Thanos 1

thanos-1

Today, Drew and Ryan D are discussing Thanos 1, originally released November 16th, 2016. As always, this article containers SPOILERS!

What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object?

Traditional

Drew: This line is often used to sell a given story as some kind of ultimate showdown, but it always strikes me as thoroughly self-defeating: either one or both of those adjectives simply prove to be false. That is, the answer can’t be as interesting as the question suggests, since the answer necessarily reveals that the question was built on a false premise. Or, if you’re feeling more diplomatic, you might take Superman’s answer to this question from Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s All-Star Superman: “they surrender.” It’s an elegant solution, but is ultimately far less entertaining than the premise suggests — “they surrender” isn’t exactly the white-knuckle conclusion the question implies, and again, betrays the falsehood of those adjectives.

Such is often the case in superhero comics, where villains are routinely trotted out as unstoppable, only for our hero to miraculously give lie to that claim. It’s enough to make anyone doubt the increasingly hyperbolic claims made of villains. This becomes especially true of big name villains, who continue to be heralded as some kind of ultimate threat, in spite of the fact that they’ve been beaten in virtually every appearance. Thanos is a prime example of this — the seriousness of his threat diminishes with each subsequent return (especially after that time Squirrel Girl defeated him) — leading to even more hyperbolic claims made next time. Cleverly breaking that pattern, Jeff Lemire and Mike Deodato’s Thanos 1 sidesteps the Worf Effect by lampshading the inevitable conclusion in the first issue.

That’s not to say the creative team doesn’t indulge in some absurd hyperbolics, just that they recognize them for what they are. Indeed, they celebrate the absurdity of Thanos, elevating his formidability to mythic proportions. It’s a study in excess, right down to the title page — the only double-page spread of the whole issue:

Thanos Returns

It may seem gratuitous to include the title page in the discussion of this issue, but I honestly can’t think of a more appropriate passage to illustrate the over-the-top aesthetic at the heart of this series. In short, Lemire and Deodato have cranked the volume of everything to 11, meaning they don’t even have room for subtlety on their title page.

My other favorite example of this is a much smaller detail.  As this issue picks up the Champion of the Universe’s storyline, Lemire and Deodato need to quickly set the mood for their space saloon. They don’t have room for the kind of colorful shots you might picture for the Star Wars cantina, so they’ve got to distill the idea of a saloon down to its very essence. That essence, of course, takes the form of swinging doors.

Saloon Doors

Of course, this makes no diegetic sense — swinging doors are wildly impractical for a space station, and would only add “saloon” ambiance to human patrons (of whom there seem to be none) — but it offers a great deal of meaning to us. We immediately recognize both what the doors and the act of swinging them wide represent. It’s a brilliantly efficient introduction to both the setting and the character.

And holy hell is Deodato drawing the ever-loving shit out of these characters. This issue offers room to flex both his strength with rugged humanoids and chiseled aliens, rendering them all in the high-contrast inking style that’s become Deodato’s signature. I’m a bit less enamored of his use of zipatone throughout the issue — it reads less as texture and more as a lack of faith in colorist Frank Martin (a lack of faith that seems totally unfounded given the strength of the coloring here). Perhaps I’m in the minority here, but I find Deodato’s hard-edged shadows much more effective than any of these greytone effects.

But this issue isn’t about the kinds of minor details I might quibble over. It’s about impossibly hardboiled banter and Earth-shattering punches and intergenerational love triangles with Death herself. It’s hard to express my enthusiasm for those elements without sounding sarcastic, but Lemire and Deodato truly do find sincere fun in all of that excess. Actually, Ryan, as our resident professional wrestling expert, I suspect the heady blend of sincere and ironic enjoyment of this over-the-top spectacle is a bit more familiar to you. Did this issue press any of those same buttons for you?

Ryan D.: Aw Drew, I was already going down the pro wrestling path with this review waaaay before you brought it up! And it really fits this time!

