By: Jason Aaron(story), Simone Bianchi/Riccardo Pieruccini (art), Ive Svorcina (colors)
The Review: I’ve read a lot of negative commentary about Marvel’s “serious” reimagining and back-story creation for Thanos, but I love it. A big purple planet-eating Hamlet is just what I need during the long, hazy days of summer.
The Shakespearean melodrama of this series is quite evident. Seconds after giving birth to him, Thanos’ mother (Sui-San) attempts infanticide but is stopped by her husband. Because of his unique mutation, Thanos grows up brilliant but socially isolated, constantly searching for that which will bring his life meaning. He discovers murder and ensures his destiny as a monster through matricide, a crime he commits attempting to discover and remove that element of his mother that created the monster in the first place. Heavy stuff.
On the cover of this issue, Thanos’ stance and body language remind us of the countless actors that have portrayed Hamlet and contemplated the skull of Yorick unearthed by the gravediggers in Act 5, Scene 1. Thanos is a melancholy “prince” who, having failed to discover his fate on his home planet of Titan, searches the universe for the meaning to his life, leaving a trail of broken females, fatherless children and dead planets in his wake. He has rejected science and art and love and has embraced the only thing that seems to make sense to him – death. After destroying yet another nameless civilization, Thanos gazes out across the annihilation that he has wrought and asks “When did mass murder become so very…dull?’ He reassures one of his victims that the murder of his family and the destruction of his world was nothing personal, saying “If it’s any consolation, I chose this world purely at random. I bore no grudge against you or your people. The deaths of your family meant absolutely nothing to me.”
Thanos believes love compels him to kill, but the woman for whom he kills is a phantom, witnessed only by him and with whom he regularly converses and by whom he is sexually frustrated. He is called “Thanos the Destroyer” but the men that serve on his crew secretly refer to him as “Thanos the Mad”. Discovering that his muse is actually Death, Thanos contemplates suicide by incinerating himself and thinks “One step. One step was all it would take”. In other words, “to be or not to be.” Thanos elects life for himself, Death for himself and death to everyone else. Thanos has become Death’s avatar and his first stop is the place where it all started, his home world of Titan.
Contemplating his son’s reputation as a destroyer of worlds, Thanos’ father (A’lars) discusses his course of action with the ghost of his own father, just as Hamlet did in four different acts in the play. The ghost warns A’lars to begin preparations because Thanos is returning and he must be ready to finish the job that his mother had started; i.e. kill his son. A’lars is reluctant to believe the truth about his son and in doing so probably seals his fate, the fate of the population of Titan and the fate of half the universe.
The artwork is beautiful. Thanos appears powerful and oppressive, the galactic landscape is alien but familiar and the colors are muted and rich. The expressions of all the characters, even the weirdest aliens, are evocative and recognizable. The story is interestingly laid out through a combination of smart conversation panels and full page-bursting action.
Marvel is taking a huge gamble in featuring Thanos as the villain in the next Avengers movie because they will almost assuredly screw it up. Earlier renditions of Thanos have portrayed him as a clown and incompetent despite possessing the most powerful weapon in the galaxy; the Infinity Gauntlet. Jason Aaron’s interpretation on Thanos elevates the character to an intense and tragi-serious position and I don’t think there is ANY way that this wonderfully nuanced character can realistically be portrayed in a $250 million Memorial Day weekend blockbuster.
Conclusion: Highly refined and multilayered origin for a very important Marvel villain. The pathos and melodrama may be a bit much for some readers.