fact my single favorite Avengers story of all time and
this trade would by very high on my desert island list.

 
5-The Life and Death
of Captain Mar-vell.
Speaking of first appearances, this would be the first
appearance of Thanos and his first big epic plot with the Cosmic Cube. Also
starring the Avengers, Thing, Rick Jones, Super Skrull, Controller, the first
appearance of Drax and Mar-vell’s appointment as Protector of the Universe this
story is everything it has ever been billed as. In addition it also collects
Mar-vell’s battle with Nitro and his subsequent death by cancer on Titan.

            If you like
this story also check out: Marvel
Masterworks Warlock volume 2
which is Starlin’s second big Thanos story and
also the first appearances of Gamora and the Magus—who is so damn evil Thanos
is forced to recruit heroes to oppose the Magus’s plans because even Thanos
isn’t willing to face him one on one!

 

4-Essential Fantastic
Four volume 3 –
This is here primarily because it collects “The Coming of
Galactus” in which we meet Galactus and the Silver Surfer for the first time and
it is as tremendously excellent as history says it is. Also included is perhaps
the greatest single issue Stan Lee story of all time “This Man, This Monster”
featuring the Thing in the Negative Zone. If for some reason you need more
reasons to buy this it also collects the wedding of Reed and Sue, the first
appearance of the Inhumans, the first appearance of the Black Panther, the
first appearance of Blaastar, a multi-part Frightful Four story and the classic
story wherein Doom steals the Surfer’s powers and conquers the world. Nuff
said.

            If you like
this story also check out: Fantastic
Four Trial of Galactus
which features Galactus coming to feed on Earth and
being confronted by the FF, Avengers and Dr. Strange in a heck of a fight, a
follow-up plot involving Doom teaming with ex-Herald Terrax and ultimately the
Shi’ar putting Reed on trial for crimes against the universe.

 (3½)  Quasar: Cosmos in Collision (issues 19-25
of his solo title) is not in trade. If it was it would be ranked in this spot as it
features Quasar taking on the end of the universe level threat that defined his
title with a little help from Moon Dragon, Ghost Rider and the Eternals and is
second only to “Cap No More” among great stories written by Mark Grunewald.
 

3-Annhilation – By
far the best crossover of the modern era it rightfully sparked a renaissance of
Marvel’s cosmic line. It is the story of what happens when Annihilus finally breaks
into the positive matter universe—something that had been foreshadowed since
the Silver Age. (“The Kree Skrull War” opens with Annihilus trying to break
through and the Avengers and Captain Marvel are immediately like this will be
the end of the world if we don’t stop this now. Ditto the earliest issues of Marvel Team-Up have Spidey and the Torch
battling the Frightful Four in the Baxter
Building and in the
battle the Negative Zone portal opens and the Wizard immediately recognizes how
awful Annihilus is and tells his teammates to just stop fighting and help the
heroes close the portal). Indeed I would argue this story opens with the best
prologue ever: the opening page has Death meeting Thanos at the Crunch and she
tells him “something wonderful” is about to happen—when Death says something
wonderful is going to happen you know sh*t is about to get real; and the
exchange ends with her telling Thanos that this one is someone he could learn
from. What happens next delivers on every bit of that 40 years of foreshadowing
(warning spoilers ahead) as Annihilus
punches through the Crunch freeing the rogue cosmic entities and killing the
Beyonder. Next he hits the Xandarian home world and wipes out the entire Nova
Corps in minutes with only Earth’s Nova Richard Rider surviving. Nova meets up
with (Thanos foe) Drax the Destroyer and (Protector of the Universe) Quasar to
take the fight to Annihilus: that ends with Annihilus killing Quasar (arguably
the most powerful hero in the Marvel Universe) and donning the Quantum Bands
making Annihilus exponentially more powerful. Next Annihilus decides he wants
the Power Cosmic and he begins capturing, killing and dissecting former Heralds
of Galactus until things get so bad Silver Surfer reenters Galactus’s service
and that still doesn’t make a difference as Galactus is defeated and strapped
to a star cruiser so his hunger can be used as a planet destroying Death Star
like weapon! And that is just the half way point of the story! If you have not
done so do yourself a favor and read this thing as it is indeed “something
wonderful.”

            If you like
this story also check out: While Annihilation
Conquest
is the supposed sequel, it is really a sequel in name only with
just Nova, Star-Lord and the Kree being the only common characters in the two
stories and it doesn’t have nearly the punch of the original. The best
follow-up story to the plot threads here is Fantastic
Four: The New Fantastic Four
in which the FF learn Surfer has rejoined
Galactus, Galactus is mighty unhappy with how Annihilus treated him and wants
to replenish his power by eating the cosmic entity Epoch—who is in charge of appointing
Protectors of the Universe and with Quasar dead doesn’t have a protector. If
you want another Annihilus story the next best one is in the MTIO trade I
recommended earlier but you could pick up The
Greatest Villains of the Fantastic Four
a 1995 anthology trade collecting
stories on the FF’s top five villains. The Annihilus story therein is a
two-part 80s tale drawn by John Byrne so he’s never looked better and it is yet
another example of the stop Annihilus getting into our universe no matter what
decades long build-up as Reed sacrifices his life to stop him. For something
similar and more recent you could go with Jonathan Hickman’s Fantastic Four volume 4 trade in which
Torch sacrifices himself to stop Annihilus and you see more of the fallout of Torch’s
death than in the Reed trade.