The creative team here began the important process of what they call in the pro wrestling business “repackaging.” As you mentioned, Drew, Thanos’s reputation over the years has taken quite the hit — even with the Civil War II murder of Rhodes. Heck, before I heard who would be writing this run,  I did not pause for a second out of interest when I heard of a new Thanos title. So, the repackaging commences, and boy — I think they are doing a great job.

It’s pro wrestling booking 101: if you have a big guy who used to be a feared destroyer, but has been used more often lately to make other people look stronger, then that monster needs to be repackaged, rebranded. This means the audience must be reminded of what makes the character so fearsome. The easiest way to do that in wrestling is to put the monster in the ring with a bunch of no-names who can be “squashed” in a matter of seconds. Lemire does this immediately here, giving Thanos the nameless fearsome mercenary forces to destroy with no effort on his part. And I found it to be a treat watching this:

thanos1-1

As Drew said, Deodato draws the hell out of this title. I love the use of shadows throughout the issue, but here it seems particularly thematic: we can’t see all of Thanos yet in the same manner that we have yet to see him display his full power. I enjoy the spacing between him and the tank in the first panel, the beat in the second wherein the audience is allowed to match their reaction with Thanos’s, and the kinetic force of the third. Chunky white gutters separate all three panels, which somehow adds weight to the images. It tells such a simple, effective story.

The level of challenge to Thanos builds very logically to showcase his prowess: first troops, then this crawler tank, then a heavy-looking cannon battery, and eventually Glaive. This was a great encounter, especially after Glaive — who knows very well what Thanos is capable of — decides to stand his ground.

thanos1-3

That one panel beat of Glaive staring up in realization and resignation before he plunges his own blade into his heart to save himself from the agony of Thanos really sold to me the level of cruelty of which Thanos is capable. It also showcased one of Lemire’s talents: he can create characterful moments which stay with a reader — and it’s these moments which audiences end up remembering just as much, if not more, than the story itself. Whether it’s a film, piece of theatre, comic book, or wrestling match, making a moment which lasts is art.

As far as the spectacle goes, Drew, it’s the little touches that really sell it for me. Aside from the obvious big pieces like the use of gods as main characters and their incredibly high power levels, Deodato utilizes a really interesting choice:

thanos1-2

Aside from these characters’ postures, which read to me as bloody Shakespearean with how much time they spend standing in neutral with their hands by their sides and shoulders squared, the page composition speaks volumes. I see nothing arbitrary about those extraneous-seeming panels in the top left of the page — in fact, Deodato uses that cross-hatching quite a bit, especially with establishing shots. The stars are stitched very deliberately into this page, which helps strengthen the sense of scale and scope of this comic. Thanos is a menace whose terror spreads across the stars, and the players in this story will journey across galaxies to end it. And after all — spectacle seldom occurs in isolation, does it?

Thanos 1 may read like watching a pro-wrestling promo package, but as you said, Drew, it relishes in this Broadway, pyro, and ballyhoo. This sense of spectacle counterpoints the very serious, very important tone which I find excruciatingly boring to read in some other space-operas, and I couldn’t be more excited about how the reveal at the end changes the dynamic in upcoming issues. I feel safe with this creative team, and would hazard, Drew, that Lemire might have a different answer to show us regarding the ol’ “unstoppable force/immovable object” scenario. So…just…surrender to that.

For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?

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3 comments on “Thanos 1

  1. Every time I read a Lemire comic, I find myself being the continuity nerd. I don’t care about continuity that much, but every time he does things in just the right way to set me off.

