Feb 18, 2013

Back Issue Ben: Guarding the Galaxy 2: Thanos

 Back Issue Ben is a column written by Ben Smith for the Comics Cube! See his archives here.

Guarding the Galaxy: Exploring the Marvel Cosmic Universe
Part 2: Thanos
by Ben Smith

As I said in my exploration of Star-Lord, I didn’t have a great fondness for the space-faring comics as a youth. I spent most of my time reading Spider-Man and X-Men comics, so I didn’t know much about characters like Warlock, Captain Marvel, Silver Surfer, or Thanos. Thanos was a character created by writer/artist Jim Starlin, and made his debut all the way back in Iron Man #55. He bounced around from lower tier book to lower tier book, and never really made a big impact until the ‘90s, when he returned in Silver Surfer #34. (I remember that comic being a hot comic at the time, and it, in turn, drove up the price of his first appearance. I remember buying a copy of Iron Man #55 for fairly cheap from my local comic book store, before they realized that it was the first appearance of Thanos. I never even read it, I just liked to have all the “valuable” comics I could.) Those appearances in Silver Surfer were just a prelude to the book that made him a star, the epic Infinity Gauntlet mini-series.

Thanos is a Titan born from Eternals Mentor and Sui-San. Thanos carries a gene that makes him look different from his fellow Titans, and that always set him apart in his mind, despite never being treated as different. Thanos would come to be obsessed with nihilism and death, eventually even falling in love with the physical embodiment of Death herself. Thanos was always seeking more power, either by gaining control of a Cosmic Cube or the Infinity Gems, always in an effort to impress Mistress Death.

In 2006, the cosmic side of the Marvel universe exploding on my radar with the Annihilation event. While I hadn’t read the Thanos series that preceded those comics at the time, it did set up several of the characters that would come to play a part in that event. Especially Thanos, who was much different in appearance and motivation during Annihilation. Changed by recent events, Thanos no longer sought universal conquest, and seemed to be trying to find a new purpose for himself in the process.

(For the purposes of this retrospective, I am going to skip the first six issues of the series. While those are solidly entertaining comics, written and drawn by Starlin, they don’t have as direct an impact on the wave of cosmic books to follow.)

Thanos #7. Writer: Keith Giffen; Penciler: Ron Lim; Inker: Al Milgrom; Editor: Tom Brevoort

Thanos arrives at Frontline, an outpost on the very edge of the expanding universe. This area of the universe is called The Crunch. Frontline is manned by the Omega Corps, a galactic peacekeeping force.

Thanos convinces one of the officers, a human named Cole, to escort him to the Kyln. The Kyln are giant power-generating units, that also serve as prisons for the most dangerous criminals in the galaxy. It also serves as a pilgrimage site for some, due to its proximity to the Genesis Cascade, which is the very edge of the universe.

Thanos meets and speaks with the personification of Death itself, where she speaks to him for the very first time. He declares that he no longer serves his beloved Mistress Death. She claims that he never served her at all. “Did it ever occur to you that death would be the least of my needs?”

“Without life there is no death!”

But Death finally does confess her love for Thanos, and asks him to learn how to love her properly. Thanos smiles at this revelation.

My brain thoughts: This is a very intentional depiction of Death, very similar to the way that she appears in the highly popular DC/Vertigo series Sandman. Easter Eggs aside, this is an important conversation in the history of the two characters and their interactions with each other. I absolutely love the art in these books. Lim and Milgrom have never looked better, ably aided by a wonderful coloring job. The book looks great.

Thanos #8. Writer: Keith Giffen; Penciler: Ron Lim; Inker: Al Milgrom; Editor: Tom Brevoort

Thanos stares out at the Genesis Cascade. Far behind him, some inmates watch him, and discuss whether the rumors of who he is are really true. Thanos is annoyed by this.

Another inmate named Moloka Dar, having witnessed this, tells Thanos of The Maker, which intrigues him enough to follow the inmate down below. Thanos is led into a room containing, among others, the Shi’ar Gladiator and Peter Quill, the former Starlord.