2-X-men Dark Phoenix Saga – If you
are reading this column you probably don’t need me to tell you about Dark Phoenix
Saga—a story of unparalleled scope and emotion. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a
list of the best comics of all time in which this story was not in the top five,
and it would go in my top five ever too. If you haven’t read it do so. If you
don’t care for the X-men it doesn’t matter this is as good as comics get.

            If you like
this story also check out: X-men Rise
and Fall of the Shi’ar Empire
is a year long trek of six X-men in space by
famed Captain America scribe Ed Brubaker
as the X-men try to prevent long lost Summers’ brother Vulcan from destroying
the Shi’ar Empire and in the process learn a little bit more about the Phoenix
Force.
1-Infinity Gauntlet
– For my money this is the greatest story Marvel has ever published. Jim Starlin’s
writing make the stakes never feel higher than in any other crossover. The art
by George Perez and Ron Lim is superb. The fight scene in issue 4 may be the
greatest of all time, although damn if issue 5 doesn’t give it a run for its
money. Thanos, Nebula and Captain America all get great moments to
shine. This story is perfection.

             If you like this story also check out: Silver Surfer: Rebirth of Thanos shows
how Thanos gets the Infinity Gauntlet and features writing and art of equal
standard to the main story. Marvel also recently published Infinity Gauntlet Aftermath which shows what happens to the
Infinity Gauntlet after this story and it is pretty good too.

 

So that’s all folks. Questions? Comments? Death threats?
Leave them below.

Waitng for the Trade – Thanos

Waiting for the Trade

By Bill Miller

 

Thanos Rising

By Jason Aaron and
Simone Bianchi.

Collects Thanos Rising
#1-5

 

Why I Bought This: As
a fan of cosmic Marvel I enjoy a good Thanos story. His origin has never really
been told before so I was going to buy this no matter what. When I saw at this
Free Comic Book Day at the store offering buy one get one free trades I grabbed
it alongside the previously reviewed Spidey-Lizard trade.

 
The Plot – The
origin of Thanos including his childhood, the start of his love affair with
Death and his becoming the scourge of the universe.

 

 
Chapter 1 – Thanos comes home to Titan to visit his mother’s
grave leading to a lengthy flashback. He is born a purple mutant much to the
horror of doctors, though his father, Mentor,
embraces him. However when handed to his mother she sees an evil monster and
tries to kill him before being sedated. As a boy Thanos was ostracized as a
child at first but eventually makes a few friends. In school he excels in
science but is ignored by his father while his mother remains
institutionalized. In his teen years Thanos is playing football when Death
appears on Titan in the form of a girl his age and vows to herself to help
Thanos fulfill his special destiny. Thanos gets sick during biology class when
they have to dissect things and Death meets him in the hallway and they flirt.
She talks him into taking his few friends exploring in a forbidden cave where a
cave-in kills them all but Thanos, who is buried for days. The bodies are eaten
by lizards and when Thanos digs himself out and finds the corpses he kills all
the lizards in a homicidal fit of rage.

Chapter 2 – In college Thanos no longer minds dissecting
things. He is also getting the highest marks in the history of the school and
is clearly smarter than all of his professors. We learn he has a secret lab
where he is dissecting live animals that he takes his girlfriend too (still
unaware she is Death). He apparently wants to know the secret of mutation but
she tells him he is looking in the wrong place while rebuffing his physical
advances. So he goes out and kidnaps two students and dissects them. The kids
are noticed as missing and Kronos (Thanos’s grandfather, who later evolves into
a minor cosmic being aligned with Eternity) believes they have been murdered
but Mentor
refuses to believe it because there has never been a murder in the history of
Titan.  Thanos’s mom is home from the
asylum. Thanos buries the bodies and vows never to kill again but that vow
lasts all of two weeks. He tries to convince Death to run away with him but she
refuses him and her stare stops him from forcing his affections on her. After
killing 17 people Thanos still has no answers so he decides he has to dissect
his mother to find out why he was born a mutant.

