When writer Tini Howard (Age of Conan: Belit, GLOW) and artist Ariel Olivetti’s (Death of the Inhumans) new Thanos-centric miniseries — simply titled Thanos — was announced in January, I was intrigued if hesitant. I had read Howard’s Captain America Annual #1 and enjoyed it quite a bit, but found the idea of a Thanos character piece both infinitely more challenging off of the heels of Donny Cates’ Thanos Wins which had done everything most readers wanted with the character, as well as more obvious off of the heels of Infinity War.
Then, Howard’s Marvel exclusivity — a rarity for any publisher, but especially Marvel — was announced, and I became significantly more interested. An exclusive deal is a vote of confidence, a de facto seal of approval. It seemed more likely that this book might actually have something more to say about our favorite Grimace lookalike rather than just being timely marketing.
It certainly does, and Howard is quickly proving herself as an authorly tour de force, having gone from a Top Cow talent contest five years ago to an impressive, nuanced delivery today. However, the artistic effort here leaves the immense power of the narrative lacking.
What’s it about? Marvel’s preview reads:
“THANOS IS DEAD! Executed by the deadliest assassin in the galaxy…his daughter, Gamora. But before their relationship came to a bloody end, how did it begin?”
Yes, Thanos is a response to the recent events of Infinity War (the consequences of which are mostly playing out in Guardians of the Galaxy), but Howard doesn’t start with something we already know, and that’s the strength of this story. We already know the end, so the story takes us to the beginning. Before the Black Order, before the gauntlet, before the Infinity War, before the Titan’s death at the hands of this story’s narrator – Gamora. It’s all the better for it because we’re taking the time to get to know Thanos not only as a foe, which he so often is, but also a leader, a philosopher, and a grieving man.
We see him here through the eyes of a burgeoning Black Order called the Butcher Squadron (featuring Proxima Midnight and Ebony Maw) that reflects part of that paradigm – an enigmatic, maniacal and murderous but also inspiring leader. Again through his time spent alone, waxing poetic and philosophic on his relationship with Death, his adversaries, and the universe at large. And finally, through the eyes of his will-be end, his adopted “daughter” — Gamora — whom he has not met when this story starts, though things don’t stay that way for long.
Each of the perspectives is given a great amount of weight, variety, levity and nuance. Gamora’s narration, couched in a “last will and testament” recording style, is especially well done. It’s dark, brooding, and comically overwrought with false superlatives and equivalencies just as the eponymous figure himself is – it feels right. Not only a story about Thanos himself, but how others see him, and how others are impacted by him. None, more so than his own murderer.
That being said, the art does not feel as appropriate. Olivetti’s style is unique, spartan and contrasting in a dynamic that I have enjoyed before – especially so in several issues of Venom: Space Knight — but I do not think it serves this story well. Where the narrative gets excessively brutal or nuanced, the visuals don’t meet the cue. One specific scene where Ebony Maw is suggesting questioning Thanos’ orders is especially indicative. Maw’s expressions and the general atmosphere of the page played off more as comedy than genuine subordinate-commander tension as it is written, not helped by the overly vintage pastiche color palate that Antonio Fabela has employed.
Still, whole splash pages, especially one depicting the Titan’s full strength and stature, are impressive and appropriate. An early page of Thanos choke-holding a Star Wars alien-esque member of the Butcher Squadron demonstrates the intensity with which Olivetti can deliver scenes like this, it’s just slightly overlooked here. As the story shifts into progressively darker and gorier times in this cast’s history, it may benefit Olivetti to flirt with Death a little more, is all.
All said and done, Thanos’s first issue is an intriguing, exciting first one. It bucks the trend of comics that conveniently tie-in to movie releases but don’t have much else to say and instead delivers a nuanced, brooding narrative that I can see developing extraordinarily. It remains to be seen if the art will meet the same par, but that shouldn’t hold you back from taking a look. Especially so, when there’s so much more history to go.