Like Chris Claremont returning to script a Nightcrawler series, or Frank Miller giving life to a third chapter of The Dark Knight, there’s something special about fellow Hall of Famer Jim Starlin making a new contribution to Marvel’s cosmic canon. This week Starlin and artist Alan Davis showcase the central nemesis of the next Hollywood blockbuster in the latest in a series of original graphic novels, Thanos: The Infinity Siblings. These books are particularly special for the author, as he clearly relishes the opportunity to return to a character he created in the pages of Iron Man in 1973 and brought to prominence in a series of Infinity events in the 80’s and 90’s.
This book is advertised as the first in a new trilogy of original Thanos graphic novels. Whereas the first trilogy focused on an alliance between the Mad Titan and another Starlin all-star, Adam Warlock, this new series of books partners up Thanos with his brother Eros, the former Avenger known as Starfox. More exciting, however (granted, it’s not terribly difficult to be more exciting than Starfox), is the partnership with Davis. The two recently wrapped up a Guardians of the Galaxy mini-series, Mother Entropy, and on this book, the veteran artist looks better than ever. No offense to the serviceable Ron Lim, who provided the art for the last graphic novel in the prior trilogy, but there’s something about this format that demands a higher caliber presentation. And in the absence of Starlin’s own art (he wrote and illustrated the first two books), Alan Davis might be the next best thing.
Like Entropy, these Thanos books seem to operate in their own little pocket of continuity. Starlin seems happy to ignore larger editorial mandates that might infringe upon his ability to freely tell stories within the operatic space framework that he first revolutionized. That’s not to say, however, that he doesn’t take deference to how his characters have been treated. Mentor, father to both Eros and Thanos, and another Starlin brainchild, was killed off by Ultron in the Rick Remender graphic novel Avengers: Rage of Ultron. In this new book, Starlin makes a rare acknowledgement of other kids in his sandbox, when Thanos tells Eros that Ultron will be dealt with, knowing that Mentor “was mine to slay.” Watch your back, Remender.
There’s also that distinctive treatment of the titular character as more than just a murderous super-despot. While he goes on to kill heroes right and left and conquer entire civilizations in the pages of Marvel’s monthlies, Thanos, for Jim Starlin, has ever been an embodiment of universal forces beyond the scope of human morality. And in this new trilogy, he fights for self-preservation from another avatar of cosmic agency, the insidious Hunger.
Thanos is aided in his quest by his brother and the time-traveling Kang the Conqueror. As much as I dig Kang, these time-travel plots become convoluted and unwieldy far too often, even for a master storyteller like Starlin. If you buy into the conceit, and keep half an eye on the interchange of millennia, it’s an engaging story in a beautifully illustrated package, and a welcome addition to the author’s Marvel legacy.