Chapter 3 – Following the murder of his mother Thanos leaves
Titan, shacks up with some girl and sires a child. After few months of that he
gets bored and signs up with a space pirate crew. His genius makes him an asset
to the pirates because he can jam even Shi’ar vessel computer systems but his
refusal to fight and kill during the actual pirating earns him the captain’s
scorn. Thanos soon has a girl in every port and sires more children but still
misses the girl he left behind on Titan. He even marries one of the spaceport
girls. A crew mate warns Thanos the captain intends to kill him but Thanos
stays on with the pirates anyway because he is bored of life. When the battle
comes Thanos refuses to fight back and gets stabbed a lot. Then as he awaits
the death blow he blacks out and when he comes to he has murdered the captain
and been chosen by the crew as his successor. Shortly thereafter he dons his
famous costume in his role as captain. Thanos goes home to visit his mother’s
grave where Death is waiting for him. He offers to marry her but she chides him
for having slept with other women and spawned children, and says he must belong
solely to her if he wants her love. Thanos then goes home to his wife and child
and murders them in particularly chilling scene.

Chapter 4 – Several months later Thanos tells us he has
tracked down and murdered all of his former lovers and children. He has also
gained his energy projection powers but finds killing with them dull as he
wipes out the population of a planet chosen at random. One last survivor gets
the drop on Thanos and stabs him with a knife in the chest to no avail. Thanos
tells the man he killed his planet for love and says if he has a problem with
it to take it up with his lady. The man agrees to do so but finds a mutilated
female corpse in Thanos’s bed rather than Lady Death as Thanos sees her. The
man gets sick and Thanos murders him before he can tell Thanos what he saw.
Back on Titan, Kronos tries to convince Mentor
the truth of what Thanos is but Mentor
refuses to believe him. Back in space, Thanos confronts Lady asking her when he
will have done enough for her to sleep with him /marry him/love him. This time
when she turns him down he orders his guards to imprison her but the guards
can’t see her. And then she reveals to Thanos no one can see her but him and
just who she really is. Thanos is horrified by this revelation and considers
throwing himself into the warp core only to discover he cannot kill himself.
Death then makes it clear what she wants of him and he orders his fleet to
return to Titan.

Chapter 5 – Thanos nukes Titan from space killing most of
the population. He then sets down and orders his crew to remain behind so he
can kill all the survivors himself. He kills his way to his father. Mentor tries but is
completely ineffectual in stopping him. He then intends to marry Death in front
of his father, though she still does not consent. Mentor tries to convince Thanos he is insane
showing him that none of the instruments in his lab detect anyone else in the
room with them. Mentor’s
words cut too close to home so Thanos blasts him and destroys the lab. He then
leaves Mentor alive so Mentor can witness the horrors Thanos intends
to perpetuate on the universe. Once alone Mentor implores Kronos to stop
Thanos; while Thanos asks Death if Mentor was right about her being a
hallucination and she finally kisses him. He notes her kiss is cold but still
he follows her into his destiny. Epilogue: in the present day on Titan where we
are told Thanos comes once a year to remember who he is. We also see Death in
her more traditional form with roles reversed begging Thanos to love her and he
walks away silently deciding that he is alone in the universe.

 

Critical Thoughts: This
book has some really interesting ideas and then it has ideas I’m not sure I
like. Ditto in some chapters it uses obscure history really well and then in
other scenes the history is way off. I’ll start with what does not work as well
as it should and the work up to the story telling that works really well.

I’ll start with the big continuity gaffe, which is when
Thanos visits Titan in the present it is still a destroyed wasteland even
though there have been dozens of stories involving the various Captain Marvels,
Silver Surfer, Starfox, Nebula and Vision that take place on Titan after the
original Thanos stories showing they rebuilt after his attack and the society
is again a scientifically advanced utopia.

I also want to note the art in the birth scene is terrible.
It was not until second reading that I realized Mentor was in the scene, I
thought the character was instead a woman—perhaps part of a Death cult because
the art and dialogue are jumbled. In general I also don’t like the subplot with
the mom at all. The idea that just seeing Thanos as an infant drives her crazy
is over the top. And I feel having her institutionalized for years, while it
fits the alienation motif they are going with for young Thanos, makes his
murder of her somewhat less awful than if she had cared for him all along. Also
the art very clearly draws teen Lady Death in several scenes as
reminiscent/parallel to the mother and that’s creepy in a different way that I
don’t think anyone wants to see explored; and frankly Thanos deserves better
than to have his obsession with Death boiled down to mommy issues.

The other choice I don’t completely like is Death being there from the
beginning and basically choosing to groom him as her avatar when he is a boy. I
feel like it takes away from the character to have him predestined and
manipulated into becoming a monster rather than choosing it on his own. I’ll
concede the story as it told works, and the logic behind it (Death says in one
scene that she senses he has the most potential for mass mayhem of anyone in
centuries) has some merit. But I think there would be a stronger story in
having Thanos discover Death as an actual entity on his own at some point—that
would also fit better with her aloofness towards him in his most famous
stories. That said the scenes with Death constantly stringing him along and
rebuffing his advances are all quite well written.

