Though we often find them the most interesting part of superhero comics, it’s rare that you get a good series centered around a villain. Protagonists are meant to be relatable characters that readers can either relate to or aspire to be like; they don’t have to be some kind of paragon of virtue to be interesting, but even that is more easily approachable than the opposite. Even great characters like the Joker or Magneto have proven unable to headline their own books for any real stretch of time, so I shouldn’t be that surprised that The God Quarry, the second volume of Jeff Lemire’s ongoing Thanos series, falls so flat.
Picking up where the fist volume, Thanos Returns, left off, the book sees the mad Titan brought low. Stripped of his powers and left to die on the dessert moon of Titan, our…hero?…nah, that doesn’t make sense…our…Thanos is forced to struggle to survive. He nearly starves, hunts for shelter and even battles enormous space rats like some sort non-Pickle Rick. Now you’d think that seeing someone as lofty as Thanos, the dude who will likely be killing a couple of late-in-their-contract Avengers this summer, made humble could make the character somehow more accessible, but you’d be mistaken. It’s not that Thanos can’t struggle, it’s that seeing him barely survive an encounter with two random scrubs feels hollow and unnatural. Savvy readers will never really feel like the purple powerhouse is in any danger, and sure enough he’s essentially back to normal just one issue later. It’s an artificial struggle that fails to achieve its goal of making Thanos a more interesting character, and thus starts the story on a sour note.
This isn’t helped by either his extended cast or primary villains, as both are similarly uninspired. First let’s talk the “bad guy” of the piece, because it feels like the most fan-finction, Tumblr-born narrative to have Thanos’ estranged son Thane, forgettably introduced in the blink-and-you’d-miss-it “Infinity” crossover from a few years back, gain the Phoenix force — and the payoff is just as poorly thought out as that sounds. Phoenix Thane is just a pawn of Mistress Death, who is in the midst of her worst redesign to date (Seriously, she looks like a goth version of Crysta from FernGully). After years of being disappointed by Thanos’ failing to…murder enough people? I’ve always wondered what Death’s specific beef with the Mad Titan is. If it’s just that she doesn’t love him, then why keep stringing him along? Anyway, the pixie spirit of Hot Topic hopes to use Thane as a means of killing not only his father, but seemingly the rest of the universe in one of those contrived plots that makes her seem one note and reduces Thane’s agency to that of a henchman, even with the power of the Phoenix. It’s just weak.
Similarly weak are Thanos’ supporting cast of Eros, Nebula and Tryco Slatterus. Eros is still Eros, which is to say he’s still an uncomfortable presence in any book. Admittedly the god of love doesn’t get to use much of his overtly creepy powers, but his lasciviousness is still evident whenever he actually interacts with the book’s female cast — even his erstwhile niece, Nebula. Speaking of Nebula, it’s really feels like Lemire wanted to use Gamora (and Drax, but more on that in a moment) for this story, was told no, and then decided to just give Nebula all of her traits. The normally stoic and focussed Nebula is suddenly a wisecracking sexpot and an ace pilot who looks precisely like she does in the MCU. Now admittedly that change likely happened a while ago, but for those of us who remember Nebula from her early days, it’s a bit jarring. Worst of all is the Champion of the Universe Tryco Slatterus, a seldom used cosmic character who used to look like the most embarrassing dad at an intergalactic high school dance and now looks like a blue palette swap of Blanka. Worse yet, he exists to be the big, dumb comic relief who rushes into fights he can’t win. He’s honestly one joke about large poops away from being called Brax the Destructor. These characters don’t add anything to the journey of Thanos, and in fact detract from the tone of seriousness that the opening chapter strove to engender in readers in favor of banter that isn’t as witty as was intended.
If there’s a worst part of this book it has to be the introduction of the Sisters of Eternity, an ancient trio of sorceresses that is so clearly cribbed from MacBeth’s Weird Sisters. These witches hit all the cliches, from the long black robes to the completion of each other’s sentences, everything but the cauldron…well, they do have a large pit called ‘The God Quarry’ that shows them images of scenes from across reality, but that’s….that’s pretty similar actually. Anyway, the God Quarry is a sort of trial for those few individuals who cross the black hole to reach the Sisters. The trial will grant (or in this case, return) power to those that survive it, but of course, NO ONE EVER HAS. So what happens when our titular mauve maniac goes through the trial? He imagines himself as an Avenger, immediately realizes that he isn’t into the whole “truth and justice” thing, and emerges re-powered. Turns out if you know your own defining characteristics, the God Quarry ‘aint no thang. It’s just a bullshit deus ex machina that both grants people super powers and provides poorly performing series with timely and eye-catching cameos. Once Thanos gets his powers back he makes quick work of his son and ex (with a bit of help from the SoE) and that’s all she wrote.
If there’s a high point of the book it’s the artwork of German Peralta, but that’s only because it’s competently put together. There’s nothing particularly remarkable about his pencils or anything, but it’s all mostly fine. His character models are consistent, his action sequences (barring some unfortunately staged perspective shots in the early chapter) are decent, and all the motion and action of the book is mostly clear. It’s not bad, it’s just a little flat. His depictions of alien life, be it the rat monster that Thanos kills in the early going or the bandits that accost him shortly thereafter, just brings nothing new, unique or interesting to the table in the artwork or design. Again, it’s not bad or anything, it’s just kind of blah.
Overall, this book is a dud. Thanos as an unstoppable monster has plenty of challenges to overcome due to his lofty aspirations. This book breaking him down to a point where he’s struggling to survive, quickly resolving his impotence and featuring an entire issue’s deluge into a needless hallucinogenic crossover, all just reeks of corporate mandate rather than interesting storytelling. It’s not that the book needed to be some kind of revelatory expose on who Thanos is as a character, but this book feels like a clear attempt to keep the character in the cultural lexicon without actually having anything to say. This one’s a skipper.