Turns out this Maker, previously known as Cosmos, and known before that as The Beyonder, is driving some of the inmates insane. (Psychic bleedoff, they keep referring to.)


Meanwhile, outside, a pink woman named Mynx carves a message into the chest of the Cleric that has been escorting Thanos. Back inside, Gladiator explains how, not too long ago, the Maker had shut herself down. She was brought to the Kyln and imprisoned near the core in what is called a Creche, a state-of-the-art confinement for Alpha level threats. Except that lately, her madness is fading, and she is becoming more and more aware. That is not a good thing, based on her past history as the Beyonder.

Thanos leaves, and runs into the Cleric. He reads the message carved into his chest, and is unimpressed. He asks the cleric if he can take him to the Maker.

My brain thoughts: Alright, I’m all aboard now. Secret Wars has always been a favorite of mine, so the inclusion of the Beyonder is all it takes to get my attention. Since I had already become a big fan of Starlord after reading the Guardians of the Galaxy comics, it was great to see where he first popped back up, right in this series here. Unfortunately, he’s still wearing that horrible techno-organic eye thing, but don’t worry, he’ll get rid of that before long.

Thanos #9. Writer: Keith Giffen; Penciler: Ron Lim; Inker: Al Milgrom; Editor: Tom Brevoort

Gladiator talks to Moloka Dar about Thanos. They need his help against the Maker. Gladiator senses that Thanos is in a state of flux, of altered awareness, and more willing to help than he ever would have been before.

On their way to the Maker, Thanos and the cleric are surrounded by Mynx and several other inmates.

In the Creche, the physical embodiment of the Maker touches a cocoon on her wall.

Out comes a little pink fairy-like creature (she will be important going forward).

Mynx futilely tries to intimidate Thanos, until the Maker arrives. She recognizes Thanos from long ago, and asks if they were special. He says that they were. She asks him “were we good special?” He replies with “no.”

She did not like that answer.

The Maker reduces Mynx and the rest of the inmates down to the size of insects, and tosses them into the wind.

Starlord and his allies watch from afar, hoping that the Titan is still alive. At the bottom of the crater lies a battered and bruised Thanos. Flying around him is the little pink fairy from earlier.

My brain thoughts: Mad powerful godlike beings are always so frightening and entertaining. (Illyria from Angel comes to mind.) Turning the Beyonder into a female with bright, glowing hair and eyes is both intriguing and confusing to me. The way she shrinks everyone down and then casually tosses them away was a really great scene.

Thanos #10. Writer: Keith Giffen; Penciler: Ron Lim; Inker: Al Milgrom; Editor: Tom Brevoort

Thanos rises, while the fairy-creature, named Skreet, watches him.

Skreet has a miniaturized Mynx in her hand as she talks to Thanos. Meanwhile, Starlord and Gladiator survey the crater from afar, hoping for Thanos to appear. While they wait, Gladiator tells Peter how he arrived at the Kyln. He and his Shi’ar Guard had found the Maker, catatonic. She was brought to the Kyln and imprisoned in the Creche. Another member of his team, Oracle, had siphoned off a bit of her madness, and through that discovered that the being they had imprisoned was actually the former Beyonder. The most powerful being in the universe, now vulnerable in mortal form, presented a unique opportunity to contain or even eliminate the potentially dangerous being. Gladiator was sent to the Kyln on fake treason charges to find out for sure.

Thanos finds himself amused and annoyed by his new winged companion.

Thanos confronts the Maker again, and they engage in a battle of epic proportions.

Thanos has the being on the ropes, and as she kneels before him, she requests he tell her what her name was, when they knew each other before.

Thanos replies with only one word, “denied.”

He deactivates her mental capacity, essentially leaving the being a prisoner in its own mortal body. Gladiator praises Thanos for his clever thinking, by not killing the mortal body and setting the being free at full strength. They shake hands and part ways.