On the other hand I like the idea that Thanos was an
unparalleled genius at a young age even among a planet dedicated to science. It
certainly fits with the strategy and complex schemes we see in his most famous
stories.

I think, while simplified in some ways, the serial killer
analogy works for this story. By which I mean Thanos’ tale very clearly
parallels the serial killer 101 stereotype: He is alienated by his peers and
his parents are too busy for him as a child, he begins killing animals and
works his way up to people; even near the end we get the scene with Mentor and
Kronos and Mentor actually says ‘he was such a good quiet boy’ in his denial of
what Thanos has become. On paper this is a relative simple arc to a complex
character and yet if you look at it as a framework rather than the whole story
it works because some of the broader details are well written thus it ends up
reading like Thanos’s tale is both one as old as the universe and yet also
unique.

By far the best parts of this book are chapters three and
four. Chapter three in particular is a clear A+. It’s funny too because at the
start of the chapter the ‘girl in every port’ thing really rings false but damn
if the execution doesn’t just pull you in as we see Thanos doing everything he
can to avoid his destiny. That chapter 3 ending is a gut punch in both writing
and art and in many ways the book’s apex. 

I also like how chapter three offers an indirect explanation
for the Nebula contradiction. For those who don’t know when Roger Stern created
Nebula she was clearly meant to be Thanos’s granddaughter. Starfox accepts her
as such without hesitation, saying how Thanos’s sexual exploits during his
pirate days were legendary—and Starfox knows a thing or two about romancing the
stars. (And at the time Thanos was dead and Marvel had no plans to ever
resurrect him so giving him a successor made sense much as Captain Mar-vell and
Kraven were each given long lost heirs posthumously). Then 10 years later when
Jim Starlin resurrected Thanos and got his hands on Nebula, he clearly wanted
Nebula to be a fraud by having Thanos state that in his love for Death he would
never create life; which I’ll give him is very sound logic. This series allows
for both to be true. For while we are told Thanos tracked down and killed all
his heirs at the start of chapter four, he also admits during the mid-chapter 3
narration that he can’t remember all the women he’s been with because they
don’t mean anything to him thus he easily could have missed one.

The other mini-continuity fill I liked was how he earned the
name “The Mad Titan.” This is something Thanos was called in his earliest
appearances but has not been called since because particularly since his
resurrection he is written as such a calculating tactical character why would
he be considered insane? The fact he spent years ruling a pirate crew talking
to an invisible woman in front of them (and occasionally to corpses in his bed
chambers) clears that up as well.

This brings up the series most intriguing plot point: the ambiguity
of if Death is really there at all. If we look at this as a self-contained
story the evidence would be that she is not. The scenes where she reveals her true
identity to Thanos, and where Mentor
tries to convince Thanos she is a figment of his imagination are both excellent.
The problem is this is not a self-contained story. We know Thanos has met
Death. You can’t have Infinity Gauntlet
without her being real because she personally resurrects him and tasks him with
killing half the universe. Death has also been seen by other characters alongside
Thanos starting with his earliest appearances in Captain Marvel. And she plays
such a crucial role in the ending of the recent Thanos Imperative trade–where she defeats the main villain and
then rejects Thanos again—that she has to exist, which is why the epilogue
makes no sense at all with either Thanos possibly believing her to be a
hallucination or her begging him to stay with her. Of course an intriguing
solution might be a sequel origin story where we learn Thanos was hallucinating
in his early days (i.e. in this story) but his obsession led to him to eventually
attracting the attention of the actual cosmic entity.

One last nitpick, I feel like Thanos’ brother Starfox should
have more of a presence in this story. I’ll admit Starfox is not a very
interesting hero but if you are telling the story of Thanos’ boyhood I feel his
brother should show up for more than a single panel.

 
Grade B- : Parts
of this book are great, other parts les so; but I will say though that even
when it fails it still remains an engrossing read probably because Thanos is
such a compelling character.

Waiting for the Trade – Avengers

Waiting for the Trade

 by Bill Miller

 

Avengers Assemble
by Brian Michael
Bendis and Mark Bagley

collects Avengers
Assemble #1-8

Why I Bought This: Created
in the wake of the film, this features the team from the film taking on Thanos.
Despite my distrust of Bendis, I couldn’t wait to read this and as soon as it
was collected in trade earlier this year, I ordered it from Amazon. That it
also features Mark Bagley’s art and the Guardians of the Galaxy is just gravy.
The Plot: Thanos hires
the Zodiac to steal items of cosmic power found on Earth and it’s up to the
Avengers to stop him.

