By Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning (writers), Miguel Sepulveda (artist), Jay David Ramos and Wil Quintana (color artists)

I have cancer.

Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, to be exact.

It’ll probably kill me at some point, assuming I don’t drink myself into oblivion before then, but I felt compelled to share with you because that is the frame of mind I’ve been in as I read Abnett and Lanning’s latest, and possibly most disturbing, space epic for Marvel. I’ve long been a fan of DnA’s work for this corner of the Marvel Universe, and applaud how they have carved out and defined a territory that has been vastly under-utilized by creators for decades now. These guys have succeeded in forging Marvel’s universe a chaotic, exciting, and utterly terrifying place to tell stories in. With every epic they’ve crafted, they’ve gradually raised the stakes in ways that seem logical yet infinitely more perilous. Now, with The Thanos Imperative these guys are building one of their finest stories to date, one that forces me to consider my own mortality in a way that is deeply disturbing.

At the heart of this tale is the simple, eternal conflict between Life and Death. Specifically, it is the tale of a universe where Death died and Life prevailed. A universe that is now trying to infiltrate our reality in a desperate attempt to find more space to continue growing and living. Where this story excels though is in the way it fucks with our expectations by portraying Life as a vile, cancerous entity and Death as, if not The Good Guy, then certainly a necessary deterrent to the threat of Life unbound. Thematically, it’s a strange concept and not something we’re accustomed to endorsing; our education as readers of fiction has trained us to view Life as being Good and Death as being Evil, but here Abnett and Lanning do what good writers do and play with our expectations, twisting them in ways that make us reconsider what we thought to be true. I don’t know about you, but I like that.

The action in this issue is unparalleled and furious, even if the plot was rather sparse. Sepulveda has a wonderful understanding of these characters and his gritty style is perfectly suited to the large canvas Abnett and Lanning like to work on. I loved the contrast of Nova and his strikeforce leading an incursion into the Cancerverse while Lord Mar-Vell and his Revengers stalked our universe in pursuit of the Avatar of Death. With every issue, this cat and mouse game is becoming more intense and bloodthirsty, the stakes are being continuously raised as each side fights relentlessly to gain the winning advantage, and after this issue I’m at a loss to see where the creative team could possibly go from here with the story.

Perhaps even more interesting than this is the subplot involving the conflict between Thanos and Drax, and this month’s revelation that Drax is an Avatar of Life who, in the Cancerverse, is utterly compelled to destroy Thanos more than usual. Here again, DnA toy with us by forcing us to almost root for Thanos as a kind of hero in this thoroughly twisted drama when we’d normally be chomping at the bit to watch Drax tear his heart out again. But much to my surprise and delight, I find myself thinking about my own condition, agreeing with DnA’s position that Life is a cancerous, rampant virus even as I continue to live with that very same cancer in me, shunning the same Death that they argue is the solution (in a rather extreme way, yes, but still…) to the problem now afflicting me. More than ever, I find myself rooting for these heroes, and even Thanos, because their fight is my own, and it’s a rare thing to be so emotionally invested in a story. This was an intense, exciting installment to The Thanos Imperative and I strongly encourage you to go out and give it a chance!

Grade: A

-Tony Rakittke