My brain thoughts: If this comic was done 20 years ago, the caption on the front cover would read, “Thanos vs the Beyonder: To the Death!” At least it should. I would buy that comic. Thanos again establishes why he’s a badass by taking down the Maker/Beyonder.

Thanos #11. Writer: Keith Giffen; Penciler: Ron Lim; Inker: Al Milgrom; Editor: Tom Brevoort

Thanos and Skreet inspect an empty cocoon that once held a being called the Fallen One. The Fallen One was Galactus’ first herald.

Starlord arrives, to inspect for himself that the Fallen One has escaped. Peter had been the one that captured the being in the first place.

Meanwhile, out in deep space, the Fallen One speeds towards an unknown goal.

Thanos returns to his ship, to get more information on the Fallen One.

Gladiator comes to tell Peter Quill that with the Maker neutralized, that he is leaving, but also that he has drafted Peter into the Shi’ar Guard. Since Peter was the last to capture the Fallen One, he will be forced into assisting them with the recapture.

Skreet, bored of Thanos’ endless research, tells him she knows all he needs to know of the Fallen One. He will go after his former master, and Galactus, having been weakened by previous events, is ripe for conquest. Thanos visits the recovering Galactus, and warns him of the Fallen One’s arrival. Galactus is. . . unconcerned.

My brain thoughts: More characters and status quos that will be expanded upon in later issues, so pay attention.

Thanos #12. Writer: Keith Giffen; Penciler: Ron Lim; Inker: Al Milgrom; Editor: Tom Brevoort

Thanos stands between the Fallen One and a weakened Galactus.

Thanos warns the Fallen One that Galactus is a necessary force in the universe, and that destroying him threatens the balance. The Fallen One teleports Thanos back to his ship with only a wave of his hand. Galactus scoops up the Fallen One and deposits him right back face-to-face with Thanos. The Fallen One again warns Thanos to stay out of the way.

Aboard a nearby Shi’ar Imperial cruiser, Gladiator and Starlord talk. It wasn’t necessarily to capture the Fallen One that Gladiator freed Peter Quill. It had much more to do with Thanos himself. Peter still seems uninterested, saying, “You do know it was collateral damage that landed me up in the Kyln? 350,000 dead.” Regardless, Gladiator believes in Quill. They will let Thanos take care of the Fallen One, and then they plan to take care of the Titan.

The Fallen One sends Thanos’ ship falling into orbit, destroying it in an explosion. Thanos is unharmed.

Together with Skreet, they attack the Fallen One, sending him falling into a nearby planet-sized gas cluster, igniting it, and setting off a massive explosion.

Thanos locates the unconscious Fallen One and, as Skreet puts it, “makes a brain whammy on it.” He makes the Fallen One his herald, to lead him and his companion Skreet, anywhere the Titan pleases.

My brain thoughts: I’m not sure if Starlord’s big mistake was ever shown or covered in an actual comic book, but the references to it add a great back story for the character. Trapped in a state of self-pity and doubt, his journey back to a life as a hero begins here. I can’t wait to read it all over again.

My final brain thoughts: Pink fairy, cybernetic Quill, mohawked aliens, gender-bending Beyonders, and goth-like Death.

I think a lot of readers, myself included, forget that Keith Giffen was the main driving force behind this initial push of the cosmic Marvel books. Most of the credit usually goes to Abnett and Lanning, but Giffen did an excellent job revitalizing these characters and telling interesting stories. While this wasn’t officially billed as a lead-in to the Annihilation event, it played a big part in setting up Peter Quill and Thanos for future events. Here they were, together, at the beginning of this epic saga, and they would come together again, for the end of it.

This is only the beginning folks. Strap in and prepare for the long haul, as we take a look at Annihilation, Annihilation: Conquest, and Guardians of the Galaxy, and end it with The Thanos Imperative. That’s a whole lot of great comics, and I can’t wait to get to them all.

Next time, Annihilation begins!

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