Chapter 1 – We see a new version of the Zodiac exists. Tony
has built a new Stark
Tower and the Avengers
celebrate. In the desert Hulk is watching an Army convoy that suddenly comes
under attack by a water elemental. Hulk tries to help, although the Army
assumes he is attacking them too. They fight for a few pages with the Elemental
winning by drowning Hulk enough to pass him out and then stealing a mysterious
item from the convoy and escaping. Meanwhile Hawkeye and Black Widow are
tracking terrorists in Latveria. When they see what the terrorists are stealing
they call in the Avengers for back-up. Hawkeye and Widow manage to hijack the
terrorists’ jeep they loaded the item on when Taurus attacks. Thor and Iron Man
arrive to assist but Taurus defeats them both in physical combat.

Chapter 2 – In flashback we see a mysterious benefactor task
the Zodiac with recovering items of power off the Earth in return for power
upgrades. In the present Hulk arrives at Avengers Tower
and asks Jarvis to get Cap. In Latveria, Taurus gloats over defeating Thor
giving Iron Man and Hawkeye a chance to go on offense. They manage to force him
to retreat and then when Thor recovers he sees the mystery object and even he
is shocked by it. The four heroes meet up with Cap and Hulk on the Hellicarrier
and compare notes, deciding the water elemental was Aquarius. We also learn
that Hawkeye and Widow recovered the Ultimate Nullifier prompting Cap to decide
the stakes are so high that the mission should be classified to the six in this
room. And then the entire 12 members of the Zodiac attack the Hellicarrier.

Chapter 3 – The Avengers try to hold the Zodiac off so Widow
can escape with the Nullifier. She is pursued by Aquarius. Tony tries to bribe
the Zodiac into leaving in a funny moment. The fight gets more intense with
some of the villains throwing jets on the Hellicarrier at Thor, until Hulk gets
his mad on and finally manages to defeat one of them. This causes his power to
flow off into space and Tony is able to analyze it. He then builds a jamming
device which reverts the Zodiac to human. The Avengers attempt to question them
when Thanos arrives promising to destroy the Earth.

Chapter 4 – In one of the cooler moments Tony immediately
broadcasts an emergency signal to the White House as the Avengers have
instituted a planet-wide We’re f*ck*d contingency in case Thanos ever comes to
Earth. Thanos possesses the Hulk and sics him on Thor. Hawkeye manages to take
Hulk down with an exploding arrow to the mouth but then Thanos repowers up the
Zodiac at which point the President blows up the Hellicarrier in mid-air.
Apparently Tony has a force field now that can surround the entire team to save
them. The explosion also distances them from Thanos so Hulk is freed of his
control. Cap interrogates the one of the now-Human powerless Zodiac members as
we learn none of them were anything special before Thanos found them; their
mission was to gather objects of power for Thanos and in return he would give
them power to rule the Earth. The Avengers wonder why Thanos would need lackeys
(although he’s used lackeys plenty of times in the past including in his
earliest appearances), at which point the Guardians of the Galaxy show up
offering to help.

Chapter 5 – We see a flashback to a few days ago where the
Guardians were fighting the Badoon on some alien world, and after winning and
interrogating prisoners learned the Badoon were in league with Thanos and that
Thanos had designs on the Earth. The Guardians think Thanos may be after the
Infinity Gems but Cap and Iron Man dismiss that, and Gamora confirms it is not
the Gems in a cool bit of logic. Meanwhile Hawkeye and Widow make out in the
med lab. The Guardians inform the Avengers that the galactic council has deemed
Earth off-limits which is allegedly why Thanos was using lackeys instead of
attacking outright as the lackeys are a loop-hole to that ruling; as if Thanos
would ever care about galactic law (although Gamora suggests that’s exactly why
Thanos is interested in Earth again). Cap and Hulk then question the military
to learn what the Zodiac took for Thanos in chapter 1 and it is a new Cosmic
Cube designed by the U.S.
military. Realizing Thanos has the Cube the Avengers and Guardians head off
into space to find him.

Chapter 6 – Maria Hill briefs the New Avengers, Secret
Avengers and FF on the events of the last few issues and Reed is tasked with
coming up with a line of defense in case the Avengers and Guardians fail. In space
we see Thanos promise the Badoon an empire larger than the Kree and Skrull if
they eliminate the Avengers for him. Shortly thereafter the Badoon fleet
intercepts the Avengers and Guardians. Thor and Iron Man breech the mother ship
followed by the Guardians and just as the Badoon seem like they are about to
defeat Thor, Iron Man’s armor explodes to reveal Hulk inside as Banner was
piloting it as a “Trojan Hulk” ruse. The other Avengers except Widow follow
inside, when the Badoon blow the airlocks sweeping all the heroes sans
astronaut gear into Outer Space. Meanwhile Thanos successfully activates the
Cosmic Cube.

