Waiting for the Trade
By Bill Miller
Thanos RisingBy 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,
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. Mentor
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
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. Mentor
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
the truth of what Thanos is but
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. Mentor
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.
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 Mentor alive so 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. Mentor
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
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. Mentor
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.