    The problem is always the same, every time he writes a Marvel book. Lemire seems to make a point of taking old storylines and building on it, yet does it wrong. Here, he is creating a sequel to Infinity. The Black Order, Thanos’ son, everything about this book is building on Infinity

    Infinity was actually an interesting event. It was a massive Marvel event whose big idea was that it was utterly meaningless. Hickman’s epic Avenger story was split into two sides, one representing life, and the other representing death. And so, Infinity was a big story about the Avengers fighting for life. Every threat, from the Builders to Thanos, was about death. And the Avengers stopped them. Except for all that power, the real story was that the Avengers actions were meaningless compared to the true Death, the incursions. It is unsurprising that after this, the two Avengers books began to collide.

    But this is where the problem arrives. The Black Order were designed to be the perfect villains for a story about death. The motive of Corvus Glaive and the other lieutenants was that they WANTED to die. They fought for Thanos so that they could get what they wished. It is the sole thing that makes the Black Order interesting.

    And yet, the complete opposite happens here. And the problem isn’t that it is inconsistent. The problem is, just like All New Hawkeye where Kate Bishop was supposed to be recently grappling with the reveal that her father was evil, the existing configuration was just more interesting. Thanos’ threat to Corvus Glaive was cliche. Imagine if, instead, you had the scene go like this:
    ‘Kill me’
    ‘No. That is what you want. So why should I do that?’
    A scene like that would make Thanos more sadistic and villainous, than going for the cliche Lemire went for. And it would make Corvus Glaive a more interesting adversary than what we actually got.

    But that is kind of the problem with the whole issue. We keep getting the least interesting iteration. You guys correctly describe it as an issue about making Thanos a threat again. But punching dudes is the most boring way to do that. What if THanos just marched inside, and ignored everyone. What if people, despite orders, just stood there, afraid to act. What if someone was brave enough to make the shot, and it bounces off, harmless. Thanos turns to face him, and just stares, waiting. Waiting, until those around the scared soldier turn on him, pulling him apart in an attempt to get approval from Thanos. That would have been so much better than just punching a tank. I mean, Thanos should be the sort of villain who is such a threat that a simple fight should be beneath him.

    It is a shame, because Deodanto was born for this book. The heavy metal design and dark colour palate both create a cosmic scale (those starfields!) and a dark moodiness. Grand epicness and strong focus on character. But it is saddled with a story that always takes the least interesting approach. Corvus Glaive’s death looks great, but followed by cliche and pedestrian dialogue, I really wish I could get this fantastic visual storytelling with a better person on the script.

    I’m honestly interested is why everyone else likes Lemire so much. What am I missing?

    • I’m picking up what you’re putting down, Matt. You have a much better view of that first than I do, seeing as these larger, galaxy-wide space operas generally don’t hold my attention nearly as well as, say, someone trying to keep drugs out of Hell’s Kitchen. Which is maybe why I vibes with thus issue so much: it felt like Thanos was taking back his block. And that’s something I love about Lemire- he sets up fairly simple stories and dynamics, but always imbues them with direct, clear character. I think Lemire might be the best I’ve read since Whedon who can come in and give solid characterization which is both familiar and new. I love him on Descender, OML, and Moon Knight, but maybe you’re right about his role in Thanos 1. We have a saying in the acting biz, “Strong but wrong”, when it comes to making choices or offers on stage, and maybe this is a case of that. Guess we’ll need to see how #2 shakes out!

      • I do love my big epic space operas just as much as my small crime dramas, and I agree that it is great how this book begins with Thanos taking back his block. And you are right that Lemire does a great job at setting up clear dynamics that instantly create a story – a big reason why this looks so good is that Lemire has a script that gives Deodanto lots of story.

        But I think, ultimately, the problem is that ‘Strong, but wrong’ line (what a fantastic line. Need to remember that). It is certainly strong (again, script is designed to give the strongest possible artistic show of force Deodanto can muster). But as much as you say Lemire has Whedon-like characterisation, I found the traditional Thanos whose physicality is secondary to both his fearful reputation and his genius a more interesting character than what we saw here, and I found Corvus Glaive as a death seeker a more interesting version of Glaive than what we got here.

        I’ll give it a second try, for sure. If only because the book is so beautiful

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