Chapter 7 – Thanos summons the Elders of the Universe,
Stranger and Inbetweener to him and then obliterates them with the Cube,
however the Cube energy then begins to spike out of Thanos’ control. Back in
space Widow gets a space suit and retrieves the other heroes though Tony and
Clint are not doing particularly well from space exposure. Thor is unaffected
by space and continues to attack Badoon ships, while Star Lord has his old
element gun and uses it take on a raiding party of Badoon foot soldiers. Hulk
joins Thor in the fight while Rocket uses undefined space technology to bring
Clint and Tony back from the brink of death. Thor manages to rupture the warp core
of the Badoon Mother Ship and then the Guardians leap to hyperspace to make
good the heroes’ escape; only for the heroes to be confronted by Thanos, who
has once again shed his physical form though this time the Cosmic Cube seems to
be the heart of his universal energy form.

Chapter 8 – Thor tries to fight Cube Thanos, while Tony
analyzes him and learns the Army was not able to build a true Cosmic Cube but
rather a “dark matter energy conduit” in a cube shape. Cube Thanos disintegrates
the Avengers. On Earth Reed and the President prepare for the worst. The
Avengers and Guardians discover they are not dead but have instead been
transported to the Cancerverse from Realm
of Kings.
They also find the Elders of the Universe are here as well and
form an alliance with them. Cube Thanos arrives on Earth and Reed plans to use
the Ultimate Nullifier to stop him when the Avengers arrive on the scene. Thor
uses some weapon Collector gave him to shatter the Cube, which returns Thanos
to normal at which point the heroes of Earth lay the smack down on him and turn
him over to the Elders for imprisonment. In the epilogue the Guardians invite
Iron Man to join their team, while the Badoon declare war on Earth for what the
Avengers did to their mother ship a few chapters back.

 
 Critical Thoughts: I liked the story’s momentum but it is flawed,
as most Bendis stories are. If you look at this as a story designed to appeal
to casual fans that saw the movie and want to see this cast in another
adventure with aliens it succeeds admirably. However, if you know anything
about Marvel continuity this story makes little to no sense.

We’ll start with the Elders power levels being way off.
Other than Grandmaster none of them have ever been shown able to manipulate cosmic
energy on their own; and even he wouldn’t be part of the cosmic pantheon with
the Stranger or Inbetweener. As we saw in Thanos
Quest
Thanos is more than capable enough of handling these characters at
his base power level. Let me also add Thanos should clearly know the difference
between a real Cosmic Cube and an imitation at this point. Groot’s power level
also seems off as he seems to be a peer to Hulk and Thor in the final battle,
and while he is a powerhouse he is still made of wood and nowhere near the
league of upper cosmic level threats like Thanos or Magus as the last Guardians series made clear.

Speaking of which there are several characters who died in
the last Guardian series who are back
alive with absolutely no explanation. Most notably Star Lord, who is human and
if you are going to resurrect him you need to explain how. Thanos, Drax and the
Cancerverse were all dead as well when last we saw them. At one point Star Lord
is asked point blank how he escaped the Cancerverse (a key plot point since it
was permanently sealed and then collapsed in upon itself when last we saw it)
and Bendis just has him stare at the Avengers blankly instead of providing an
explanation. It also seems to imply that the Guardians work for the Galactic
Council now, which isn’t a bad idea, but is a change in the status quo of their
last series (and this begs the question of what happened to the Annihilators).
I can live with a revolving door to death in comics but at least give the
reader the courtesy of an explanation when you use that door.

Reed’s plan to use the Nullifier also seems ill-advised
since we’ve seen in the past the Cosmic Cube trumps the Nullifier (Infinity War) and that using the
Nullifier can cause planet-sized collateral damage (late 90s issues of Silver Surfer involving Morg and
Tyrant); although I guess we can assume Reed’s intellect is such he could
contain the collateral damage.

We also have the whole Avengers blown into space scene which
makes little sense. Cap is shown to be barely harmed by the vacuum of space,
which Bendis attributes to super soldier serum—showing yet again that Bendis
fundamentally misunderstands what the Super Soldier Serum actually does. This
even more bizarre in that a fully armored Iron Man is nearly killed by the
vacuum of space, when I’ve seen Tony in space in numerous other stories. Tony
also claims at one point the Avengers are not prepared to deal with cosmic
threats; but I think Korvac, Nebula, the Elders of the Universe, the Kree and
the Skrull would all beg to differ. Plus this team of Avengers dwarfs the
Guardians in raw power.

I’d also add the Hawkeye & Widow makeout scene is
completely arbitrary. I guess it is supposed to be a nod to the pseudo romantic
tension between the two in the movie, but it has no story value at all here.

On the positive front I really liked the idea that the
Avengers and the President have a cosmic level protocol specifically for
Thanos. I also liked the presentation of Gamroa’s character a lot, particularly
the use of her history as Thanos’ foster daughter. For the future the use of
the Badoon could be interesting, as DnA were clearly building to a major event
with them during the entire run.

Also Mark Bagley’s art is fabulous with lots of beautiful splash pages. And he draws a heck of Thanos,

 

Grade: B-. A
pretty fun story if you don’t mind the cosmic continuity gaps.

