Writer Tini Howard and artist Ariel Olivetti’s Thanos has been a fascinating character study. The first issue, which dove into the singularly focused, death-driven mind of the Mad Titan, was perfectly balanced (as all things should be) by a second that delivered compelling charisma and gumption at the young hands of his will-be killer, Gamora. Now? The halfway point both literally and figuratively, a blend of the two’s perspectives that attempts to mete out plot and character beats in equal measure and succeeds immensely in the latter, but struggles with the former.
What’s it about? Marvel’s preview reads:
Gamora’s training starts now! But will this new bond between them grow in the face of an oncoming war? Meanwhile, Thanos’ proto-Black Order plots a mutiny!
Where the story succeeds immediately is in that bond, dangerous as it is. Through pain, and struggle, Howard dives headlong into the kind of desensitization that Gamora undergoes under space Grimace’s care. She loses a leg to the callousness of war – desensitization to violence. She loses an arm to her own hubris – desensitization to pain, almost intentionally. One can very easily chart the path, and see on the page the actions and events, that channel Gamora’s young energy and eagerness into ruthlessness and a brutal cunning. Cut side by side with an inquisitive and enigmatic Thanos, who will not explain his own actions even to himself. This kind of character work exceeds in forwarding the plot well, and it allows the reads to put one and one together, enriching both past and future stories rather than leveraging one big plot twist or surprise to work.
However, the page-to-page plotting is starting to frustrate here at the halfway point of the story. The Magus plot hasn’t developed in any satisfactory or engaging ways, and the initially endearing, humorous musings of The Butcher Squad falls flat here. Maw and Promixa, among others, don’t really get the attention or wit they’ve been given in previous issues, and their involvement seems transitory throughout until it’s suddenly very important at the end, which feels like a faux equivalency to the A-plot of Thanos and Gamora’s relationship. It’s not a huge issue in a book that’s getting so much right, and it does feel like necessary work to get things into place for the latter half of the story, but it’s not as strong as the first two stories for sure.
Olivetti’s work here is also a primary success with some minor grievances. The majority black negative space around the paneling is compelling. Indicative of both the literal space around the ship our characters are traveling in, as well as of a thematic sense of void and relative claustrophobia, it wraps the character work in a sense of dread and scale that is engaging and important to the narrative. The expressive attention given to the characters’ faces is also great, Thanos’ barely-contained rage is palpable, and Gamora’s defiance and enthusiastic self-endangerment, gleeful to the end, tells us quite a bit about them quickly. Things lose a lot of detail and import when they get larger in scale, though, and wide shots of the Butcher Squad in a hanger, or a drop ship laying assault on a planet feel totally removed from the otherwise effective close-ups and tension of the story, as if they’re from a different narrative entirely.
All in all, Thanos has developed into a book I’m extremely engaged by and invested in thematically, but not one I necessarily like in the minute. It’s a character-driven book with a lot to say, most of which is worthy of praise and attention, and I would recommend most people interested in the cosmic side of this universe check it out confidently. I just wish we had a clearer picture of where it was headed.