 

 

Waiting for the Trade – Thanos

Waiting for the Trade
By Bill Miller
Silver Surfer: Rebirth of Thanos
by Jim Starlin and Ron Lim
Collects Silver Surfer 34-38 and Thanos Quest 1-2.
Why I Bought This: I love cosmic Marvel and few stories in Marvel history are as great as The Infinity Gauntlet. This book serves as the prelude to that one.
The Plot: The short non-spoiler version is Death resurrects Thanos and charges him with killing half the population of the Universe. In the course of going about the task Thanos comes up with a new scheme to seize ultimate power. This is in my view one of the all time great stories so if you haven’t read it before you may wish to skip the spoilers before reading it yourself. That said you’ve been warned.

Chapter 1 – Surfer finds himself on a lifeless planet and decides to let himself sleep for the first time in years. He dreams of Death’s palace, where she is debating the resurrection of an unnamed evil spirit who had served her in the past in order to correct the great imbalance. Suddenly Death is aware of Surfer presence and the spirit blasts Surfer out of the palace causing him pain and making Surfer question if this is just a dream. The dream shifts and he is on an overpopulated planted where the aliens are sacrificing an infant into a volcano. Surfer rescues it only for it to mutate and attack him. He awakens and wonders what it all means only to turn and find Thanos resurrected and admitting to being the spirit in the dream.
Chapter 2 – Thanos takes Surfer on a tour of the universe (including a stop at Earth for some social commentary) via his teleporting chair and explains the great imbalance is that more beings are alive now than had ever lived before. Death wants this rectified and has tasked Thanos with killing half the universe’s population. He asks Surfer to step aside for the greater good, to which Surfer refuses. Surfer then learns that their teleporting has spread diseases/bacteria (that normally die in space/atmospheric reentry when Surfer travels on his board) from one planet to the next. Surfer returns to a utopia they had visited and heals those he can but half the planet is already dead as Thanos had traveled through time as well. However the time travel alerts Chronos, a time-entity in Marvel’s cosmic pantheon that presides over Thanos’ homeworld Titan, that Thanos has returned to life and so he resurrects Drax the Destroyer to stop him.
Chapter 3 – Surfer journeys to Avengers Mansion to get information on Thanos from Cap and we get a summary of the two major Thanos stories Starlin wrote in the 70s: where he conquers the universe with the Cosmic Cube and tries to destroy the universe with the Infinity Gems. Later in space Surfer is bothered by the Impossible Man (a shape-shifting imp who occasionally bothers the Marvel heroes out of silliness/boredom not malevolence).
Chapter 4 – Surfer journeys to Titan to speak with Thanos’ father Mentor. We get probably the most comprehensive Thanos origin ever printed, giving his age to be about 100, and stating he spent 80 years in space honing his craft and gathering followers before returning to the Solar System and appearing in comics in the 1970s. Drax then shows up and wants to accompany Surfer in tracking Thanos. However Drax has brain damage from being killed (Moondragon had telepathically fried his brain in the Avengers about 100-issues prior to this story), he also has Hulk level strength now, which is a big step-up from when he was last alive, so Surfer is less than gung ho for having Drax come along. Thinking back to his encounter with Impossible Man he tricks Drax into watching television at FF HQ and then slips away.
Chapter 5 – Nebula (an Avengers foe who had been presented as Thanos granddaughter and had about five-years of stories as an A-list threat while Thanos was dead) is onboard Thanos’ old spaceship Sanctuary II (basically a Death Star) when Thanos decides to reclaim his property. He denounces any kinship with Nebula and sets her on fire. The members of the crew that served under him quickly switch loyalties, but one of Nebula’s crewmen manages to hide her and tends to her wounds in secret. Thanos decides to allow Surfer to find him and they battle with Thanos seemingly being disintegrated down to his bones. Surfer takes the body back to Titan, while Thanos reveals he had altered one of Nebula’s crew to look like him to get Surfer off his scent.
Chapter 6 – Thanos is back in Death’s realm gazing into a magic well that possesses all knowledge in the universe. He meets with Death and asks for permission to acquire the Infinity Gems again in service to his mission for her, noting that with his current power level it will take him centuries to complete his mission. Noting the gems are in the possession of some of Death’s recent enemies (specifically the InBetweener and the Elders of the Universe, both of whom had thwarted Death in issues of Silver Surfer and Avengers in the two years prior to this story), Thanos gets her to grant permission. Thanos finds the InBetweener imprisoned in a distant dimension by Master Chaos and Lord Order (more cosmic pantheon beings). He frees him from his prison, then takes the Soul Gem from him and teleports away leaving him to face the justice of Chaos and Order. Next he encounters the Champion, who has Power Gem thus making him infinitely strong. Champion lives to fight so Thanos challenges him to a duel and using force fields and his teleporter tricks him into breaking the planet they stand on to pieces. Champion cannot fly and so Thanos barters the gem from him in return to taking him to another planet. Finally Thanos meets the Gardener on his gardening world. Thanos offers to let Gardner live in appreciation for the gardening world he has created with his gem, Gardner refuses the offer even though he knows he is outclassed. They battle with Gardner using his control of plants to attack Thanos but Thanos endures it without moving and uses the Power Gem to accelerate Gardner’s power beyond his control. He takes the Time Gem and departs.
Chapter 7 – Thanos meets with the Collector to see if he would be open to trading his gem, Collector is willing if he can acquire something rarer. Thanos then battles the Runner, who moves at speeds beyond comprehension and batters Thanos into submission. However Runner then stops to gloat and Thanos uses the Time Gem to reduce him to infancy taking his Space Gem, which Runner had been subconsciously using to enhance his speed. He then returns to the Collector and trades the baby Runner for the Reality Gem, which Collector had never figured out how to work, as prior to this story it was believed all six gems were Soul Gems and not divergently powered. This leaves the Grandmaster for last, another A-list Avengers foe and the most powerful of the Elders; he lives his life for cosmic games of chance. Grandmaster booby traps his gem knowing he can’t win a battle of gems against Thanos and instead challenges him to a winner takes all virtual reality video game. Thanos outplays him, but Grandmaster has rigged the game; however Thanos had sent in a robot duplicate ahead of him and in the real world short-circuits the game while Grandmaster is still hooked up to it leaving him catatonic. He then takes the Mind Gem and then combines the six gems into the Infinity Gauntlet using the Power Gem at the base to provide infinite power to the other five so that their range is now universe-spanning instead of just localized as prior users had used them. Thanos returns to Death’s realm and wants to claim her as his queen but she shows disdain for him and he leaves despondent over her rejection.
Critical Thoughts: Let’s begin with Ron Lim’s art because it is fabulous. This is what is cosmic Marvel is supposed to look like. It has quite simply never looked better, particularly the final two chapters (the Thanos Quest books) where the colors are just gorgeous as the pencils. Lim would go on to have lengthy run on Surfer and the three major Infinity crossovers (the first sharing duties with George Perez) and all of it was perfection.
The writing is very, very good. Starlin clearly loves Thanos more than any other character he writes: he took him from title to title in the 70s and his first action on Surfer’s book was this story arc. Thanos under Starlin is a villain with unique motivations (his love of the actual cosmic entity Death), complex schemes and brutal power yet still prone to nuance such as enjoying the Gardner’s garden or mentioning that he believes in keeping his word (or in later example showing his tenderness to his foster daughter Gamora after she was beaten and possibly raped in the pages of Infinity Watch).
At the same time Starlin does have a tendency to ignore the work of other writers when it comes to these characters, which I see as a bit of flaw in any writer’s work in this medium. (This was most obvious in Infinity Abyss, a story Starlin seems to have written for the express purpose of retconning out of his existence work other writers had done with Thanos—although in Starlin’s defense they were some really bad stories.) We see a little of that in this story with his treatment of Nebula, who is barely an after-thought to Thanos and runs from him in terror when he reveals himself to her. Now yes, Nebula’s base power-level isn’t in Thanos’ league but in Avengers her schemes were every bit as complex as his, and with just as high a success rate. In her most recent appearance prior to this story Nebula managed to steal from another of Marvel’s cosmic entities the Stranger, destroyed the entire universe and when it was recreated elevated herself to omnipotence; yet Starlin has her a mere space pirate who runs in terror from Thanos when he confronts her. As a huge fan of Nebula (she may very well be my favorite villain in all of comics, because she was a hell of an Avengers villain during my teen years and that’s the age when you glom onto these characters on visceral level) I find the way this scene is written irksome, but it’s a not deal-breaker if only because A) Nebula is an expert strategist and knows she’s outclassed so what other options does she have, and B) Starlin redeems his treatment of her thoroughly in the Infinity Gauntlet series.
A few other scattered notes: I love the writing in the first chapter with Surfer’s dream. I find the social commentary in chapter two a little heavy-handed and too Earth-centric for what is a universe-wide cosmic tale. Ron Lim also draws a hell of a Cap. I hate the Impossible Man in just about every story I’ve ever seen him and this is no exception. Drax returning as brain-damaged is a hell of nod to prior continuity.
My only other complaint is I wish the Surfer issues up to #50 were also here (or at least in a different trade) because that’s also part of the Infinity Gauntlet prelude.
Grade: A. The art is an A+ and two Thanos Quest chapters are clearly A+ also (Hell they are more like the A+ from Christmas Story that keeps plus-ing around the room, they are that good.) But the criticisms about chapters 2 (social commentary that feels shoe-horned into the tale) and 3 (I really have no use for the Impossible Man) drop the trade as a whole to just a regular A. Of course an A is still a grade of near perfection with a very high recommendation to buy this and read it if you haven’t already.